The difference between prayer and meditation

I don’t talk a lot about prayer on this blog.  That is not because I don’t pray or I don’t believe in prayer.  Rather, I think prayer is a concept that most people have already developed an attitude or approach to.  Also, I feel that prayer is a very personal activity and I’m not really interested in trying to get between people and their prayers.   Meditation and spiritual path work, in contrast, are ideas that may be newer to many and are areas where I may be able to bring some value by sharing my own experiences.  It could be said that prayer is a type of meditation or that meditation is a type of prayer.  However, prayer and meditation are not the same thing.  There are some fundamental differences between the two, but there is room for both practices in every person’s life.

Prayer is mostly a ‘push’ communication; meaning that with prayer we are putting our intentions out there to God or the Universe or whatever divine source you believe in.  We are asking for what we wish and our heart’s desire through prayer.  Now, I understand that this is not always true – but it is mostly the case.  Those who are familiar with ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ (also known as the ‘Our Father’) can think it through and see what I mean.  After a brief introduction, it is basically a list of wishes / wants.   There is nothing wrong with sending our wishes and wants out into the universe (or up to God, if you prefer), it is an integral part of creating the life that we want[1] and there is definitely a place for it on the spiritual path.  That being said, sometimes our prayers are a reflection of our fears and our attachments.  Looking at the types of things we ask for / wish for can give us some real insight into ourselves and who we are, point in time.  Prayer, also, is mediated by language (this statement will make a little more sense by the end of this post).  Even if we are not asking for things during prayer – maybe we are thanking God for something, for example – typically prayer is about ‘talking’ to God / the Universe / the Divine.

If prayer is about talking, meditation is mostly about listening.  There are many different types of meditation so it is hard to generalize for all. However, meditation is mostly about being with the self; listening to the body, letting the mind quiet, and just being in the moment.  This is not to say that we can’t work through a particular problem or mull something over during a meditation session.  However, the focus of meditation usually is not to ask or to ‘talk,’but rather to open and let your subconscious, your higher self, and / or the universe come to you.  Most powerful realizations about the self come after or outside of a meditation session, when your brain has had time to process what has come.  I realize there is mantra meditation and chanting meditation, etc. and these may seem a lot like ‘talking’ meditations.  However, I think the function of this type of meditation is largely to present a focal point to the mind; hence the reliance on repetitive words or phrases.  Especially when starting a meditation practice, people often need help quieting their minds and giving the mind something to do while setting a meditation practice in place can be very helpful in beginning to train the mind to settle.[2]  Once the mind is quiet the inner world unfolds before you and you merely absorb what you find in that space.

When a person becomes somewhat advanced with their meditation, there is space for meditation and prayer to merge a bit.  During meditation, we are communicating with our higher selves, the universe, etc.  In that communication your heart is sending your deepest wishes through the connection without the intermediary of your mind or language.  However, in this space, it is the wishes of your heart that are being communicated – which may not be the same as what you would typically ‘ask’ for in a prayer session.   I have felt this happen within myself during some meditation sessions, but I am not yet in a place where I am ready to abandon the comfort and assurance of ‘active’ prayer.  I think for many of us (including myself) it is difficult to give up the ‘authority’ of deliberately formulating our communication with the divine source.  Luckily, there is no real need to ‘give up’ authoring our own prayers in order to continue to grow and pursue the spiritual path.

[1] Of course, there are some caveats to this – there are always caveats.  However, that is not the subject of this post and will rather be the subject of an upcoming post.

[2] I certainly have benefitted from this kind of meditation, especially early on when it seemed like my mind would not ‘shut off’

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