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Prayer 101

I imagined myself to be a very spiritual person even when I was a child. I lit the lamp everyday after my bath and prayed to all the deities my Dad prayed to. I read spiritual books and did yoga and meditation in college. And by then I had an obnoxiously swollen spiritual ego. Like I was above it all. Better than everyone else. Never did I realize that all this was just at the surface level. That you have to delve deeper into the spirit realm to know God.

It’s easy to do all the stuff I did in the name of spirituality, when life is peachy and you have rose petals strewn over your life path. Little did I know that yonder lay thorns, cliffs, deep ravines, white waters and steep waterfalls.

I had left Chennai and was in Pondicherry University to do my Masters. It was the first time that pampered little me had left the comforts of my home and family. And how did I deal with it? Horribly. I went home every chance I could, every weekend, every holiday. I didn’t like the course, or the food they served in the mess or the weather. And before I knew it I had quit and come back home. I felt awful for doing that. Now I had nothing to do. I had to wait another 6 months to get into any college. All my friends were studying or working and I felt all alone. Feelings of worthlessness and sadness engulfed me and I asked why. What did I do wrong? Why won’t you help me? You who I prayed to every single day.

In those dark moments I spent with me and woe-is-me thoughts, I got no answer. The desperation grew and I never saw myself coming out of it. I felt like I was going crazy. Turning into a nut job. Pretty soon I’d be shut away in an asylum and I felt even more sorry for myself. Nobody will miss me. Nobody wants this sad person in their life. Nobody needs me. They are better off without me. I’m a blot on their otherwise perfect life.

Of course, I had abandoned God and religion and everyone and everything by then. I hit rockbottom and that’s when my family knew I needed help and they intervened. I received the help and I got out of the hole I had put myself into. But something shifted in me. I couldn’t express it in words then, but looking back it was like being given a second chance, being born again. I felt enormous gratitude. Even though I had given up God, She/He hadn’t given up on me. I had to go through my struggles to emerge with a deeper understanding of God. God is not in the idols, not in the rituals, not in all the stuff in the outer level. God is a presence. A quiet presence. God doesn’t beat drums to announce his presence or say – Behold! Here I am. He works quietly and inscrutable are his ways. Inscrutable to the human mind. You can only feel that presence in your heart.

It’s not to say that I took all that suffering in my stride. I was resentful about it for numerous years. Very few people know about that part of my life. Now, years later I see it for what it is. A push towards higher consciousness. The understanding that God was with me then as he is with me now, carrying me through the pain even without my knowing it. I have learnt and grown through it and have the courage to share it with you in the hopes that you will find strength in these words.

So what is prayer? Constant communion with God. Reciting passages of holy books. Chanting mantras. It can be a lot of things to a lot of people. But this is the definition that I really like. Because there are two parts to a conversation. The talking and the listening. Prayer and meditation. Prayer is you tallking to God and meditation is listening to Her/Him. Most of us say our prayers but forget to sit still, quiet our minds and listen to God or inner guidance which comes from a much higher plane of consciousness if you will.

If the word meditation scares you or you think it is only for sages in the Himalayas or yogis in Indian jungles, think again! Just sit still for 5 minutes everyday and focus on your breath. This in itself is a powerful meditation. Try it now. Close your eyes (maybe after you read this entire paragraph!). Take a deep breath. Breathe in. Feel the air entering your nostrils and filling you up. Feel your diaphragm pushing downwards. Feel your stomach pushing outwards to allow more air into your body. Now exhale and focus on the air coming out of your nostrils. Your diaphragm moving up and your stomach squeezing in, emptying your lungs. Repeat and repeat. Now open your eyes. You didn’t have to go to the Himalayas to do that! You can do this everyday in the comfort of you home, in your car, in your cubicle. Sit still and follow your breath and all the inspiration you need will come to you. All the peace you always wanted will emerge from within you. And you will feel that presence as it whispers – I am here. Right here. Within you all the time…