Spiritual Life and Our Emotions Part 3 : Practical Prayer
Having looked at some of the benefits and challenges of our emotions in the spiritual life and journey, we can now explore some practical ancient ways of meditative prayer to facilitate this process. The key is to find, and rest in, a place of undefended awareness where we can open to the divine with intention of heart in the midst of our emotional turmoil; returning again and again to the unconditional divine embrace that offers us this freedom of heart. So, below, I explore a practical meditative way of being with all our emotional and feeling process as it is, without getting caught up in all our pained stories about it. This is a contemplative process of giving time to assimilate and digest whatever feeling process we find within ourselves, and giving ourselves the space and time to open and be with that.
Finding a quiet undisturbed place where you can sit or kneel comfortably (perhaps using a prayer stool), take time to first become aware of where you are - so often our prayer can be disembodied from our physical context.
When you have settled in that physical space, next turn to your body. How is it feeling? Very slowly work through feeling all the senses in your physical body from the top of your head, down through your face and back of your head, shoulders, down each arm to your hands and fingers. Then your back, front of your body; then each leg through to your toes. Notice and accept all the physical sensations present, don't try and change them in any way or push them from you. Let them be as they are and then develop a sense of sitting/ kneeling in that physical space with feeling all that your body is holding in this moment,
Now gently become aware of the natural rising and falling of the breath within you. Stay with your breath and attend to it, the same breath Yahweh breathed into Adam, that Job found in his nostrils, and by which Jesus breathed shalom (peace & wholeness), forgiveness and the Holy Spirit on all humanity.
The Jews did not speak God's name but breathed it: inhaling - Yah, exhaling -weh. By our very breathing we are speaking the name of God. This makes it our first and our last word as we enter and leave the world. Gently breathe the words : inhale - Yah, exhale - weh. During this period of meditation continue to use your breath as a touchstone to centre into the loving presence of God whenever you become distracted or disturbed.
Now begin by connecting with your intention, your desire to be present to God in all that you are and carry in this moment. Breathe naturally, slowly, and deeply, inhaling and exhaling Yah-weh.
With the quality of the outbreath, let yourself rest and settle into the ground of your body and being. From this sense of ground, allow your awareness to come up through the core of your body being aware of any emotion that is present. Then
allow this awareness to expand into the rest of your body.
As you breathe, be aware of the arising of all the feelings that are present, particularly in the core of your body. Without judging them or pushing them away, allow them space to open. If you find yourself getting caught up in your mind with thoughts about your feelings, just let these thoughts go and return to your breath and the sensations present in your body. Nothing needs to be done to them or to interfere with them. Whatever the feelings are, just allow them to be as they are - give them space, understanding and compassion. Rest with quiet present awareness within the experience of feeling and sensations within your body, without evaluation or interference.
When you're ready, bring your attention to the area of your heart. Be aware of the quality of energy in and around your heart. Then, as you breathe knowing the unconditional, loving presence of God working within you, allow a sense of space to open around the heart and then spread out through your whole body. Inhale God as you breath in. Feel how God enters you, how God purifies and renews giving a sense of inner freedom and spaciousness throughout your whole body.
If you can, try to rest in this sense of space and awareness filled with a quality of healing love emanating from the presence of God's breath within you. If you feel distracted, always come back to your breath and connect with the loving sense of heart, and open sense of awareness, centred in God.
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Working prayerfully with such meditative processes helps us to recognise a widening spectrum of felt experience within ourselves and witness our felt experience with less and less conceptual chatter attached. This then helps us stop drowning in feeling effect and contracting into stronger negative feelings. When we develop a healthy relationship to our feeling life, this also aids our inner discernment process that guides our responses, life choices and path.
For more forms of prayerful meditation, please see my series on prayer.
Developed with grateful thanks to the inspiring work of Fr Anthony de Mello and Rob Preece.