Integrating Meditation and Prayer

Paul Smith 

Sufi Prayer and Meditation

Sufi Prayer and Meditation

Form to Formlessness  by Billy Shannon

Form to Formlessness by Billy Shannon

Form and Formlessness

I find that it is helpful to differentiate meditation and prayer, to value them both, and to have an integrated practice. Prayer, with or without words, in my understanding, leaves the classical realm of meditation because it is relational—one being relating to another being.  

Sometimes this is called “form” as opposed to “formlessness.” A form is a thought, object, or image. A being, even a spiritual one, has a “form” when manifest in our earthly dimension. Classical meditation is “formless” in that it does not have “forms” in its advanced stages.

Christianity is especially inclined towards the loving heart and also towards form, which is another word for what theologians call “incarnation.” This is, specifically in Christianity, the formless God of Moses’ I AM manifesting in the form of Jesus. Then Jesus in physical form moved to a spiritual form in the resurrection and is present with us now. 

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Growing Up

Our understanding and practices of meditation and prayer changes as we evolve from stage to stage in our process of growing up spiritually.  As people evolve in meditation, they tend to let go of the forms specific to Eastern religions traditions and emerge as more universal principles. The life style of the meditator also moves to more evolved values and social values. For instance, the embrace of the caste system and slavery by meditators disappears at higher levels. 

My audience is mostly postmodern and often already embraces some form of meditation. It is prayer that is seen as outmoded and often dismissed as something from a previous stage. Of course, as Wilber says, in effect, “We don’t need a new religion. We just need more evolved versions of our old religion. The same is true of prayer. We don’t need to dismiss prayer. We just need to find a more evolved understanding and practice of prayer.

Spiral of Life  by Lia Chechelashvili

Spiral of Life by Lia Chechelashvili

Stages

Here is a brief, oversimplified outline of prayer through various stages of growing up.

The tribal lens sees prayer as persuading an all-powerful heavenly being to protect, heal, and guide whoever they are praying for.

The warrior station sees prayer as doing battle with evil.

The traditional stage sees prayer as a conversation with God or Jesus that includes petitioning God up in heaven to intervene down here on Earth. 

The modern level has usually let go of prayer as a relic from the past. 

The postmodern worldview sees prayer as thinking and attracting positive and uplifting thoughts. 

The integral lens sees prayer as inspired states of consciousness where we experience God in both relationship and inner identification. Prayer, including communal worship, is central in integral Christianity. Healing prayer is not asking God to do something. Rather it is sending the healing energy of our divine human spirit from within us to others.

Meditation and Prayer and the Three Faces of God

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God-Beyond-Me

At the integral level, meditation and contemplation in 3rd-person practice is reflecting about the Infinite Face of God.

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God-Beside-Me

In 2nd-person practice meditation usually becomes prayer— communion with God in a personal way in forms such as the motherly- fatherly presence of God, Jesus, and/or saintly spiritual guides.  These identifiable presences are beside us as the Intimate Face of God. It is connecting with the non-physical world of Spirit beings and receiving encouragement and guidance.

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God-Being-Me

Meditation in 1st-person practice is resting in our identification with God as our True Self and the release of sacred energy from deep within ourselves into the world. Don’t ask God to do it for you—you’re divine like Jesus, so do it yourself! This is owning the Inner Face of God within us. This is not the traditional mythic God out there who intervenes in human history, but a God who resides within and as every person and from there shapes human history. We are co-creators with and as God.

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Transmission

While the integral level appreciates many forms of praying for others, it tends to move from “interventionist” prayers, to “transmission” prayers. The interventionist prayer is based on the traditional level model that God is absent and needs to be reminded to come “down” from heaven and intervene in a situation. Jesus did not operate this way. He never asked God to heal anyone. Rather, he owned his own divine healing energy from within and released it to others with remarkable results.

The transmission model sees that God already desires to heal and simply needs an incarnate divine vehicle to do so. That vehicle is you and me.  In transmission prayer we see ourselves as the vehicles for releasing the manifestation of God’s desire to heal and redeem. We, rather than a God up there and out there, are the voice and hands of spirit. Our refusal to own our inherent divinity and to pray as Jesus did keeps us asking God to do what Jesus said we can do. The compassionate heart of God within us wants to express itself in the world in liberating service through our spiritual gifts.