From Prayer of Mind to Prayer of Heart
Have you ever gotten tired of trying to think when you prayed? You thought about how you wanted to pray, what to pray for, and how to say it all. All of this seemed like it to came down to coming up with the right words. Maybe you even gave up on words and decided on a more meditative approach to prayer.
Prayer, understandably, becomes associated with words early in our life in the traditional Christian path. Most of us learned to pray by hearing the words other people say when they pray – our parents, friends, Sunday School teachers, pastor, priest. Or we read the words of our prayer from the Book of Common Prayer or a devotional book.
Even Jesus began teaching his friends about prayer at the beginners’ level of simple, meaningful words. Like other teachers at his time, he taught them a prayer that was based on his teaching. However, it is never recorded that he personally prayed what we now call “The Lord’s Prayer, and doubtful that he did. We do have records of the words he prayed at other times. They are wonderful to read and absorb. But when he spent the night praying, did he really keep praying by saying words to God the entire time? How did Jesus pray? Was he limited to words?
Some years ago, I began to want a more non-traditional way of praying. Most of my problem then with the traditional path of prayer was with words. I wondered if I could do completely wordless praying? I remembered Jesus saying, “Whoever drinks from my mouth will become like me and I will become like them. And hidden things will be revealed to them. (Gospel of Thomas Saying 108). I saw myself sitting with Jesus and “drinking” in him. I interpreted the “drinking” not as drinking his “words” but as becoming intimately and inwardly sensing of his living presence — literally drinking in, not just what he said, but sensing him, his living presence. I wanted to move from mental “saying” to heart “sensing.”
I could see how putting my attention in my head could be mistaken for sensing. I saw the world from the eyes in front of my head. I heard the world from the ears on the sides of my head. I smelled and tasted the world from my nose on my head and my mouth in my head. The only physical sense left was touch and my head was filled with nerve endings from my eyes to my skin. However, if I worked at it I could actually put my attention to the physical sensation of touch to my feet, or hands, or back. If I could do that, why could I not shift my attention from my head to my heart? I tried, but it was challenging for me as a head person. I loved thinking about things!
I wanted to begin a new practice— to intentionally and literally move down from my head to my heart in my still-time with God each day. I began with two exercises that helped me take the longest journey of my life —the one from my head to my heart. I placed my attention in my head and then let it slowly sink down by neck to my heart. Sometimes I would tap my head with my hand a few times until my attention was there. Then I would tap on the way down my face and neck until I reached my heart in my chest space where I would continue tapping until my attention was fully there.
The other practice was to imagine my eyes, ears, nose, and mouth being literally attached to my heart and not my head. Yes, I know it was a strange picture, but I willing to do any crazy thing if it helped.
When I began to feel slightly natural doing this, I realized I was beginning to move from my five senses down to my heart. Now they were heart senses, although manifested in a totally different non-head way, a heart focused feeling way.
I found this practice was helpful in my regular meditation/prayer time. However, sometimes I could not “get going” in sensing Jesus’ presence in a heart-felt way, but rather felt lethargic. So I asked myself, “What would I feel if the historical Jesus were really here with me now in his risen spiritual presence? I pictured that and my heart was immediately filled with gratitude, awe, thanksgiving, and love. I called this “devotional prayer” as opposed to just praying with words. It was filled with feelings of admiration, worship, and adoration. We become like that which we adore, and I wanted to become like Jesus!
At last I had moved from “saying prayer” “to sensing prayer.” Now, rather than spending mental time trying to not think (which is using thinking to try and not think!), or letting go of distracting thoughts, the moment I moved down to my heart, my mind was immediately empty, and my heart was full. I didn’t have to do all the mental gymnastics of trying to quiet my mind, it just happened when I moved to my heart space!
Praying with Energy Fields
Then I began thinking of Jesus’ presence in terms of his energy field. I started sensing and intuiting my own energy field and Jesus’ energy field connecting. This produced intense positive feelings of bliss accompanied by a radiating sensation of fulness coming from my physical heart. In integral terminology, this is a WeSpace experience of Jesus’ presence and my presence intermingling with one another in the space between us. WeSpace refers to the growing recognition of the energetic field that exists between two or more beings (in either their physical or spiritual bodies) and the benefit of engaging in specific practices to intensify the awareness of healing, wisdom, insight, and love that already exists there.
The more I did this, the more my heart space began to glow and radiate. I now get into this transcendent state of consciousness as often as I can —while talking with others, in line at the grocery store, in a quiet space waiting for a friend. This is experiencing nonduality – “single-seeing” which is looking out at the world as One from my heart space. The head sees individuality, the heart sees universally.
I even became aware of Jesus’ presence beside me in subtle awakened consciousness, touching my right arm, while I was also in transcendent witnessing or observer consciousness. I thought about how dramatically my sense of Jesus’ presence had intensified because I was coming from my nondual heart space of loving Oneness. It suddenly occurred to me that Jesus was observing me from this very same heart space within his risen spiritual body. His heart energy field was radiating out to me and connecting with my heart field in our mutual We-Space. I immediately became still and moved into my heart space while witnessing Jesus next to me, radiating his heart energy out to me.
Immediately my own sensing of bliss and numinous energy intensified to such a degree that it hurt! I felt scared because I was moving out of my comfort zone. Rather than retreat, I decided to welcome the pain and fear and embrace it. It eventually subsided, and I was able to handle the remaining feelings and sensations.
I then decided to more fully research the whole area of praying from the sensations in my heart. Jesus said we should “love the Lord your God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength and with all our mind” (Luke10:27). That points to the idea of “all of your heart,” not just part of it, in wanting to love God with all your feelings and senses. This is really “sensational” love!
Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God (Matt. 5:8). Søren Kierkegaard wrote a book called Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing. That’s a good definition, provided that the one thing we will is to “see” or become aware of God with as many of our senses as possible.
I found a companion as I read Cynthia Bourgeault’s The Heart of Centering Prayer. I found other writers who were moving in same direction, although they were often not as focused on Jesus and his heart-centered energy field.
I had now moved from saying to sensing! Now I am more fully praying from the literal space of my physical heart and the energy field it creates. I sense Jesus’ heart-centered energy field and intense feelings of joy, bliss, energy, and healing. I can see moving into this more and more in ordinary everyday life, not only letting it flow within me, but also out to others.
Here is what I recommend for those who want to pray from a vast, silent mind and an infinite heart full of God:
Relax into your heart-center awareness— and wait . . . .