Prayer Vs Meditation - What's The Difference?
The terms "prayer" and "meditation" are often used together. Are they the same? How do they differ, and most importantly, why do we need these practices in our lives? How can we use them a powerful and practical way? Is there a way that they could be harmoniously combined? We all are feeling pressure somewhere in our lives. These days no one is immune from the constant changes all around us and even in our own perspectives and personal journeys through life. Soon after we think we have it all figured out and are lost in the experience peace or joy, something pops up that demands our response and we are back facing some type of squeeze. In spiritual or religious teachings, the words "prayer" and "meditation" are often heard as antidotes to our human troubles. Let's explore these a bit.
Prayer and meditation have multiple similarities and differences. Prayer is mostly focused on the outer world while meditation is often focused on the inner world. Practiced together they can be a powerful addition to your daily routines, adding a sense of calm, peace and can increase connection to ones self and your beliefs. Simply explained, prayer is sending a message to God, or a deity and meditation is the art of training the awareness and mind to be equanimous for mental clarity and an emotionally calm state.
What Is Prayer?
A main focal point in most religions is the act of praying, or talking to God. If a person is not religious it could be their "Higher Power" the "Creator" or the "Universe". If you grew up attending religious services you'll remember it as a regular happening at gatherings. If you are like me you may have first experienced it as repetitive and ritualistic speech, like someone talking to the air!
Simply explained, prayer is sending a message to God, or a deity. People pray to ask for help, offer thanks, send a blessing, or to communicate an expression of feelings informally as one might talk to a friend. Prayers are offered as spoken words, intended thoughts, or as songs or other expressions of art. A person can pray wherever they are - standing, sitting or kneeling, even spontaneously when crying alone in bed. You can pray while driving, while walking, or sitting on a meditation cushion.
In Christianity, practitioners are told in Romans 8: "Also, the Spirit helps us with our weakness. We do not know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit speaks to God for us, even begs God for us with deep feelings that words cannot explain." If you resonate with this verse, it means the exact words aren't too important, it's more about the "spirit" and expression of the prayer. Some people gather in groups to pray, spend longer periods of time praying on certain calendar days, or combine prayer with the practice of fasting. It is believed that adding these complementary aspects to a prayer practice can amplify the message and helps the practitioner focus.
What Is Meditation?
Also practiced by many of the world religions, meditation is a process where the person stills their mind. People meditate for many reasons such as shifting to a calmer state, connecting with their intuition, lifting their mood, or healing the body. They may feel resistant to a life situation and use meditation as a means to relax into an acceptance of that situation. There are many, many personal reasons people choose to meditate. Meditators have a variety of methods that they use. They could be sitting or lying down, and usually slow their breathing somewhat. They may become more observant and aware of passing thoughts and bodily sensations.
People new to meditation can attend courses to learn various approaches to meditation. Group meditations are available all around the world, which help people stick to the practice of meditation and connect people to other like-minded individuals. Guided meditations are plentiful online, and many books have been written on this topic. It has never been an easier time to start meditation.
How Are Prayer And Meditation Different?
There are differences between prayer and meditation. Prayer is an active or creative expression; meditation focuses on stillness. Prayer often concerns specifics in the outer world of physicality; meditation is connected to the inner world. In prayer, the mind is engaged in creative articulation; in meditation the mind leans towards tranquility. Prayer bridges one with a higher power; meditation brings one closer to one's self. Prayer is communicating, while meditation is observing. Prayer is often oriented on results or change-making, while meditation tends towards an acceptance of the present.
A person will require faith in a divine being to truly employ prayer. For meditation, on the other hand, it's not necessary to believe in anything.
What Do Prayer And Meditation Have In Common?
Prayer and meditation definitely have some commonalities, especially in the results they produce in one's life. They both uplift the mood and change the state of mind. They both move a person into a place of surrender and receptivity. They allow a release of negative energies such as stress, despair, or frustration. They bring increased awareness and allow more a of a "big picture" mindset. They are both tools to help reach a goal. Prayer and meditation are both able to be practiced alone or in groups, planned or impromptu, and using various methods.
How Can Prayer And Meditation Be Practiced Together?
Prayer and Meditation can blend together in a complementary way. It is entirely possible to fuse the best of both worlds. For example, sometimes when I approach prayer, I have ideas about how things should be. I think I know what would be best for me or another person. I think situations in my environment should change in a specific way. If remember to meditate first, or even become a bit more mindful, I slow the part of my thinking that is concentrated on improvements, adjustments, and fixing things up in an egoic way.
In penetrating from a higher perspective in meditation, I might realise that although I think the best thing for me is to move home, and I am about to pray for a great home in a new location, there are actually some amazing benefits to living in my current location that I haven't explored yet. Or perhaps I think that reconciliation with a loved one is a great idea and I'd like to pray that I can re-connect with them. After meditating on this, however, I realise that the other person involved isn't in the mindset of rectifying things yet, and acceptance of that reality is more of what I need to focus on.
After coming to new understandings through meditation, I am become clear on what I will pray about. I would now pray for the ability to see amazing new opportunities in my current home neighbourhood. I would also pray that my heart becomes softer, and more understanding of my loved one whom I am not in contact with. I might pray that they feel supported at this time in their life, or pray a prayer of blessing for them.
How To Engage The Heart In Prayer And Meditation
It has been said that the greatest power in the Universe is love. When we are in a feeling or "vibration" of love, this allows us to tap into to that power. The heart is the most powerful organ we have, and in an energetic sense it's the area of our body that controls compassion, forgiveness, and empathy. Our heart centre brings the connection of our instinctual, survival nature with our higher, more divine nature.
Both prayer and meditation can become more powerful and are used more wisely when we bring to our awareness the heart centre and allow it to guide us to the best focus for our prayer or meditation sessions. A soft-feeling, open heart helps us to treat ourselves with more acceptance and also assists us in understanding other people and situations. This can help show us what we should pray for. Seeing through the eyes of the heart, we receive a vision of what would be the most magnificent, ordered, and fitting prayer in a given scenario.
A Simple Practice to Bring Together Prayer and Meditation
If you believe in a Divine force and want to start combining prayer and meditation together in a new way, try this powerful method out:
- Sit or lie in a comfortable place with a straight spine.
- Slow your breathing slightly and place your hand on your heart.
- Visualise your heart filling with lovingkindness and imagine acceptance and softness. Take a few moments to create a happy, loving place in your body that offers generous acceptance of self and others.
- Call to mind a situation that you want to pray about. Ask the question, "is there anything I need to know about this, anything I am haven't noticed?"
- Notice anything that pops up to your awareness.
- Whether anything has surfaced or not, you can next ask: "what would be the most aligned prayer about this that would benefit all involved?"
- Offer your prayer in its most free-spirited form. It could even be one word. Continue to feel the soft loving feeling in your heart centre.
- Say a "thank you" or just bring your hands to prayer position at the heart centre to close your practice. Mentally, let go of how this prayer should be answered, trusting the perfect solution will be provided at the right time.
Loved Prayer Vs Meditation - What's the Difference?
This blog post was brought to you by Amanda Wideman
Amanda Wideman is a yoga instructor, a traveler, and a humanitarian whose goal is to find and share peace through art and volunteerism. She currently lives in Zanzibar, Tanzania.