Before you stop reading, this isn’t going to be religious. I just listened to a podcast on prayer and I learned something that I wanted to share. At one point one of the people on the show defined prayer as “Un-mixed attention”. I really like that idea.
Here is what I am thinking. First, I’m thinking of watching my one-year-old move water from one bucket to another using a cup with a hole in it. That kid is 100% completely focused on the task at hand. That could be considered a prayer. It certainly isn’t what we would traditionally define as prayer, but he’s focused. He is completely dedicated to improving his understanding of the world around him. He is free from distraction with his mind centered on the present moment and his immediate physical surroundings.
I’m not intending to be religious, but what better way to commune with a creator (whether it be God, Mother Nature, or a sense of self), than to focus intently and truly apply the gifts we have been given and experience the physical world in which we live.
I also find it interesting that, by this definition, my children (and I believe children in general) pray almost always. They have a certain bond to the world around them, and the workings of their mind. Without our interruption, kids will focus on a task and fully engage their minds to their skills and the world immediately surrounding them. Just today I had to interrupt my oldest (age 8) son’s ‘prayer’ that he had been dedicated to all afternoon of getting a rope out of a really tall tree that didn’t have any low branches.
Adults, on the other hand, spend most of their time trying to find time when they can sit and focus on just one thing. Maybe I’m the only adult with this problem, but I struggle to really put 100% effort into tasks on a regular basis. Prayer, as defined in this new way, comes much more naturally to kids than adults. I think that is true of real sincere prayer.
One of the reasons that I struggle a bit with this different definition of prayer is that in my life I have prayed by talking to my perception of God. Rarely, if ever, are my ‘prayers’ done with un-mixed attention, and therefore they aren’t really prayers according to my new definition. That is a little challenging for me to deal with, but if God, Mother Nature or my sense of self wants to be spoken to, wouldn’t it be expected that I put my undivided attention into it? As hard as it may be to grasp, I really need to relearn to pray, and deep down I’ve known that for a long time.
OK, I’m done trying to convince you of my new thoughts on prayer, but now I want to think a bit about how we could apply this. For me, I would love to increase my dedication to doing what is right for creating a sustainable world both within my family and globally. I wish I would dedicate my time and my un-mixed attention to thinking through decisions before acting on impulse or ease.
And since it is on my mind, I’ll offer a ‘what if’. What if our elected officials gathered together and gave ‘un-mixed attention’ to doing what is right for our country and its people? Would we be in this economic crisis if our elected officials would argue over what is best for the people rather than what is best for raising campaign money, being reelected or their political party’s positioning? I would suggest that we need prayer in government. Not empty talking to a supreme being, but prayer in the sense of giving un-mixed attention to doing what is right.
Last thing on prayer. When I think of the word prayer and what it is supposed to be, I think of a true communing with something bigger than myself. I don’t feel that in idle words, although I have felt it on rare occasions when I was able to focus completely. I feel a true communing with something bigger when I am completely dedicated to something.
I remember studying for a physiology exam where we would be tested on how different foods were converted to energy and how that whole process was regulated. It took days of intense study to learn what I needed for the test and to recognize how much more there was to know about the world and how ignorant I really am. I don’t know if I have ever offered a better prayer or received a better answer.
I remember building bunk beds when my second son was born. I was completely focused on making it sturdy, but less expensive than we could buy in the store. I focused on creating a design that would work as bunk beds or two identical twin beds depending on how we wanted to set it up. I focused on measuring twice and cutting once so that I didn’t waste my materials. It took several days because I am slow and deliberate, but I ended up with a solid set of bunk beds and a list of things I will do differently next time. That time spent in the garage working on beds is a fond memory and a prayer of thanks for my abilities to think, create and work.
So what are your prayers? Or what do you wish your prayers were? … What do you want to give ‘un-mixed attention’ to in your life?