Category Archives: The Practice of Prayer

It’s Elul!!

Once again it’s Elul, and you all know what that means… Time for T’shuva!!  It’s the month before Rosh Hashanah and it’s time to realign.

When I was a kid this time was almost awful to me and the word T’shuva (repentance/return) was daunting… It meant a sort of seeing how bad I am and beating myself up over it.  And Rosh Hashanah meant having to come clean with G!d in a judgmental way of a parent chastising a child, and all the fear that surrounds an interaction like that.  It was the same thing with Yom Kippur, but even worse… I dreaded the day, having to fast and pray all day…. Yuck!!

Now , Thank G!d, the story has changed and I so look forward to these upcoming days of deep reflection, realignment and reconnection with Source, with Ratzon Hashem (Divine Will), and my true self and true purpose in life.  These truly are awesome days!!

And Elul is the gift of getting ready, a month to prepare for making Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot as powerful as they can be.  And how do we do this?   Through T’shuva… Return… Returning to our true selves and deep connection with Source – Where we came from and where we are truly going.  It’s a wake up call, a reminder to look deeply into what has been driving us this past year, to lovingly see where we’ve been faltering, getting distracted and moving off track away from the integrity of our true selves and our personal service to the Divine unfolding of Evolution.

T’shuva is sweet… so sweet!  At first it can be hard, depending how far off track we’ve gotten, but that pain of seeing where we are, that we’re out of alignment, is a gateway we must walk (or cry) through to get to the other side where the sweetness of reconnection awaits us.  The pain and sadness of disconnect is actually a sign of connection… It shows us we care and we feel how real and important our relationship with Hashem is.

And once that relationship is reestablished through the pain of feeling distant we can let go of that and just revel in the bliss of knowing we’ve never actually left G!d’s side, that in fact it is impossible to leave G!d’s side…. for in truth we are infinitely connected with the Creator… And maybe part of our sadness comes from the fact that we keep forgetting this awesome truth… forgetting how infinitely united we are with Hashem.  Please Creator help us remember!!!

One of the ways that helps us remember is prayer… Prayer is our big tool of T’shuva.  It can help us reunite with G!d, through calling out verbally to the Divine, asking forgiveness, asking for help to remember, asking for guidance on this magical path… And also giving thanks, verbally thanking G!d for being here, for being given the chance to travel in a human body on earth, to be given the chance to consciously connect, love and serve the Divine.  What an incredible, utterly off the hook gift!!!  And T’shuva is the physical/spiritual/emotional process of remembering this.

And that’s why it’s so sweet, we get this chance all the time, but once a year during Elul leading up to and including Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we can make it so potent, for our selves and each other.  It’s perfectly set up this way, a divine gift for us… Let’s revel in it and do whatever we can to make it the most powerful and meaningful time, practice, and process possible… Because we are here and we are alive!!

Three Faces of Spirit (G!d)

“The Three Faces of Spirit is one of the most important insights that Integral theory offers to the field of spirituality. All human approaches to spiritual practice and mystical realization can be seen to fall into three broad categories — First-Person Spirituality, Second-Person Spirituality, and Third-Person Spirituality.

The Mystery of existence, the matter of ultimate concern, is the ultimate profundity. No perspective can possibly capture it. By its very nature, Spirit itself, the great Mystery, transcends all perspectives.

But human nervous systems are perspective-making machines. We can’t help taking perspectives. And thus, since the most ancient times, our spirituality, and our descriptions of it, always make use of our fundamental perspectives. The structure of language gives us a hint to the deep structure of our perspectives and our spirituality — we organize our speech in three broad categories.

The first-person. There is “I” or “me” the first-person perspective; from this vantage-point I can explore the rich depths of interior experience, of what it’s like inside me, of my consciousness, my intuitions, my thoughts, my experiences, and my feelings. In language, the first-person is the one speaking.

The second-person. When I am able to connect with someone, that one goes from being (for me) an “it” to becoming “you.” We connect. There is at least the most basic kind of communion. We are able to understand each other, reach mutual agreements, and a culture can arise. And in any kind of inter-subjective connection, a “we” arises. In language, the second-person is the one spoken to.

The third-person. When I contemplate anything or anyone, or when I act upon anything or anyone in my world, whatever I contemplate or act upon is the object of my attention or action. I can see it, observe it, examine it, sense it, and affect it. This is the domain of objective information and experience. Herein lies all objective knowledge, including all our sciences. In language, the third-person is the one spoken about.

Based on the distinctions between the first, second, and third person perspectives, we can see three distinct “families” of spiritual experience and practice. We’ll consider third-person spirituality first, then first-person spirituality, and finally second-person spirituality.

Third-person spirituality often involves contemplating the mystery of existence (“looking at it.”) This can take a wide variety of forms; two of the most important and familiar expressions of third-person spirituality are (1) nature mysticism, and (2) philosophy or theology. Nature mysticism is found in all spiritual traditions, and it is important in the lives of most post-postmodern practitioners. It involves contemplating the natural landscape, light, sky, sun, moon, stars, and creatures, seeing them, in a sense, as the body of the Mystery of existence. In reading, writing, or discussing philosophy, we contemplate existence, noticing the abstract patterns that connect and underlie our world and experience. Philosophy and nature mysticism are entirely different undertakings, but they both involve “contemplating it,” looking at aspects of the Mystery, and letting that process transform us. In Integral Life Practice, the core third-person spiritual practice is called Kosmic Contemplation.

First-person spirituality involves awakening to the unchanging IAMness that is always present as the still and silent Witness of experience. This IAMness is the pure consciousness that is present during every experience, every sound, sight, smell, taste, sensation, thought, or feeling, however pleasant or unpleasant. Such pure consciousness is often described as the ultimate realization, the goal of Eastern mystical paths. It is experienced when eyes open after meditation, and there is an experience of Oneness with all existence, of Union, of non-separation. And long before we achieve any ultimate nirvana, we can experience a glimpse of IAMness (also called Suchness) via meditation, inspiring conversation with a spiritual teacher, or spontaneously, as a graceful accident. The paths that focus on first-person spirituality usually focus on meditation, on transcending our “monkey mind” tendency to be absorbed in our constant stream of thoughts, and on the open field of consciousness that naturally arises when the mind relaxes. In Integral Life Practice, the core first-person spiritual practice is called Integral Inquiry or Integral Awakening.

Educated post-postmodern Westerners tend to feel a natural openness to both of these forms of spirituality. Modern science questions the idea of personal identity and validates the inherent oneness of the cosmos. Both first-person and third-person spirituality make sense to a contemporary worldview. The Western discovery of Eastern spirituality has primarily sparked trans-rational explorations of first-person, and to a lesser degree, third-person spirituality.

Second-person spirituality involves communion with the Mystery of existence as one’s universal beloved intimate. It is a direct relationship between the individual “I” with the “you” of Spirit, turning directly into feeling-contact with the universal beloved. It can be expressed through prayer, and through a devotional life of worship, service, and celebration. Second-person paths usually begin with insight, the acknowledgment that the heart tends to close, cutting us off from others and life. On that basis, there is practice, the intention to open the heart, loving surrender to the source of grace, and devotional enjoyment of intimacy with Spirit.

Second-person spirituality is a difficult sticking-point for many Westerners. One reason is that Western culture was long dominated by Christian second-person religion with a dogmatic mythic conception of God. When Western cultures made their transition into modernity, they (rightly!) rejected mythic religious conceptions of God. But they threw out the baby (second-person spirituality altogether) along with the bathwater (a mythic version of God.) It can be especially difficult for Westerners to accept trans-rational prayer, since they often imagine that communing with the Mystery must inherently presume a metaphysical conception of God. (“First, tell me exactly who I would be praying to?”) But that dogmatic skepticism fails to notice that we can relate to Spirit trans-rationally, as the graceful nature of reality, the universal “other-ness” implied by the experience of “me-ness.”

But second-person spirituality is essential—and it’s one of the most transformational opportunities opened up by an Integral view. Human brains and nervous systems evolved in hunter-gatherer bands, and therefore we are mentally and emotionally structured for relating to others. Those relational capacities are not engaged by first-person awakening to IAMness or third-person contemplation of nature or philosophy.

A love relationship with existence is the essence of second-person spirituality—and love enables us to access tremendous power and energy. Second-person spirituality implicates us personally, revealing our closed hearts and contraction for what they are—a violation of our inherent love-relationship with the Mystery of existence. The universal drama of a love-relationship with the universal Beloved quickens our blood and brings us alive. Love is what unleashes the power of our whole being. And what is spirituality without love? In Integral Life Practice, the core second-person spiritual practice is called Integral Communion.”  -Terry Patten

For more from Terry check out: http://www.integralspiritualpractice.com/

And Yes, You Must Make Yourself Small

“In meditative prayer, a word on a page or in our mind’s eye can be used as a visual
meditation. A word in our throats and mouths can be used as a vibrational meditation. On a
subtler level, the breath we use to sound a word can become a gate into the inner reality of
God’s presence. Never despair of entering this gate. All that is required is to slow down.

And yes, you must make yourself small. You must give up the little me that clings to the
familiar and is afraid of going beyond me. You must give up thinking that you know. Allow the
awareness of eternity to penetrate into your consciousness. Stand in its mystery. Stand in the
mystery of God’s eternal reality that is only hidden but never absent. Admit and stand in the
mystery of your own existence. Do not let mundane thoughts distract you. Declare your desire
to serve Hashem, to cling to Him, to remain in His presence forever. Fear not that you will be
unable to return to the little me again. It will happen soon enough. In the meantime, while you
are in this sacred space, ask for wisdom and understanding, ask for forgiveness and blessing,
ask for love and mercy. Ask for redemption—for yourself, your people, mankind, and all
creation. Ask to take the light of this moment-in-eternity into your life.

You will then not only yearn for such moments, but discover the secret of inducing them. This
is what awakening from below is all about. By immersing yourself in holy words of prayer, you
become a vessel for Godliness, a conduit of Hashem’s light. Such that even when you are not
in prayer, by simply contemplating the reality of Hashem’s infinite oneness, you draw its
precious light into yourself.

In truth there is no end in the service of Hashem. It is an infinite dance in which we enter more
deeply into the holy of holies of our being each time in order to bring back greater and greater
awareness of His presence in all spheres of our life. Even when we attain a higher or more
expanded level of consciousness, we must never become heady about it, for it is merely a
stepping stone on an endless journey to Ein Sof. It may be a higher level relative to anything experienced so far, but it is extremely rudimentary relative to what is presently beyond our
reach. Let us therefore humbly acknowledge our smallness and ask for Hashem’s help. This is
the meaning of “Min hametzar karati Yah; anani bamerchav Yah—from my constricted straits I
called out to God; God answered me [by bringing me forth] into expansiveness” (Psalm 118:5).
In other words, after experiencing the joy of coming close to the Blessed One in our prayers
and in our service, if we realize that even our highest attainments are inadequate and
immature relative to that which is presently beyond us, then Hashem will surely bring us
closer. On the other hand, if we think we know it all and become insensitive to His helping
hand, it is only our loss.”

-Realizing The Unity, Avraham Sutton

Binding Myself to G!d: The Practice of T’phillin

Binding Myself to G!d:

The practice of putting on t’phillin (phylacteries) can be a powerful way to ‘bind the body to G!d’, to physically attach the body – which at times might seem gross, or un-spiritual – to G!d, to the soul.  The body, in truth, is already holy and spiritual, but our work is to take command of this holy vehicle and put it into the service of G!d and the soul.  The body on its own is ruled by animal instincts; through conscious effort we place the body in control of the soul, in Divine service, service to others, to the world, to something outside of its own personal wants and needs.  Putting in t’phillin with this intention may physically help someone achieve this transformation.

Purposes of Prayer

At this moment two distinct purposes of prayer are coming to mind… Birthed from the question… “What is the point of praying to G!d?”  Now when i speak of prayer i am addressing both formal (from the siddur/prayer book) and informal prayer.

So, prayer type number 1:  This prayer is about coming from a place of feeling deep separation from G!d… An overwhelming sense of lack… The feeling of longing to be close and unite with the Oneness and Peace of the Creator… In these moments we are crying out to G!d with tremendous urgency… “G!d, Lord, Hashem!  Please bring me into your Presence!  Let me feel You and know You and serve You now!  I’m lost and need Your guidance… Bring me out of this state of illusory separateness and darkness… Bring me into Your Light!”  This is a “kav s’mol prayer”.

The other type of prayer is a non-dual prayer, a “kav y’min prayer”… It is coming from the place of, “There is nothing but you Lord, Hashem Echad… I stand in Your Presence and bask in Your Glory… I am in the Garden of Eden now, in this moment… Thank You!!”  This is a prayer of fullness.

It should be noted that it is not necessary  to feel the fullness of the 2nd type (kav y’min) of prayer when engaging in this prayer… It’s more about the Faith and Knowledge that this is true, namely, There is no real separation, G!d is One, All is G!d.  If one is able to stand and pray from this place of Faith, then one is able to pray the kav y’min prayer and thereby bring that truth and sense of fullness into the reality of this physical moment.

Though with the first type of prayer (kav s’mol) it is utterly necessary to feel disconnected from G!d, and to tap into the pain of this feeling.