Shrouds and incense.
A mystic mind at one with the universe.
Meditation just seemed too weird for me.
I’ve been a praying person as long as I can remember. I pray before bed, I pray in the morning. I pray before meals. I pray at church, with my wife, with my kids, by myself (see also Don’t Just Meditate. Add Prayer to Make These 4 Great Things Happen).
Meditation seemed an unnecessary practice. To me, it was prayer without content. It was evacuating the mind, when it should instead be filled with positive thoughts and productive pondering.
But really, it was because I knew nothing about meditation. As I’ve learned more about meditation and other mindfulness techniques, I’ve learned that meditation can make prayer more powerful.
Like most misconceptions, I put two ideas in conflict that should have instead been brought together in synergy.
Below are 3 ways meditation can improve your prayers.
1. Meditation will clear and focus your mind
If you are like me, you have found that upon completing a prayer, you realize you went through the motions without any of the prayer reaching heaven.
Sure, some words were said, but the mind was elsewhere.
I’ve often found myself pondering the problems of the day when I’m technically supposed to be praying. I have some rote phrases I use to help myself ‘say’ a prayer, but in the end, I recognize that I was really just thinking about other things.
The practice of meditation naturally helps the mind practice keeping attention. Once you can master focusing during meditation, you can master focusing on the words, thoughts, and feelings you are sending to God during prayer. Then, when your thoughts go to the grocery list, or the work conflict, or the gnawing family problem, you can gently send those thoughts away temporarily.
By re-directing attention back to prayer, you will be able to pray with sincerity, intent, and authenticity. You will understand more clearly what you are grateful for, and you will know what to ask God for.
2. Meditation helps you be genuinely grateful
An important part of many prayer traditions is the expression of gratitude to God. Many traditions often express wonder, amazement, and awe for God during prayer.
One of the benefits of meditation prior to prayer is that you can focus your mind on the here and now and what you’re grateful for.
More often than not, we are thinking about what comes next. What do I need next? What should I do next? What does so and so think of me? What if this happens? What if that happens?
When we meditate and focus on our breathing, we can take time to feel gratitude for our current state. We can notice and appreciate those small things that we usually take for granted. Our heartbeat. Our breath. Our arms and hands and fingers. Our legs and feet and toes.
We can appreciate how far we’ve come in life and how we’re right where we need to be. There is further to go, but we’re right where we need to be at this moment.
3. Meditation will help you listen
And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains,
and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord;
but the Lord was not in the wind:
and after the wind an earthquake;
but the Lord was not in the earthquake:
And after the earthquake a fire;
but the Lord was not in the fire:
and after the fire a still small voice.
— 1 Kings 19, Old Testament
The voice of God speaks to each of us in different ways. Most often, however, it is in a still small voice.
At my house, we have six kids. At dinner time, it’s sometimes nearly impossible to carry on a conversation in a normal tone of voice — the background noise is too high. We have to ask all of our children to quiet down and listen so that we can communicate with them.
Our minds are much the same. We have loads of thoughts and images from our day that pass through. Many are loud and noisy and vying for our attention.
When our minds are in this state, we cannot hear what God has to say to us. We’ll ask God a question and then like noisy children at dinner, we’re unable to hear an answer.
As religious leader Brigham Young described it:
All I have to do is … keep my spirit, feelings and conscience like a sheet of blank paper, and let the spirit and power of God write upon it what he pleases. When he writes, I will read; but if I read before he writes, I am very likely to be wrong.
To me, this does not imply a blank, uninformed mind. It implies a quiet mind, free from the tyranny of the thoughts of the day. It is the constant practice of quieting the mind that allows it to become adept at receiving connection with the divine.
How to Meditate
There are many ways to meditate. Visual meditations. Walking meditations. Before-bed meditations. Morning meditations. Searching the internet will reveal a variety of ways to practice the discipline of meditation.
The very simplest meditation, however, is to just breathe.
Find a comfortable place to sit. Relax. Close your eyes. You may want to set a timer for a few minutes.
Breathe in for a count of 4–6 seconds. Then breathe out for a count of the same.
Focus your thoughts on your breathing. Notice the in and out movements of your chest. Notice the air passing over your lips.
You will notice your thoughts slowing down. You will still have the busy thoughts of the day come into your mind. This is natural. Let them come, and then let them go. Don’t expect a blank mind. It is a young child — endlessly wandering off. Your job with meditation is to gently guide it back to your breathing.
By practicing the art of meditation you will learn to better appreciate your body, mind, and spirit. You will learn that you can be in charge of what you think, say, and do. You will be aware of yourself in a mindful way.
It is by being in this state, you can improve your connection with the divine.
Putting it into practice
I’ve found the following practice to be extremely helpful to combine the power of meditation with prayer.
First, I begin my morning routine with a brief meditation. I clear my mind and prepare for the day.
Second, I write down what I want to pray about — what I’m grateful for; what I need for the day; the questions I need answered.
Third, I pray with calmed and focused mind.
Fourth, I pause and listen with quiet thoughts.
Fifth, I write down any thoughts I have. I evaluate them, and if needed I repeat steps two through four.
This process is simple. The concepts are ancient. The ideas have been practiced by great spiritual leaders throughout the ages.
You can do this, too.
For more insight on prayer:
I daily read from the Bible and the Book of Mormon and they connect me to God. They teach that you can pray anywhere about all kinds of important things. Many of you have probably read some passages from the Bible, but you probably haven’t read from the Book of Mormon.
I challenge you to check out this article I wrote to find out why you should read from the Book of Mormon, too!