Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore.
Naomi Shihab Nye
In 3 reasons to prayer: 1, 2, 3, I wrote about what makes prayer difficult, why you avoid it, why you say you haven’t the time or are not disciplined. In prayer you become, perhaps only dimly, aware of life’s physical, emotional and existential discomfort. If you are to come to the truth about God and life/Life, you have to come to this awareness of suffering – hurt, anxiety and terror.
- stop breathing (because a deep breath brings you back to yourself and the present moment)
- leave this body (the place where you feel the pain)
- seek distraction and numb out (TV, Internet, read, socialise, drink, eat, sleep)
- minimise (“other people have far worse to deal with”)
- seek to apportion blame to someone, and/or yourself (which disempowers you)
How are you to pray with suffering? All spiritual traditions offer help. Here are some examples:
- Buddhism: compassion and loving-kindness
- Carl Rogers: acceptance and empathy
- Bio-spiritual focusing: caring presence
- Naomi Shihab Nye: kindness
- Christianity: the love of Christ
The art of prayer when suffering is to practice bringing an attitude of kindly, loving care to yourself.
How do you start?
- Remember a time when you have felt kindly, loving care, perhaps towards a child, a friend who is unhappy or in pain, to a favourite pet, picture… or any other corner of the world.
- Evoke this feeling again. Let it into yourself. Notice where you feel it in this body. Practise it, frequently.
- When you suffer, notice it, take a deep breath, don’t push it away. Notice where you feel this in this body. Lean into it.
- Now open your heart to yourself; bring the kindness you have practiced to this moment, this suffering.
It is tough. You may only be able to do this for a few seconds. That’s enough.