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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

MEDITATION vs PRAYER: The First Round, in which I spill the beans of the moment of my deconversion

Ed Keinholz:
"If you want something to happen you pray to make it happen and what you’re really doing is setting yourself up to be super aware of that proposed solution. If you pray for a particular object and all of a sudden you find it, it doesn’t mean the prayer works, only that you were aware to the possibility of that object."

I found the Keinholz quote while being a nerd. You can find it by watching the extras on “The Cool School" dvd. Check out pics of Ed's "76 JCs Led The Big Charade" exhibit.

A friend’s recent email brought the distinction between prayer and meditation to the surface. Tempted to verbosely theorize on the difference between meditation and prayer, I realized all I have are theories.

So I ask you...

What do you see as the important differences between meditation and prayer?

Are there studies about how prayer affects the brain compared to how meditation affects the brain?

The similarities probably outweigh the differences.

As a dedicated follower of Jesus, I lived in a constant state of internal prayer. I no longer “pray.” I admit to meditation, but I haven’t yet settled on a form of prayer that does not take power out of my hands and place it in the hands of imaginary friends.

To Fundies, the Lord’s Prayer is a cop-out. Until I sang Malotte's kick-ass version of it at a wedding, I barely knew it. And it’s a bitch of a prayer, musically speaking. Music was my favorite form of public prayer.

Like voting, prayer was a very private matter. We rarely talked about our prayers because it was an intimate connection between yourself and God through the Holy Spirit.

Prayer was immediate, relevant, personal, sincere. Even when food was involved.

Speaking of food, it’s time to spill the beans about the moment of my deconversion.

__***__***__***__ ***__***

The first time I did NOT pray was the moment I found myself facing south on a westbound freeway.

As I slowly passed a truck on my way to work, I looked back to merge into the right lane. I looked away from my merging mirrors and realized it was too late to stop. A traffic cop motioned for everyone to stay in the left lane to allow a funeral procession to enter the freeway. A few cars ahead, someone had come to a complete stop, in the left lane, for a dead man. I stood on the brakes. I couldn’t stop fast enough. I hit the car in front of me at about 35mph. My face hit the steering wheel three times. There was blood everywhere, broken skin, broken bone, and a big bump where the third eye hangs out.

I stared into the December sky and realized for the first time EVER I had no need to pray. No desire. Zip.

I looked in the rearview mirror and couldn’t recognize my face. Still… no need to call on anyone.

Just like that, a dead man, Jesus, no longer mattered. What did matter was the question that sunk into my skull and hasn’t left since.

Am I dead or alive?

What’s the difference?

In the ER, a specialist was called in to look at one of my wounds. He asked what had happened. Assuming he knew, I told him that I had slipped and fallen in the bathtub. He took one look at my brother and my face and left to go talk to social services. Clued in to the accident, he came back, shaking his finger at me, to inform me that I had quite the sense humor and that there didn’t appear to be any damage done to my brain… “but seriously,” he laughed, “for a minute you had me going.”

O to make people laugh while in the throes of our mortality.

It was by far not the first time, or the second, or third, etc., that death’s brazen inevitability confronted me face to face. Through all my past encounters with death, I’d turned to Jesus.

True, this time death slapped me upside the head. But when doesn’t death slap us upside the head?

I haven’t prayed since the morning before that accident.

I study and appreciate meditation for its straightforward exploration of the last frontier: the brain. I like how meditation does not shy away from science. I don’t like how most prayer denies the existence of science.

I study yoga to experience the corners of my body that are Alive, yet muted. I’m very aware that this life is the only time I’ll experience this body. I’m not waiting for the 2nd coming of anyone but myself.

Sometimes I jog in the cold.

Sometimes I name inanimate objects, like my bike.

Sometimes I drink too much coffee.

Sometimes I… neveryoumind.

But there it is folks, the final point of departure. Whatever got knocked out of me on impact stayed out. Coming up on the 7th anniversary of my JC-free life, I’m here to tell you, this is one Honeymoon With Life that is far from over.

I don’t quite understand people who toy with the border between belief and agnostic-atheism because I catapulted from one to the other… quick and nearly painless. I see the transition from faith to the lack thereof as limbo… hell on earth. I have the utmost respect for the personal hell of others.

Plenty, let’s say 85% of Believers who read this, will smugly say: “she was tested by God and miserably failed,” and/or “she never was a true believer,” and/or “once saved, always saved.”

Bullshit, bullshit, and bullshit.

A detailed response I’ll save for later, but believe me… if that one episode proved my inability to take the heat, pass a test, then someone needs to explain how the 4 dozen tests I passed with flying colors before that one don’t count.

For now, I want to know what to YOU is the difference between prayer and meditation? When did you start noting the difference? Are you of the school of thought that there is no difference?

And for all of those praying for me, I highly suggest you turn your prayers inward and ask yourself "Why am I so attracted to the idea of controlling someone else’s life?"

Links: Cars R Coffins
"Chief of the Medical Staff" by Nathan Greene


Seeing Eye Chick said...

For those praying for you, I think they should ask themselves, Why are they so obsessed with using YOUR faith, to validate their own?

Is it any less believable, this faith, when you dont partake of it?

Christine Vyrnon said...

good point.

YogaforCynics said...

Hmmm...looks like you were tested by God and miserably failed...and also that you never believed in the first place and...what was the third thing again?

Seriously, prayer and meditation both seem to mean a hell of a lot of things to a hell of a lot of people (as do terms like spirituality and, yeah, that big one "God"). Certainly the version of prayer that fundamentalists seem to do (never having been one, I'm gonna try not to presume too much)--the endlessly praising and begging the egotistical ultimate father figure for rewards instead of punishments--is nothing like any kind of meditation I'd have anything to do with. Then, the kinds of dogmatism or new agey bullshit that goes along with a lot of what the mellow crowd calls meditation doesn't exactly appeal to me, either.

I've been reading a lot of Krishnamurti lately and his ideas on meditation(and I actually just wrote a blog post where I quoted him on this very subject)(really, it's not just a cheap plug), and he basically sees true meditation as letting go of all dogma and all ideas about God or anything else, defined by not knowing, rather than faith in anything. And that works for me--a distinction between going for something you already think you know (I'm definitely borrowing from Krishnamurti here, as well) and truly venturing into the unknown.

Christine Vyrnon said...

Yay! Krishnamurti! I'll be right over to take a look. I couldn't pass up a good J. Krishnamurti salt-lick if I tried. He has a way tearing down all explanations and excuses.

Well said on the prayer/begging to this "ultimate father figure". I think you nailed it, descriptively. And couldn't agree with you more about the new age approach to meditation which is a huge turn-off. Unfortunately... on both accounts.

Thanks much for your input.

EastwoodDC said...

Nice post Christine. I just wanted to add that there is Christian meditation, but it is not commonly taught to the lay person. This is too bad really, because an honest internal self examination through meditation is a lot more helpful than an appeal to an external ... whatever. (Somehow I managed to figure that out for myself before I was introduced to meditation.)
So the difference is ... internal versus external focus?

Christine Vyrnon said...

So there is such a thing as christian "lay people"? Is christian meditation similiar to christian yoga? (i know it's not, but everyone wants to get on the bandwagon of those two these days)

To meditate on the "book of law"... which we shall meditate on day and night, (josh1.8 and the psalms) and pray without ceasing (1 thess 5.17)... yes there is a difference referenced throughout the bible... and you are probably right with the internal vs external focus part of it, could be that simple.

Thank you much for your perspective.

Jeff Baker said...


You might be my twin sister separated at birth... or you could be drugging me and writing my posts.

I have to agree on the god-isnt-there-when-you-need-him thing. My life is clear evidence of the truth of your perspective. Remember there is a difference between god as we were taught, and the christ. There is power in meditation to reveal the christ in you that still allows you to have your position on god without judgement.

You are very, very wise. You have probably experienced more than most your age. You may have even chosen the path of most (not least)resistance, like I did... either way, you know truth and it has set you free.

Consider the christ element. It is and was the advice that connected all the dots for me and allowed me to have my new beliefs (about god) and not sell out on all the stuff that gave me the experience necessary to see the contrast:-)

christ is in the midst of that contrast... google this:

daskalos -- it is greek for master. his real name is dr. stylianos atteshlis.

I know you read. He will bridge the gap, and who knows? You may thank me one day.

Peace to you -- jb

Christine Vyrnon said...

Shooot. You're on to me. I'll have to try something other than slipping you roofies. Maybe something more hallucigenic?

Very aware of the christ in me, in you, in all, and very willing to continue to explore that element.

Look forward to reading up on pretty much you can throw at me... doesn't mean I'll stomach it... but also look forward to checking out whatever my twin is writing.

Thanks much for the introduction and comment!

Common Tater said...

Ten years into my recovering Agnosticism and I am focussing on what is entailed in turning the chemical/electrical activity in our brain into thoughts & consciousness. We are our brains.

Now the way I see it we have this huge hard drive that is constantly crashed by our inherited genetic programing. I've often lamented that we would have been miles ahead of the game if we had carried more Bonobo (female dominated/cooperative/sexual solutions to conflict) than Chimpanzee (male dominated/aggressive-competitive/violent resolutions to conflict)but we have been separated for a long time and we stood out from the crowd to take advantage of expanding savannahs.

Sorry I meander..the dawn of civilization (agricultural revolution) allowed large numbers of us to congregate and become subservient to a troika of politicos. shamans and military leaders who dreamed up some brilliant gods to keep us in line. Oh sure they have recycled them all and slapped a new coat of paint on but the central purpose of having a religious system is to retain the power of exclusivity for those at the top.

In order to alleviate the stress of not knowing WHY we are here the great unwashed have been served a myriad of hypotheticals each competing with others in the my god is bigger than your god marketplace.

This coming Horus..Mithras..Sol Invictus..I mean Christmas season always aggravates me but I watched Stephen (unapologetic Catholic)Colbert's Special and he and Elvis Costello sang there are worse things to believe in..
basically outlining all the peace, love and understanding feelgood items that it is supposed to be about...
which was a nice sentiment. They also had some fun with Toby Keith lamenting about the war on Christmas, Willie Nelson tokin' in the manger (guess what his gift was?) and a little teasing with Jon Stewart about Chrismakkuh.

It was the first time in a long time that I enjoyed a lite-hearted laugh about the whole schmozzola in years. It gave me, dare I say it, hope.

Donn Coppens said...

I came back to apologize for my exhaustive tedious lamentation and to say HI.

Christine Vyrnon said...

No need to apologize. Hot-For Jesus is all about lamentations and me taking forever to post comments and whatever. I actually really liked what you had to say about the bonobo/chimpanzee comparison... first I've heard of this, and find all human evolution choices fascinating... and continue to be curious to see How we use What we have to go Which direction... and our current discussions about all things religious, or the lack thereof, are immediately relevant in ways we may never know... but relevent relevent relevent.
Thanks for stopping by again.

YogaforCynics said...

Yo, Christine....

This is a great post and all but, y'know...November's gettin' a bit old....

Quit yer slackin'!

Wow...the word verification is "arsonice"....It boggles the mind....Just what kind of ice does an arsonist use?

Riverwolf, said...

Just stumbled upon your blog--excellent. I, too, am a former fundie but am now skipping freely through life.

As far as prayer and meditation, I've been serious about both at different times. Prayer was so often about asking for things, whining, pleading, trying to make everyone see things your way and, of course, fighting Satan.

You can also meditate for things or people, but at least it doesn't have that taint of "will God hear me and approve?" Prayer expects specific outcomes whereas meditation simply is.

Or is that complete bullshit? Ah well. Kudos on the blog and on your journey!

carl said...

like you i was in a catastrophic situation and realized there was no god to help me. i dont know really what happened but one day i simply realized that it was all bullshit and that i totally believed. all at the same time. *that* was the relief for me. i no longer had to convince myself to be one or the other. no more internal war. i simply learned to be what i am.
i have no clue why i believe. i have no idea why i dont believe. but i do both and it isnt a hell, its a relief. i live in god without god. and there i begin to lose words.
which brings me to meditation and prayer. there is a very ancient tradition of meditation in christianity, but for some reason the fundies call it 'mysticism' and dont like it too much. for one thing there's too much talk of darkness, abandonment, emptiness, eros, and waiting. things good capitalist christians just cant understand. so obviously they must be of the devil.
the forms this meditation takes are that of the 'apophatic' and the 'kataphatic'. apo being out, phatic mouth or talking, one is simply out of words. there is nothing to say about that which god truly is at god's core. one finds themselves with nothing. kataphatic is the opposite and more popular by far. lots of images and words and songs and smells and bells. both are valid in the christian tradition (and i think in general human religious experience.)
but for me emptiness and nothingness simply make more sense. obviously im willing to go a bit farther than even the typical 'apophatic' christian.
so for me meditation is simply more the internal waiting, churning, silence, erotic desire for that which simply can NOT be had or obtained or held, yet we still desire. i spose its why it fits my (un)belief.

Christine Vyrnon said...

Carl: Glad to have your input. I like your descriptions of meditation and your knowledge of gnostic/mystic meditation. I was partly drawn to Solomon's Porch (see previous posts) because it took an honest, fearless look at the church's history which included the christian gnostic/mystic traditions that had been muted for so long... including early christian forms of meditation. Thank you for bringing this into the discussion.

Riverwolf: glad to have you here too. Thanks for adding your perspective, and I will certainly visit your blog again too... us former fundies need to stick together.

yogaforcynics: i already dealt with you. An arsonist uses dry ice, btw.

Brandon The Unqualified Critic said...

Hey, thanks for the brief, reluctant beard-worship.

Your blog is interesting. It is overrun with Nietzschean experientialism. Yeah, I am totally being that guy right now -- bringing up Nietzsche.

Anyway, to respond to your peach questions:
I do not see prayer and meditation and consider the phenomenal differences between the two; to consider how they feel in the person when they engage in one or the other. I would think that would be a predominant emphasis in somebody who actively participates in one or the other -- I could be wrong though.

When I think about either prayer or meditation or encounter it, I think about them historically and culturally. This makes prayer and meditation to me radically different in my daily thought. I often never associate them really.

Prayer is quintessentially Occidental and relational. Meditation is oriental and individualistic. They share strong similarities though when considering them theoretically or ahistorically in regard to the will. Both are ways in which the human will is inverted -- ripped out of the world and placed on the self. In prayer, will and thought are completely absorbed in the relation I-God, and in meditation, the will and thought are turned on themselves in an attempt to dismantle them in a way.

I've participated in both, superficially. Magic-genie prayer was my go to from earlier childhood to freshman year of high school; it did not play a dominant role in my life, and it came out when I was afraid an event would occur that I felt out of control of. I think I once prayed for a bigger dick -- the insecurities of a teenager.

I briefly experimented in my bizarre conception of meditation inspired by too many kung fu films. I hoped to control my bodily energies (Chi or whatever) to use them to make myself a bad-ass warrior.

Well I eventually grew up, and I just outright stopped ever thinking about meditation, or prayer, or God, or anything super-natural.

When I encounter a westerner engaged in anything related to meditation, usually when I'm buying vegetarian junk-food in a local "hippie-ish" market, I think "Oh, shit, I hope they don't bother me."

Riverwolf, said...

Brandon: Praying for a bigger dick--LOL! I think that helps illustrate my point about the differences. A person might pray for something like that (and be disappointed) but meditation would lead to appreciation for what is.

Not that I've ever meditated on my genitalia...

carl said...

to follow up on brandon's comments. first off i agree that often prayer is reduced to magic genie stuff. and that more often than not when someone says theyre into meditation they typically mean some form of eastern mysticism or even more likely an americanized version. it would be misleading though to think that all forms of meditation in the west are linked directly to eastern religions. historically thats simply not the case.
as for prayer, voicing one's desires is not always considered petitioning for magical responses, especially in the jewish tradition. the hebrew psalms are a good example of this where one voices one's 'complaint' before god. ie., its a chance to unload and bitch about how unfair life is and then to go on living and doing what has to be done. that doesnt mean thats the only kind of prayer, but there are distinctions to be made here.
oh and if the mystical angel enzyte ever answers that prayer of yours, leme know ;)

Christine Vyrnon said...

Brandon: "It is overrun with Nietzschean experientialism." I had to look that one up. Thanks... I think. Lovely anecdote by the way. Sometimes I pray for the same thing.... but seriously, I appreciate your "historical and cultural" representations. BTW, kung-fu movies have got to be the best and worst thing for non-western meditation.

Which brings us back to Carl... holding up the western, non-americanized version of meditation... basically gnostic/early christian versions of mediation right? or, just curious, did the greeks and romans have their own special brand of meditation vs prayer pre-constantinople/jesus-cult?

Christine Vyrnon said...

I should probably save this for a future post but this: In Hinduism, meditation as a component of Yoga is one path to attain enlightenment, union with (or company of) God. Christians agree that meditation is an effective technique to quiet and clear the mind, as preparation for God's inspiration. But meditation is not an alternative to Christ[citation needed]as a means to salvation or theosis, but only a method of spiritual discipline like prayer and fasting.[2] For Christians, meditation can be considered a form of worship, centered in love. ------- from : basically sums up my experience with Xtian meditation... it can be practiced, but was not a substitute for what Really Matters.

carl said...

i actually find that paragraph needs, in the words of wikipedia, some serious 'disambiguation'. its confusing to me. i mean i dont think hindus hold that yoga IS enlightenment any more than christians believe that meditation is union with god. both are means to an end. course the problem is that in some ways the author is comparing apples and oranges. but at least its better than comparing buddhist and christian meditation =)

as for the ancient world there is evidence of meditative techniques amongst all these cultures, but again, how do you define meditation? for instance was the oracle at delphi a meditant? there is evidence of a meditative mystical tradition amongst the jewish people before and after christ. much of it appears to have been influenced by neoplatonism and their own apocryphal literature. a fabulous book in fact on the possible paths that paul took to arrive at 'christ as god' not just 'christ as messiah', has a lot to do with the mysticism and mystical literature of the period. and that book can be found here:

Christine Vyrnon said...

As said earlier... I should probably hold off further definitions of meditation for a separate post... especially if I'm going to haphazardly cut and past wikipedia at 2am. I never quote wiki here at hotforjesus... and yet yoga... in the ENTIRE sense of the word IS considered ONE path (not the only... and yoga here in a much wider interpretation )... It does try to differentiate the two... xtian and non-xtian meditation... and places the most importantance not an ACTS (whether meditation of good works) but on Christ....

I understand that there are many definitions of meditation itself... (and "enlightenment" for that matter) and one can follow the etymology of the word as used, for example, in modern translations of the 2 scriptures I listed in comment #6 for starters.... which will I'll have to follow up on in a future post.

I'll dig into the gnostic text soon. Thanks for the link. I'll also revisit this discussion in a future post and I hope you will be there to continue the attempts at separating the wheat from the chaff :)

Anonymous said...

Prayer is talking to "God".
Meditating is listening to "God".

Most never hear the answers because they're too busy talking (but they get Divine answers anyway via the supernal, unconditional Love of God).

I was quite surprised (stunned, actually) to see a reference Daskalos. Before diving into his phenomenal work (at which point you'll truly "get it"), I would suggest the quick reads below (and in the order shown). You will be revivified, and never look at "Churchianity" again. Promise. RW's APDL will read like a coloring book.

1. Life and Teachings of the Masters of the Far East by Spalding (do not let the title dissuade you... electrifying accounts of JC/AMs)

2. Autobiography of a Yogi, by Yogananda. His discourses in "The Second Coming..." have clearly been revealed by a higher source (actually, JC as you'll learn)

3. Magus of Strovolos (only), by Markides. This is a primer on Daskalos, and the best intro to his works. Very accessible, fast read.

4. THEN all of Daskalos' works (Dr. Stylianos Atteshlis). The Esoteric Teachings, Esoteric Practice, anything you can get your hands on, etc.

5. (Optional) Edgar Cayce's Story of Jesus, by Cayce

When you finally (gasp) get to the The Gospel of Mary (about 5 pages from the Nag Hammadi library), enjoy the rush. You will be electrified after realizing these separate Divinely gifted Masters are spelling out what Constantine and the Council of Nicea couldn't (actually, wouldn't)

Godspeed, and kind regards...

BellBookCandleSupply said...

Legend says to say a prayer and put stick in ground. The wind will carry the prayers on the feathers to the birds and the birds will take the prayers to the spirit world.
Tools & Gifts For Your Spiritual Practice

Jake said...

Your experience is very similar to mine. I was a staunch and pious believer survived a car accident I sincerely should not have and found myself free and blissfully aware of myself, without the nee for JC.

Thanks for sharing this, it was beautiful!

Christine Vyrnon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
angel said...
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