Why I Am Afraid To Pray

I’m going to be as blunt as possible, I’m afraid to pray. When I was a young kid, every night I would pray for my family’s safety and happiness and couldn’t sleep until I did. As I got older, I got lost in all sorts of distractions, so naturally prayed less.
When I became introduced to Christianity, I began praying more; they were the same kinds of prayers plus some. Funny as it sounds (or sad), I normally prayed that God bless the people I loved and make the people that crossed me repent. I masked it in words of love like “May you show this person your light and soften their heart,” when I was really thinking “what a jerk this one is!” This is an example of praying to a God of my imagination.
When I disengaged from organized religion, I began seeing how incredibly selfish my prayers were. Asking God to bless my family and friends with protection and happiness was not a form of surrendering. I was giving God a list to follow, and setting myself up to hate God if God doesn’t answer. I couldn’t face suffering, but rather pretended that it could be prevented by the muttering of a few words. Sometimes I view suffering as negative experiences, rather than experiences that drives a person to be better or learn the things they ought to learn in this life.
I’ve literally refused to surrender until today and see things for what they are. I’m at the point in my life where I want to pray again, but something is stopping me…the thought that perhaps suffering will inevitably happen (especially when it could be part of God’s will).
What I truly want to pray for is selfish. I’m afraid to pray unselfish prayers. “Your will be done,” encompasses so much of the unknown. I am unsure of what to pray for other than that anymore, nor can I get myself to pray just that.
What do you pray for? What is the right way to pray?

I also posted this on www.contemplationcenter.org (check it out: http://contemplationcenter.org/trang/why-i-am-afraid-to-pray/)

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Why I Stopped Going to Church

Mars Hill is a well-known church in America and one that I went to for a good 6 months. It was the last six months I ever went back to church out of the four years of my involvement in Christianity. I’ve gone to other churches before this, but when I moved to a different state, I had to find another church to go to. Ideally, a church is a place where people go to worship God, build relationships and become more enlightened through various sermons. The problem for me was there was always too much noise from beginning to end. The worship portion felt forced. The lights would start dimming and melodic sounds from instrumentals led to what felt like a full out concert. I’ve been to many concerts, so I would know. It was hard to worship or even think beyond the blaring noises that came out of the instruments. I examined my own heart only to realize I was moved by some songs and annoyed by others depending on familiarity. What I was doing was not worshiping. I was creating an image of God in my own mind based on the songs I liked with lyrics that moved me. Is that true worship? When the pastor would start speaking, I felt entertained because he was funny. He made people laugh constantly. When he went out of town, another speaker took his place and I remember feeling bored…extremely bored. Something inside of me clicked, it was as though I didn’t feel connected to this God at all. I was going through the motions because guilt would result in me not going. So one day, I got up during the middle of a sermon and went out into the lobby area. I said to myself, “You shouldn’t give up, try again.” So I went up to the front desk and told the woman that I was having a really hard time and needed to talk to someone. She went into the back room to find someone for me and a young woman in her mid-twenties walked out. She was saying how she heard I was having a hard time and wanted to know how she can help. I told her I was having a hard time believing Jesus is truly the only son of God. I asked her right off the bat, “Why do you believe in Jesus?” She thought about it for a little while and said she grew up in a Christian home and didn’t have a relationship with “the Lord.” When school was hectic for her, she gave prayer a chance and was surprised her grades got better. Naturally I was expecting more, so I nodded and stared at her hoping for her to add on. She looked uncomfortable and said, “Let me go get someone else for you.” I was not only confused, but felt ashamed. I thought there was something wrong with me. Then a man in his thirties walked out with an older gentleman and they greeted me. I told him that I knew the gospel quite well, but didn’t understand why Jesus had to be the only son of God. I asked him if he could tell me more referencing outside the Bible or personal experience why Jesus is the only son of God. He then told me the gospel using the Bible. I was disappointed. It felt generic. He didn’t ask me about my life or struggles. Once again, I nodded and fell silent. It was the whole “We were born in sin; Jesus came and washed it away when he was crucified and resurrected.” I just came out of seminary school, so this was Christianity 101 to me. He too said he will grab another woman for me because he didn’t think he was the right person for me to talk to, he thought a counselor would be best. At that moment, I truly felt something was wrong with me even more. The older gentleman literally said nothing; he looked like he was overseeing the whole thing to make sure this man was telling the gospel correctly. Another woman came out (probably mid 20-early 30’s) and offered to sit down with me over coffee on Tuesday to discuss my feelings because she was a counselor there and wanted to help me out. I was beyond thrilled, it was exactly what I was looking for-real connection. We exchanged information. When Tuesday came, I got ready and waited for the time to come when I could speak to her. I received a text from her saying she couldn’t make it and instead of sitting over coffee, she will just meet me at church on Sunday. I was saddened to the core. She gave me hope and dropped me in an instant. Not only did I not return to church, but I never texted back or heard from her again, not even a text inquiring how I was doing. Then I figured it out, I was another duty, another task on someone’s list, another patient who needed help…not a friend. The girlfriend I went to church with every Sunday was the only friend I ever made (church related)and I didn’t even meet her at church. I met her outside of her apartment when I was smoking a cigarette on a rainy, cold night. She came up and bummed one off of me and said her family is very Christian and she didn’t want them to see her smoke (she was 25 years old then). We clicked and went to Mars Hill together until the day I decided enough is enough. Needless to say, I never came back and I don’t miss it. I don’t have anything against Christianity, it’s just my idea of worship has changed. I am glad things happened the way they did because I don’t have live a lie anymore. The guilt isn’t there. I don’t worship a God of my imagination, but a God who I truly believe is loving and accepting. I’ve learned to reach out to people in ways I wish they would have reached out to me. I gravitate towards people who feel alone and confused because I felt that way myself. I don’t walk around thinking people are going to go to hell for their beliefs. I am much happier spiritually. Sure, I am still somewhat broken, but it’s better than going through the motions and pretending like nothing is wrong.

Teachings On Love

Teachings On Love by Thich Nhat Hanh (Thây)

This book isn’t just thought provoking, it is thought transforming. A health professional loaned this to me along with a Beginner’s Meditation CD set by Jack Kornfield because she said they were tools that helped her understand the meaning of true peace and love.  I am still in the process of reading and digesting this book, and wanted to share quotes with you that have been helpful to me thus far because it’s a journey we can take together step by step. 🙂

The Four Immeasurable Truths

Maitri (Love)”

“Maitri can be translated as ‘love’ or ‘loving kindness.’ Some Buddhist teachers prefer ‘loving kindness,’ as they find ‘love’ too dangerous. But I prefer the word ‘love.’ Words sometimes get sick and we have to heal them. We have been using the word ‘love’ to mean appetite or desire, as in ‘I love hamburgers.’ We have to use language more carefully. ‘Love’ is a beautiful word; we have to restore its meaning. The word ‘maître’ has roots in the word mitra which means friend. In Buddhism, the primary meaning of love is friendship.”

“Without understanding, your love is not true love. You must look deeply in order to see and understand the needs, aspirations and suffering of the one you love. We all need love. Love brings us joy and well-being. It is as natural as the air. We are loved by the air; we need fresh air to be happy and well. We are loved by trees. We need trees to be healthy. In order to be loved, we have to love, which means we have to understand. For our love to continue, we have to take the appropriate action or non-action to protect the air, the trees, and our beloved.”

Compassion (Karuna)

“To develop compassion in ourselves, we need to practice mindful breathing, deep listening and deep looking. The Lotus Sutras describes Avalokiteshvara as the bodhisattva who practices ‘looking with the eyes of compassion and listening deeply to the cries of the world.’ Compassion contains deep concern. You know the other person is suffering, so you sit close to her. You look and listen deeply to her to be able to touch her pain. You are in deep communication, deep communion with her, and that alone brings some relief.”

“One compassionate word, action or thought can reduce another person’s suffering and bring him joy. One word can give comfort and confidence, destroy doubt, help someone avoid a mistake, reconcile a conflict, or open the door to liberation. One action can save a person’s life or help him take advantage of a rare opportunity. One thought can do the same, because thoughts always lead to words and actions. With compassion in our hearts, every thought, word and deed can bring about a miracle.”

Joy (Mudita)”

“Some commentators have said that mudita means ‘sympathetic joy’ or ‘altruistic joy,’ the happiness we feel when others are happy. But that is too limited. It discriminates between self and others. A deeper definition of mudita is a joy that is filled with peace and contentment. We rejoice when we see others happy, but we rejoice in our own well-being as well. How can we feel joy for another person when we do not feel joy for ourselves? Joy is for everyone.”

Ditthadhamma sukhavihari means ‘dwelling happily in the present moment.’ We don’t rush to the future; we know that everything is here in the present moment. Many small things can bring us tremendous joy, such as awareness that we have eyes in good condition. We just have to open our eyes and we can see the blue sky, the violet flowers, the children, the trees, and so many other kinds of forms and colours. Dwelling in mindfulness, we can touch these wondrous and refreshing things, and our mind of joy arises naturally. Joy contains happiness and happiness contains joy.”

Equanimity (Upeksha)

“The fourth element of true love is upeksha, which means equanimity, nonattachment, nondiscrimination, even-mindfulness, or letting go. Upa means ‘over’ and iksh means ‘to look.’ You climb the mountain to be able to look over the whole situation, not bound by one side or the other. If your love has attachment, discrimination, prejudice, or clinging in it, it is not true love. People who do not understand Buddhism sometimes think upeksha means indifference, but true equanimity is neither cold nor indifferent. If you have more than one child, they are all your children. Upeksha does not mean that you don’t love. You love in a way that all your children receive your love, without discrimination.”

“Without upeksha, your love may become possessive. A summer breeze can be very refreshing; but if we try to put it in a tin can so we can have it entirely for ourselves, the breeze will die. Our beloved is the same. He is like a cloud, a breeze, a flower. If you imprison him in a tin can, he will die. Yet many people do just that. They rob their loved one of his liberty, until he can no longer be himself. They love to satisfy themselves and use their loved one to help them fulfill that. That is not loving; it is destroying. You say you love him, but if you do not understand his aspirations, his needs, his difficulties, he is in a prison called love. True love allows you to preserve your freedom and the freedom of your beloved. That is upeksha.”

In conclusion:

“For love to be true love, it must contain compassion, joy and equanimity. For compassion to be true compassion, it has to have love, joy and equanimity in it. True joy has to contain love, compassion, and equanimity. And true equanimity has to contain love, compassion, and joy in it. This is the interbeing nature of the Four Immeasurable Minds. When Buddha told the Brahman man to practice the Four Immeasurable Minds, he was offering all of us a very important teaching. But we must look deeply and practice them for ourselves to bring these four aspects of love into our own lives and into the lives to those we love.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

It’s Time

Far too many times I have:

Spoken without understanding what I am responding to.

Attempted to love others without understanding what the other needs.

Rejected others because I am not content with myself.

Offered advice without listening.

It’s time for me to listen more carefully, understand more deeply and care genuinely without discrimination of any kind. It’s time for me to get out of my own head, stop listening to only my thoughts and see everyone and everything as equal and one with myself. It’s time for me to open my eyes and rid myself of unnecessary attachments.

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We Are Not Who You Perceive Us To Be

One of my favorite novels Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen describe feelings in a profound way. Here’s the dialogue…

“I have been used to consider poetry as “the food of love” said Darcy

“Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is
strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I
am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.”
(Elizabeth)

As a poet, we may exaggerate our emotions to create an image, which readers may perceive as purely true. If we are sad and write about deep despair, perhaps it’s just an inclination of our sadness, not the reality of despair. If our readers fall in love with us for our poetry, then they are falling in love with the image we put out in exaggerated words, not with the reality of who we are in the flesh. Therefore, we should not deceive ourselves into thinking we are in love with the poet, but rather we like their poetry. When we believe the poet is all his/her words represent, we are in the state of day dreaming (as some may call delusion). Same goes for a photograph. An image of a person may be beautiful, but it does not and cannot represent the beauty of the actual person wholly. Same goes for a piece of writing, we only read what the writer wants us to read, but we cannot know what the writer has chosen to leave out. Sometimes what writers leave out represent a part of who they really are.

It is when we see people at their worst, do we analyze if our hearts are still on fire for them or dimming because of them. It would not dim had we presented ourselves in a real way to begin with (vice versa) or had we gotten to know someone better before infatuations cloud our ability to think and see clearly.

Beyond Awesome!

As I was walking through a trail in a beautiful park full of trees and constant water flows, I came across a free little library next to the ranger’s home. His home was the only one in the whole park and one I would like to live in myself. The concept is people walking the trail would drop off a book, and pick up another or they could just pick up one. 🙂

Check it out, so freaking awesome!

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People Dividing People

Here is something I do not understand, why do we put titles on ourselves? For instance, if  I call myself an “American” and the people in my neighboring country call themselves “Mexican,” doesn’t that give both groups reasons to have preconceived notions of each other? Nationalism is a man-made concept and is not something we were fundamentally born as. This concept leads to wars and unnecessary death. Why kill each other over titles like I am this and you are that? When you say “I am a human being,” and “You are a human being,” it somehow makes us feel connected, as though we aren’t different. Another example is, “I am a Democratic,” “You are a Republican,” it causes division once again. Isn’t it better to say “I believe in human rights,” and “You believe in human rights,” so there we are united. When you title yourself, people automatically think of you as something versus allowing you to define yourself through your actions. Titles create division and gives people reasons to judge (even harm) each other. When you call yourself a Christian, people have the preconceive notion that you only believe one way and if they don’t believe what you believe, then they won’t feel comfortable approaching you. If you call yourself a “Buddhist,” then other religious groups may have the preconceived notion that your salvation is at stake, so before getting to know you, there’s an idea of what you are. It’s so much more inviting to say “I am a child of God,” and “You are a child of God,” therefore, we feel unified, not divided. Titles blind us from seeing and loving each other the way we ought. It’s really strange to me why we fight over concepts. If we didn’t give into these man made ideas and titles, the world, I daresay, would be more pleasant.