Sunday, October 30, 2016

Recalibrating our prayers: Slowing down for a while doesn’t have to mean stopping

While goal-oriented prayer is important, sometimes a recalibration of how we pray is in order. We may need to take some time to center ourselves, rather than chant only for specific situations and outcomes we desire. This is particularly helpful for those of us who tend lose our focus on everything else if we place our prayer-emphasis too heavily on goals and specific situations. We can use this recalibration period to re-prioritize what we’re praying for, for what is most important for us to pray for right now. 

One of the major purposes of the Nichiren Buddhist practice of chanting daimoku (Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo) is to bring up and out of our lives the obstacles that have been holding us back from achieving the life-condition and goals we long to accomplish. Some of these obstacles can be intimidating, and some people allow them to intimidate them into ceasing to chant for fear of what will come up. The more we chant, the more stuff comes up; this is very important to bear in mind when we set intentions for how much we want to or think we should chant. 

These past several months I’ve brought up a ton of stuff that my pre-Buddhism practice would have taken several years to bring up, and it has really wiped me out. I was also increasing the amount of daimoku I chanted every month—September being my current record-holder at 26 hours. Several days toward the end of September I didn’t chant more than a few minutes because of a bad cough; not wanting that to defeat me from attaining my goal, I chanted 90 minutes per day the last three days of the month. It was difficult, and I even chanted in the shower one of those days to assure I made it. 

This experience prompted me to reconsider my recent approach to daimoku. For sure, it wasn’t all about quantity over quality—I strove to stay focused and chant with my own human revolution and with specific people in mind. I know some people who chant three hours per day, while it’s a struggle for me to chant up to one hour every day. 

I’m thinking this is why some people stop, because of our conditioning that it’s either all or nothing. If increasing their daimoku past a certain point is too much of a struggle, some choose to just not do it. Instead of stopping, perhaps it doesn’t occur to them to simply shift gears for a while. When we experience this fatigue, we can shift gears for as long as necessary—a few days, or a month—to chant as a restorative meditation rather than a goal-driven practice; we can focus our attention on really feeling the daimoku, thinking about the sounds of Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo, focusing on what daimoku is and not just what it does. 

So, for October, I’ve focused my daimoku on loosening up. I’ve chanted to allow the constricted, clogged areas to open back up. As I’ve done this, what is most important for me to chant about has come forward on its own. This has felt more spiritually empowering and productive than sitting down with a pre-determined list. I decided to follow the example of James Lecesne, in his experienced published in the March 18, 2016 issue of SGI’s weekly newspaper World Tribune: “Instead of sitting in front of the Gohonzon with a checklist full of demands,” he said, “I spend the time strengthening my commitment to give and to love.”

This doesn’t preclude a prayer list of people with specific needs—such as a friend’s father who is seeking a job for the first time in thirty years, another friend in the process of trying to make sense of her vague medical symptoms, and a coworker taking care of her father in hospice while getting ready for the inevitable. These prayers will flow forth more easily for us when we each see our prayer-chanting time, as Lecesne puts it, as “the time of the day when I am truly practicing gratitude for my life and for everyone in it.” 

We restore and share our spiritual energy not through how much we pray, but through how we pray. 

Image: Detail from “Determination” by Karla Joy Huber, 2016; Prismacolor marker, Sharpie marker, gold gel pen, while gel pen, colored pencil

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