In typical failed Catholic fashion, I went from a childhood of nightly down-on-knees, elbows-on-bed Hail Marys, to not praying at all, ever. As a teen, I’d sometimes find myself dreaming about praying, but I thought it silly to actually do so because I associated prayer with institutional corruption and bad priests. But praying had been an internal monologue between me and the universe, and without it, I felt like my life was missing something.
When (and if) rejecting the confines of the religion that you grew up with, it’s probably smart to hang on to some of the good stuff, the stuff that actually helped and healed you -- which for me was praying.
Last year, I walked into a tiny store on Queen Street in Toronto full of stones, jewelry, clothing, and knick-knacks from Tibet. The low, buzzing hum of chanting monks echoed from the speakers, and a quiet man with kind eyes sitting behind the counter nodded at me. I immediately felt at peace.
Although I haven’t been religious since the third grade (unless the Church of Springsteen is a thing), I can still recite the Catholic church services of my youth verbatim. The chanting monks in that store reminded me of the aspects of church sermons that I actually liked, and an essence I had only come across fleetingly in yoga class since I stopped church-going and praying as a kid.
I bought a prayer bead bracelet, which the man behind the counter told me is the Buddhist equivalent of a rosary, and left the little store with a sense of spiritual hope I hadn’t felt in a long time.
Sometimes the world, so full of people and things and information, leaves me feeling totally overwhelmed and oddly empty. It gets to the point where I need to unplug, digest my own thoughts and feelings, and hopefully arrive at some kind of peace -- of mind, and of spirit.
Prayer, like meditation, seems to connect me to what I feel devoid of at times: that beautiful essence of being alive.
In an attempt to feel that transcendence, even for a moment, every day, and to be and do better, I’ve made praying a part of my daily ritual. I don’t say the Catholic prayers of my youth anymore. I basically close my eyes and talk about the good things I want for my loved ones and myself. (Am I doing it wrong?)
Praying felt foreign and almost insincere at first, but the more I did it, the more it became a regular, loving expression of gratitude and wishes.
I was about a year into my regular prayer practice when I started reading Anthony Kiedis’s 2004 autobiography “Scar Tissue.” The book is a raw, honest emotional roller coaster of music, creativity, drugs, relapses, love, and starting again, and again. As a person who has struggled with mental health, but not alcoholism and drug addiction, it was enlightening to read about his struggle to get -- and stay -- clean.
I found myself getting incredibly frustrated with Kiedis because he’d get clean and do really well for months, and then decide on a whim to start using again. He was in a tremendous amount of emotional pain, and being not ready to deal with his demons, he danced with them instead.
By the time Kiedis fully committed to and completed rehab, he seemed so wise and enlightened that I basically saw him as a guru.
He even let me know that I needed to elevate my prayer game.
“From going to meetings I’d learned that one of the reasons alcoholics get loaded is because they harbor resentments. One of the techniques they teach to get rid of resentments for somebody is to pray for him or her to get everything you want for yourself in life—to be loved, to be successful, to be healthy, to be rich, to be wonderful, to be happy, to be alive with the light and the love of the universe. It’s a paradox, but it works. You sit there and pray for the person you cant stand to get everything on earth that you would want for yourself, and one day you’re like “I don't feel anything bad toward this person.”
Pray for people you hate? Whoa, whoa, whoa, Anthony. Who am I, Jesus?
After reading that, I immediately felt like an asshole. I had been praying for my loved ones, the world, and myself, but of course, OF COURSE, the missing piece was praying for the people I would normally curse.
My entire life, I’ve been pathologically sensitive. By taking things personally, I’ve wasted hours, days even, worrying about people and occurrences that I should have paid little mind to.
Since we can only control own actions and reactions, the work that needs to be done when someone is really bothering us has little to do with interacting with that person. I’ve struggled with (and against) this for a long time because it drives me insane when I perceive that someone is being a jerk, or doesn’t seem to like me, or want to be my friend, or date me.
Heeding Anthony’s advice, I now pray for everyone I don’t like, everyone I’m confused about, and everyone who seems to dislike me. I pray that they get what they want in life, that they are happy, and that they receive and give love.
Doing this not only takes away the feelings of animosity I had for the people I pray for, but is also makes me feel OK on another level. It's hard to conjure up good thoughts about people you think or know are bad, especially at first, but it releases you from them when you do.
Hate and dislike are energy-sapping feelings that are normal to have, but also best quickly overcome.
I pray for the haters not because I fear hell or God’s wrath, nor to be seen as some kind of martyr, but because it feels good to let go of negative stuff and live in a state of peace, however you can.