Ishvara Pranidhana #2

Per usual, my commitment to this month’s intention has been inconsistent at best. Silly, since it’s a relatively easy thing to stick to: write down one thing you are grateful for everyday. I’ve been true to my focus of practicing Ishvara Pranidhana in this way most days, but even then my actions feel half-hearted and incomplete. I sit down, meditate a few minutes, think of something that sounds like an appropriate thing for which to be thankful, and write it in a little notebook (I abandoned the jar idea due to lack of space or a readily available jar). I close the pad and go on with my day, probably not giving that thing or ritual I just completed another thought. My lack of connection to this month’s intention tells me that maybe there is something more I can, and should, do. Surely there is more to “surrendering to god” than writing a sentence every day.

During my first visit to the Himalayan Institute in 2012, while beginning my 500-hour teacher training, I was introduced to a number of prayers practiced in the yogic tradition. They are all in Sanskrit and not particularly easy to remember or recite, but I was immediately drawn to the words, thier poetic sounds, and simple but profound meanings. This meal blessing resonated with me in particular:

Brahmarpanam brahmahavir
Brahmagnau brahmana hutam
Brahmaiva tena gantavyam
Brahma-karma-samadhina
Om vishvatma-priyatam
Om shanti, shanti, shanti

I encourage you to read the full article by Sandra Anderson for the history and translation of these lovely words, because any explanation I give would not do them justice. This is one prayer that I have managed to memorize, and for a  while (usually when I am at the Institute and for a few days after my return) I am really good about reciting it before I eat, either silently or very, very quietly. Then, like many good ideas and intentions, my practice eventually falls by the wayside. However I do know that when I consistently remember this prayer at meals, I feel calmer, more present with my food, and yes, more grateful for what I am about to consume. So, for the remainder of November, and hopefully beyond, I will commit to reciting this prayer every time I sit to eat, either silently or aloud.

Like the g-word, the p-word (prayer) can give some people the heebies, myself included. We throw it around, soliciting prayers for personal reasons on Facebook, creating hashtags and memes for various causes, all in the hopes that somehow our efforts and requests will make a difference, and maybe they do. However, I am more inclined to believe that breaking the internet with #prayforparis for a few days is not going to fix anything or turn back time. For me, prayer is not making a wish or a request. It is not something you do when you want something / don’t want something to happen / something bad / something great happens. I think of prayer as a conversation, just a little check-in with MY Ishvara, saying “hey”, or “thanks”, or “what’s up with that?”. It is a highly personal ritual, not something to check off your list and feel like you’ve done your job.

By all means, if you make it a habit of praying, whether it be for abolishing terrorism to getting to work on time, and it makes you feel better, keep it up. In no way do I mean to diminish or un-encourage anyone’s spiritual practices, as long as they are just that… practices. I mean it’s great to talk the talk, but better to walk the walk. You want a more peaceful world, act with compassion towards your neighbors, no matter what differences you may have. You want to solve homelessness or hunger, volunteer at a shelter. You want to get to work on time and have a less stressful commute, leave earlier or find a different route. Pray for it, whatever it is, but then also do it, no matter how big or small.

Thanksgiving is this week, the perfect time to start or restart a practice of prayer, especially over meals and abundance. This is one f*cked up world and no amount of mindful intention can hurt. I invite you to infuse your holidays with gratitude and generosity, in words AND action, as I hope to do. Now, let us pray.

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