I used to pray, as a matter of routine, to be wise. When I was married I think it was summing up something like this: “Please let me figure out how to do enough right things. Please help me to be smarter. Please help me think my way out of this hell. Please help me to escape this pain.” When I was dealing cancer it was something like, “Please let me not waste money on the wrong medical tests. Please let me handle this bad or good news in the right way.”
Last summer as I started to dismantle the idea that my ideal self always did the smart and safe thing, this phrase irritated me. So much of my prayer was by rote. “What am I asking for exactly?” I consciously abandoned that phrase as I decided that there might be something out there better than smart.
In Mark Nepo’s book, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen, he states that the word sage comes from the word root sap- which means to taste. “It implies that we make sense of the world and find wisdom by tasting. While watching and thinking may be helpful, it is internalizing what we experience that opens us to wisdom.” He explains that people have traditionally looked to sages for wisdom that might shortcut the process of saging. “Much of the instruction of true sages throughout time has been to redirect seekers back to their own innate resources and their own firsthand experiences of the world.”
I began to understand that I had been praying that God would bestow wisdom on me—like just download it into my consciousness, please and thank you. I think that stemmed from the belief that God could and would do this to help me avoid pain. A loving father doesn’t want his baby to hurt, right? But the prayer was a contradiction. I was asking God to give me wisdom to avoid the very experience that would bring it about.
I might chalk this up as years spent in a useless exercise, asking God to keep me out of pain, but also make me wise. I might. But Mark Nepo also gave me this insight that seems relevant to prayer:
“We are asked to learn to ask for what we need, only to practice accepting what we’re given. And that’s a paradox, but what’s so important about this, for me, is that asking for what we need doesn’t always lead to getting what we need. Sometimes it does and that’s great. But the reward for asking for what we need, is we become intimate with our own nature. We learn who we are by standing in who we are. The reward for practicing accepting what we’re given: we become intimate with everything that’s not us. We become intimate with the nature of life. And it’s the rhythm between our own nature and the nature of life that allows us to find the thread we are in the unseeable connections that hold everything together.”http://www.supersoul.tv/tag/mark-nepo
If you are like me you probably need to go back and read that again. [Insert mind blown emoji]. We ask for what we need so we can become intimate with our own nature. Then we practice accepting what we are given so we become intimate with everything that’s not us…with the nature of life.
This make all of life feel like a prayer. When I ask for what I need or set a boundary with someone or take up space in the world in some way, I am becoming intimate with my own nature. When you “let the soft animal of your body love what it loves,” as Mary Oliver so precisely stated, you become intimate with your own nature.
When I practice accepting what I’m given, I become intimate with everything that is not me. This is where gratitude is born. Compassion. Trust. Which leads to acceptance and surrender, finding God, and finding the flow.
Each experience becomes the prayer.
“Likewise, every disturbance, whether resolved or not, is making space for an inner engagement. As a shovel digs up and displaces earth, in a way that must seem violent to the earth, an interior space is revealed for the digging. In just this way, when experience opens us, it often feels violent and the urge, quite naturally, is to refill that opening, to make it the way it was. But every experience excavates a depth, which reveals its wisdom once opened to air.”Nepo, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen
So I’m gonna stop worrying about wisdom and start playing in the dirt. Namaste.
Pictured: My beautiful, strong mom who isn’t afraid to haul a jogging stroller up a hill with a 3-year-old on board.