The following may shock you, and I hope it comes as just that.
Everyone practices prayer twenty-four hours a day . . . only neither do they know they're praying, nor do they know (and this is the real problem) what it is they're praying for! And this fact of life includes those people who say, "But I don't believe in prayer. I don't have a spiritual practice." A moment's consideration of the following insight proves the truth of this claim.
Expectation is a form of prayer.
Let's look at a few simple examples to prove the point. Don't you walk around hoping that what you've hoped for will happen? "Of course," you would have to reply. "But what's that to do with prayer?"
Hasn't it ever occurred to you that your hope that money's going to come is a kind of prayer to the god of money? Certainly no one deliberately, consciously, sits there and says, "Oh please, lord of dollar bill signs, pour yourself down on me." Then again, most likely, some do. Hopefully you don't say to yourself, "Oh god of Mars, strike down this person who said that evil thing about me." But you may be hoping for some harm to befall someone who hurt you. It's possible the wish for revenge may be the momentary point of your life, as it becomes for many when they feel betrayed. So, in case this isn't yet clear to you, realized or not, these hopes or wishes -- all such expectations -- are a form of prayer.
When beset by troubles, how many of us have ever thought: "Why is this happening to someone as nice as me?" We're forever telling ourselves, "I don't deserve this kind of pain! My life is not supposed to be spinning out of control!" So we pray -- in one form or another -- for something that we think is either connected to what we want or to something that's greater than the condition we perceive is punishing us. What we don't yet understand is that within these prayers, whatever form they may take, we're praying for something that we don't understand. And this is why life continues to bring us the very things we say we don't want.
There isn't one of us who hasn't had that terrible helpless feeling of watching ourselves hand our life over to an unwanted dark state. We go to bed at night and we're subject to unwanted dark dreams or unremitting scary feelings. We awaken each morning to feelings of regret or defeat about what we have to do even before we do it. But a point comes in all of this where a small but definite self-realization dawns within us. It's clear now. We must stop blaming life for the presence of these dark states, and start accepting the obvious truth of our present condition: it's evident -- of ourselves we just don't have enough to keep from being washed away. And as this (at first humiliating) new self-understanding grows in us, what happens is we naturally start asking life for something new. As slow as it may have been in coming, we are now able to see, albeit "through a glass darkly," what is really missing from our life. And this realization is reflected in a whole new kind of request, something along the line of what follows:
"I'm tired and fed up being the unwilling victim of all these contrary forces that I'm subject to. What I really wish is to unite with something that will give me the strength, the ballast that I don't have of myself in myself. I need to find some new sort of strength that will help me to stand up in my own life and allow me to stay that way."
For the record, honest requests like this are rare. The person in denial of his or her own condition continues to ask for more of what didn't help him the last time around -- more money, a better body, a new relationship, a better position at work, increased social prominence -- on and on it goes, going nowhere. This person hopes against hope that somehow this time he'll find that missing anchor that will keep him from being bowled over by the waves of life's events. In one way or another we've all stood and fallen upon similar ground as this. Trying to add ballast to ourselves through acquisitions of one kind or another, only to find that rather than anchoring us, our desires and their seeming fulfillment only tend to make us top-heavy and easier to topple. So now what? Please carefully consider the logic and higher lesson the following insight holds:
If our experience of life moment to moment is, in fact, what we are asking for -- which is always the case -- maybe it isn't so much that we're unable to ask for the right and rescuing realities as it may be this: we don't know howto request what we really need. Yes, it's true. But it's also true that there are secret ways of asking that we have yet to understand, hidden ways to request being in relationship with our true and unshakable Self.
Most of us think that prayer is primarily asking for something: "Please do this for me," or "Why won't you intervene?" These prayers are centered, one way or another, around ourselves. And whether these are done in a "spiritual-religious" sense or from out-and-out greed or ambition, it is evident that our lives are little more than a series of such requests. We ask and ask, and then can't understand -- for all the things we've asked for and received -- why it is that our (interior) life remains so easily disturbed by the dark state of the day.
But, what we're attempting to reveal here is that it's this very understanding -- the fact of our true condition, and the subsequent action we take based upon that realization -- that constitutes our True and Higher Request. And that prayer is answered even as we ask, because we are made new in each moment that we see we can no longer be who we have been.