My intention is not to write a treatise on the states of prayer. I only hope to share my endeavor to sublimate the low tendencies of my soul through the frequent repetition-which wants to be continuous-of a chosen prayer. As years pass, far from becoming a sentimental inclination, my endeavor has developed into a colorful adventure through many lively experiences.
I have been inclined to prayer from my childhood. At times, and sometimes for years, I have abandoned the practice altogether.
I remember myself, long ago, on a certain winter afternoon, after countless months of inflexible rationalism (which is not rational at all), disillusioned with my old religious faith, running through the streets to catch a bus. On the way a prayer sprang to my lips, and as I jumped onto the bus, I asked myself angrily: Why am I praying, if I don't believe in prayer?
Prayer returned to me over time through paths of inner search and discovery. With prayer my vocation blossomed-purified from illusions by the intense suffering of disbelief, it became a vocation of encounter with reality and of union with all human beings: a spiritual vocation.
But although prayer had won a victory, my mind was not, is not, yet conquered.
I wanted to make prayer continuous. I tried to direct my thoughts through the repetition of a mantra, of sacred words, of beautiful teachings. At times I adhered to various schools of mental control and so-called "spiritual theories," but nothing seemed to work. My mind returned to old thoughts and habits, desires and passions.
Then I decided to change my approach.
Instead of arguing the point with myself or my teachers, I went straight to a simple practice. No matter what, I would keep on praying, day and night, rain or shine, feeling holy or not so holy.
I might as well have exchanged the blueprints of a skyscraper for a pick and shovel. My high ideals came down to simple hard work.
It always began the same way: I would remember that I had better control my thoughts and come back to prayer. I would begin to repeat my chosen prayer. At first, I would feel great: I am doing something good;I must be pleasing to God. Then, after a while, no lightning or thunder would come from the heights to answer my call to the eternal. After all, I only had a pick and shovel-work and more work. The sentimental gratification soon faded away.
With this inner work, I reached the point where I had to hold myself by sheer effort of will. Keep on, repeat, repeat as you decided to, at all times, no matter what.
Then an unwanted visitor appeared: shame. I had not expected that! What happened is that when I succeeded in the continuity of my purpose, I found that the repetition of my prayer coexisted with passions and desires and defects. These would not disappear after a few hours or even days of the repetition of certain words, no matter how beautiful they might be. Can you imagine saying a prayer and finding yourself doggedly angry, lusty, or greedy at the same time? Perhaps my endeavor was just showing me clearly what I didn't want to see in myself.
I continued to work-loosen those stones, shovel out that soil, you are digging foundations. Like muscles that adapt to the effort and no longer feel it, I found that the mind begins to repeat automatically what it has been taught.
Then I would feel great again! Prayer appeared on my lips by itself, sometimes even during my dreams. (Perhaps, I thought, I am already a saint!) But this automatic habit began to look suspiciously like those gluey melodies that appear in one's head without having been called up.
Soon I painfully verified that I had not gone far beyond a monotonous singing. My wandering mind would return once again to old thoughts and feelings despite my noble intentions.
I had to drag myself through the effort. How nice it was to dream of skyscrapers on a blueprint! Just forget that pick and shovel! But I knew I couldn't. The hard work had to continue. I worked. I repeated my chosen prayer. I struggled.
Saturation became a storm, an inner one, tense and tiring. As with every storm, after the rage, the calm. I recognized how little I was. I could not advance too much at a time. So far, every step had been filled with anxiety, a running behind a goal, and not a very real one. I recognized that this is the way I am. With acceptance, I abandoned myself to peaceful prayer.
Now I am home. A certain light appears on the horizon: my relationships are more harmonious. The solution to conflicts and difficulties comes through unexpected sources of inner strength I had not thought were there. It is not that I think it or not think it. It happens. At times I find myself just where somebody is needing a hand. (Perhaps it is that I now realize someone needs a hand!)
I am walking. The luminous words of my chosen prayer may be at work already.
Whatever it may be, it doesn't really matter. I have my prayer, a blossom of vocation.
Light, O Resplendent One, the triple flame of my heart, that by it my thoughts, acts and feelings be pure. *
Surrender and gratitude.
* Opening line of a Cafh prayer