January/February 2005 Featured Stories
Our "Lost" Mode of Prayer
by Gregg Braden
is, perhaps, one of the most ancient and mysterious of human experiences.
It is also one of the most personal. Today, modern prayer researchers
identify four broad categories that are believed to encompass all the
many ways that we pray. In no particular order, these four modes of
prayer are colloquial (informal) prayers, petitionary prayers, ritualistic
prayers, and meditative prayers. When we pray, they suggest,
we use one, or a combination, of these four modes of prayer.
As good as these descriptions are, and as well as each of these prayers
appear to work, there has always been another mode of prayer that this
list does not account for. This fifth mode, or "Lost Mode",
of prayer is a prayer that is based solely in feeling. Rather
than the sense of helplessness that often leads us to ask for help from
a higher power, feeling-based prayer acknowledges our ability to "speak"
the language of the higher power that census figures suggest that 95%
of us believe in.
Without any words, without our hands held in a certain position or
any outward expression of the body, this mode of prayer simply invites
us to feel the clear and powerful feeling as if our prayers have
already been answered. Through that language, we participate in the
healing of our bodies, the abundance that comes to our friends and families
and the peace between nations. When we focus a certain quality of feeling
in our hearts, we are actually using the mode of prayer that was "lost"
during the now well-publicized Biblical edits of the 4th
Century. The key to using feeling as the prayer-language is simply to
understand how it works. In the most remote and isolated sanctuaries
remaining on earth today, those least disturbed by modern civilization,
we find some of the best preserved examples of how we speak the language
of our "lost" mode of prayer.
I was reeling from what I had just heard. The cold from the stone
floor beneath my knees had found its way through the dampness of two
layers of clothing that I had worn that morning. Each day on the Tibetan
plateau is both summer and winter; summer in the direct high-altitude
daytime sun, and winter as the sun disappears behind the high jagged
peaks of the Himalayas, or high monastery walls like those that surrounded
me. It felt as if there was nothing between my skin and the ancient
stones on the floor beneath me, yet I could not leave. This day was
the reason that I had invited twenty others to join me in a journey
that led us half way around the world. On this day we found ourselves
in some of the most remote, isolated, magnificent and sacred places
of knowledge remaining on earth today - the monasteries of the Tibetan
For fourteen days we had acclimated our bodies to altitudes of over
16,500 feet above sea level. Together, we had crossed an icy river in
hand-hewn wooden barges, and driven for hours peering at one another
over our surgical masks that doubled as filters for the dust that floated
through the floor boards of our vintage Chinese bus. Each experience
had paved the way for us to be on this cold stone floor, in this dimly-lit
room, in this precise moment. I thought to myself, "Today is not
about being warm. Today is a day of answers."
I focused my attention directly into the eyes of the beautiful,
and timeless-looking man, seated lotus style in front of me, the abbot
of the monastery. Through our translator I had just asked him the same
question that I had asked each monk, and every nun, that we had met
throughout pilgrimage. "When we see your prayers" I began,
"What are you doing?" "When we see you tone and chant
for fourteen and sixteen hours a day, when we see the bells, the bowls,
the gongs, the chimes, the mudras, and the mantras on the outside, what
is happening to you on the inside? "
As the translator shared the abbot's reply, a powerful sensation
rippled through my body, and I knew that this was the reason that we
had come to this place. "You have never seen our prayers"
he answered, "because a prayer can not be seen." Adjusting
the heavy wool robes beneath his feet, the abbot continued. "What
you have seen is what we do to create the feeling in our bodies. Feeling
is the prayer!"
It was the clarity of the abbot's answer that had sent me reeling!
His words echoed the ideas that the native healers of the American desert
Southwest had shared with me in the past, as well as those that had
been written on a 2,000-year-old scroll found near Israel's Dead Sea
in the 1940's! Whether we are bringing rain to our land, peace to our
world, or healing to our bodies, the principle is the same. To breathe
life into our prayers, rather than asking for intervention from a higher
power, we are invited to fuel them ourselves with the heartfelt feeling
as if our prayers have already been answered. The reason that this mode
of prayer works as it does is simple and straightforward.
In sharing this concept with me in the early 1990's, my native friend
David (not his real name) had described how in our prayers of asking
for something to happen, we may actually be empowering the very
conditions that we would like to change! Prayers for healing,
for example, may empower the sickness. Prayers for rain can empower
the draught. Continuing to ask for these things only gives more power
to what we would like to change, he had said. The key is to feel our
prayers fulfilled with all of our hearts, minds, souls and bodies, including
When David described his prayers for rain in his village, for example,
he had smelled the smells of rain on the earthen walls of his village.
He had felt the feeling of his naked feet in the mud created by so much
rain. In this way, he engaged the power of his senses, as well as his
thoughts, feelings and emotions, to bring his prayers to life.
The explanations of prayer that both David and the abbot had shared
made perfect sense. Both were engaging the human powers of thought,
feeling and emotion that set us apart from all other life, as well as
the power of our senses that connect us with this world. "Feeling
is the prayer!" the abbot had said, paralleling the teachings of
the great masters from the wisdom traditions of our past. I thought
to myself, "How powerful!" "How beautiful!" "How
I think about David and the abbot often, and what their time-tested
traditions may mean in our lives today. If we pray for peace
in our world, for example, while feeling tremendous anger toward those
who lead us into war, or even war itself, we may inadvertently be fueling
the conditions that lead to the opposite of peace! With one half of
the world's nations now engaged in armed conflict, I often wonder what
role millions of well-intentioned prayers for peace each day
may play, and how a slight shift in perspective could possibly change
that role. Imagine the possibilities!
© Gregg Braden 2004
New York Times Best selling author Gregg Braden has been a featured
guest for international conferences, and media specials, exploring the
role of ancient wisdom and spirituality in technology. A former Senior
Computer Systems Designer (Martin Marietta Aerospace), Computer geologist
(Phillips Petroleum) and Technical Operations Manager (Cisco Systems)
Braden is now considered a leading authority on bridging the wisdom
of our past with the science, technology and peace of our future.