My secret is simple: I pray.
Prayer. So many implications, so caught up in politics and a thick could of confusion, or so it seems nowadays. What is your relationship to prayer? Does the word comfort you, cloak you with wordless warmth and familiarity? Or does it drag you back down memory lane, gravel scraping at your knees, images of parochial school and knuckle-wrapping nuns?
I was raised Catholic. Loosely, I should say. Both sides of my parentage are Catholic, but only my dad grew up with the whole nine yards. Altar boy (with a famous story that I always loved to hear him tell, of the time he disrupted the entire mass and ticked off the priest because he was snapping and unsnapping the buttons on his clerical apparel.
As a child I observed mass with my parents, but not every Sunday. It was sporadic, and yet totally meaningful. I was baptized, went to Sunday school, had first communion. In fact, my first communion ceremony is one of my fondest memories. Although I admit the fondness of my memories revolve primarily around food, and the lovely cream lace dress and matching gloves I wore for the occasion. If not for the letdown of how airy and tasteless the waffle cone host was (and the fact that an older girl had on a larger version of my very same cream lace dress), I remember devouring a delicious shrimp pasta dish at my favorite fancy restaurant on a sunny day by the river after church. It’s no wonder I’m such a foodie today. I digress…
I prayed every night. I asked God to bless my family, to hold them safe. I sent my energy out into the world and asked the Grace of our Creator to wrap every last suffering human being in its safe grasp. I prayed fervently, asking that those who were cold, hungry, sad, lonely, hurt and lost be removed, if only for a moment, from their pain and shaken by the remarkable sensation of a tight hug. An embrace. I energetically embraced the whole world, every night before I fell asleep.
Little did I know that was the beginning of my life’s purpose as an energy worker.
My relationship to prayer was, in part, fear-based. I didn’t fear God. But I was afraid that if I didn’t pray for my family to be safe, they wouldn’t be. I also remember the guilt-ridden moments that haunted me, the moments when I began to question just to whom I was praying. I couldn’t wrap my mind around this masculine, white-bearded man in the sky. I didn’t feel close to him. I started to feel more and more certain that we had an energetic Creator, but less and less did I associate this feeling with the man painted gloriously on the walls of churches.
I continued to pray. If anything, as I grew older my spiritually deepened with the intensity of a sharp decline, like that of the ocean floor when you’re wading carefully out and then, suddenly – all at once – the sand drops off and you’re suddenly hip-deep and your heart leaps into your throat. I looked up at the canopy of the sky and I was sure. Of what, I didn’t know. But I was certain. There was something more.
I had a conversation with a girlfriend one starry night, likely after sharing a midsummer joint laced with rebellion and perceived adulthood, about the afterlife. She was certain that we just become fertilizer after we die. I was emphatic. You’re telling me that if a car t-boned us right now and killed me, that I’d be nothing? Despite this conversation and all of my beliefs and my thoughts and my energy and my soul . . . that I’d just be GONE? She looked at me. Blinked. You’d just be worm food, she confirmed. I was aghast.
No. Fucking. Way.
I had a panic attack early one morning in my Art History class at 19, the room dark and cool, the projector’s click deafening and the art flashing across the screen vivid, color and texture giving life to centuries of faith. I suddenly felt, more powerfully than ever before, that there’s no way on God’s green earth that we couldn’t go somewhere after this life. It can’t possibly just end, lights out, sayonara. We are spiritual beings, we are comprised of great cosmic matter, our bodies are simply vehicles!
I stumbled into the fluorescent lighting of the University hall and clutched at my chest. Tried to calm my breath. Fought the inherent physical urge to hyperventilate that I had developed 10 years prior upon witnessing a cheerleading accident. But that’s another story.
I spilled into the women’s restroom and looked into the warped mirror. I didn’t have answers. What I had was a sensation. That sensation, I now recognize, was conviction.
When I lived in Italy, my relationship to the church was rekindled. I took Art History again, for fun this time, and fell in love with the romantic history of the abbeys, the chapels, the brilliant beauty that is mass, no matter the religion. I attended services in Italian and looked, awestruck, at the images of angels and demons, saints and monsters, decorating the very ceilings of these exquisite works of architecture. My heart broke for the fury and pain that shook Europe, and all parts of the world, at the hand of opposing beliefs. My mind expanded and contracted and expanded again. My soul opened.
But still, I was locked in a confusing ring of prayer and religion. Surely, they were one and the same. That’s what I’d always been taught. I finally felt protected enough, by the cosmic forces that be, to admit (at least to myself, in moments of quiet vulnerability) that I wasn’t religious. I confess, I even experienced a spell where I drove past churches on Sundays, saw families spilling out, and felt completely alienated from them. Like they existed in some fairytale bubble, believing some stories that were just so blatantly not true. I felt very distant and disassociated for a short time from the entire concept of religion. But quickly that softened. I came to see religion as a beautiful coping mechanism, rather than doctrine.
Shortly thereafter, I found more meaning in the word spirituality. It was given shape and texture, as if dropped into the crown of my head by the angels themselves. Suddenly, my conviction began to take form in informal, unbranded magnitude.
When I fell, shattered, onto my yogic path five years ago, it was on my knees in prayer. I sobbed through every savasana. I set intentions. I prayed my damn heart out. I went and visited an ashram where Jesus and Buddha and Krishna all sat lazily together on one wall’s mural. No separation. One God, many forms.
Things began to make sense, but they were still so foggy. Alas, the sensation deepened.
When I met my main teacher, Seane Corn, a couple of years ago, I finally understood the conviction I had felt for so much of my life. God. She gave me back the G-word. The word I had come to cringe at, sure that it meant the white-bearded man in the sky with the harsh brow and many rules. But through Seane’s sermon-like practices, through the works of Marianne Williamson and Anne Lamott, I began to feel held and utterly understood by a vast sisterhood of likeminded seekers. I began to talk spirituality with my parents, openly, explaining to them my sensations and listening, cherishing, theirs.
Now, all these years later, I find myself praying upon waking, throughout the day, saying a blessing before each meal, upon hearing a siren, at the sight of a sunset, giving thanks as I go to sleep. Prayer to me is not the official business it was as a child. It is an act of gratitude, an act of service. My asana practice is laced with prayer. It is begun and ended with prayer. I invoke into my daily space the essence of Grace. I pray to the Goddess, the Divine Mother, the Universe, our grand Creator, God. I see that all is one. I see that there is no separation. I feel more connected now to the angels than I have ever before in my life, and that connection grows deeper each day. I feel connected to God with my bare feet on the earth before the crashing ocean or a luminous, sky-shattering sunset; I also feel deeply connected to God inside of churches. I no longer see any segregation. In fact, I see God everywhere.
I have learned that there is nothing more Holy than love. Nothing more sanctified than the commitment to embrace, accept, unify and adore. I have come to a place of clarity, understanding, utter conviction. Sure, I have some more words now to give weight to that conviction, some ways of describing the depth of my devotion. But there’s still no way to put words to what I feel. There’s still no way, nor a need, to describe in analytical terms the sanctity of spirituality. It simply is. We simply are.
But one thing is for certain. When I am asked how I can be so calm, when anyone asks how I’ve gotten from point A to point B, whenever I ask myself how in God’s name I got through anything, how I find the courage to look fear in the face and choose love . . . when I wonder how I will one day get through the inevitable heartache that life dishes out, my answer is simple. I will pray.