Find a quiet place. Sit still. Back straight. Begin by greeting God, the Beloved, with a short prayer, invoking God’s presence and summoning your soul to be attentive and available to God. This prayer can be as simple as, “Hello, God.”
Now begin to follow your breath, in and out. Survey your whole body, beginning with your toes and ending with your nose. Release all tension. Sink into the presence of God. Gently breathe, giving your thoughts the freedom to come and go. Like snowflakes, you may notice them but don’t hold them. Simply let them fall.
Letting them fall won’t be easy. Your mind will parade many things in front of you. To-do lists. Problems you’re dealing with. Dreams you have for yourself. These things and more will lure your attention away from God. The barking dog next door will annoy you. Memories from long ago will entertain you. Ugly things too will crowd in upon you—lusts, fears, and ambitions. Don’t fight them, judge them, or follow them. Just watch them and become aware that you’re aware of them.
This awareness is the key. When you’re aware, you’re present—to God and to yourself before God.
Just wait now . . . rest . . . be.
Available . . . attentive . . . present.
When something draws you away again—and it will—simply take note that you were drawn away temporarily and return to the Beloved by returning to your awareness of your breath. Follow your breath up through your nostrils. Down your windpipe. Into your lungs. Filling your center. Then gently out again. Follow your breathing in and out, over and over again. As you do you may begin to realize the way in which your breath is spirit. As you breathe, you’re opening yourself to the Spirit of God, becoming more present to God—God with you; God in you.
Now, at some point, make a gentle effort to open your heart to love, and, therefore, open yourself more fully to God. This may be difficult because you may not feel particularly loving or lovable right now. You may be troubled or worried or wounded. On top of this, you may feel like God is more absent than present, more distant than close. If so, tell God that. Then open the door of your heart a little more. Express your desire to love and be loved. This effort will reward you. It’s not the power of your love that moves you toward God, but your intention to love—the consent of your heart to open before the Beloved like a lily opening the light of the sun.
With practice, this intention will come easier, you’ll consent more quickly—even when life around you is squeezing in on you; even if you’re stressed or worried or terribly busy. You’ll open to God, but you’ll also find that your thoughts, set aside for a moment by your heart’s opening to love, will redouble their effort to get your attention. Don’t worry. Ignore them. Return to your breath. Your untamed thoughts and feelings will become disoriented when they encounter even the smallest flame of love burning within you; keep at this and they’ll recede . . . I promise.
Okay, so you’ve offered an opening prayer; you’ve attended to your breath; you’ve opened your heart, giving a deep consent to the embrace of God. Your inner and outer life is more quiet now than when you began to pray.
Now you need to concentrate your attention further—or better, to focus it more narrowly by uniting your mind and heart around the simplest of prayers.
So, with your next breath—on your inhalation—speak the first syllable of Jesus’s name inwardly. Then, as you exhale, speak the second syllable. Let the name of Jesus simply float on your breath—in and out, in and out. (You may, of course, use other words for this prayer: “I am,” “Help me,” or some other simple prayer). This bare prayer, once planted in your heart and joined to your breath, is the one thing that will hold you to your center—the presence of God with you; the presence of God within you.
Repeat your prayer, over and over again for the duration of your time of prayer. Just let the prayer rise and fall with each and every breath as you rest in God.
From time to time, you may find yourself evaluating what’s happening. You might try to achieve “something” in this time of prayer. All of us want an experience of God, and you’ll seek that too—some spiritual feeling, a revelation, bliss.
But you must let all this go too. A desire for some kind of experience can, frankly, put you (and God) into a box of expectation. And this will inevitably bring about a judging of yourself and the experience that’ll mess up what prayer is all about. True prayer is beyond any goal or expectation you set up for it. There is no goal but God, and if you aim for some other kind of goal or have a certain expectation about what getting close to God means, then you’ll end up not only feeling disappointed, but you’ll lurching about for ways to achieve your goals.
This kind of prayer may run so counter to what you think prayer is. It might even feel dull, barren, dry. If so, I’m telling you, that’s your ego speaking . . . not your heart. The truth is, what you label as dull, barren, and dry is a judgment your ego has made about your experience. And that judgement comes from you, not from God. Letting go of all expectation frees you from the judging faculty of our brain—your ego. When you get free of that, you’re free to experience God as God is, and not as you think God ought to be.
The point is to simply be with God, as you are—naked, plain, honest, vulnerable. And when you are, you’ll find that this simple invocation, your desire for nothing else but God, may look dull from an external perspective, but inwardly, whether you know it or not, you’re becoming one with what you seek.
So, just keep returning to your simple prayer. Repeat it as often as you breathe. And when you’ve come to the end of the time you’ve allotted for prayer simply bring your soul to an awareness of the external world outside you. (You might use a quiet alarm or meditation chime—there are great smartphone apps for this—so you don’t have to keep looking at the clock.)
Thank God, blessing the Trinity of love, and go about your the day again.