Pray It Again . . . and Again

Cultivating a spiritual life requires a practice of repetition

| November-December 2010

Pray It Again and Again Image by Scott Bakal

Scott Bakal /

Spiritual training involves scrubbing out deeply ingrained habits, which takes time and reiter­ation. It is like trying to flatten a scroll that has been coiled for thousands of years. One pass of our hands across the surface won’t do it. We have to press it out again and again.

Accomplishment in any discipline involves repetition. If we want to build muscles, we don’t lift ten thousand pounds at one time; we lift a few pounds thousands of times. Just as repetition is the source of necessary hardship for a piano student aspiring to be a concert pianist, it remains so for spiritual students aspiring to wake up. We hear the same teachings continuously, we practice the same mantras ceaselessly, we return to the meditation cushion, and then to our breath, incessantly. In the Tibetan tradition, one does one hundred thousand prostrations, one hundred thousand mantra recitations, one hundred thousand mandala offerings, one million guru yoga recitations—and that’s just for starters. These may seem like outrageous numbers, but they are nothing compared to the numbers we have already accumulated in our practice of materialism.

I have had selfish thoughts millions of times, bragged about myself, criticized others, gossiped, cheated, lied, and practiced self-centered actions millions upon millions of times. I have been mindless billions of time. I have forgotten the truth countless times. The numbers are astronomical, and so is the sphere of their influence.

Now when my teacher tells me I have to recite one million mantras that cultivate compassion, I know why. He is not torturing me, even though it sometimes feels that way. He is simply using the universal laws of reality, the same ones that I have unconsciously used to get me so stuck, to now consciously get me unstuck.

On the spiritual path we replace unconscious habits of confusion with conscious habits of wisdom. Instead of my unconscious practice of sloth, impatience, greed, anger, or any of the selfish habits that come so easily to me, I consciously practice discipline, patience, kindness, love, and many of the selfless habits that are still foreign to me. I am working to become familiar with good habits.

The spiritual path is hard because we are stopping old habits that come so easily and replacing them with difficult new ones. For example, mindlessness is natural to us. It is easy to space out and be distracted. Try to look at an object without wavering for a few seconds and you will see your talents for distraction. This is a bad habit, formulated over countless repetitions, and is a central unconscious practice on the worldly path. It is no longer even a practice, but a constant performance. We have accomplished mindlessness.

11/26/2010 10:13:58 AM

Occum, I checked out that site and it was the usual stuff all of which I am comfortable addressing. It is easy to take one verse and compare it to another and say these things dont match up. This is the oldest trick in the book. My favorite is the Old testament says this but Jesus said that. Many people like to think you can separate nice Jesus from the mean old testament God. But how do those people get around Matthew 5:17-20? Here Jesus pretty much says the old testament it true I am not going to spend my time rehashing that. Or "if you have scene the son you have scene the father" or in Genesis "make man in our image?" or the new testament in the beginning there was the word and the word was with god and was god and the word became flesh (paraphrase). Okay I am getting way off track I would be happy to address any questions on that site email two or three Feel free to email me any but I prefer not to go down creation etc. Not very productive and I dont have a firm stance on it any way, but I do get that a contradiction appears so if that is your burning question fine. I would just rather start some where else.

11/24/2010 4:11:11 PM

I fear showing my age by saying I love this episode of WKRP (one of my favorite shows of the time) and also wish you and all reading a Happy Thanksgiving. To the questions regarding the Bible I send this link as an example of the surface level confusion involved as people try to figure this out. Keep in mind this becomes exponentially disjunct if you start including other sources such as the Qu'ran, the Torah, the Vedes, the Book of Mormon etc. They are all based on a supposed spiritual tenent yet squelch spirituality in the same process. Sounds somewhat passive aggresive to me and we all know passive aggressiveness is based on keeping you off balance, guessing, shameful, guilty, loved, trusted, included and excluded. Here is the link:

11/24/2010 3:04:11 PM

First Occum and any other WKRP fans please watch this and have a great Thanksgiving. the first part of your question is very complicated. the second part I dont understand. lets talk about the first when you say write and rewrite it depends on what you mean. I mean there was no printing press when the original scriptures were written so sure I am guessing they had to be copied some how. When you say adjusted do you mean translation or the actual meaning has been adjusted because I would argue that it has not. Or if you mean why are some books included and some excluded that is another question. Or if the question is in regards to humans being fallable so we bunged it up somehow???? All are different.

11/24/2010 2:24:32 PM

Forgive what may sound sarcastic (I truely want to understand in case I am missing something.) Isn't it Men who wrote and re-wrote and adjusted the Bible according to their perspective and interpretations. If the Bible has never changed according to God's words then it must be taken literally and anyone who speaks of metaphores or figuratives used to teach moral values is wrong.

11/24/2010 10:32:51 AM

Why does the interpretation change according to the times? Convenience? Relevance? New translations? This is the best question you have ever asked and I think it gets right to the heart of your skeptism. I only have an opinion but I think it is biblical. My opinion is organized religion is dangerous. I believe the bible is the most powerful book ever written and when misused to suit ones own personal goals or agenda is and you are correct very frightening. But that is man changing the bible the bible itself never changes. Carefully consider this vs it is one of dozens that warn against false prophets. 21 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' 23 And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you;depart from me, you workers of lawlessness

11/24/2010 10:26:33 AM

Occum, It is literal and figurative. It must be read with a critical mind. For example a common question and you might get different answers is Job a parable or a true story. Answer true story this was not left for debate. Did Jonah literally live in the belly of a whale? Yes. Does Jesus want us to poke our eyes out for looking at playboy? No.

11/24/2010 10:06:35 AM

Well put Rodeen. I will visit that website. I am still at a lose about the book though. I have had many conversations with all types of folks about the bible and what it represents. Is it literal? Is it figurative? Both? Neither? Why does the interpretation change according to the times? Convenience? Relevance? New translations? New scientific evidence? If it is infallable why would anyone be asking these questions? Why would there be a need for many different versions? Why would some actions be decrees of rulers rather than the word of the book? When the plague hit Europe killing millions, Jews were persecuted and put to death because they didn't beleive what was supposedly historical fact. Then science discoverd what caused the plague and it wasn't the Jews. Oops. That kind of power makes me nervous.

11/24/2010 8:43:00 AM

"I feel our responsiblity by who or whatever put us here is to keep seeking an unanswerable truth. Stopping short and declaring I found it is the sin" The above is a philosophy and well what do the kids say? It is what it is. I to believe there are many unaswerable truths and ideas like infinity that are beyond human comprehension. However we have been given all the truth we need for now. Believe and you will find some more. I was thinking about the game of telephone you speak of this morning and I am glad you bring that up. I was thinking how amazing it is that a book written over 1000's of years by approximately 40 authors almost none of which new each other and some that were oblivious to other scripture could stand up historically. The more we uncover the more we discover the astonishing accuracy. My question is how could a game of telephone like this be so infallable with out the divine hand of God? Before anyone loses there sensitivities I do not beleive science confirms the truth of the bible or that science disproves the bible (that I do beleive is a mystery God will leave unanswered). I speak more of archeological evidence that confirms the historical accuracy which confirms the astounding game of telephone. You can read the latest national geographic about some of the amazing discoveries at the City of David which 20 years ago bible skeptics did not believe existed. Or

11/23/2010 3:58:24 PM

Rodeen, I do not direct this at you or anyone personally (I use these posts many times to clarify my thoughts and/or gather new information that will help me be more insightful) and in turn gather friends not foes. I have no quarral with people beleiving the bible or any other writing on a personal level. What bothers me is the certainty of how an unverifiable game of telephone has become the edict used to judge,condemn and lead by proxy. It is not only the Christian religion it is any body that uses unsubtantiated and many times flat out incorrect information as an argument. How many people use the phrase "you can't have your cake and eat it too." How many know that phrase is not only incorrect but makes no sense. Yet it is parroted over and over by generation after generation as if it had merit and unfortunately repeated again by the next cohort because it came from the mouth of some type of mentor. I feel our responsiblity by who or whatever put us here is to keep seeking an unanswerable truth. Stopping short and declaring I found it is the sin.

11/23/2010 8:28:07 AM

Occum, I understand and appreciate your position. I have never really tried debating biblical matters with you because you are not a beleiver and dont represent yourself as a Christian. If you dont believe in the bilble or that Jesus Christ is the only way then we will come to obvious cross roads. Further as Corinthians 3 alludes to I am privy to information that you are not and it is impossible for the unbeliever to understand the deep things of God. That being said there is not much point going down that road. Nor do I take particular exception to this article. Of course I think it is drivel but not worth commenting on. I take exception to is people taking liberties with scripture who do represent themselves as followers of Christ. You think this is something left to interpretation it clearly is not. Some things in the bible are disputable issues which Paul himself admits exist. This simply is not the case with this scripture.

11/22/2010 4:25:02 PM

Hey Hey Hey, I read this article this morning and refrained from commenting as I felt a storm possible. I need to holler at you both especially since you both do me the favor of steering me back on track when needed. I think this article makes a valid and emphatic point about prayer and it's positive effects no matter what faith or beliefs you have. I will go a step further and suggest that "muddying" this energy between you and it's creator with discourse over who the third party provider is was never the intention of this force and most likely counter productive. Although I enjoy the penning of master crafters of the written word I always keep in mind that every book I read has gone through a process of keeping it relevant to its time and most importanlty "saleable." When I want to know the true meaning of the first draft I talk to the author....sometimes through Prayer but never through an interpretor.

11/22/2010 2:57:02 PM

So much is wrong with that statement every time I read it I am blown away at how wrong it is. What are you talking about when you speak of freedom? The freedom we have is in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior and what exactly we are free of is condemnation for our sins.

11/22/2010 2:17:17 PM

Wrong Lauri WRONG WRONG WRONG. What are you teaching? Only when the light of the glory of God shines on a person from Jesus Christ (i.e., he or she perceives the gospel) can that individual fully understand that revelation. Before God removes that veil that person cannot perceive it clearly. This applies to all people, but in the context Paul was speaking of Jews particularly. Whenever a person comprehends that Jesus Christ fulfilled the Mosaic Law (Rom. 10:4), that one then understands that the dispensation of grace has superseded the dispensation of the law (John 1:17).117 "Turns to the Lord," means conversion to Jesus Christ. Not infinite ways Lauri only one.

Lauri Lumby
11/22/2010 12:03:13 PM

Interesting that I posted on this very idea this morning: "To this day, a veil lies over our hearts… but whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image… as from the Lord who is the Spirit." 2 Corinthians 3: 15-18 The freedom of which Paul speaks is the inner freedom that we know when we pierce through the veil of illusion, rooted in fear and falsehoods and remember our true nature as men and women of contentment and joy residing within the Love of the Divine. This is the freedom that is our original nature and the freedom to which we are compelled to return. In the reading above, Paul also gives us the only tool we need to burst through the membrane that holds us imprisoned in our fears and false perceptions and that only necessary tool is God (“the Lord”). When we are diligent in maintaining the Divine as the center and focus of our lives, the journey to spiritual freedom unfolds before us. The good news is that while meditation, contemplation and prayer are all valid and supportive tools through which we can maintain this Divine attention – there are an infinite number of ways to enter into this process. How do you connect with that place of freedom within? Lauri Lumby Authentic Freedom Ministries