More and more, human beings today are asking themselves, “How can I overcome the anxiety, loneliness, and sense of meaninglessness in my life?” We find signs of this searching everywhere: in the dramatic increase of anxiety medication, in the overflow of self-help books, and in the spiritual materialism of the quick-fix “you-can-have-it-all” mentality of some popular contemporary spiritual teachers. Even after feasting at the spiritual smorgasbord offered at bookstores or yoga studios, our souls very often still feel empty. We long for a real connection to our human brothers and sisters, to the world of nature, and to ourselves, but because our actual hunger is for the world of the spirit, we seem to fall short of our goals again and again.
And yet there is always hope. There are real pathways to the spirit. There can be real healing of anxiety, loneliness, and our sense of meaninglessness, but these can be found only through conscious and reliable entrance into what is spiritual, across a bridge that we must travel again and again in order to bring the spirit’s riches into our daily lives. For it is in the spirit that we are rejuvenated, truly met, and strengthened for earthly existence. How then can such a true bridge be built today? Developing an inner practice, a rhythmical ritual in our daily lives is the starting point.
The practices of all religious and spiritual life have their source in ritual. While limiting oneself to a specific form of ritual practice today is often considered rigid and un-free, without dedication to real ritual our efforts to cultivate life in the spirit will be in vain.
A true ritual has a specific form that we engage repeatedly on a rhythmical basis. All true meditations have a specific form, specific instructions, and must be practiced regularly in order to be effective. In the same way, true prayer also has a specific form, for example the Lord’s Prayer, which bears fruit through repetition1. True ritual is a bridge, because its devoted practice builds the path that leads us from our world to the spiritual world—and back again.
There are different ways to build bridges. One method would be to toss a looped rope across the given chasm. The rope immediately connects us to the other side, but this connection must then be built up with other ropes, wood, and other materials in order to make it secure. Such a bridge is akin to prayer, whereby the soul immediately reaches out to a spiritual being across the abyss. However, in order for this type of connection to our chosen spiritual being to become a secure path, it must be strengthened through practice.
Another bridge is one that we build step by step across the abyss, and which only at the end of our work culminates in our experience of the other side. This is the bridge of meditation, which does not initially grant us the experience of a spiritual being, but builds up our souls in such a way that we eventually become conscious and cognizant of the one or ones, we seek, to reach on the other side. Prayer begins with a conscious, even if perhaps dim and foggy, connection to a spiritual being, which clarifies over time. Meditation builds up capacities in the soul—organs of spiritual perception that reveal clear and conscious relationships with spiritual beings only when the soul has ripened. While prayer and meditation differ in method, if they are authentic, they ultimately lead us across the chasm that separates us from communion with the world of spiritual beings for which we hunger, whether or not we know it.
The spiritual world is populated by hierarchies of differentiated beings. Prayer always starts with a relationship to one of these beings: We pray to Christ, or we pray to the guardian angels of our loved ones. When we pray, we immediately make a feeling-connection to a specific spiritual being. For Origin, one of the early church fathers, prayer was less about petitioning than about bridging the gap between God and ourselves: “In the first place…[the one who prays] is placing himself before God and speaking to him as present, convinced that he is present and looking at him.” 2 True prayer is a conversation with spiritual beings. 3
The more we engage in this conversation, this connecting with the spiritual being whom we seek, the more our prayer life will be strengthened. An example of a way to practice prayer is in the modern Sacrament of the Eucharist, The Act of Consecration of Man. The four steps which are taken in this Sacrament, the central ritual of The Christian Community- Movement for Religious Renewal, create a living bridge to the presence of Christ Jesus. First, we invite him to make our hearts pure for hearing his revelation in the gospel. We then respond to His revelation by emptying and offering our souls to Him. In the third step called Transubstantiation, Christ Jesus Himself then transforms our offering by entering into it. And finally we unite with this transformed offering through taking communion, taking Him into ourselves.
Prayer is strengthened through repetition. We will know it is being strengthened because we will feel peace, clarity, and warmth in our hearts. As we advance in our practice, we begin to realize that this warmth and peace we feel are not ours, but are in fact the feelings, thoughts, and intentions of the spiritual being to whom we are praying, awakening in us. We will feel this presence more and more as its peace, its light, its joy come to life in us. We can even open our thinking to this being in prayer and begin to experience its thoughts. The Apostle Paul encouraged us toward this when he wrote, “Pray with the spirit and understanding.”4 The Act of Consecration of Man that was just mentioned makes this clear in the Transubstantiation. There, we are called to take Christ into our thinking. Christ’s thoughts and deeds begin then to think in us, so that our whole being begins to become a vessel for His life.
This is how transformation takes place through prayer: His thoughts, feelings, and intentions become alive in us. The essential formula for this type of transformation is “Not I, but Christ in me”5. What’s more, we may even hope in this way, to become gradually transformed into His image. Paul speaks of this as, “Beholding the glory of the Lord with open face and being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” 6 “…just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.”7
If we are praying for a friend or a loved one, the power of our goodwill toward our friend through his guardian angel will strengthen both the angel and our friend to better carry his destiny. We do not pray for any outer results, because we lack the wisdom to know what destiny requires.8 We pray that our loved one can meet his life’s destiny with strength, peace and courage.9
Indeed, one’s life can itself become a prayer if it is approached as a spiritual being. Then we can practice devotion and reverence to the being of our own life—that Individuality whom we rarely glimpse in our preoccupation with our petty, personal selves, but whose purpose we have come to earth to manifest.
Prayer is often thought of today as something we do when we want something from God. True prayer, however, never has egotistical aims. Thus, praying for our team to win, a new car, or a better job is not prayer. True prayer always has the gesture of surrender: “…not my will, but Thy will be done.” 10
There are four types of prayer: 11
- Prayer for our friends and loved ones (Also called intercessory prayer, always addressed through our loved-one’s guardian angel, and, in order to honor the integrity of the other’s destiny and freedom, without asking for any outer result.
- Prayer for the inner strength and courage to meet what our lives bring.
- Prayer that is a path of transformation and leads us to an ever deeper experience and knowledge of a specific spiritual being ( The Act of Consecration, for example)
- Prayer as thanksgiving and praise for the deeds of a spiritual being (perhaps the highest form of prayer, in that it is also the continual activity of the angelic hierarchies).
To really get to know what prayer is, one must do it, and learn by doing; there is no substitute. True prayer, when practiced with one’s whole being in devotion again and again, becomes a bridge to the spring of life.12 We know we have found this spring when we begin to feel that our soul would actually perish without its spiritual sustenance.
Meditation always starts from a search for knowledge. Unlike prayer, which always begins with a conscious relationship to a spiritual being, meditation begins from a quest for such a relationship that will inform the practitioner: How can I acquire more peace in my life? How can I know the spiritual world? How do I attain enlightenment? What is the meaning behind the appearances of the world that I meet daily?
Today, it is common to think of meditation as something that simply calms the soul and quiets the mind. One very popular example is watching, or counting one’s breaths in order to combat stress and quiet the “monkey mind.” While such techniques can be valuable for achieving a quiet and focused soul, which is necessary as a first step in both prayer and meditation, true meditation only can begin with this foundation.
For those who are ready to take them up, a comprehensive source of techniques of meditation for the modern western person of today can be found in the works of Rudolf Steiner. In two of his basic books, An Outline of Esoteric Science and How to Know Higher Worlds, Steiner gives many examples of meditation. Each begins by building up a thought or a thought-picture in the quieted soul. “In the beginning was the Word…” is an example of a thought-meditation; vividly picturing an actual blossoming plant or one dying away would be an example of a thought-picture. We are then asked to concentrate on this built up thought or thought-picture. A simple example of a thought-picture given by Steiner would be what was just mentioned; find an actual blossoming plant in nature and then picture it in your mind. The mental picture of a blossoming plant and the thought of ‘blossoming forth’ is focused on until a specific type of feeling is awakened. This feeling evoked by the image of the blossoming plant is then held in the soul after the thought-picture is dissolved, and the next step is to dissolve the feeling as well, and simply listen. This whole process is repeated with the thought-picture of a dying or decaying plant.
Practicing meditation in this way begins to form organs for spiritual perception in the soul. The exercises themselves, like the materials of a bridge built step by step, shape and awaken these organs, which eventually reveal to us the spiritual world. Patience and persistence without attachment to results is crucial.
There are many examples of these meditations in Steiner’s works, from systematic contemplations of natural phenomena to the essential Ross Cross Meditation in An Outline of Esoteric Science, but the gesture in each is the movement from concentrating on a built-up thought-picture to a specific feeling; it is the meditant’s independent guiding of these transitions that develops organs of spiritual perception in his soul. These spiritual organs developed through meditation are inner bridges that lead us to conscious relationships with spiritual beings, by awakening faculties that have lain dormant in most of humanity for millennia.
“For students of the spirit, this quiet contemplation must become a necessity in life. At first, we are wholly absorbed in the world of thought. We must develop a living feeling for this silent thinking activity. We must learn to love what streams toward us from the spirit….And then the moment will approach when we begin to realize that what is revealed to us in the silence of inner thinking activity is more real than the physical objects around us. We experience that life speaks in this world of thoughts. We realize that thoughts are not mere shadow pictures and that hidden beings speak to us through thoughts. Out of the silence something begins to speak to us. Previously we could hear speech only with our ears, but now words resound in our souls. An inner speech, an inner word, is disclosed to us. The first time we experience this we feel supremely blessed. Our outer world is suffused with an inner light. A second life begins for us. A divine, bliss-bestowing world streams through us.
This life of the soul in thoughts, gradually broadening into life in the world of spiritual beings, is called in spiritual science or gnosis “meditation”. Meditation, in this sense, is the way to supersensible knowledge.” 13
What will ultimately heal our anxiety, loneliness, and sense of meaninglessness is not the attempt to assuage them with specialized techniques, but by connecting with the spiritual beings who are the foundation of reality. Prayer and meditation can form bridges to the source of this healing.
- In moments of critical need, however, prayer is always effective, even without prior practice, but this not the case for meditation, which requires greater independence on the part of the practitioner.
- McGinn, Bernard: The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism, Origin on ‘Prayer in General’
- Hafner, Daniel: Prayers Given by Rudolf Steiner, p. 1.
- 1 Corinthians 14:15
- Galatians 2:20
- 2 Corinthians 3:18
- 1 Corinthians 15:49
- Hafner, Daniel: Prayers Given by Rudolf Steiner
- The Carlmelite lay brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (ca. 1614-1691) put this plainly in a letter to a suffering friend: “I do not pray that you may be delivered from your pains, but I pray to God earnestly that He would give you strength and patience to bear them as long as He pleases.” This is also a test for our trust that what pleases God is in fact for our own ultimate good.
- Mt. 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42
- Of course, these distinctions are not exclusive, as each of the four types of prayer contains elements of the other three.
- John 4:10-13
- Rudolf Steiner, How to Know Higher Worlds, Chapter 1