MIND BODY SPIRIT(Carlton Books) is my new book on all aspects of complementary healthcare and holistic living. Its aim is to provide a comprehensive and clear introduction to the often baffling field of natural health and spirituality. Instead of having to wade through tons of books on all the different subjects, Mind Body Spirit should give you the lowdown on all the major therapies and systems of thought involved in this exciting field. Because of this, it’s ideal for anyone new to this field or who wants their hand held before launching in. However I also hope it will be of interest to the more seasoned “traveller” – I have had the great good fortune to be able to experience and test out a huge array of therapies and techniques so there might just be something new for everyone!
As the blurb says “Mind Body Spirit is an up-to-date, practical and inspirational guide to enjoying a healthier, happier life in the twenty-first century”. I couldn’t have put it better myself.
The book contains the following sections:
Part 1: Fundamental Principles, Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine, Ancient Wisdom of Other Cultures, Energy Medicine (see excerpt below),Homeopathy, Healing
Part 2: Body, Nutrition: Good Food, Naturopathy, Herbalism, Exercise, Posture, Environment, Sleep
Part 3: Mind and Emotions, Stress, Meditation, Talking Therapies, Swift Solutions, Bodywork for Emotional Balance, Work Harmony, Relationships, Sexuality, Family, Dreamworking, Creativity
Part 4: Soul, The Spiritual Traditions, Prayer (see excerpt), Sacred Space, Ritual, Nature, Retreating, Death
Part 5: The Therapies, The Skeletal Structure therapies, The Fascial therapies, Pressure Point therapies, Massage therapies, Energy therapies
Life is for living - so why aren’t you living life to the full? In today’s crazy, stress-filled frenetic world, it’s all too easy to let life pass you by. Most of us feel life is a struggle: a battle to get fit and healthy; a fight to meet deadlines and pay the bills. Our relationships with our own selves can be less than congenial; our relationships with others are often fraught. Few of us even think about our relationship with the spiritual world - we simply don’t have the time.
Yet all the information we need to lead healthier, happier, more fulfilled lives is ours for the taking. The fields of natural healing, mind-body medicine, psychology and spiritual understanding offer many paths to a vital yet peaceful life. Unfortunately we can often become overwhelmed by the sheer choice.
There are literally hundreds of different therapies and teachings all promising to heal you body, mind and soul. Which do you choose? Where do you start? The choice can be bewildering. Fortunately now the answers all lie within the pages of one book - this one.
The aim of Mind Body Spirit is to offer a simple straightforward friendly guide through the maze of holistic living. We have done all the hard work for you - picking out the nuggets of sheer gold amidst the tomes of heavy theory and complex philosophy. As you work your way through this book you will learn clearly and concisely how to incorporate natural health, emotional healing and spirituality into everyday life. It won’t preach or dictate - it will just present you with simple, effective information, and techniques which really work. Encyclopedic in scope, it offers a manual for twenty-first century living; a guide to living your life to the full - each and every day.
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK
How you use this book is entirely up to you. There is a lot of information here – probably way too much for any one person to incorporate into their life! You most certainly CAN read it through from start to finish but I suspect most people will find they want to dip in and out. That’s fine – most chapters will stand quite happily alone. You can let your intuition do the deciding – flick through the contents and see what grabs your attention. Or, if you really want to let your unconscious mind choose what it needs, close your eyes and flick through the pages until you feel drawn to stop. Then open your eyes and see where you’ve landed. You may be surprised to find how relevant the page is to you.
I firmly believe that the most important thing any of us can do is to take responsibility for our own lives. Once we decide that we have the power to change, almost anything can happen. In the past, it’s been common for many of us to hand over responsibility for our health, our emotional wellbeing, our spiritual lives to other people: to doctors and hospitals; to teachers and therapists; to priests and ministers. We have relied on the opinions and thoughts of other people – we have looked to newspapers, television and society for approval. Yet when you decide that YOU are in charge of your own destiny, a quantum leap happens and absolutely everything can change.
You don’t have to go out and make major shifts overnight. Even the tiniest change can create ripples. Adjust your diet a little; start to exercise; practice a ritual; say a prayer and you have started a shift that will inevitably lead to other changes.
People can and do heal themselves – so can you. You can also develop new ways of living and loving so relationships become more fulfilling and exciting. Work need not be a drag. Your spirit can soar.
WHEN TO SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
This book offers plenty of suggestions for leading healthier, happier lives. Yet it cannot work miracles. And sometimes you will need to get expert help. Although I have included a lot of self-help tips and DIY techniques I would strongly recommend that if you are drawn to a particular therapy or practice you seek out an experienced, well-qualified practitioner. There is still little or no regulations governing natural health therapies and so we have included a large resource section at the back with reputable organisations who should be able to put you in touch with your nearest practitioner.
If you have any serious medical concerns you must always see your primary care physician. Of course there is nothing to stop you also using the advice in this book – but you absolutely must have standard medical care as well.
If you feel your psychological state is very precarious – if, for example, you feel suicidal; if you are suffering chronic depression; if you are psychotic or have severe mental health problems, you need to see an experienced physician or psychiatrist. Many of the exercises in this book are designed to shift emotions and, in the process, may bring up any past traumas or difficulties. So if you know you have any painful events in your past, any abuse or traumas, it may be advisable to work alongside a psychotherapist who can help you through any tough times.
The Ancients understood that we are not just flesh and bones; we are infused with a subtle form of energy which cannot be seen by the naked eye or under the microscope of science. For many years complementary and alternative therapists have worked with this subtle energy and seen with their own eyes that by working on the esoteric level, they could affect huge changes in the physical body. Scientists remained sceptical: no-one had ever seen a meridian, an aura, a chakra, they argued. But in recent years new open-minded investigation into this field has shown remarkable results: you can see the aura and the subtle energy pathways. It has been proved that healers can affect physical change.
We stand on the brink of an explosion in energy medicine. In the future it will not seem strange to treat cancer with colour; rheumatism with sound. No-one will scoff at the concept of flower essences shifting emotions; homoeopathy (where not a molecule of the original substance remains) curing eczema; or acupuncture reversing infertility.
The key to all these ideas lies in the concept of vital energy. Most people tend to think in terms of matter and energy as separate entities. Our bodies are matter: we feed them food which gives us the energy to power them. Just as we feed a car fuel to make it move. But according to the new field of quantum physics, the molecules that compose the physical human body are actually just a form of vibrating energy. In fact Albert Einstein concluded that matter and energy were actually perfectly interchangeable.
Equally, everything around us is energy: it all just vibrates at different frequencies. Just as X rays, radio and television waves, ultrasonic waves and microwaves have different frequencies; so too do the various systems of the human body and the world around us.
The cells of the body actually emit pulses of light which scientists surmise may be part of a sophisticated communication system to organise the actions of cells within each body system.
Once you take these ideas on board, the whole concept of energy medicine (and a lot of other mind body spirit ideas, instantly makes sense. Directing a specific sound at a particular organ could bring it back into balance by a form of “entrainment”, encouraging the diseased part to vibrate at the right frequency once again. The vibrational signature of a flower, gem or homeopathic remedy could have the same effect.
Equally, once you recognise that we are powered by energy, it’s a swift jump to recognise that energy isn’t just physical: we talk about emotional energy; natural energy; spiritual energy; sexual energy. Once we free ourselves from thinking in purely mechanical materialistic ways and see the world around us as energy vibrating at different frequencies, then concepts like feng shui, emotional healing, tantra and contact beyond death all become quite possible.
The whole field is remarkably complex and quite mind-boggling. Fortunately, you don’t need to be a quantum physicist to use energy medicine! But it can help to understand a few key concepts.
We humans possess several specialised systems that supply energy and information to the organs, tissues and cells of the body at a variety of levels. Various forms of energetic medicine view these in different ways, but there are some key concepts on which most agree.
FORMS OF VITAL ENERGY
There are many forms of bioenergy in the human body: metabolic energy; bioelectrical energy and biophotonic energy, to name but a few which scientists are now researching to understand how cells communicate. However, for our purposes, we’ll focus on which is known as subtle, or vital, bioenergy, also known as subtle magnetic life energies. Why? Because these are the systems which we can most readily and easily influence for ourselves.
Qi (in the Chinese system) and Prana (in the Indian) are the forms of energy with which you may be most familiar. Both the Chinese and Indians have been aware of the existence of subtle energy in the body and the environment for thousands of years – their whole systems of medicine are built upon it, as are their theories of architecture (feng shui in China; vastu shastra in India).
Although both forms of energy are described slightly differently – in reality, they are both ways of describing the energy which is absorbed from the environment around us, from the food we eat and the exercise we take. It can also be inherited from our parents. Qi flows through channels known as meridians while prana flows through channels called the nadis, and also through the charkas.
Energy medicine also teaches that there are fields of energy which lie beyond our physical shape. The best known is the “aura” – which forms around the body but there is also etheric energy (which keeps the physical body in correct shape); astral energy (which deals with emotional energy); mental energy (which governs intellect, creativity and thought) and higher spiritual energy or soul energy which is said to hold our memories from lifetime to lifetime.
Let’s take a closer look at some of these concepts.
BALANCE YOUR CHAKRAS FOR HEALTH AND HARMONY
Eastern religions teach that the human body contains many spinning spheres of bio-energetic energy, known as charkas. The major ones run from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. While scientists insist chakras don’t exist because they cannot be seen under the microscope, clairvoyants claim they can easily “see” the chakras. And the PIP scanner (see Electro-Crystal Therapy) which takes information from sound and light frequencies in the body, now shows what the mystics have known all along: oscillating spheres of energy in a vertical line down the body.
The chakras are precise monitors of our physical and mental well-being. Each is said to spin at a different frequency and when each chakra spins at its perfect frequency the systems of the body radiate perfect health; emotions are centred and balanced and we enjoy optimum health and a deep sense of peace. It’s a little like tuning into a radio station: if you’re on the wrong frequency the sound is distorted and unpleasant; once you hit the right frequency it becomes clear as a bell. However with all the stresses and strains of modern life it is easy for the chakras to fall out of frequency. When this happens we either fall prey to illnesses, feel under par, or we lose our emotional equilibrium.
Each chakra governs different emotions and life issues so by visualizing and meditating on the chakras you can learn a lot about yourself, increasing your self-knowledge. You can also use your chakras to “tune in” to various issues or life lessons. For example, if you want to connect to the feeling of unconditional love, you would focus on your heart chakra, visualizing it as a beautiful clear green wheel of energy, vibrating in your heart area.
These are the main chakras, their colors and the areas they govern.
base of spine
the physical body, social position, survival
sensuality and sexuality, emotions
self-esteem, energy, confidence, will, inner power
love, intimacy, balance, relationships
communication and creativity
imagination, intuition, dreams and insights
top of the head
understanding, connection with the divine
HEALING THE CHAKRAS
In an ideal world, all our charkas would be balanced, each spinning equally. However most of us have one or more centres out of equilibrium. Sometimes the body itself will give us clues: a sore throat can be a indication that the throat chakra needs attention; headaches can hint that we need to work on our brow chakra; constipation may nudge us into looking at our base.
Alternatively consider which of the above areas cause you problems. Are you often fearful, lacking in confidence and self-esteem? Work with your solar plexus. Do you find you have sexual relationships but can’t connect on an emotional level? You may well need to focus on both the genital and heart charkas. If you’re feeling too spacy and unconnected with the “real world” you may need to ground yourself with your base and stop living in your crown! Let’s take a look at how you can balance the charkas with everyday activities.
THE BASE CHAKRA: You need to reconnect with your body. Start by doing as much physical exercise as possible - choose a sport or activity you enjoy (maybe dance, aerobics, running, swimming). Try massage - find a professional aromatherapist or bodyworker - or ask a friend or partner to give you massage. Yoga would be excellent as it heals and balances all the chakras. Gardening and pottery are good grounding exercises if you have a deficiency of base chakra. On a psychological level look at your early relationship with your mother: talk to her about it if you can - if it’s painful, talk to a trained therapist or counsellor.
THE SACRAL CHAKRA: Learn to trust and enjoy your senses - feel the textures around you; listen to new music and sounds; look at nature and at art; taste different foods and drinks. Dance can help to liberate this chakra - so can bodywork. Gently try to get in touch with your emotions (with professional help if necessary) to release any old feelings of hurt, anger and guilt.
THE SOLAR PLEXUS CHAKRA: Anyone with problems in this chakra would benefit from doing sit-ups (abdominal crunches) to strengthen that area. Martial arts such as Judo or Tai Chi would be excellent. Psychotherapy can help you build up the necessary strength to release or contain anger and strengthen your sense of autonomy.
THE HEART CHAKRA: Breathing exercises will help all those with problems in the heart chakra - join a yoga or chi kung class which teaches breathing. Start a journal - writing down all your feelings and thoughts honestly. Look at your relationships and try to free yourself from suppressed grief and loss (with professional help if necessary). Start to accept yourself - just as you are.
THE THROAT CHAKRA: If you are lacking in energy in your throat chakra you need to use your voice: singing, chanting, humming, shouting - anything to release the voice. Sound therapy or voicework would be wonderful. If you have too much energy here, practice the art of silence and concentrate on what the other person is saying. All problems in this chakra would benefit from bodywork or massage to release tension in the neck and shoulders - or try Alexander Technique or Pilates. Write your thoughts and unspoken feelings in a journal; write letters (they don’t have to be sent).
THE BROW CHAKRA: Try painting and drawing - use whatever materials and colours you like and paint whatever comes to mind (it doesn’t have to be artistic). Look at your painting and see what emotions emerge. Start to write down and work with your dreams. Try meditation or autogenic training. Guided visualisations can be useful - so can hypnotherapy (but only with a qualified expert).
THE CROWN CHAKRA: Meditation could be very useful for you. Be open to new ideas and new information - don’t dismiss things until you’ve tried them. Examine your attitudes to spirituality and religion. If you have an excess of crown chakra energy you need to connect with your body and the earth - try physical exercise, massage, gardening. If you have a deficiency, open yourself to the idea of spirituality, allow yourself to drop your cynicism and have an open mind.
AURAS – READING THE BODY
Mystics have talked for centuries of auras, of these bodies of subtle energy, the electro-magnetic fields, which surround us all. Thousands of years ago, as we have seen, the Hindus knew of the subtle energy centres called the charkas. In more recent times Nicola Tesla in 1891 and Semyon Kirlian in the 1930s with his Kirlian photography, have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt the existence of these energy radiations that cannot be seen by the naked eye.
According to aura experts, each colour in the aura represents a different aspect of our personality - red shows strength and courage, orange signals creativity while yellow shows an extrovert, confident, logical personality. Green is for balance, love and healing; blue is peaceful and communicative,
indigo is psychic and healing while violet is spiritual and dreamy.
Often it is the very colours that we lack on which we need to focus. Missing colours signify areas of our personality that need to be developed to achieve a healthy and harmonious balance. The physical body is the last to be affected and if you can catch imbalances and correct them while they are still simply in the subtle body, the aura, then you will save yourself a lot of health problems. Change your conditioning and handle your issues and your health will follow.
Auras can also give clues to our relationships. The almost “chemical” reaction we often experience when we meet people could be due to how our aura reacts to someone else’s. If someone feels uncomfortable, their aura will “shrink” away from the other person’s. If one person is pushy and aggressive, their aura can envelop the other’s. On the other hand, people who feel comfortable together will show auras which happily meet or even merge into one.
Actually we have two layers of aura: the “etheric” aura which hugs closely to the body and the “astral” aura which is much larger in its extent. When you begin to see auras it will most likely be the etheric aura you see - purely as a white or transparent shimmering surround to the person. However, with practice, you can start to see the astral aura too and also various colours in the aura. Then you can start to “read” a person by their aura.
HOW TO SEE AURAS
1. Ask your “guinea pig” to stand about two feet in front of a bare white wall. Avoid walls with colours or patterns.
2. If possible have just natural daylight, but don’t stand your subject in direct sunlight.
3. Now stand back at least ten feet away from your subject.
4. Ask the person to relax, to breathe deeply and rock gently from side to side with hands unclasped at his or her side.
5. Look past the person’s head and shoulders and focus on the wall behind him or her.
6. Avoid looking at the person, concentrating instead on the wall behind him or her.
7. As you look past the outline of the body you should see a band of blurred white light around your subject, as if they were in a cocoon. This is the etheric aura.
8. Continue to look past the outline of the body and you should see the subject as if he or she were illuminated from behind, possibly with a bright yellow or silver colour. You may start to notice colours.
9. Some people will have less visible auras than others so don’t worry if you can’t see any colours at first.
WHAT THE VARIOUS COLOURS MEAN.
Generally speaking, a colourful, clean and bright aura shows someone who is healthy and has a happy disposition. Dirty, dark colours are not such good news. Look out for the odd flash of colour in an aura - it could indicate an emotion which is not under control.
PURPLE/VIOLET: a person with a strong sense of mysticism and deep interest in spirituality.
INDIGO: an artistic person who could well have inspired thoughts and possess deep wisdom.
BLUE: someone with strong mental powers, intelligence and logical thinking. Clear blue shows a capacity for intuition. Watch out for dark shades of blue which could indicate a suspicious nature. A steely blue-grey colour in the aura could indicate someone who is very cautious and controlled.
TURQUOISE: a dynamic person with hoards of energy. A good organiser but also someone who likes to influence others.
GREEN: Green is a restful, healing colour which shows a strong sense of balance and a deep inner calm. Watch out, however, for dark green shades in the aura, or the occasional dark green flash across the aura which can warn of deceit or jealousy.
YELLOW: A cheerful personality full of joy, freedom and vitality, compassion and optimism. Yellow also shows love and a strong sense of caring. However make sure the yellow is clear and bright. A dark, lifeless yellow points to suspicion and covetousness. A sulphurous, dirty yellow can indicate pain or hidden source of anger.
ORANGE: Shows someone who is full of vitality, warmth and generosity. This is also someone who has power and who can be full of inspiration. Too much orange in the aura can indicate pride.
GOLD: A little gold in the aura is a good sign - gold usually indicates someone who is well-balanced, kind and generous. A totally gold aura is usually found in great spiritual leaders.
RED: Red signifies physical life, vitality, ambition and sexual power. People with lots of red in their auras are often very sensual and have a high sex drive. However watch out for dark or cloudy red which could point to violent tendencies or hidden anger or rage. Scarlet can indicate pure lust without love.
PINK: Indicates modesty, gentleness and shyness.
BROWN: Not a good sign in the aura, dirty, dull brown shows an unsettling, distracting, materialistic tendency. This could be someone who is generally negative in their nature or just happens to have a negative attitude at that time (check the aura over a few days). Brown can also show selfishness and a sense of avarice.
GREY: Grey can signify dark or brooding thoughts. Also depression, low energy and fear.
BLACK: Beware: a black aura shows someone with evil intent, with malice and a very sinister character. A dark, dull murky indistinct colour may mean depression or show someone who carries the weight of the world on his or her shoulders. May indicate drug dependency or physical illness.
WHITE: A lot of white in the aura may indicate someone who has taken or frequently takes drugs. It can also signify illness
OPAQUE COLOURS: If the colours in the aura are opaque or misty, this tends to show unresolved situations or struggle.
CLEAR, TRANSPARENT COLOURS: Clear bright colours are a good sign. Generally speaking they show clarity and a more complete or settled nature - what you see is what you get.
PNI concerns the mind’s ability to effect change in the body. Only now is this being admitted (and often grudgingly) by Western doctors, but it has been widely practice for millennia by Eastern cultures. The Chinese alone have accumulated a vast reservoir of evidence linking the powers of body and mind, neurology and immunology, and have developed specific techniques for activating that link.
The major technique in PNI is visualisation. Patients are taught to focus their mind to visualise healing energy flowing into ailing organs, to dissolve tumours, repair tissue and so forth. PNI will always work best if the image used has some meaning for you. One young boy with cancer imagined jet fighters zooming into his body to bomb the tumours. His strategy worked: the tumours shrank and disappeared without recourse to chemotherapy, radiation or surgery.
Other people with cancer have taken a more literal (but still highly effective) tack. They visualised the cell membranes of the cancer cells within their bodies splitting (the problem with cancer cells is that their membranes stay intact so the immune system does not realise the body is under attack). This tactic has greatly improved the recovery and mortality rates of people with cancer.
Others have helped themselves through chemotherapy by visualising increased blood cell production while they are having the treatment.
Studies have shown that if people with broken bones visualize the bone mending and regrowing, it actually speeds up the healing process.
You can use visualisation for virtually any condition or simply for stress relief or even emotional recovery. Here’s a simple exercise to introduce the idea.
1. Find somewhere quiet where you will not be disturbed. Make yourself comfortable – you can either lie on the floor (covered with a blanket if it is cool) or sitting in a comfortable chair.
2. Close your eyes gently and allow yourself to breathe deeply. As you breathe in, your abdomen pushes outwards. As you breathe out, it comes back in. Allow as much air as possible to fill your lungs – be aware of it flowing right down to the very bottom of your lungs.
3. Now take twelve conscious breaths – each time you breathe in, imagine you are also breathing in total relaxation and calm. As you breath out, all the stress and strain, all the anxiety and irritation of everyday life, is leaving your body.
4. When you have completed your twelve breaths, relax for a minute, feeling how much more relaxed and calm your body and mind feel.
5. Now think of a wonderful place in which you feel quite safe, quite secure, and very happy. It might be an actual place (perhaps a special place from the past) or an image of an ideal retreat. It could be anywhere: a cosy room with an armchair and fire; a beautiful desert island with the sun warming your body; a dappled glade in a cool forest.
6. Make this place as real as possible. In your mind’s eye explore all around it: not just seeing it, but hearing the sounds (waves? Birds? The crackling of logs?); smelling the scents (salty tang, resinous pine, woodsmoke and coffee?); experiencing the feel of it (the warm sun on your skin; the rough texture of bark; the rub of a warm blanket?).
7. Know that this place is safe and sacred. It is a place of inner peace and inner healing. Anything can happen here. Feel all the stress and strain, all the negativity and morbid thoughts simply evaporating as you sit here quietly. Feel your body become lighter, softer, warmer, more peaceful.
8. Now bring healing into your body and your life. Become aware of the area around your heart. Gradually it is becoming suffused with light, with healing energy. Feel the light spreading out through your whole body (you may feel warmth or coolness or a kind of tingling). The light pinpoints any areas which need healing and you feel your body respond and change.
9. Stay here, in your special place, as long as you like. You may want to quietly meditate or just sit and enjoy the relaxation. Know that this place is always available for you and you can come here at any time.
10. Now slowly bring yourself back to waking reality. Become aware of the room around you. Become aware of your body lying on the floor or sitting on the chair. Start to move your fingers and toes. Give yourself a good stretch. Slowly open your eyes. Rest for a few minutes before you race back to normal life.
In the past prayer was as essential a part of everyday life as meals. As a child I was taught to pray and indeed prayed in a very formulaic way for close on 25 years. But nowadays few people, apart from those with standard religious beliefs, actually pray.
It’s a shame because prayer is a very simple, yet immensely comforting, piece of soul-work. It is “talking” to God, Goddess, or whatever it might be that is larger and knows more than us. It is setting aside a time to unload our worries, our concerns, our anxieties – and also our joys, our triumphs, our gratitude.
Prayer is an intrinsic part of many religions: Christians pray to God, Christ and (in the Roman Catholic tradition) to Mary, Mother of God. Muslims turn towards Mecca and prostrate themselves in prayer. Hindus pray to the numerous deities of the Hindu pantheon. Wiccans pray to the Goddess, Pagans to Mother Earth. A prayer can be as simple as “Thank you God,” or “Please protect me and keep me safe”, or it can be an elaborate series of words which form a traditional prayer.
By ignoring or dismissing prayer we just may be missing out on something deeply important. Psychologist and theologian Dr. Walter Weston certainly thinks so. He has spent years researching the science of prayer and come up with some remarkable findings in his book How Prayer Heals. “The evidence indicates that humans accumulate, attune, focus and transmit an energy that heals,” he says.
Recently research has shown that prayer can significantly help AIDS patients. A study reported at the American Psychosomatic Society in Florida divided 40 equally ill patients into two groups. The group receiving prayer did not know that volunteers from ten religions and healing traditions were praying for them for an hour a day for a week. After six months, the group who were prayed for had spent an average of ten days in hospital compared to 68 days for the control group. Those receiving prayer also reported a decrease in emotional distress.
WHAT DOES PRAYER MEAN TO YOU?
Are you very resistant to the concept of prayer? Many of us are put off the idea of prayer because of bad childhood experiences. Prayer might conjure up feelings of kneeling for long boring periods, hands clasped, until your knees were sore. Or it might be associated with dreary visits to church, synagogue, mosque or temple. Take a few moments to think about what prayer means to you.
· When you think about praying what images and sensations come up for you?
· What feelings and emotions emerge? Some of us will find resentment to parents lies under the surface; or dislike of a priest or religious leader. I can clearly remember as a child feeling very angry that people in church were hypocrites – acting as if they were religious but gossiping cruelly before and after the service.
· Did you enjoy praying or dislike it? What did you like or dislike about it? Often it’s the form of prayer which is the problem.
FINDING THE KIND OF PRAYER THAT WORKS FOR YOU
There is no “right” way to pray. You have to find what works for you. The following are just suggestions, nothing more.
· Some people will feel drawn to rediscover some of the beautiful old melodic prayers of traditional religion. You may want to move outside your childhood, or best-known faith and look at other traditions – perhaps the poetical Sufi tradition, or a Quabalistic prayer, or the prayers of the early Christian mystics. Or non-denominational “New Age” type prayers.
· You may wish to make up your own prayers – or find pieces of poetry or prose which have meaning to you. Of course you do not need to have a proper “format” – many people simply talk to God, as if he/she/it were another human being. If you find it hard to talk to someone in your head, use the Two Chairs technique and imagine God is sitting on the chair opposite you.
· You may wish to chant a mantra or try toning sounds.
· Some people find the best prayer is silence. Simply sit, kneel, stand or lie and still your mind.
· Often gazing at a religious object, painting or symbol can become a form of prayer. It need not be a ready-made artefact – it could be a stone, a piece of wood, a shell or a beautiful view or corner of Nature. Some people find prayer leaning against a tree or gazing into the fire, or peering into a pool.
HINTS ON PRAYING
If you’re really stuck, think about the following:
· God, or the Higher Power, loves you unconditionally. Nothing you say will shock – He or She will simply be delighted to hear from you!
· Don’t worry about what words you use or don’t use. It is your intention that matters, not how clever your vocabulary is.
· Use your prayer time as an opportunity to be totally honest, totally yourself. Share every part of your life – good and bad. Prayer isn’t necessarily about just spiritual matters – God will be as interested in your exam worries or your insomnia as your quest for inner knowing and piousness!
· Be prepared for your prayers to be answered – though not always in the way you expect. Prayer can be very powerful.
Prayer-walking is a form of prayer which is being rediscovered by many people. In many ancient monasteries, monks paced complicated labyrinths to focus their minds on their devotions - but you don’t really need any props to prayer-walk. Simply plan a minimum of half an hour for your devotions: five minutes to focus your thoughts and concerns; at least 15 for the walk itself and another five to sift through what you’ve learned. Walk at a pace that’s comfortable but keep up a good rhythm. How you pray is up to you: if you have a religious faith you might want to think over scripture or recite a religious mantra. If not, you could repeat a word with significance for you - such as “hope” or “peace”. You might want to use your walk to think about people who need your help or prayers. Or you might simply appreciate the beauty of nature around you - notice the small things as well as the larger picture.
MANTRAS – A DIFFERENT FORM OF PRAYER
Many people now commonly use mantras as a form of prayer and meditation. A mantra is simply a word or phrase used repetitively to enter a state of prayer and awareness of God. It can be just one word, such as Ohm, or a series of words such as the “Hari Krishna” chant (Hari Krishna, Hari Krishna, Hari Hari, Krishna Krishna. Hari Rama, Hari Rama, Rama Rama, Krishna Krishna.”
Muslims repeat the name of Allah or the other Names of God; Qabalists tone the God-names; Tibetan Buddhists turn the prayer wheel chanting “Aum Mani Padme Hum” while Catholics recite the rosary whilst fingering the beads of a rosary and Hindus repeat a mantra as they pass each bead of the mala through their fingers.
One of the simplest mantras, used by millions the world over, is the Hindu mantra OHM. In Hinduism it is regarded as the primal sound of the universe and by repeating it, you are supposedly connecting yourself to the primordial vibration of life itself. Reciting OHM is deeply comforting and peace-inducing – it puts you in a state of deep calm and alert relaxation.
· Simply sit in a comfortable position – either cross-legged or on a cushion or chair (or, of course, in the lotus position if you are flexible enough!).
· Spend a few minutes connecting with your breath. Breathe calmly and deeply, allowing the breathe to descend into the abdomen so your belly pushes out as you breathe in, and flattens as you breathe out.
· Relax your mouth by opening it wide several times as if you were yawning or shouting. Feel it soft and relaxed.
· Close your eyes gently and imagine the word OHM (it is pronounced A-U-M). Visualise the word in whatever way works for you. Imagine it bubbling up from your solar plexus through your body, into your throat and then into your mouth.
· Project the sound “AH” as fully as possible – it need not be loud but make it as clear as you can. Seamlessly this sound turns into an “OO” and then finally a “MMM”. Feel the “mm” vibrating in your mouth. Experiment with this three-part sound until it feels right and powerful.
· As you finish one “OHM”, take a breath and start another. If you can, this sounds wonderful in a group – between you, you can keep the ring of sound going because as at least one person will always be toning.
· As you become more adept, notice where the sound is resonating in your body. Can you shift it?
Once you feel comfortable with OHM you may wish to try other mantras and chants such as Ohm Namah Shivaya or Aum Mani Padme Hum. It may be worth buying a cassette or CD of sacred chants and finding those which resonate with you.
TONING THE NAMES OF GOD
This Qabalistic exercise is very powerful. It will help you connect to spiritual energy in a balanced way and is also a profound prayer.
1. Stand facing East and close your eyes. Breathe quietly and deeply, centering yourself by focusing on your solar plexus chakra and breathing into it. Feel your feet firmly planted on the earth, grounding you and stabilising you.
2. Imagine that there is a sphere of pure brilliant white light just above your head. A beam of gleaming white light shoots down from this sphere into your head. As you visualise thiss tone the word EHEIEH (pronouned Eh-hay-yay) slowly several times. Imagine the name vibrating over your head.
3. Now the beam of light descends into your throat area where it spreads out to become a shining sphere of gleaming white. The name here is JEHOVAH ELOHIM (Ye-ho-vah El-oh-heem). Intone it into the sphere so you feel the whole area become activated with the energy of this sacred name.
4. Now the light shoots down to your solar plexus and transforms into a sphere, again of shining white. Say the name JEHOVAH ALOAH VA DAATH (Ye-ho-vah El-oh-vay Da-art) into this sphere. You will feel a warmth spreading out over the area.
5. The light now descends to the area of your genitals. Tone the name SHADDAI EL CHAI (Sha-dee El Key) into this sphere. The syllable “key” is guttural, more like the ch in loch. If you find your attention wandering, gently bring it back to the name and the gleaming sphere.
6. Finally the light shoots down through your thighs and calves to your feet where it forms a large sphere from the ankles reaching down into the earth. Imagine you are rooted firmly on this earth. Tone the name ADONAI HA ARETZ (A-don-ee Ha A-retz).
7. Now visualize the entire shaft of brilliant silvery light that reaches from the crown of your head to the soles of your feet. It is studded with five shimmering spheres which glitter like diamonds. You have activated the middle pillar of the Tree of Life within your body and the effects will remain with you always. Try to repeat this as often as possible - it links you to a balanced form of spiritual energy in a safe, effective way. It is also a beautiful way to honour God with many of His/Her sacred names.