Immediately before dying by firing squad in Indonesia, eight men convicted of drug trafficking sang Amazing Grace. On the same day, across the globe in Baltimore, Maryland, a large crowd gathered in the riot-torn streets of their city to also sing Amazing Grace. I was moved to learn about these simultaneous events and particular struck by their media coverage on BBC news.
These past days, I have been praying for the Nepalese people caught under rubble, trenched by rain and hovering in makeshift tents in the middle of Kathmandu, fearful every time another aftershock unrattles their trust in the earth under their feet. Last Christmas a good friend who just returned from Nepal on business brought me a stream of colorful prayer flags. Since then, these prayer flags have hung across my terrace roof tagging along with the white grape vine that is just starting to burst with leaves.
I imagine my prayers leaping off my lips onto these colorful square pieces of cloth and then flying home to Nepal. In the Tibetan tradition, prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. The flags do not carry prayers to gods, but rather the prayers are blown by the wind to spread good will and compassion to all.
Whenever we hear of dramatic disasters like the 7.8 earthquake in Nepal, we may feel the urge to jump onto an airplane to help relieve the suffering that surrounds us in media images. In reality, our presence would probably just be more of a nuisance than a help (unless we are trained medical staff or rescue workers). So what can we do at times like this?
We can pray.
Praying as Action
Assagioli has written a beautiful essay in which he explores prayer through the literary device of the Gospel story of Martha and Mary (Luke 10: 38-42). In this story, Jesus and his disciples stop to visit the two sisters in Bethany. While the elder sister Martha is “distracted by all the preparations that had to be made,” Mary chooses to sit at Jesus’ feet listening to what he has to say. Martha protests to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” In response, Jesus says, “Martha, Martha. You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
While both holy women felt a fervent desire to honor their guest, they each chose to do so in very different ways. Martha rushed and bustled to organize a lavish meal with the best delicacies while Mary stopped everything she was doing to quietly devote her attention to Jesus’ teachings. Assagioli points out that Martha and Mary are generally regarded as symbols of action and inaction. But he continues by showing that such an interpretation as too simplistic.
For the most part, we judge action to be exclusively measured by tangible external results and quantifiable success. However, as Assagioli says, “the essential characteristics of true action … are harmony, organic unity, rhythm, and productivity.” In other words, what matters is the heart of the action. One could say that Martha, lost in the busyness of being the perfect host, had forgotten the reason for her preparations in the first place. Most of our actions are similarly void of heart, especially those that are self-serving or frantically executed. Our flying off to Nepal would most likely fall into this category of impulsive and agitated action for activity’s sake. As Tagore wrote in a poem, all we end up doing is “raising dust, but having no effect on the fertility of the land.”
Assagioli states that the truest activity lies in the heart of silence and apparent inactivity. All great spiritual leaders and mystics – Jesus, St Francis, Buddha, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa (to name a few) – have preceded their service to humanity with long periods of contemplation and prayer.
You probably know yourself how difficult it can be to spend time alone or even in 15 minutes of silent meditation. Just try spending an entire day by yourself without turning on any electronic device! This is a real test of strong will and can be surprisingly uncomfortable! The hard work and discipline of calming our own inner battles, thoughts, and urges should not be underestimated. As Assagioli says:
“To brave either the difficulties of life in today’s world or the equally great difficulties in the true life within … require just as much toughness, effort, and commitment.”
One’s inner prayer can be a dialogue with God or a concentration of attention upwards towards the Higher Self and the greater human qualities in oneself and others. Assagioli writes that the “radiating effect of silent prayer may cause great surprise.” Everyday neuroscientists are proving that our mental activity can be more powerful than our physical prowess in changing the external world around us. Do not underestimate the power of spiritual energy radiating around the world. Nepalese prayer flags flown for thousand of years is only one symbol of this faith.
Why not surprise yourself with prayer?
Become a Prayer Flag – Radiate Good Will
- Joyfully concentrate on what prayer you wish to radiate outwards. Identify with your prayer – its quality or idea, feeling and energy. The more you embody the prayer, the more it can radiate spontaneously. In this way you can combine both spontaneous and purposeful, directed prayer.
- After this preparation, express a word or a phrase that best identifies your prayer. Imagine the prayer being fulfilled by visualizing the person, nation, animal, etc. you are sending the prayer to.
- To actually radiate the prayer, visualize a channel or beam of light projected towards the recipient(s). You can also send beams of light in all directions. Be sure to send Love with the Light. Love is a great linking and unifying energy.