“The spirit down here in man and the spirit up there in the sun, in reality are only one spirit, and there is no other one.” The Upanishads
The freedom to pray and worship and believe in whatever form of God is meaningful, to us, is a freedom that we often take for granted. Yet, in fact it is this freedom, above all others, that has drawn the vast diversity of people and religious beliefs that our country boasts. In many places and times through history, this freedom to believe and pray often cost you your life. And while the need to pray is universal, its practices are diverse;- whether a prayer is the cry in a moment of desperation, or a regular lighting of Sabbath candles, whether we are sitting in silence or bowing down, prostrating ourselves, or fasting, our freedom to express our need for connection is one of the most profound freedoms of all. And yet the one thing that all these many practices share is the urgency to be connected and feel held in the divine presence of love. When we turn to prayer, whether it is a regular practice or one that we are pushed to in our darkest moments, we are finally able to release our will and, more importantly, our belief that we know how things should be. Our prayers are how we ask, actively and without reservation.
For me this freedom to pray is a daily practice of meditation. Every morning and evening I try to set myself aside, asking and listening. It takes a lot of practice to become the open vessel that I long to be, so that wisdom can pour in. Some days, all I can do is watch my thoughts run a mouse’s wheel in my head. Other days, I can find an exquisite stillness in which all I can sense is the endless throb of the universe. But it is when I am most deeply in pain, afraid and feeling lost, that this daily practice of asking has most transformed me and my experience of freedom that can only come from spirit.
One of the meditation practices I have studied over the last year, involves a breath technique that focuses the breath through the belly and heart. It allows you to process all the emotions that get stored in your core through your heart, and it is the most powerful form of prayer I have ever experienced or witnessed. It is an intimate group experience, this process of breathing through our emotional wounds and I am surrounded by people crying, screaming, sobbing , and laughing as the breath washes through them. I never really understood how prayer could ignite such strong emotional reactions until I started praying through breath, but now I get it, and now the overwhelming noise that pent up emotions creates feels comforting instead of frightening of offputting. After I lay there emotionally spent, having felt and released years of pent- up grief and anger myself, I was suddenly overcome by the most exquisite realization of freedom. And it was forgiveness.
Forgiveness is the answer to all prayers. It is the warmth and belonging we experience regardless of our trespasses or debts. It is the way we can see the goodness in others even after they have harmed us. It is the most profound erasing of what has happened before, the coming to life of the Lord’s prayer … “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Forgiveness contains a miraculous, almost dream like quality of freedom. We are released from the bondage of our own guilt, we are free of the wrongs we have done, we are unharmed. We are harmless.
I lay there in this crystalline moment of forgiveness with tears streaming down my face. My breath came full and the pulse of the universe throbbed through me. Forgiveness is not a thought, or even a feeling, but a full- body visceral experience. Initially I didn’t even think the word “freedom.,” I was just floating in this exquisite sensation of lightness and innocence. As I emerged from the depth of the meditative state, trembling with a connection to whatever we think of when we say the word “divine,” I looked for words to convey what had just happened to me and the only thing that came close was freedom.
Looking back on this moment, I still have no idea why or how this gift of freedom was bestowed. Although I am not continuously living in that same exquisite freedom, it remains a touch point. A real and retrievable memory that I can go back to every time I pray. Freedom, surrender, forgiveness are not at our command. They are the jewels that come to us in their own time when we consistently open ourselves up to asking. There is a spiritual freedom that you may have never imagined waiting for all of us. I am here, as living proof. There is no religious affiliation required, there is no specific form of God that needs to be acknowledged, there is only a willingness to ask and, to listen, and a praying to be held.