Prayer and meditation have similarities and differences; some say they’re interchangeable. After all, there’s often a fine line between them, and in some cases, that line becomes very blurry in Broomfield, Colorado.
But first, let’s consider the similarities between prayer and meditation: Both involve reflection; both involve stillness; both help self-control; and both help to control stress in our lives or our reactions to stress. Prayer and meditation often both include the concept of forgiveness, particularly in the Hawaiian practice of Ho’oponopono. I’ll get into that later.
So what are some of the differences between prayer and meditation?
Prayer focuses outward, so it’s a conversation between yourself and whatever deity strikes your fancy. By definition, it has a religious context, which means it’s always structured. Prayer is faith-based, and it’s always an intention to change the world around us, the outer world. Prayer, of course, can lead to meditation, and the shortest prayer you can say is “thank you.” The shortest prayer is an expression of gratitude, which leads me to the discussion of “saying grace” before a meal. It’s a very popular practice, particularly among Christians, at least in my experience. Do you know why? It’s a practice that engages the parasympathetic nervous system. So it causes us to shift out of “fight or flight” and into “rest and digest.”
Meditation, in contrast, is an inward focusing practice; it’s introspective.
Instead of focusing outward, we’re focusing on our inner landscape. People who use it in a religious context say they use meditation to listen to their deity of choice. That being said, meditation can be spiritually oriented but not necessarily religious, so it’s not always structured, but it is always awareness based. The intention of meditation is to change the inner world. Prayer changes the outer world; meditation is to change the inner world. Themes that are popular in meditation are “Oneness with the Universe,” and exploring the space between the thoughts, and it is a practice that exists in many religions, separate from prayer itself, most notably Buddhism.
As I mentioned before, there are cases where the line between meditation and prayer becomes blurry. The simplest and most obvious example of this is Japa meditation, which uses prayer beads, also known as Mala beads. This is the practice where you hold a bead, you say your mantra; you move to the next bead, you say your mantra; move to the next bead, you say your mantra; so on and so forth. These mantras can be religious; this is where religion enters the meditation. It’s very popular in Roman Catholicism, where they have a practice called the Rosary. Same practice.
Another religion that favors meditation as one of its central practices is Buddhism.
Buddhism has a practice called Metta meditation. In Metta meditation, you clear your mind, you bring your own self into your awareness, and you say: “May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be safe, may I be at ease.” And then you repeat this practice, bringing other people to mind. You do this bringing into mind people who you like, and people you don’t like, and maybe people with whom you disagree. Some do this bringing the whole world into their consciousness. It’s called Metta meditation; it’s almost religious.
Another practice that blurs the line between prayer and meditation is the Hawaiian practice of Ho’oponopono. It’s similar to Metta meditation in that it’s structured. You clear your mind, bring to mind someone who you think you have wronged, and you say to this person, “I repent. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.” So this can be directed to another person, it can be directed to a deity, it can be directed to the whole world. It’s somewhat religious because it’s obviously very structured.
So these are the differences and similarities between prayer and meditation. If meditation classes interest you, go to my Events page and take a look at some of the events I have posted there. Thanks for watching.