People find all kinds of ways to cope during difficult times. The plague of coronavirus coupled with the anger and divisiveness that’s rocking our nation currently, has sent many people to their therapists seeking help. My daughter, who’s a mental health counselor, says her online client load has tripled.
I’ve benefited at different times in my life from therapy, but one of my mainstays for good mental health, something that is both free and easily accessible, has been meditational prayer.
I learned to pray going to church as a young girl when God was a magical, white-bearded being that looked and acted a lot like Santa Claus. My every wish was his to grant. If I just prayed hard enough and long enough, always humbly on my knees, I would be blessed with getting what I wanted.
As I grew up and changed, so did my prayers. They became less about God doing my will, and more about me finding answers within myself. And, in order to gain this understanding I had to inventory my thoughts and feelings in an honest, nonjudgmental way. I talked to the “god within me” to help sort out my life—and found in the process not only comfort, but clarity.
For example, when I first married a desert farmer, I had a bad case of buyer’s remorse. It wasn’t that I didn’t love my new husband, I just missed my home back East, the spreading oak trees and grassy lawns, the friends and neighbors I’d known growing up in a small town.
One time I felt so trapped and isolated living in a trailer in the neck of a canyon, I threw open the trailer door in a rage, and started walking.
I wasn’t watching where I was going, I just stomped out into the sagebrush, tears of frustration rolling down my cheeks. I ranted and swore at God about how I’d become this lonely farm wife. Love or lust had kidnapped my life plans. I lamented a languishing college degree and lost career. I didn’t like living on a farm. I didn’t want to plant a vegetable garden or sew curtains. I just wanted some television reception, which seemed near impossible, a shaky antennae the only conduit for a few radio waves that managed to find their way to us.
When I was done praying, I felt better. I stood there a moment staring at the canyon wall in front of me, my eyelashes still moist from crying, and noticed some kind of trail going up the side. From a distance it looked like a path animals might use, maybe the deer I spotted out the window this morning, or the coyotes I heard baying at night. Suddenly, I wanted to follow this trail, just to see where it led.
When I got to the top of the canyon wall I was sweaty and hot from climbing, but the view of peaceful farm fields along the Snake River was magnificent. I experienced an incredible sense of calm, and knew then that everything would be okay.
Dr. David Rosmarin from the Harvard Medical School discussed prayer and praying in The Wall Street Journal recently. He said research shows prayer calms the central nervous system and the “fight or flight” instinct. Prayer, much like meditation, rests our brains because it turns off our anxiety switch, and turns on our ability to self-reflect. Praying is a time when we can be thoughtful, rather than reactive, about our life.
I’m a very relaxed pray-er. So much so that I’ve had to be conscious about people nearby who might think I’m a little crazy, muttering to myself. Mostly though, I pray alone, walking outdoors where the natural world almost always puts me in a spiritual space. Praying is especially doable during the Covid-19 pandemic. You may be six feet apart from everybody else, but when you pray, you get very close to yourself.