In the last post I talked about feelings — particularly, feelings that are often labeled “spiritual,” and said they may seem more “immaterial” if we are generally unfamiliar with them by training, by habit, and due to a general “negativity bias.”
When I started going to AA, I was a little afraid of being “brainwashed,” but due to a familiarity with therapy, and with some basics of psychology, and a lot of familiarity with culture and anthropology, I was ready to see that there was something to learn—that, as I told my therapist, “maybe my brain could use a bit of a wash.”
A lot of “spiritual growth,” or “recovery,” or “growing up”—whatever you want to call it—has to do with retraining our awareness. Adjusting our habitual negativity bias.
This involves learning to place the attention on positive feeling-states, to notice them more, their quality, the circumstances that help create them or nurture them. This way we may learn to become more active in helping create and nurture the positive in our own lives, as well as notice them more when they arise.
It also involves noticing negative and positive thoughts, and beginning to counter and replace the negative with positive alternatives.
For me, what many call “prayer” is, in fact, just this form of “retraining the self.” We consciously choose to repeat positive reminders, affirmations, hopes and intentions to ourselves. Why is this helpful? Chiefly because we tend to be well-practiced in repeating negative thoughts to ourselves. We can be so steeped in regular negative thinking—self-judgement, anger, resentment, fear—that we have to work hard to include positive alternatives in our lives, and doing so can feel alien, unnatural, almost like we’re lying to ourselves, because the negative feels so real, so much like home.
Put more simply: I’m always talking to myself, so much that I barely even notice it when I’m in a “mindless” sort of state. And my typical self-talk has always been pretty negative. But “prayer” is, basically, mindfully bringing positive self-talk into the picture.
I like to say “mantra.” Specific repeatable mantras or sayings are helpful because they can be learned and remembered as useful little tools. Trying to come up with positive thoughts on the spot can be a challenge; having a memorized little saying can be helpful.
Since I’m trying to repeat something helpful to myself, in order that my feeling-state may head in a positive direction, when I encounter prayers that seem to be directed at a deity or “greater power,” how can I deal with those?
Well, I basically just direct them at myself. I am quite literally entreating myself to help myself, to redirect myself. So why not?