My thoughts are not my prayers

There are a number of statements that float around the internet as memes – my work is my prayer, my thoughts are my prayers, my words are my prayers… it is all too easy to assert this and have it be a way to not really make any effort.

My thoughts are not my prayers. Firstly, I think a lot. While I am ambivalent about deity, I certainly don’t believe that deity is especially interested in me and I don’t imagine that every random thing wandering about in my head is something to ask a God to bother themselves with.

I do not have a disciplined mind, nor do I ever intend to have this be the case, nor do I think it’s a good idea. Thinking is good. Reflecting, pondering, questioning, imagining, planning… For any of this to work, you need room to try things out, and change your mind. You can’t be creative without giving yourself space to think things that you may later reject as rubbish. If every thought is a prayer, when is there time to be creatively messy?

If your thoughts are your prayers, then the inside of your head has to be pretty saintly. I aim to act well in the world as much as I can. I give myself permission to feel all the little shitty things that pass through. Frustration. Resentment. Anger. Envy. All the knee jerk reactions to experiences that have me wanting to put politicians in wicker men. I give myself space to process these reactions and to work out better ways of expressing them. These are not prayers. I do not want them answered. These are things I need to take responsibility for. Equally, there are old feelings of guilt and shame, uselessness, anxiety, despair and unacceptability that surface now and then. These are not prayers, but they do need processing.

I firmly believe that to be human is to have this full range of experience. To be human is to get cross about things, to worry about aspects of the future, to regret past action or inaction… we don’t learn or grow without being able to do all of this. If the insides of our heads were only prayerful, there are too many things we wouldn’t be able to process. Repressing all the awkward stuff doesn’t make it go away, it just means it emerges in weird, uncontrolled ways. The sudden lashing out that you can’t explain. The telling yourself you’re doing one thing when really doing another. Make no room for your shadows, and you’ll end up with some serious cognitive dissonance, especially around who you are.

I don’t believe that the point of a spiritual life is to transcend being human. I don’t believe in higher self, as I’ve said before – I’m much more interested in deeper self. I want room to explore and to ponder. I like to treat the inside of my head as my own, private space. By giving time to reflection, working with my shadows, owning the awkward bits and working to heal them, I become more whole, and in turn less fraught. I realise this does take me, slowly, towards a place where all the things in my head could be beautiful and functional and worthy of being directed towards something other than myself. But at the same time, I always want to be angry at injustice and frustrated by needless hoop jumping. I will always need space for daft ideas so that I can work my way towards good ideas.

I can’t help but feel that thinking you’ve overcome the least good bits of your own humanity is probably only ever a sign that you’re successfully kidding yourself.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

7 responses to “My thoughts are not my prayers

  • Emily

    Reblogged this on The Slavic Polytheist and commented:
    This is a great look at “thoughts as prayers” as an idea.

  • Blodeuwedd

    I agree with all you say here…up to a point, and I am also unsure about deity (which is to say that my ideas change on an almost hourly basis). but I am curious about a couple of things you say here…not a criticism by the way…genuine questions. Why are you assuming that prayers have to be ‘saintly’ and (and I’m putting words in your mouth here) ‘good’. Why can prayers not be ugly, messy, angry, confused etc. Even within the monotheistic traditions (especially Judaism) there is a strong tradition of this. And secondly, why must prayer be a request for something to happen? Taking the hypothesis for the moment that deity (whether conceived monotheistically, polytheistic ally, pantheistically or in some other way) is something with which you can have conversation and build relationship, and that that relationship is somehow analogous with other human interaction, then conversation can be loving, angry, confused, and many other things. I also agree that my thought are not my prayers, and I am still very much working out my ideas about prayer, but it does seem to me that you are making some assumptions that seem founded, perhaps, in Christian conceptions of prayer?

    • Nimue Brown

      It’s more that I think prayer should be deliberate – a conscious act of engagement. that can be messy, certainly, because we’re not always going to be clear about what we’re trying to do. If anything can be prayer, however unintended and undeliberate, I think there’s a risk of weakening prayer as a practice. If everything has to be prayer, then we may constrict ourselves in unhealthy ways. I think there are a lot of differences between our needs around cognitive processes and our needs around spiritual practice, and that how we do what is worth thinking about. Does that make more sense?

  • Mx. Whipstitch

    I think of thought prayer a slightly different way. Like a magic wand for example. It is merely a tool. Just holding a wand doesn’t do anything but the intent and action of focusing through it does. In the same way that is my brain. My internal prayers are vastly different from my random thoughts. They are intentional and conductive.

  • locksley2010

    I’m VERY glad my thoughts are not my prayers….. I’d have been arrested by the ‘Prayer Police’ a long time ago if they were….

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