When we think of prayer, we usually think of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam; and when we think of meditation, it is usually associated with Buddhism and Eastern religions. But underlying both of these is a process that is available to all human beings, and that is not tied to specific religious ideology. It is the ability to develop an inner life, which makes it possible to have joy, peace and hope, even in difficult circumstances. Scientists have found, through performing brain scans of meditating Buddhist monks and praying Catholic nuns, that the same changes in the pattern of activity of the brain and nervous system occurs, leading to a state of alertness and serenity. This process is available to anyone, regardless of religious orientation, or lack of a specific religious orientation.

The key is to commit to spending time daily, sitting quietly alone, without distractions, and practicing letting go of your worries and fears. You just need to relax, and let thoughts and images come and go across your mind. Keep in mind your goal: to discover your core values; what is truly important to you. But don’t approach it like a math problem, requiring an exact answer, and don’t obsess about it. Just remember periodically that that is your purpose.

Eventually, as you practice this approach daily, you will find yourself drawn to certain ideas, images or memories; perhaps something you have read or seen. Perhaps you will become curious about a particular topic and want to look it up later. Perhaps you have some thoughts or ideas that you want to remember, so you can jot them down. If that happens, always keep paper and pen or pencil handy in the future. Everyone is different, so don’t focus on getting the exact results I describe, but focus on what is important to you.

If you do this daily, or more than once a day, you will begin to change. What you are doing is creating space for an inner life, and yours will begin to grow. This may motivate you to share your experience with family and friends. That is, you may want to set aside time for reflection and discussion with them. But this should always be in addition to the time you spend alone in reflection. It should not replace your quiet time because if you do not continue to feed what you have planted, it will wither and die. If you are religious, you may begin using scripture as part of your reflection. If not, if may be philosophy or some other type of inspirational and reflective writing. You will find the way to what feeds your spirit. Don’t worry about doctrine and rituals for now.

As you reflect alone, and in discussion with others, you will become clearer about what is truly important to you. You will have less fear, and more joy and serenity. All the problems and challenges in your life won’t disappear, but you will have a more secure place to stand and face them.

As you grow and mature in your reflective self, family members, friends and others in your community will look to you for guidance. You will need to learn to be a leader and to help them without becoming distracted by the temptations of power and ego. If you allow yourself these indulgences, you will be back where you started; caught up in fear; fear of not being successful in other people’s eyes, fear of being surpassed by other people who are leaders in your circle of relationships. Remember what your core values are. You always have to go back to that source and surrender your ego to it. That is where your strength lies.

In reading or hearing this, some people may ask why organized religion cannot be used to accomplish the same thing. The answer is that it can. But for some people, the focus on specific doctrinal beliefs and rituals can interfere with developing a living relationship with the source of value and meaning within them. There is no renewing of the mind and transformation into new being, there is just a rigid and authoritarian behavior structure that they are required to follow. For example, sometimes people who most loudly proclaim their Christianity (or other religion) are more concerned with controlling and dictating to other people; beating people over the head with doctrine; rather than transforming themselves, and showing the love of God through their expressions, words and actions.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Bernard Brookes is President of BHM International, Inc. and co-founder and former Executive Director of Center for Health and Development, a mental health service agency in Massachusetts. Prior to working independently, Dr. Brookes was affiliated with Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital as a Clinical Fellow in Psychology, an Instructor in Psychology, and a Clinical Unit Director at Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts. Dr. Brookes was formerly treasurer of the Massachusetts Psychological Association, and is a member of the American Psychological Association. He is author of the book God, Self & Community, and a music CD with the same title. Visit Dr. Brookes at www.bhm.com.