While we are praying silently, we are going to let go of all the baggage we carry on our shoulders regarding the past and future. When thoughts of the past come up, whether it be who we are, what we have accomplished, what titles we have earned, our childhood, our relatives, our relationships, bad experiences, good experiences - all these thoughts should be let go of the moment you realize that you are distracting yourself from silent prayer by thinking.

Future thoughts should also be relinquished, thinking about what time it is, how much time is left in this silent prayer session, what you will do tomorrow or this evening, plans, dreams - all should be let go of during silent prayer.

Any visual thoughts that come up; a picture of Jesus, of God, of angels, of yourself, religious visions, or any visions at all - let go of them during your silent prayer. All of these thoughts and visions are of the mind, and what silent prayer is getting at is a silence of mind so that God can directly communicate to us.

One way to help yourself in the beginning is to imagine yourself perched on a freeway overpass watching cars and trucks going by underneath. The cars and trucks are your thoughts. Don't jump into one the cars (or thoughts) and be carried away, no matter how alluring the car or thought may be, allow it to go down the road and disappear out of sight. Then wait for the next car to come by. Then let that one go, too. Don't try not to think, just be aware of each thought as it naturally comes up, and then let it go. It is very simple.

It's the waiting for the next thought that creates silent moments between thoughts. This is where God communicates. As the space between thoughts lengthen, the communications become more important and life changing. The communications are never verbal or visual, they are silent, just like silent prayer, but maybe two or three days later you will have a bit of an insight into something or notice something that you never noticed before even though it was always right in front of you. This means that your critical spiritual eye is opening, and the beginning of a new relationship with God.

Once you can sustain your concentration, wisdom opens up a new world and you'll see and understand things quite differently. For example, you will begin to understand a little better how thought creates a fictitious self that has kept you at arms length from God and consequently in a shallow relationship. The mind will also become very sharp and discerning and your awareness will increase regardless of your activities.

Try to extend the periods of silent moments between thoughts, and reduce the time spent lost in thoughts. Use thought only to function in life. As you learn to do this, life will become easier because thought itself will become very efficient - focused and not scattered.

Eventually you will be able to maintain this bright awareness for the entire silent prayer period with few thoughts arising. Then you will be able to take this bright awareness out into the world and remain in a constant state of receiving God, using thought only when necessary. This bright awareness is where light bulbs go off - the creativity that occurs in flashes having nothing to do with mechanical thought. It is the intuitive insight accessed by all true artists and seers; it is the portal to coming face to face with God, and it changes your life from one of fear and worry into one of a constant state of grace.


Comfortable but alert is the correct posture to be in when practicing silent prayer. An easy chair or recliner might be a little too comfortable, and a full lotus, cross-legged position on the floor might be a little too painful! A good compromise is to sit in a comfortable chair but sit upright with your back straight and away from the back of the chair.

If you want to try sitting directly on the floor, sit on a pad or carpet, then cross your legs Indian style and place a small, firm pillow under the tip of your tailbone. Tuck your left heel between your legs and try to place your right ankle either on top of your left thigh, on top of your left calf, or on the floor next to your left calf while keeping both knees firmly on the floor. This might take some getting used to depending on your physical flexibility.

If the floor is too uncomfortable, sit on the edge of a chair in an erect position. If you are disabled and can only meditate lying down, this is fine, too. When using a chair, sit on the edge with your feet flat on the ground and your back straight. Your feet should be able to touch the floor and your thighs should be parallel to the floor so that your knees are neither higher nor lower than your hips. Your hands should be relaxed, lying in your lap palms up, one cupped within the other. Your left hand should be underneath, right hand on top, with your thumb tips touching lightly. This helps the mind become still.

Make certain that your spine does not slump during silent prayer-this is essential. Retain the natural inward curve of your spine in the small of your back by thrusting your hips foreword. Never allow yourself to slump in this area. Your shoulders and legs should be relaxed, feeling only a slight tension to keep the back curved inwardly. In time, as you learn to thrust your hips forward, this tension will relax as well. It is important that you remain relaxed at all times and not become tense. If you notice any tenseness, relax for a few moments, take a deep breath, and then continue your practice.

The position of your neck is very important. It should not be tilted forward or backward but upright, while at the same time your arms should be relaxed and falling from your shoulders. Your chin should be tucked in slightly. You may keep your eyes open or closed, as you prefer. If open, keep them only half, or barely open, gazing at the floor three or four feet ahead. Try not to glance around.

If you are sitting on the floor, you can expect some back discomfort or knee ache until your body adjusts to the posture. Do not be too quick to surrender to pain or numbness or you won't learn about them, which you should. On the other hand, always treat yourself kindly regarding acute pain or discomfort at this stage in your practice. If the pain does not subside after a reasonable amount of time, adjust your position. Later, you will be able to disassociate pain from the body, and then neither pain nor fear will be a problem. In the beginning, notice the cycles of pain or stiffness that might arise in your back or legs, and especially how the pain affects you mentally.

If possible, breathe through your nose during silent prayer, and relax. Everything should be relaxed, peaceful, and still, with your body as motionless as possible. Scratching, moving around, swallowing, sniffing, clearing your throat and so forth should be restrained. These types of distractions are considered hindrances, and hindrances can be extremely clever. You might think that your valuables (vulnerabilities and weaknesses) are put away in a safe, but the hindrances somehow know every combination to all of your safes, and will steal your things without your noticing.

Hindrances will make you lazy, sleepy, listless, irritable, numb, distracted (preferring to do something more exciting), create a lack of confidence, question your innate ability to pray silently; (Is it working? Am I doing it right?) Create doubt, (Is the effort worth it?) Encourage you to put things off until later when you are in the mood or when you have more money or time, or, after you write your book, or when you are in a more favorable situation. Hindrances will create worries, for example; that you might alienate your friends and relatives by sitting by yourself - so invite them to sit with you! Hindrances will persuade you to insist upon intellectual answers to spiritual questions; (What is eternity?) This represents only a partial listing of the hindrances' cleverness and nonsense - the list goes on. So keep a keen eye out for hindrances.

If you can arrange a separate room for silent prayer, this is very supportive. It should be quiet, cool, and subdued with the curtains drawn. Loose fitting, light clothing is best to keep your legs unrestricted and your body cool, which tends to heat up during silent prayer. After establishing your posture, just remain relaxed.

Remember, silence is best, but if you live in an active household where noise can be a distraction, mask the commotion with noise-eliminating headphones. It's better to avoid music during silent prayer however recordings of the ocean, the forest, or soothing nature sounds are okay but only if needed to screen unwanted noise.

Good luck!

Author's Bio: 

Anagarika eddie is a meditation teacher at the Dhammabucha Rocksprings Meditation Retreat Sanctuary www.dhammarocksprings.org and author of A Year to Enlightenment. His 30 years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Thervada Buddhist monk.

He lived at Wat Pah Nanachat under Ajahn Chah, at Wat Pah Baan Taad under Ajahn Maha Boowa, and at Wat Pah Daan Wi Weg under Ajahn Tui. He had been a postulant at Shasta Abbey, a Zen Buddhist monastery in northern California under Roshi Kennett; and a Theravada Buddhist anagarika at both Amaravati Monastery in the UK and Bodhinyanarama Monastery in New Zealand, both under Ajahn Sumedho. The author has meditated with the Korean Master Sueng Sahn Sunim; with Bhante Gunaratana at the Bhavana Society in West Virginia; and with the Tibetan Master Trungpa Rinpoche in Boulder, Colorado. He has also practiced at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and the Zen Center in San Francisco.