One of the hardest parts of prayer is getting our minds to let go of everything else and simply focus.
In the ‘Catholicism’ series, Bishop Barron mentions what Buddhists monks refer to as “the monkey mind.” When we take the time to pray and meditate, our brain rarely cooperates automatically. Instead, it hopes around like a monkey… from distraction to distraction, refusing to settle.
The best way to “calm the monkey” is to find one exciting or interesting thing for it to fixate on. Once the mind is engaged with this one task, it starts to slow and calm itself down. Eventually, the monkey settles, and then you’ll finally be able to fully enter into prayer.
Here are my favorite ways to catch the attention of my own “monkey-mind.”
- Make a special board on your Pinterest account – I like to troll the internet before I fall asleep. Unfortunately, I often find time for this and not for prayer … one night, realizing I was probably not going to put down my phone, I combined the two. I opened my Pinterest app and created a new board entitled “Prayer.” I started searching for images and quotes that correlated to my current struggles. As a visual learner, images depicting grace and the temptations I’m trying to fight are a great help to me. They make progressing into conversation with God easy. Any time I don’t want to pray, this compromise seems to help. I work with my weaknesses, rather than combating them head on, and often this technique is more effective in producing fruitful prayer than forcing myself right into the intimacy.
- Listen to a specific playlist – Make a playlist of inspiring Christian music using old favorites or new recommendations. During this time, rest and listen (try not to multi-task). Meditate on the lyrics. I have found this to be incredibly soothing, and I think that the peace which it brings makes me very aware of the Holy Spirit’s movement in my heart. Dialogue with God starts to flow naturally as a result. My focus shifts from the music to God. Consequently, He and I enter deeper into conversation. For me, this is my favorite past-time when I cannot fall asleep.
- Utilize Prayer Books- go to a library or a second-hand book store. Find a book of prayers in the spiritual life section. Take it home and flip through the pages. Skim it. You don’t have to actually pray the prayers… just read them. Eventually, something about one of them will stick out to you. It might be a whole prayer, it might be a single phrase. It doesn’t matter the length, just meditate on what stands out to you, and pray the words yourself. Often I combine 2 or 3 sections of different prayers into one personal devotion. These somewhat plagiarized prayers then become a mantra of sorts for me. Then I use that pieced-together-prayer for as long as I need it. Some of my favorite personal prayers have been created in this way.
- Use Traditional Prayers- I believe it is St. John of the Cross who said, “prayers are a good way to help you begin to pray.” You see, the prayers themselves are not the most important part. What’s important is making it to that place of oneness and unity with God. Traditional prayers are actually meant to lead us to contemplation. Begin a rosary, a divine mercy chaplet or a passage of Scripture. Don’t worry about saying it our reading it perfectly– we’re looking for grace here, not perfection! Also– don’t worry about “finishing” it. If, while you are meditating on a specific mystery of the rosary, you feel a stirring to move into a personal conversation with God- do it! That is the Holy Spirit. God won’t be offended if you don’t finish the traditional prayer! Both avenues are ways of speaking with him. I love when my husband uses traditional ways of communicating his love for me (flowers, chocolate, etc.), but I also love the personal ways he does shows me that he loves me… in fact, I love them more. Anyone can buy me flowers, but only Chris can show me Chris’ heart. This is the same with prayer. Satan will do whatever he can to keep us from growing closer to God; if keeping us confined with the “red tape” of traditional prayers is a way to do it, he will. After all, he is “the most cunning” of all God’s creatures.
Lastly, it’s most important to just keep trying. Show up for prayer, and though you may loose a few battles, you will always win the war. Don’t forget to ask your guardian angel for help!