In our previous lessons we have used various phrases to express the central motive of prayer, its origin and true nature. In defining this central motive of prayer, we have referred to it as "the deepest and most sincere desire in the heart of man": "The assertion or impulse of man's primitive nature": "The breath of the Soul of man": "The struggle of the inner or Real Self to come forth." Now we must find that form or practice of prayer best suited further to develop this central motive of life which we have defined in these various ways.
In the true sense, the mind and body with all their various functions of thought, feeling, speech, and action — which we usually mistake for the man
himself — are vehicles through which the inner or Real Self should find expression. Therefore, our next effort should be to find that method which will best promote an inward freedom and at the same time best fit the mind and body for its expression. What form of prayer, or attitude in the practice of prayer has the most liberating effect upon man's entire nature? What form of prayer best frees and increases the forces of man's being and unifies them in harmony with his deepest desires? We know the prospective musician should find that form of practice or attitude in practice which best contributes to his musical advancement. Some attitudes will further his progress, while other attitudes would retard his progress.
Each individual can check back over the experiences of his own life and therein find some clue to this more fundamental form of prayer. For instance, every man has had certain experiences which resulted in the freeing of his inner nature, which in turn increased his ability to meet the tasks of life. Anything that contributed to his joy or inward buoyancy added its vital influence to his accomplishing power. Other experiences that depressed him stifled his inward joy and buoyancy and thereby lessened his power of accomplishment. Knowing the effect of these experiences upon our nature, we should find that form of prayer which contributes to our inward freedom and inspiration, for "it is not by might nor by power, but by my
Spirit" saith the Lord. The increase of spirit, or vital activity within our inner nature should be the central purpose in the practice of prayer. Even in our everyday experiences, if we made a greater effort to preserve and develop our forces and capacities, and were less concerned about money and jobs, the finding of jobs, the earning of money, and the like, life would be comparatively simple.
Inasmuch as the common use of prayer seems to relate to the exchange of things, perhaps our experiences relating to the giving and receiving of gifts may give us a clue regarding the most vital practices in the beginning of effective prayer.
We have all received gifts from friends; and of course the receiving of these gifts, if they fitted into our idea of desirable living, contributed to our joy. The experience contributed to our inward buoyancy; and for the time being we were exalted, our minds were freer, our hearts were lighter, and life was easier. Therefore the practice of praying for things; and the receiving of things in answer to our prayer should not be considered foreign to its practice. But we should seek the most vital effect of prayer not only in the degree it has contributed to our temporary expansion, but in the degree of actual growth and permanent freedom of spirit.
We have also given gifts to others; and this giving of gifts in the right motive, has released an inner buoyancy and has resulted in a greater quickening of inward forces than the mere receiving of
gifts. Therefore in the matter of prayer we should not overlook the more vital effects of praying for the good of others, — the prayers that include the common good. After all, "The gift is to the giver and comes back most to him," and our good is inseparably interwoven with the good of the whole. "Nothing in this world is single, all things by a law divine with one another's being mingle."
In the matter of giving and receiving gifts, that which makes the exchange vital is the degree of appreciation and gratitude which accompanies them. But the majority of people have lost this finer and more vital element in human experience. We receive in the sense that "it is coming to us" and we give grudgingly. We have therefore lost the most dynamic power in the practice of giving and receiving. Looking back over your own individual experience you will find that genuine gratitude for gifts, for privileges, for blessings of the past and the present, has released more of the vital forces of your inner nature and buoyed you up more than any other attitude in your experience. Verily, gratitude is a well-spring of living energy, and from our own experience we can learn the vast degree of influence it has had in our practical progress in the achievements of life.
Contrast your own experiences of the past in times of genuine gratitude, with those times when you have allowed your mind to become reactionary by ingratitude. Then see if you cannot realize that
degree of increased individual power which Christ must have attained when he cried: "I thank thee Father that thou hast heard me, and I know thou hearest me always." Realize that you are dealing with the forces of your being, and not the mere form of your body and the things which relate to it. That which releases the forces of your being makes you "creative and powerful," and to be "creative and powerful" is to discover that the outer conditions of life are easily obtained. In ancient philosophies we find the important teaching that: "If ye render thanks, then will I surely increase you more and more. But if ye be thankless, verily, right terrible my chastisement"; and again, "The ungrateful can never escape."
In reality, or in the truest sense, everything that contributes to the progress of man's inner nature, that which frees and enlarges his spirit, that which increases his constructive power and capacity, is entirely consistent with the fundamental purpose of prayer. On the other hand, that which retards or hinders his inner growth and progress would not be involved in its purpose.
Not only do we see this law operative in our own experiences, but we understand it thoroughly with respect to our children. If they are ungrateful for the good things which we have given them, if they do not appreciate or make the right use of our gifts to them, we are inclined to withhold further gifts. We know that the essential fact to be considered
is the growth of the child's capabilities, and not the number of things which he may accumulate. We know that to continue giving where there is no appreciation, is the surest way to destroy a child's character. On the other hand, where a child is grateful, where it is appreciative, where it makes right use of gifts, we are impelled to further giving, knowing that through the principle of right use and appreciation the child's nature is increased and its capacity is enlarged.
Furthermore, are we not inclined to withhold gifts that would hinder the child's progress, or that would divert his progress into channels that are not desirable? And do we not give according to the ideals involved in his growth and increase of capacity along proper lines? Perhaps this explains why some of the outward things for which we pray are not forthcoming, and why other things about which we have prayed, have been taken from us. It is said "the first law of life is self-preservation." That is, the law of life is designed to preserve and perpetuate "life." Life is growth and expansion, and the order of the universe must be identical with our attitude toward our children, — that of preserving their progress in life, and the increase in their capacity to live — and we consider things in their relationship to the progress of the child itself. A child is entitled to anything that will further his individual progress and that does not interfere with the progress of others. Likewise, the children of
God are entitled to anything that will further their spiritual advancement and that will not interfere with the like advancement of those about them who become involved with them.
We know that the individual who always has his eye on his own advantage or his hand out for something, seldom realizes or appreciates what he has. Ingratitude is a form of attachment to that which is lacking, and to attach one's self to nothing — if that were possible — cannot be productive except to increase the sense of nothingness. It is for this reason that "the ungrateful can never escape." The ancients also taught that "Prosperity never resideth in one who suffers himself to be tortured by grief, who is addicted to evil ways, who denies Godhead, who is idle, who hath not his senses under control, and who is divested of exertion." Also, "the ungrateful who forget God, shall wander." To build one's reasoning processes upon that which he seems to lack is to attempt building a structure from nothing; and such a practice could only lead to further chaos in his experiences.
When he has become insensible to the already existing good, man does not readily anticipate the impending good which is always moving toward him. The tendency of the mind is to multiply in kind that with which it is already dealing, because the mind is creative. A close perspective of one thing, or of a group of similar things, obscures the existence of other things. "Two things cannot
occupy the same space at the same time" is just as much a law of metaphysics as it is of physics. Man cannot be aware of the good which is already in existence, nor of the good which is seeking to manifest, so long as his mind is occupied with its opposite. The natural tendency of the mind is to anticipate more of what it is already aware of. Man naturally looks for more evil, imperfection, poverty, disease, hardship, because this has become the habitual tendency of his mind. For this reason his mind does not readily accept even the things for which he prays. The sound procedure, therefore, would be that practice which would make man's mind alert and receptive to the good. The most effective means to this end would be a systematic practice of looking for the desirable things which are already existing in his life, and an equal amount of practicing the attitude of genuine gratitude for these things. Paul said, "with thanksgiving let your requests be made."
When man, through the practice of habitual gratitude, has trained himself to that point where he is vitally alert to the good that is already his, he will be completely alert to the possibility of increase in his good. In the past he has been alert to the possibility of increase in the realm of the undesirable by the same law, but wrongly applied. Gratitude, therefore, opens up an entirely new field of opportunity; not only by freeing man's inner spirit, but by awakening his mind to new
realms of discovery, and thereby awakening a new sense of values and the development of new powers.
Now let us begin to take stock of some of the vital things which we have in life. There are things which are ours without any effort upon our part, which are self-existent, and self-operative, and which move in our behalf without our assistance or effort. There are things which we never worked for, which we never earned, and, from a human point of view, perhaps which we do not even deserve. Yet without these things, life would be unendurable, — or more truthfully, we would not even be.
First, let us notice that life itself is self-operative and self-perpetuating; you neither created nor can you sustain life. You may do something to increase your capacity to express life, or you may employ practices that will hinder its expression through you, but life goes on just the same in one form or another. But life and the degree to which we manifest life is a matter of consciousness rather than physical existence. Try being grateful for life, grateful that it is self-operative and self-sustaining; that it is, so to speak, a free gift from God; and see to what degree it will increase your consciousness of life, and thereby enlarge your capacity for expressing life.
Also note that the most essential elements which contribute to sustaining life within the body, cannot be denied you; that you do not have to earn
them or work for them, nor can anyone charge you for them. Take for instance your mind; that is a free gift to you, an inherent part of your being, and only through your mind or consciousness would you be aware of any such thing as life. As you enlarge your mind, then, you would necessarily enlarge your expression of life by increasing your consciousness of life. Try, therefore, being grateful for the fact that your mind is one with the Everpresent Mind of God and that you are in position to receive guidance and direction in life, direct from this Mind. No one can deny you this practice, nor charge you for this vital source of feeding and nourishing your mind. See if this practice does not enlarge your mental horizon, and increase both your mental capacity and your ability to understand and meet the problems of life.
Also consider the act of breathing, and the endless supply of air provided to fill this need of your being. Air is infinitely more important in sustaining life within the body than the food you eat, and yet it is free and limitless as compared with your need of it. Try being grateful for it, and see if it does not become more invigorating.
You also have an innate ability for doing things, for accomplishing various tasks. That ability is an inherent phase of your nature. Instead of thinking of the hardships which confront you, — cluttering up the whole process of life and destroying your ability by this practice — try reversing this attitude,
and dwell upon the marvelous capacity that you have, that is God-given, and see if the sense of capacity and of your own ability does not increase more and more. Also as it increases, see if the tasks of life do not diminish in the same proportion until they seem easily performed. Any task which you undertake, in the beginning may seem difficult; but through the continued application of your mind, with the idea of increasing your skill, your ability is enlarged, and therefore the task becomes correspondingly easy. One's procedure should always be with the view to increasing his capacity, rather than to increasing his sense of the magnitude of his task. The size of the task grows in one's mind as he works with the idea of the task itself, or with what he may get from the performance of the task. But skill is increased when that is the object of one's activities. Therefore contemplate the Divine ability that is in you, be attentive to it and grateful for it, and see if "I will not increase you more and more."
Ability is your primal asset, for it is the secret of all your achievement. If you haven't a job, you have the ability to look for it; and when you proceed fully alive and awake to your own ability, some one else is sure to recognize it also. But when you are not aware of your own ability, when your ability is not radiantly emanating through your entire nature, no one else is likely to recognize it. It is for you to uncover your own capacities, if
you would have others recognize them. Nor can you be aware of your ability when your mind is full of the idea that jobs are scarce and that finding a position is impossible.
Carry out this same experiment in every detail of life for the next thirty days, if for no other reason than an honest experiment to see what the result might be. But be honest in your experiment, be faithful in its application, and see if "I will not pour you out a blessing such as you will not be able to contain it."
If you seem to lack outward supply, do you not have an abundance of water, air, and sunshine, which are free, and without which it would be only a matter of days or a few moments until you would have no use for any of the things you have been so concerned about? Try being grateful for the sunshine, thankful for the air, drinking water with a sense of appreciation for it. Be thankful for the food you have, scant as it may be. Be thankful for your clothing though it may not be just what you would like. Be thankful for the shelter which you have, even though it is small or temporary.
Even if you are forced to accept money from charitable institutions and from the so-called more fortunate, accept it with gratitude rather than humiliation. Be determined to preserve your self-respect, your capacities, regardless of whatever the outer situation may be, and you will soon discover that through the increased sense of your own ability
you will find your way back into the path of life which involves creative expression.
If you have felt that something has been wrong with your eyes, and you do not see as well as you would like, try being grateful for the degree of sight which you have. Be thankful for your glasses because they help you to see more perfectly. Find out if this sort of procedure does not increase your ability to see.
Has something been wrong with your hearing? Instead of amplifying this impediment to your hearing, transfer your attention to the degree of hearing you have, and be thankful that you can hear, even though it be ever so little. Begin to count the sounds you do register, and the times when you do hear, and be thankful for those. Be attentive to what you have, be grateful for it, and see if it is not increased in your consciousness. Likewise be thankful for your ability to smell, taste, and feel; and see if your ability is not enlarged in every direction.
Be thankful for the fact that your heart beats perfectly most of the time, even though it may skip now and then. Be thankful for the fact that you digest some meals, or can digest some kinds of food. Do not recount the times the heart has skipped a beat, or that the stomach has failed to digest a meal. Keep the mind open in the path of progress; be grateful for what good thing or condition you have.
Be thankful for the degree of health you have;
be thankful for the fact that, after all, you still have the most vital things in life — things that make life endurable, and without which it would be a most barren existence, if any existence at all.
"Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks."