Mantra for the Bad Days:
Somewhere within all this noise is an enormous silence. If I just shut up for a moment, I'll be able to hear it.
Don't worry. I'm not going to presume to tell you how -- or where, or when, or what -- to pray. Nor am I going to assume that you and I necessarily mean the same thing by the word "prayer." Prayer is deeply personal, maybe the most personal thing there is. What I want to explore here is whether it's possible, or even desirable, to engage in your chosen form of prayer at work.
I think it's both possible and desirable. In fact, I think it's almost inevitable, because to me, prayer is any kind of dialogue between the human and the divine, and I believe we carry at least some spark of the divine within us. When we make any attempt to be present for our own lives, to experience our whole selves, we are embracing both our humanity and our divinity. Our mere existence is a kind of prayer. Not that it always feels that way.
You may not agree with me about this. Indeed, the first dictionary definition of "pray" is "to entreat or implore. to request in a humble manner." This sounds, on first reading, like flat-out begging. That was my childhood understanding of prayer: as a plea to an external, paternal God who could bless me, give me the stuff I wanted, and possibly vanquish my tribe's enemies (whoever they were-maybe the Communists) in exchange for my being a good girl.
I'm not really talking about this type of transaction, where the pray-er begs for some kind of reward from the pray-ee. But I do believe prayer is, first and foremost, an entreaty -- a humble request that the divine be present for us right here, right now, and that we be present for the divine. The second dictionary definition of "pray" comes closer to this idea: "to address God or a god with adoration, confession, supplication, or thanksgiving." To talk to God -- whatever we mean by God -- in whatever way we choose, with or without making any specific requests. To have a conversation, a dialogue, with the divine, wherever we find it.
Talking to God -- calling the divine into the present moment -- is not something you need to save for formal meditation or prayer. I think it has a place in every area of one's life, even work. Especially work. When you take a moment to open an inner door to the idea of the divine, you acknowledge the possibility that your life has a larger design than the physical reality before you -- your office walls, your "to do" list, your telephone. You remind yourself that you are more than what you do. You enable yourself to perceive the nobility in seemingly mundane endeavors. And you summon strengths and insights you didn't know you possessed. Prayer is an enormously creative act.
If you're comfortable with the idea of invoking divinity -- of talking to God -- you probably already have your own vocabulary of prayer. It might, then, feel perfectly natural to you to take a few moments during the workday to utter actual prayers to yourself, silently or aloud: "I pray to bring my best self to this work," or "I pray to understand what this difficult situation is trying to teach me," or "I align myself with the divine presence within me."
You already know the words that resonate for you. I'm only going to suggest you remember to say them in what might seem like odd times and places: when you're sitting down to work you find daunting or thankless; when you're attending a mind-numbing staff meeting; when you're facing a difficult interaction with a colleague or client. I have a friend who simply says "Blessed be," silently or aloud, when she wants to remember that we all have the capacity to bring a blessing into being. I sometimes pray just to be fully present, divinity, humanity, and all: "I don't really want to be here. But please, help me be here." Or, more simply: "Here I am."
Words are powerful things. The mere act of saying or thinking the words of a prayer can put you into a prayerful state. If you're not comfortable with the idea of formal prayer, you can simply ask to be open to the idea of a greater reality, and leave it at that. Your readiness to consider the possibility of the divine is itself an act of prayer. But please don't force it. If words like "God" and "divine" make you squirm, nobody's saying you have to use them. This is your spiritual path, not someone else's, and you get to choose the practices that connect you with your own spirituality-whatever that means for you.