So you’re wondering how to pray in order to become a better person. Maybe you’re not happy with who you are or your results in life, to some degree. Maybe you’re tired of pushing people away, alienating people, sabotaging relationships, or sabotaging your career.
I’ve been there. When I was 23, I was unhappy with my results, and unhappy with the person I’d become.
But I learned that who I am – my thoughts, behaviors, actions, words, and attitudes – create my results. I knew that if I changed myself, I might be able to change my life.
And I did. A big part of that was learning contemplative prayer (a Christian form of meditation). Contemplative prayer is the highest form of prayer because it brings us into direct experience with the Spirit of God. It is a silent form of prayer that helped me become kinder, more patient, more self-aware, more compassionate…all in all, a person I could be more proud of.
I learned that we can’t pray to become better people by simply saying a bunch of words, trying really hard to talk our way into transformation. We transform by resting silently and enjoying the presence of God.
“Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a poor translation.”Thomas Keating
That personal transformation sparked much better results in life. My relationships, career, finances, how I treated others…every aspect of my life changed for the better.
Part of that was because of the hard skills I was learning – critical thinking, analysis, journaling, strategy, etc. But I believe meditation and prayer played a bigger role. As Martha Beck would say, we become and attract everything we want, when we reach a place of peace.
Meditation and prayer is a critical piece of achieving that peace. Luckily, there is all kinds of scientific research to back this up.
Let’s dig in.
The Science of Prayer & Meditation
The research is fairly unanimous on the benefits of prayer & meditation. Many studies (and my own personal experiences) show that meditation can reduce stress and anxiety, improve IQ, fight depression, and more.
It seems like common sense to conclude if prayer and meditation is proven to make us more relaxed, calm, and at peace, it will probably make us better people.
The success of meditation or prayer also depends on what methods we use, and how skillful we are at those methods. In my opinion, some spiritual practices are more effective than others.
Either way, one of the more interesting scientific findings is how meditation affects our brain waves, and how those brain waves translate to different mental states.
Turns out, doctors have been using electromagnetic pulses to influence brain wave frequencies and treat depression for years (via TRS/MRS/PEMF therapy). (R) Just Google “TMS therapy” and you’ll probably find some clinics near you.
Meditation affects our brain waves in the same way. By reaching more relaxed frequencies like alpha and theta, we become significantly more calm and relaxed, which makes us better in many ways. (R, R)
Pretty impressive, if you ask me!
The Benefits of Meditation & Prayer
Meditation can make us better people in many ways.
Studies show that meditation can quiet our chattering monkey minds (R), rival antidepressants in effectiveness (R), help us regulate our emotions, improve learning & memory, decrease stress & anxiety (R), improve focus even in ADHD/ADD patients (R), and even help addiction. (R)
More patient, kind, and compassionate
Like I’ve mentioned above, I personally can attest to how contemplative prayer has made me a better person. Scripture says that “the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness”, etc. Experiencing God directly through contemplative prayer is a powerful way of cultivating those fruits.
Combined with hard skills like journaling and self-analysis, prayer and meditation are a powerful agent of personal transformation. (R)
There is something about silent prayer and how it helps us gain insights and ideas, as well as make decisions.
Slowing our minds down gives us access to terabytes of “hidden” information in our subconscious and unconscious minds, compared to the mere bits of information available during normal waking states. (R)
I am an introvert, but I also love being around people. But sometimes I have too much anxiety to be an effective extrovert. Turns out, there’s a scientific reason why.
When we’re relaxed, we produce brain wave frequencies called alpha. In our normal waking state, we don’t reach alpha very often. Our anxiety gets in the way of slowing down our mind to relaxed alpha patterns.
But, meditation helps us achieve these alpha and sometimes even deeper theta states, which lessens anxiety and make us more extroverted. (R)
Speaking of alpha patterns – lack of alpha patterns also cause insomnia. So meditation and prayer can slow our brain waves down enough to count a lot more zzz’s. (R)
Meditation and prayer has also been showing to improve our mood and overall sense of well-being. (R)
Less cranky = not snapping at others so much!
When we practice meditation and contemplative prayer, we’re planting seeds of personal transformation. We’re better able to clear our mind, let go of who we don’t want to be, shed our false self, and focus on better things instead.
“All great spirituality teaches about letting go of what you don’t need and who you are not. Then, when you can get little enough and naked enough and poor enough, you’ll find that the little place where you really are is ironically more than enough and is all that you need.”Richard Rohr
In the Christian tradition, this is similar to the idea of “crucifying ourselves”, and latching onto God instead.
God is infinite love, joy, peace, kindness, and wisdom. In contemplative prayer, we let go of ourselves and surrender to God, which brings us ultimate joy.
I personally believe that God is simply energy and consciousness. When we meditate on God, we are meditating on a higher state of energy and consciousness. This energy has been described as infinite peace and love. So, you can focus on infinite love, joy, peace, and wisdom, but not call it God, and we’d be focusing on the same thing.
Meditation and other religious traditions follow the same pattern. They may use different words to describe their spiritual experience, but it is all the same in the end. Neuroscience proves this fact as well.
Prayer to Become a Better Person
Now we know that all meditation and prayer helps us become better people.
The simplest method of prayer to become a better person is as follows:
- Get centered in the moment by noticing sensations in all 5 senses (the sound of the A/C humming, the birds and wind outside, the sound of your breathing)
- Get in touch with the body (mentally scan the body from head to toe, notice any feelings of pain, pleasure, heaviness or lightness), notice the sensation of breathing (the feeling of the lungs expanding and contracting)
- Focus on the sensation of breath through your nostrils
- Let go of all focus and let your awareness dissolve into nothingness. This is the point where your awareness is a blank slate, empty of all thought and emotion. Your awareness expands out in all directions into infinity.
- From here, practice gratitude for the infinite space and peace you are experiencing. This infinite gratitude will provide a sense of infinite love and bliss. This infinite love is the presence of God.
As thoughts emerge in the mind, label them as “thought” and let them go. Do this until the frequency of thoughts decrease.
This is the method of meditation taught by Thomas Keating, Eckhart Tolle, Jack Kornfield, Pema Chodron, and all the great spiritual teachers.
Combined with deep breathing, this method of meditation & prayer will help you become a better person by giving you a deep sense of peace, love, and joy. This happens because meditations clears out the “tabs” in your brain, like closing tabs in your web browser helps your computer run faster.
In as little as 5-20 minutes a day, we will become more empathetic with others, patient, loving, kind, and non-reactive. We will start to notice when we feel an emotional response to something somebody said. Then we can respond out of mindfulness, not react with negativity. We will start to have a more positive outlook on life, planting seeds of positivity wherever we go.
We are all transcending our false self, worries, anxieties, cares, and ego. We are all shedding what doesn’t need to be there, so we can become something better. That’s how prayer and meditation make us better humans.
The Dalai Lama said, “If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”
I believe that. Through meditation and prayer, we can become more self-aware, reach our potential as humans, and maybe even change the world.