(the following is from an excerpt of a short essay that I wrote in ‘Paganism 101’, edited by Trevor Greenfield:)
Every breath, every act, and every thought can all be prayers dedicated to the Gods, and can all as easily become meditative practices. I myself walk the world with a deep-seated spirituality, and so I see in every person an aspect of God and Goddess, and in each action or word a lesson to be had. In return, I seek to venerate that which is around me with mindfulness and respect. When I laugh, it is to share joy with the divine. When I cry, it is to implore their mercy. I meditate deeply on that which I see around me, seeking meaning in people, in nature, in myself.
A prayer need not be simply a call into the dark for help – it can be to praise, to honour, to dedicate an act or event. It can be to pass them a message, or to beg for wisdom. A prayer can take any form, wordless and internal, written prose, or spoken and sung aloud. The only requirement of prayer is that it come from the heart, to speak to something outside yourself and connect you to the Divine.
In contrast, one need not be spiritually inclined to meditate, although certainly it enriches the spiritual life of the practitioner. Meditation is a powerful tool to seek within, instead of praying to something outside of yourself. Through meditation we learn to calm the mind and observe ourselves, the world, and who those things connect and interact. You can meditate to clear your mind, or to sharpen your focus on a single thought.
Prayer and meditation are tools that cross spiritual lines across all global traditions. Every religion has a form of both, sometimes several accepted practices. In the modern Pagan, we find that there are endless ways to going about these practices, and by sharing our methods we can only become more spiritually enriched.
A thing that I have found most interesting is that both prayer and meditation commonly begin with a breath – we breathe in and out to pray, and one of the most simple forms of meditation is to observe our own breathing. How interesting, then, that the Hebrew word ‘ruach’, meaning ‘wind’ or ‘breath’, can also refer to ‘the soul’ or ‘spirit’.
In Buddhism it is said that there are 8 ways to the Centre, that is to say to achieve Enlightenment. Prayer and meditation are two of those ways, bringing us deeper into ourselves and the true understanding of life and what it really means: connection with all things. The differentiation between prayer and mediation is your intention. The limitation on either one is only how far you can push yourself.
A final thought – perhaps the greatest thing that prayer and mediation can both help us to achieve in our everyday lives is compassion for others, truly putting us in touch with our most humane selves as well as our most Divine.