On learning to pray


Taken on shivarathri 2016.

Taught to pray

My mother taught me to pray the best way that someone can teach anyone to pray. Prayer is the silent language of Indian Spirituality that everybody speaks in temples. But I didn’t know the words.

From the outside, prayers in temples looked like eyes closed, palms together at the chest, a secret communion with God. Sometimes teardrops, sometimes bought to your knees. But what was going on inside? I had no idea.

To me, prayer meant to close my eyes and talk to a God who lives in the sky.

My first lesson was to pray for the people I loved. To pray for my family and friends – to wish for them happiness, good health, and success in life. So I started by praying for my mother, my father, my brother.

But what about everyone else, I thought? There are so many more people that I loved.

So I needed to try to pray for them too.

So at first, my prayers were lists of people who I loved who I needed to pray for. The list got longer and longer and more overwhelming. I constantly felt like I was missing people. And praying “for everyone” seemed strange to me somehow. Like I was taking the easy way out.

My second lesson in praying was learning a few mantras, which I liked. It was like singing a song for God. Even though he never told me if he liked it or not. It made me feel productive when I prayed.

(Because that is what prayer is about, right? ….Feeling productive.  ;))

Making a deal with God

As I got older, I started teaching myself my own lessons on prayer.

I started making deals with God.

“God, please give me ___*insert object of my hearts desires*____. And if you give me that, I promise I’ll be good, and I promise I’ll pray all the time.”

And I could pray a lot because well, there was a lot of things I wanted.

Another kind of prayer I could make was recruiting God’s help in getting me out of hardships.

“God, please help me. I can’t handle this. I’m really worried and anxious. Please resolve this situation involving ___*insert complicated mess*___” 

At this time in my life, prayer was nothing to do with spirituality. It was about making things good in my life, and trying desperately to use as many tools as I can to get it. All I wanted was happiness, comfort and security. All I wanted was to feel good.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with those things, or wanting those things.

But I was missing the point of prayer.

Finally it occurred to me, with is so much discussion about what exactly “God” is and if “he” really exists, and me personally never even having had a direct experience of “God” – bargaining with this giant question mark just seemed…weird.

How different was me asking God to “please let me do well on this exam” to standing in front of a tree and asking it to help me do well on the exam?

In both instances, I felt like I was having a monologue with something that didn’t talk back.

There was no conversation.

The problem with trying to reach God

I want to stop using the word “God” because that word alone conjures up too many meanings and images in peoples minds. Including my own, though I think thats slowly starting to change.

Instead, I want to call it the divine essence of life – or divinity.

And when I call it that, I realized praying has never been a way for me to have a relationship with divinity. It’s been about using it as a tool to give me the things I want in life. I realized that I only prayed because I wanted something, or I was afraid of something.

And I was trying so desperately to reach “God.” But what is God, and who is God? We have only heard about “God” through stories that saturated our culture, passed on through “religious” family members. Stories that tell us that there is such a thing as “God” and he is there and we should reach him.

But as I have said before, I’ve had never had a direct experience of God, so how would I even know if I’m going in the right direction? When we haven’t experienced something, we tend to start imagine what we think it is. And when we start doing this in prayer, we just strengthen our imagination, we imagine conversations, and ultimately, we deceive ourselves.

A state of grace

It is only recently that I have learned my latest lesson in prayer. That prayer is not something I do, it’s a state of grace. And a state means a way you are, a way of being in this world. It can be contained  in 5 minutes of eyes closed, hands to chest, but should not be – it should overflow into all areas of your life.

My latest experience of prayer is that it feels like meditation.

I no longer list people I want God to bless.

I can bless them myself, if I live my life in a state of Grace.

I no longer need to ask for things.

I can create these things myself, if I live my life in a state of Grace.

I no longer ask to be removed or healed from hardships.

I can heal them myself, if I live my life in a state of Grace.

The golden thread that ties all of these together is the state of Grace. So that is the only thing I need. And I do not need to ask for it. I only need to be wide open and receptive.

Prayer is a pouring of that grace into my life. And with that grace, I can transform my life.

I think about how my mother would always remind me to pray before an exam. And I realized, it wasn’t so much about asking God to help me pass the exam, I believe this act of praying before important events in life is more about getting to the state of Grace to make such things possible.

That probably got lost in the translation, and instead we started just outright asking for things.

In that sense, we don’t only need to be in a state of grace before important events in life, we can live every single day with this grace, and that is when our entire life transforms.

Make your life an offering

To break down the “State of Grace” into components – as well as I can put into words (some things are just hard to put into words) – one of the components would be the art of making your life an offering to the divine.

To live with devotion.

To live for something bigger than myself.

To lose sense of where I end and where another begins, so it all blurs and melts together and everything is a part of me, and I am a part of everything.

To access and live at the center of our inner nature.

To be connected to the divine essence that is present not as a person in the sky, but in everything, in everyone, and everywhere.

Feeling small

A big part of prayer and grace is a sense of humility. The beautiful thing about true humility is you can feel wonderfully small but with the brightest flame of your soul roaring inside you. Humility does not mean putting yourself down, and it does not equal self-hate or destruction.
You see, self-destruction means being the co-pilot of your life, and allowing another person to be the pilot. No thank you
Humility means being the co-pilot in your life, and allowing Divine Grace to be the pilot.
Let grace lead the way.
When this happens, prayer no longer feels like a monologue. It truly feels like a communion, a state of meditative grace, an act of creation, a blessing, a healing.
And the most beautiful part of all of this for me, is that the act of praying itself became more important to me than praying for something or to something.

I love these songs that remind me of prayer in different ways.

Well the road is wide,
And waters run on either side,
And my shadow went with fading light,
Stretching out towards the night.

‘Cause the Sun is low,
And I yet have still so far to go,
My lonely heart is beating so,
Tired of the wonder.

But there’s a sign ahead,
Though I think it’s the same one again,
And I’m thinking ’bout my only friend,
And so I find my way home.

When I need to get home
You’re my guiding light,
You’re my guiding light.

When I need to get home,
You’re my guiding light,
You’re my guiding light.

Well the air is cold,
And yonder lies my sleeping soul,
By the branches broke like bones,
This weakened tree no longer holds.

But the night is still,
And I have not yet lost my will,
Oh and I will keep on moving ’till,
’till I find my way home.

When I need to get home,
You’re my guiding light,
You’re my guiding light.

Cold, cold water surrounds me now
And all I’ve got is your hand
Lord, can you hear me now?
Lord, can you hear me now?
Lord, can you hear me now?
Or am I lost?

Love one’s daughter
Allow me that
And I can’t let go of your hand
Lord, can you hear me now?
Lord, can you hear me now?
Lord, can you hear me now?
Or am I lost?





  1. Your words touch my heart, dear Malavika. My most recent understanding is to do with the state of grace, and you expressed this so much better than I could have.
    Love always,

    1. Arlene,

      You are one of the few people I know who lives every day in the state of grace. It is so beautiful to see that.


  2. Interesting post 🙂 as Muslims we pray (perform shalah) five times a day to submit and thank Our Creater, reminding us that every event in life is a test and there is always ease within hardship.

    1. I am so sorry, I have only just seen that I never wrote back to your comment 🙁 Thank you for sharing your experiences. I have many muslim friends and I have always respected and admired their dedication towards prayer, and how it is consistently sprinkled throughout their day.

  3. Hello Malavika ,

    You are truly amazing .Thank you for sharing you life experiences.
    I would like to introduce you to the God of Grace .The Bible in the book of John 3.16 For God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son that whosoever believes on Him should not perish but have everlasting life .

    God bless you ,I love you and pray that you have a personal encounter with the Saviour of your soul who is your Guiding Light .

    Bless you

    South Africa

    1. Dear Deyi, please accept my apologies for not writing back to your comment till now. I found it today and realized that I had never responded to you. I’m sorry.

      Thank you for sharing your experience and your love of God with me. Thank you for sharing your heart and your love with me.

      I’m so glad that you have found the guiding light of your life.


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