Prayer and Memory
To those of us who want to be free, we have to come to terms with one simple, inalienable fact: freedom comes at the price of discipline. By this I don't mean to evoke thoughts of legions of jackbooted soldiers frog-stepping across your screen; rather what I mean is that we must put structure and shape to our days, we must learn the art of living a little more deeply than our fellow citizen who doesn't fear internment without trial, or torture.
We are lucky in that human culture provides us several easy inroads into the art of living not just deeper, but better more focused lives which make us not only more productive, but also immunise us from many of the techniques the state would use for coercion.
Chief amongst these is, surprisingly, prayer. It is not a chore, it is a respite from daily activity, it returns balance, and brings peace, resolves focus, and well so many other things that I can't begin to mention.
What I should mention however, is that some don't know how to pray properly. Either they weren't taught properly to begin with, or have been so long away from prayer that they are rusty at it and feel shame. Most live in minor terror of being asked to lead prayer at some gathering, with the social shame of failing in some way. That comes not from neglect of the scriptures, but actually more a neglect of self.
Our natural and developed memory is infused with strength from childhood prayers. The most powerful mental imagery, the most affecting, is almost always religious in nature, or spiritual if you prefer.
Ironically, the modern world provides us with walls, with carpets, with compass, and oddly enough with time... all we need to pray daily... yet, it also furnishes us with interruptions, distractions, competition, social stigma and commercial pressure. So our sacrifice is usually for the transient appearance of integration, with our resentment and will to change diverted inward to pain ourselves, bruising our conscience until numb.
How do you learn to pray? If you can, go and ask your mum. Often your first new prayer will be the best in your life, and a weight off your shoulders. If there is no family elder handy, go find someone who does know how to pray and ask them, with complete sincerity, to teach you. Remember there is a choice here, perpetual growing fear, or accepting temporary embarrassment and then peace of mind and strength. Cowards don't deserve Paradise.
Failing that, go find some books and learn the parts off yourself until you know. Take comfort and joy in the simplicity and elegance of real faith.
This of course needs to put into place during the day. So here are a few things which helped me get through the day.
- Bring a rosary, skullcap, prayer mat, or whatever you need and just chuck it into your desk. Don't make a fuss, and when the time comes, just pick it up, find a quiet room, pray, and then come back as if nothing happened. In almost all cases, that's all that needs doing, and you're praying at work.
- Remember prayers are periods, and not set times. You can wait for a little while and then do it. Don't stress, or raise a big deal. If the weather is fine you can even go outside to the grass, in a quiet corridor/stairwell, or borrow a friend's office while they are at a meeting. Compromise and the path of minimum resistance is the key here.
- Avoid conflict conversations. When they ask if you're religious, just shrug and say everyone prays sooner or later, it's not a big deal, it's just part of who you are. Then mention that you're a busy person, and have work to do.
- Remember it's not worth arguing over, you simply do it, and then it becomes part of the routine. If someone wants to talk about it, then answer questions clearly and gently, and if he or she expresses discomfort, then say it's not worth the arguing over. The law is clear about your right to pray, whatever your tradition, as long as it doesn't disrupt work.
- The time away from work is very short. Even for Muslims, all prayers combined are less than 15 mins. Putting this into perspective, that's like one or two smoke breaks. This is worth the palpable difference it makes.
- Take the drama out of prayer. Most prayers are for the well being of loved ones, for strength and guidance in your work and life path. For friends, and for the world. These are good gentle things. Intense people worship their insecurities. Be Chill.
MemoryIt's worth taking time at the end of the day to look back on the day's events. This is very interesting to do when you've been praying because the inter-prayer periods end up making much more sense. Try it and see. Also your memory of the day's events will improve. As will the spiritual connection with your inner self. The process of prayer is akin to meditation, and allow for a reset, and refresh in the brain, which clarifies and regenerates cognitive function.
We can build on this in a few key ways, here are a few exercises:
2. Try to remember the faces, clothes, habits, of the people you meet each day. Start with familiar faces, their shapes, the hair, the general impression, imagine if you had to describe them to the police, how would you spot them in a crowd? What clothes do they wear? Bright, clean, shabby, old, drab, smart, tight, loose, accessories, layered, warm, etc etc. What are their voices like, if you had a child and were trying to 'do' their voices, how would you do them to make the child laugh? So they could recognise them? Patterns make thinking easier and clearer, they allow you to categorise and then intuit better as a friend, not just a colleague.
3. Pay attention to your surroundings. Memorise the layout of rooms you visit commonly. Close your eyes and picture your classroom, your office, what is stable, where is everything? How many computers, how many bins, how many people, windows, books, doors etc. Is it hot, cold, comfortable, quiet or loud and busy? Is it stressed or calm, is there laughter or tension.. Could you draw out where you visited each day to show your friends and family? How will you describe where you worked today to your future children?
4. Learn to memorise numbers, letters, IDs, registrations etc perfectly. This can be done using the Major System, the Dominic System or by simple repetition and practice. These are reference points, on letters, on cards, on important documents and other items which allow you access to those areas of your life which are crucial. When you experience them between prayers, spend a little time looking at their shape, their uniqueness, and committing them to memory. Even if your recall isn't perfect, the effort will improve your recognition enormously, and make remembering your whole day, and important facts much much easier.
The purpose behind the memory discipline is that it will allow you explain to yourself where you have been, explain to your family and friends with more clarity what you have done and what happened to you, and also eventually your colleagues and those you meet. It will put meaning back into the story of your life.
This is quite important.
Noticing these things and improving your immersion dissolves the alienation pushed onto you by society, and reverses the isolation. Over a decade of war and austerity has had a negative effect on communication between people across the world. If you can crack a joke about football, and swap tales about the Angel of the North, while talking about how crumbly your scone was on Botanic Avenue in Belfast, suddenly it is much easier for you and your fellow man to relate with each other.
After all, we all put up with the same crap, and it's nice to know we all make it through some how.
Memory is somewhat neglected due to people's view of it as a video recorder, it is not. Quite simply it is the meaning of your life to you. You should be able to remember what happened to you today since you got up, if you can't, that experience, those moments of your life... are lost - perhaps forever.
Part of you has died, and you may never even notice until it's too late. Prayer helps to keep you in focus with the story of your day, infuse it with meaning, and a connection with what matters most to you. The practice of your memory improves your situated consciousness and makes you much more alert and ready for action, and actually much likely to be better at your job.
As a law abiding citizen it is your duty to remember as much as you can about your own life so if you ever come into any problems you can have a certain confidence about what did or did not happen, what is and what is not real, and so what can, and what cannot be proven against you. When the state abandons you, or victimises you or your loved ones, being articulate and in mastery of the facts may be the only defence you have left.
Your discipline ensures your freedom.