What do YOU pray for? A friend recently bemoaned a circumstance where she felt stuck and trapped. I said, "Well, why didn't you ask (for help)?" Her reply was, "Well, I'm not supposed to ask (spiritually speaking, that is)." I said, "Listen, you've proved yourself by a lifetime of dedicated service and self-sacrifice. The help you need is not for you only personally, but for the work you are doing as part of Ananda and part of a team. So, of course, you should ask."
So, what to do? When should we pray for help for ourselves and when, not? This is clearly very personal. There is no one or right answer. Yogananda counseled that the highest prayer is to pray for God to come to us and for us to share God's presence with others (I'm paraphrasing a bit.) This includes the prayer of Jesus, "Thy will be done." (Sometimes stated as "Thy will, not my will.")
We should begin each day and each project with a prayer that we be divinely guided in all that we do and say. Swami Kriyananda's formula could be stated another way: pray for those things, material or spiritual, that will help us serve and grow spiritually. Take, for example, a case of ill health......if by becoming healthy again, you can better meditate and serve a divine work, then pray for that (while prefacing your prayer with "Thy will be done.").
This formula works also in respect to purifying and transcending material desires. To use another example: if you have a habit of buying things that you don't really need and if you find it difficult to curtail this habit, then try shopping for others who are in need, or for a spiritual work that you otherwise support. Giving money to an inspired spiritual work is an excellent and karma-transforming way of dissolving karmic blocks around money. And you know something? The best time to be generous is when you have the least to give! Same with illness: that's the best time to think of others (using common sense, of course). When the body and ego is most inclined to withdraw into fear or suffering THAT'S the best time to affirm a larger reality. By that affirmation (which is, itself, a kind of prayer), your expanding sympathies and awareness can magnetically draw to you what you need. Remember Jesus' words: "Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven, ....., and all these things shall be added unto you."
Let's say you are out of job. That's the best time to volunteer, to help your family, neighbors, friends, church, school or community. If you are inclined to pray for a job, why not see the fact of having a job in terms of allowing you funds for an annual retreat, or to support a spiritual work, to go on a pilgrimage. Try to expand the horizon of your self-interest to include Self-interest, in other words. Visualize your employment as a means of serving God in others and as an act of devotion. (I believe that the tragedy of homelessness and street beggars is not so much their lack of food and shelter (not difficult to obtain in America, anyway), but the inability (or lack of interest and awareness) in being creatively engaged in serving others.)
How about, then, praying for others? You've perhaps heard it said that "A cure is not a healing." (Or, is it the other way around?) You might pray that your friend be cured of cancer but if the cancer has its roots in some negative behavior pattern, there may be no healing and the cancer may reoccur if the lesson hasn't be learned on a deeper level. (Or, whether the disease reappears or not, the negative pattern may continue.) Put in an opposite form, one sometimes hear of cancer or AIDS "victims" coming to an understanding that, despite their illness being labelled terminal, they feel healed by the opportunity to pay attention to more important things (usually relationships, personal or divine) in their lives. There's nothing like a life-threatening circumstance to put into proper perspective the details of our lives and our self-involved habits of thinking and acting!
When we pray, then, for others we should send the prayer-energy with the thought that the energy itself contains the intelligence to bring about the best results. Don't, in other words, try to "wish for" or visualize specific physical results but send, instead, the intention/energy of your prayer to the higher knowing faculty of that person (their soul, in other words) so that the best and spiritually optimum outcome be the result. Do you see the difference?
As suggested in my recent article on karma (good or bad?), the burden of disease or suffering isn't necessarily "bad" or "good." Our response to it determines whether we respond with faith, hope, and even-mindedness or something less.
It is not my purpose in this article to teach a specific healing prayer technique, but I will share a simplified version of a powerful technique taught by Paramhansa Yogananda. Sit up and calm yourself of any anxious or fearful emotions. Meditate at least a few minutes. Concentrate behind closed eyes by focusing on the "point-between-the-eyebrows" in the forehead: this is the psychic "broadcasting" station of will power and the mind. Visualize the person*** in need (by form, by name, by feeling) at that point. Surround him (her) with radiant light (blue, white, or gold). Rub your palms together briskly creating a sensation of warmth in your hands. Raise your hands facing outward and chanting AUM (aloud, preferably) three times, send the healing vibrations to your friend or loved one. Try to feel that the healing energy is not yours, but enters your body at the base of the brain (medulla oblongata) as a result of your action and intention. Imagine that this healing life force energy (prana) enters there and descends the spine through the arms to the hands and thence outward into the subtle realm of light and thought (astral and causal spheres) directly to your friend's subtle body of light and intelligence.
*** If praying for yourself, visualize the injured or diseased parts as whole and well, or the trait or delusion you wish to transcend in its positive manifestation.....
Returning to prayers for oneself, the highest prayer could also be in the simple form of "Reveal Thyself, reveal Thyself." "Come to me." "I seek Thee that I might share Thee with all."
Do you know the story of the man who presumed upon divine protection when he ignored the shouts of the mahoot (elephant driver) to get out of his way because the elephant was rampaging? He found himself trampled nearly to death! Bruised and bleeding, he prayed and asked God, "What happened? Why didn't you protect me?" The Lord answered saying, "I tried to warn you through the shouts of the mahoot! Why didn't you listen?"
Like my friend, therefore, see God in your life's circumstances, friends, enemies, and loved ones. God can speak and guide you in many ways but until we learn to "listen" to His voice through others, we shouldn't presume that He will speak to us directly. It is OK to ask for help, but do so with a childlike expectation that He listens and will come to your aid. Also, however, ask with the willingness to accept what God sends to you, understanding that perhaps that help will come to you in some unexpected form. Do what you can to improve your health, life, and circumstances in ways that are reasonable and appropriate, but accept, in any case, your troubles, trials and difficulties with equanimity and faith in the ultimate goodness of God coming to you through life's adventures.