If I were to poll spiritual directors and ask what is the most common concern people bring to direction, I’m guessing most would say “I want to pray more, but I just don’t.” Wanting to do something but not getting around to it is known as an action block. And with our sped-up, highly technological, “do-it-now” culture I’m not surprised that slowing down for prayer is a challenge.
In fact, to be honest, it’s one of my biggest challenges. It’s way too easy to hop up in the morning and get to work assuming I will take a chunk of time for prayer, meditation or reflection and then never do. Yes, spiritual directors, pastors, ministers and other soul workers have this action block–and we are paid to pray!
How do we move through this block?
The spiritual practice of focusing has much to offer in this situation. I’ll share a process for befriending your block, courtesy of Dr. Ann Weiser Cornell’s book The Power of Focusing: A Practical Guide to Emotional Self Healing.
I’ve adapted the focusing technique she writes about to address this particular spiritual block.
Focusing to overcome blocks to prayer
Begin with an awareness that God is with you, living in and through your body. Treat this exercise as a prayer and it becomes one. It’s a prayer of listening to your deep, inner wisdom which is a marvelous gift from God.
Accept and be compassionate toward the part of you responsible for the block. We frequently judge ourselves harshly for being blocked. This step lets go of that judgment. Sit quietly and focus on your breathing for a few moments.
Notice the block. This exercise calls for noticing where in your body, you feel the block resides. This takes practice and an openness to your body’s wisdom. You may think it’s odd at first, but stay with it. According to Cornell, our bodies hold most of our distress anywhere from the throat to the abdomen—the trunk of the body. Once you find a sensation (a pain, twinge, pressure, temperature change or could manifest as an image) talk to it like you would talk to a shy or frightened puppy. Give it time to adjust to your attention and acceptance. Remember, you’ve probably been saying “bad puppy” to this part of yourself for awhile.
Describe the felt sense and let yourself be interested and curious. The sense of the block may come to your awareness as an image or an emotion. Find a good way to describe it and then chat with it. (Again, this may feel strange initially if you are not familiar with talking to feelings or images that arise in you.) Tell the block that you want to sense it from its point of view. Then wait and see what happens.
Ask the block what it needs. If you have come up with a description of the block, for example, “frustrated pinch” then ask “What gets it so frustrated?” The “what gets it so _______?” question can be a real eye opener. Cornell says you know you’ve done focusing right when the answer to that question surprises you a bit. Ask it what it needs. Regarding a block around prayer, ask the felt sense what type of communication with God it desires. Or if you discover the block is around your image of God, ask for a new, healthier image of God to emerge.
Ask your body to show you what it feels like to be rid of the block. What it would feel like to have a regular prayer practice? A healthy image of God? Stay with that feeling of being unblocked. Enjoy it.
Thank your body and the parts that have shared with you. Close your time with gratitude. Thank God for speaking in and through your body. Return to this practice as often as you like to continue to accept and learn from this block. Keep a journal of what you learn from your body in focusing.
I think of focusing as an important prayer practice in itself. The very practice you use to eliminate the action block around prayer can become your prayer.
Are you interested in being in spiritual direction? I have openings in my schedule for new directees—regardless of where you live. I can work by phone or Skype or if you live in the Phoenix metro area we can meet in person. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.teresablythe.net.