Prayer, for the Nonreligious
If there is one thing I learned working in the hospital, it is that everyone prays.
Of course have seen Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus pray. But I've also seen Buddhists, Taoists, agnostics, atheists, and the ever growing "I'm just not religious" crowd pray. When the going gets tough enough, everyone prays.
And that fact shouldn't surprise us. We, as human beings, thrive on prayer; not for some religious supernatural mumbo-jumbo reason, but because our brains. Why? It depends on who you ask. Religious folk will say God made us that way. Psychologists, evolutionary biologists, philosophers, and neurologists will all give you differing perspectives. But the why, at least for this post, is irrelevant. It's just a fact.
So here's my three main reasons you should learn how to pray, whether you're religious or not.
1) Prayer helps us reorient to our place in the universe.
Let's face facts, the universe is big. There are billions of people on our planet which is just one of eight (sorry Pluto) that rotate around our personal Star we call the Sun. There are billions of stars in our galaxy larger than the sun and there are billions of galaxies just like our galaxy. Billions x billions x billions. It'll make your head hurt. And as big as you can go, you can go just as small. There are more bacteria in an inch of your small intestine than stars in the sky. Prayer helps us zoom in and focus in on the big (and the small) and reminds us that our self-centered way of thinking is unhelpful and factually inaccurate. Our problems, as big as they are, are infinitesimal in the grand scheme of our spectacular natural existence.
2) Prayer offers us a venue to give control up.
You know that feeling of handing in an assignment, finishing your final exam, or closing huge sale? There is a satisfaction that comes with being able to put down something that has weighed on our mind and taken up our time. The problem is, so often there is no "end" to things. Losing a loved one to a terminal illness, chronic health issues, trauma, the emotional pain of the end of a long relationship, all of these are examples of things we can "give up" to a higher authority. For Christians, that power is often God, but the act in prayer of giving over control isn't confined to Christian spheres. Just ask AA; they've built the most successful addiction treatment in history over that simple concept.
3) Prayer literally makes your brain work better.
Want the science? If you're like me, you're asking "But how do I know this will help ME?" Well, you're in luck. Neuroscientists and Psychologists have teamed up to figure out the effects of prayer and the results are astounding. Regular meditative prayer increases the density of gray matter in our neural cortex. What does gray matter do? It literally helps us regulate our emotions, stress, anxiety, and assists in logical decision making. In short, it makes us more peaceful people; and in this world of stress and anxiety, couldn't you do with a little more peace in your life?
The jury is back, the verdict is in: Prayer will help you live a better, healthier, more regulated life regardless of whether you consider yourself religious or not. And don't worry if you feel like a phony; we all do sometimes. And if it's feels dumb, at least you're not being dumb alone because when it gets really rough, everybody prays.