Mistakes made while prayingTo eliminate strain while meditating or praying, try to focus all your attention on the heart, not on the mind. First try to see the heart-source. From there you will feel a flow which will be going either upward or downward. Try to direct the flow so it moves upward from the heart. This flow, which is divine Grace, is like water. Each time you pray or meditate, feel that you are digging inside. Naturally, the all-nourishing water comes up, for this water is being supplied constantly from its infinite Source: God.
Straining and praying intensely are two different things. You can pray intensely, without straining your nerves. Tremendous intensity can be inside prayer, but intensity is not the same as strain. When you strain you make yourself absolutely stiff. The strain need not be in the arms or legs; it can be in the area of the nose or in the forehead, as if you had knit your eyebrows consciously and deliberately.
If one prays with his eyes closed and sometimes drifts into sleep for a few seconds, no harm. One has been praying and meditating for half an hour. Then if he sleeps for one second, he should feel that he is not actually sleeping, but taking a peaceful rest. But if one's prayer is only a short prayer and a long nap, then that kind of prayer is useless. If one has the tendency to fall asleep quite often, then his prayer will be no prayer. In this case, he should pray with his eyes open.
We know that cleanliness is next to Godliness. When we take a bath every day, we get a sense of cleanliness and when we go deep within cleanliness, we get a sense of purity. What is real purity? Real purity is an inner shrine, a constant remembrance of God within us. We start by cleaning the hands, face and body because outer cleanliness helps us considerably. It convinces our mind that we are entering into a life of purity and it gives us a subtle vibration which we would not otherwise have.
Outer discipline, as well as inner discipline, is required for real prayer. If a person wants to pray for five minutes, he will have to do many things properly. He will have to sit quietly, he will have to keep his backbone erect, he will have to control his thoughts and so forth. A time will eventually come when he will be able to pray even while lying down, but if a beginner wants to pray while lying down, he will only enter into the world of sleep. When he is advanced he can do anything he wants.
If our prayer and meditation are informal, this does not mean they are bad. But at the beginning of our spiritual life we will never get intensity from anything that is informal. When we talk informally or mix with anybody informally, we may get real pleasure, but there is no intensity. Only if one has intensity will he get real joy. Informal things, especially if they are inner, will automatically be relaxed because they will find no focus, no energy, nothing to help them stay for a longer time. There is no abiding life in them. The forms of ritual will give them a firm foundation to rest on.
These so-called rituals are of supreme necessity in the beginning, because the physical mind has to be convinced. A day will come when the physical will be fully convinced. Then the seeker will deal directly with the soul and will become part and parcel of the consciousness of the soul. His inner intensity will be spontaneous and constant. At that time, he will not need any rituals.
If there is intensity, one will see the source and the goal. Intensity is like a bullet that comes from this specific place and goes to that specific place with a positive force and direction. When there is no intensity, one's prayer cannot reach its goal. The best thing to do when praying is to be very formal and systematic, to have a purpose and a pattern. But one also has to remember that when prayer is too formal it is in danger of becoming mechanical.