Prayer Helps Throughout the day I offer many prayers as the occasion arises: “May you be happy, healthy, and free from suffering.” “Just as I wish to be happy, may all beings be happy.” “May you enjoy vitality and ease of well-being.” I am not asking for everything to be better, or for all your dreams to come true, but given that things are as they are and go as they go, I wish for your well-being and happiness in the face of all the changing circumstances. Things quite likely will not go ideally or according to plan, so I wish for the growth of buoyancy, flexibility, and resiliency. I wish for the nurturing of generosity and tolerance. Not by design, but something shifting inside. In the context of Buddhism I do not see prayer as necessarily directed toward a supreme being or higher power. Rather, I see it as a clarification and expression of true heart’s desire, or what my teacher Suzuki Roshi called innermost request. What is it we really want? To know and act on true heart’s desire or innermost request usually involves unearthing, sifting, and sorting. Speaking it can help to reveal and clarify it. Each day I offer a prayer before meals. I like using an ecumenical expression: “We venerate all the great teachers and give thanks for this food, the work of many people and the offering of other forms of life.” There are many possibilities: “May this food bring us health, happiness, and well-being.” “Just as we have enough to eat today, may all beings have enough to eat.” “May this food nourish us (me) body, mind, and spirit.” It could be as simple as “Blessings on this food.”
To have food on the table is truly a blessing, and one’s life can change profoundly by acknowledging one’s gratitude and appreciation. If you use your verse whenever you eat, even when snacking—it can be silent or spoken—it will help bring you into the present and will have a tremendous effect on how you receive your food and assimilate it. Acknowledging the blessedness of food is also acknowledging your own blessedness, your own capacity to nourish other beings as well as your self. Nourishment comes from receiving food (or any experience), fully taking it in, assimilating what is useful, and letting go of what isn’t. In Buddhism what comes into our lives is called dharma, or teaching.
In Christianity all that we receive can be viewed as a gift from God. Gratitude is called for: “We give thanks for this food, this ‘teaching,’ this ‘gift.’” Lately I have been reading Larry Dossey’s Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine. Dr. Dossey is a physician who began incorporating prayer into his practice of medicine after reviewing scientific studies that demonstrated its effectiveness. He found the evidence for the efficacy of prayer to be simply overwhelming, even though this is one of the best-kept secrets in medical science. What he points out is that prayer works regardless of religious background or belief. Also, it turns out that the most powerful prayer is not one that aims for any particular result, but one that is more all-encompassing: “Thy will be done,” or “May the best results occur.” Along with a blessing or grace before meals or snacks, other eating rituals can be beneficial.
Ritual in this sense could include sitting down a table to eat, rather than eating standing up, walking, or riding in an automobile. Another is to turn off the TV and radio and to eat in the company of family or friends, or to focus solely on eating rather than eating and reading, or eating and talking on the phone. Each of us can determine which rituals are most helpful. In this sense ritual can be seen as ways to do things that help to heighten or deepen awareness. Noticing tastes, physical sensations, feelings, thoughts, and moods will inform or enlighten the food choices we make, and our capacity to be nourished by the food we are eating. Giving our attention to the experience of eating is powerful, whether we are eating wholesome foods or unwholesome foods, or are overeating. Ritual, prayer, your innermost request—please find your own way to bring yourself to your meal, to sitting down at the table and taking the time to eat and nourish yourself.