Festivals and Devotions

Praying on Autopilot

Ideally we do all things mindfully and with full awareness.

Less ideally but perhaps more frequently, we sometimes do things without that full awareness, particularly things that we do often.

Like when you’re driving along a route you often drive and suddenly realize that while you did indeed end up where you intended to go, you don’t in fact remember this specific trip. You were, for lack of a better term, on autopilot. Maybe you were daydreaming, maybe you don’t even remember what you were thinking about, but in any case you weren’t quite all there on your journey.

Or like when you’re reading a book, and suddenly notice that you’ve just read a page and a half with no idea whatsoever of what you read and you have to read it again.

Maybe you’re tired. Or distracted. Or preoccupied. Or nervous. Or worried. Maybe it’s one of those times when your brain insists of going in one particular direction regardless of what you ought to be (or want to be) thinking or doing instead. Maybe it only happens on rare occasions. Maybe it is an ongoing effort to hold your focus steady.

And yes, prayer and devotion is something that, ideally, is done mindfully and with full awareness. It’s something you want to be fully present for. Ideally.

It’s something I struggle with on a regular basis. Keeping focused on prayer can be hard, is hard. My mind wanders, it goes everywhere except where I want it to be. Irrelevant thoughts intrude, they sometimes overwhelm the thoughts I mean to be having.

And I’ll find myself well into my devotional routine, just as when I am driving a familiar route, knowing where I am but also knowing that I haven’t really been paying attention to what I was saying. And there I am, two and a half prayers later and not remembering having prayed those prayers, although surely I did, surely the words were there, the names of the gods were there, they passed through my mind but I wasn’t watching when they did.

And while I try to do better, I eventually had to become okay with this.

Partly this is a matter of simply not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. If the only acceptable devotions were those that were perfect–that were done with perfect and complete concentration, with no brain-flutters off in random directions whatsoever? I would have given up on the whole deal years ago.

Partly, though, it is a matter of recognizing the inherent worth of the imperfect, on its own, as it is. The prayers are said. The gods hear them. The names of the gods echo in my mind, regardless of how much conscious awareness I have of it. The words of devotion are spoken and meant, regardless of how much conscious intent is in the act.

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