While at the cash register the woman who was checking me out and I started a conversation about how to reduce stress. I suggested that meditation can reduce stress in our lives. The woman said that she didn’t have time, because she worked two jobs. I said during your break go outside and consciously watch and monitor your breathing. Consciously watch the breath coming into the chest, and slowly releasing your breath on exhalation. That was in itself meditation, and would help in reducing stress. She then stated that she knew about meditation, and that all she needed to do was to read scripture, and concentrate on the messages from God for her. I had lost the conversation because she didn’t truly understand the concept of meditation. Our conversation also revealed to me that she had intertwined and confused meditation with prayer.

Meditation and Prayer have often been used interchangeable. Are they the same, or is there some difference between the two? Webster’s ® Dictionary defines meditation as focusing one’s thoughts; to reflect on or ponder over; to plan or project the mind with intention or purpose. Prayer is to entreat, implore, often used as a function word in introducing a question, a request, or plea. Already the differences are that mediation is reflective, and prayer requires action. Why do people get confused? It is true both require silence, and both are personal. My belief is that many people do not understand prayer or meditation.

Prayer involves actively seeking help from God, or some sort of spiritual deity, a higher power. The most powerful and most well know prayer is one that is as simple as “God help me.” The words of a prayer can also be in the form of a hymn, an incantation or an utterance from the person seeking answers to his life’s problem. Praying throughout the day and seeking guidance as the day progresses is another form of prayer. Ultimately prayer is a communicative relationship between the created and the creator, and can be incorporated into the daily “thought life.”

People will often confuse the two and decide that meditation and prayer are transposable. Meditation and prayer are very similar in nature, especially individual prayer. For prayer to work usually requires solitude and quiet, but not always. For meditation to work effectively the requirements are usually solitude and quiet. As we can see those are the similarities of the two, and yes both can be achieved within a group. The differences lie in the outcome, and intention of the person performing the prayer or the meditation. Prayer can often turn into mediation, but meditation cannot turn into prayer.

Meditation requires quieting the mind through your breath, or mantra, the mystical formula of invocation or incantation said during meditation to quiet the mind. There are many varieties of mantras and there is not one better than any of the others. These mantras have meaning, and guide the mind and health of each individual. Some mantras are as simple as “om”, others are “I am” and “so hum.” What matters is that the person who is meditating gets to the place where there is nothing, or the place right between the in breath and the exhalation of breath. The goal is to communicate with one’s soul.

In prayer there are many kinds of prayers such as; morning, evening, over prayer for meals and prayer with physical gestures. There are many ways to pray, Christians bow their heads, Native Americans dance. Sufis whirl. Hindus Chant. Orthodox Jews sway their bodies back and forth. The Quakers keep silent. The varieties of prayer are endless, and they encounter every religious group. In understanding prayer there are many approaches. Prayer is communication between an individual or group to a spiritual deity. Prayer is answered but not has no hour hands or calendars, which time happens to be on a spiritual schedule.

The person who prays, has a belief that their may or may not receive an answer. The prayer is intended to inculcate certain attitudes in the one who prays, rather than to influence the recipient. The prayer is intended to affect the very fabric of reality itself. The recipient expects, believes, or appreciates prayer when the prayer is directed towards them. Prayer is important to the spiritual well-being of the person conducting the prayer as well as a group who gather for that intent.

Meditation is easier than people think. Meditation is the practice of focusing your attention within, and quieting the mind. Take a moment; relax your body, and take a few deep breaths, and close your eyes. The simplest form of meditation is following your breath as it comes and goes through your nostrils, following it down into the lungs and then following the out breath from the lungs and back up through your nostrils. You can also use that mantra, a word or phrase that has meaning for you as you release the out breath. A beginner will need to focus on a particular object like a candle flame, or a shape, a picture or something that is pleasant to your eye. The meditation can be as long as five minutes for the novice to hours for the more experienced. If for some reason you get distracted then return your focus and attention back to your breathing.

For centuries, monks, nuns, mystics and wandering ascetics preserved the art of meditation, and used it in secret, to enter higher states of consciousness and ultimately to achieve the pinnacle of their particular path. The lay person had access to a few of meditations techniques, but the practice remained a sacred pursuit limited to an elite few who were willing to renounce the world and devoted their lives to the practice of meditation. Time has given over to the mainstream with its practical benefits being applauded in every medium, both actual and virtual. The reason meditation works so effectively is that it connects you to the spiritual dimension. The art of state of just being, that place in between breaths; the connection to one’s soul.

Mediation can also be accomplished through the practice of mindfulness. This requires the blending of concentration and receptive awareness. It too is as easy as being mindful of ones breath, and easy for a beginner to learn, and very adaptable to the busy schedules most of us face. Most people who meditate are looking to living a more harmonious, loving, stress-free life; not being divorced from the people and places you love. The beauty, belonging and love you seek are right here and right now, and all you need to do is focus your mind, open your mind, and open your heart. In essence you are paying attention to the experiences of each moment. Practicing mindfulness could be as simple as focusing your attention on the art of drinking water, watching the sunrise or sunset, or eating a cookie.

Ponder for a minute that cookie. Maybe it’s one that came fresh from the oven, smelling of warmth, and the good smells that fresh baked cookies bring to mind. Hold that cookie for a minute. Look at the texture, the ingredients; knowing that when you put it in your mouth it will be an exquisite taste. Take one small bite, and focus your attention on the taste and the bite of that cookie. How does it feel in your mouth? How does it feel on your tongue, and teeth? Now swallow it, and feel it go down towards your stomach. Take another small bite and do the same. What are your emotions, or memories that stir within you? That is the art of mindfulness; which is a beginning meditation practice.

Meditation is not thinking, it’s the opposite of that, it’s non-thinking. Meditation is not daydreaming, they offer their own rewards. Spacing out is not meditation which involves a gap in which nothing seems to be happening. It’s definitely not repeating affirmations, which basically are more like positive thinking. Meditation is also not self-hypnosis which is imaging a safe place where you are in a light trance. Sleeping is giving the body the refreshing it needs, and it is not meditation unless you are really an experienced yogi master. Prayer is not meditation because you are seeking the Divine form or God or some Deity, and usually an answer or communication from God is desired.

Meditation will help reduce stress in our day-to-day living, and can help increase our body’s health and welfare. Contrary to many people’s beliefs meditation can and should be used by all, Christians included. Meditation is not difficult to learn, but it does take time; as little as 5 minutes to 20 minutes twice a day. Just like exercise of 20 minutes a day is good for the body; meditation at least twice a day is good for the soul, and including but not limited to the health of the body, by reducing stress, providing relaxation, and providing a mental physical break. Take and make the time and breathe in and out consciously. You’ll find that you are on your way to a healthier lifestyle.

Author's Bio: 

Carrie Fleharty by day is a mild mannered school librarian, but at night she's a word junkie. She is becoming a Personal Life coach. She is a writer of poetry, articles, essays, and stories. She keeps refining her craft through workshops and classes so that will produce something enjoyable and good. She enjoys and embraces change and sees it as a way to improve herself. She intends to keep improving her life, and keeps challenging herself to become a better person. She thoroughly enjoys expressing herself through the written word. And has written two books "Changes and Shifts: a Personal Journey" and "A Poet's Mind and Soul."

Her hobbies are bicycling, writing along with reading, listening to music, watching movies, hiking, bird watching, and being outdoors. She has two Boston Terriers and two adorable adopted cats.

Her soul ignites through spiritual fire. She understands that the right spark can take a person to new meanings and new beginnings through a deeper sense of self. She is a seeker; she seeks Truth, the Devine, Spirituality, and Love. She believes that a spark will flame up to spread Truth. This Truth will be made known to all who seek.

Carrie is in the process of becoming a Personal Life coach. She is able and willing to lend a helping hand so that you will achieve your goals. These goals could include anything personal, health, financial, career or spiritual goals. After all "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure." A Return to Love: Reflections on a Course in Miracles by Marianne Williamson. Sometimes all it takes is a helping hand.