Q: I come from a very devout Hindu family from India. Our way of dealing with problems has always been through prayer, ritual, and chanting. Don’t you think this is the best way to solve problems?
A: Well, it sounds like the way you were raised feels true and valuable for you. There are many benefits in prayer, ritual, and chanting. Prayer can reconnect us to inner guidance, faith, and a trust that there is a larger force caring for our lives. Chanting uplifts our hearts with words that remind us of our deepest nature. Ritual helps us move beyond our mental activity into an openness of heart and body. Ritual done in groups facilitates a reconnection with community and takes away the isolation common in this culture. If these work for you, by all means, continue them.
There are times when other practices are also useful. In conflicts with spouses, children, and others; understanding why we feel and behave in particular ways; and learning to share and communicate in effective ways, we need more psychologically-oriented tools. These include identifying what is bothering us and how we are feeling about it. Then we need the skills to share our thoughts and feelings in non-blaming and non-judgmental ways. Chanting and prayer calm us down and open our hearts. Then we can apply these tools to know ourselves more fully and communicate our truth and experiences with others so we can be heard and understood. Spiritual and psychological approaches complement and support each other.
Q: I recently went to seminar where they taught us about affirmations—positive statements we write out and repeat daily to ourselves about what we want in our lives. Do you think this works?
A: There are several aspects of this technique that are actually useful and seem to work. First, when you have to write out a statement about your intention or desire, it encourages you to really think it through. This helps you get clearer about what you want in your life. Second, by repeating it daily you are reminding yourself of your priority. Third, your subconscious mind begins to accept the truth of your statements and acts to help you achieve it. Research shows that when people write their goals down and remind themselves of them regularly, they are more likely to manifest them.
When you decide on an intention, it’s important to think it through carefully and see how you continue to feel about it and how your life changes or doesn’t as a result. It is easy for the ego-self to want things and try to create them in the world. Always look for deeper guidance on what is best for you. This will help you not be short-sighted about your goals and facilitate greater detachment.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in Palo Alto and San Francisco. (650) 325-8393. www.wholenesstherapy.com