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Sometimes our prayer is answered but not in the way we wanted. When prayer does not change the external conditions of our lives, it often changes us instead. When we are changed, we will see external conditions differently. We may understand them better, become reconciled to them, and experience gratitude where only bitterness had existed before. Or we find a different solution to our problem, and new roads open up that take us to a destination we had always dreamed of reaching. The answer to our prayer may not be the answer we wanted, but it may be the answer we needed, which we can often confirm after a sufficient passage of time.
Sometimes our prayer is answered, but the solution isn’t obvious. While the solution to a problem may come suddenly in a single event or insight, it may also come slowly or indirectly through unanticipated channels. Other people or a gradual realization may unexpectedly lead us to new choices and new experiences that provide the help we were seeking. We will not see the subtle or complex answer to our prayer, however, unless we are open to it. Being open and receptive are therefore essential aspects of prayer. The answer to a prayer for a better job, for example, might come as a recommendation or opportunity for additional education, something we had not previously considered or even wanted to undertake.
USING SPIRITUAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL TOOLS 49
The Evidence on Prayer
The anecdotal evidence on the effectiveness of prayer is clear. It works. In other words, there are countless stories of the power of prayer to change individuals and their lives. But is there any scientific evidence? Is there any way to prove that prayer works? Perhaps surprisingly, this subject is an area of growing interest to academic researchers, especially within the last decade. Ten years ago there were 3 U.S. medical schools out of 125 that had courses examining the role that prayer, religious devotion, and spirituality played in health. Today there are 60, with about 100 more indicating that they will offer them in the future. In 2000 the National Institutes of Health launched a five-year study to determine if meditative prayer said twice a day could improve the health of breast cancer patients—a study that would have been inconceivable ten years ago. Research on prayer and religion in health is a young field, but it is growing rapidly.
To date, the results of scientific studies indicate that people who pray regularly and attend religious services are healthier, live longer, and have significantly lower blood pressure than those who do not. Other studies have shown that prayer and faith speed recovery from depression, alcoholism, hip surgery, drug addiction, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, heart attacks, and bypass surgery. Approximately 99 percent of family physicians believe that personal prayer, meditation, or other spiritual and religious practices can boost medical treatment. While many more studies will be needed to provide evidence of the specific effects of prayer, the early studies are fascinating and suggestive. Approximately 90 percent of Americans report that they pray.
Sharing with Others
The practice of sharing our emotional lives with someone else brings many benefits. Some of the benefits of purposeful sharing related to our regrets are these:
• Sharing allows us to test our own understanding of our regrets against the reality of another person’s perspective and experience.
• Sharing limits the impact of our regret-related fears, because it forces us to identify and examine them. Such analysis puts boundaries around them, which makes them less frightening, more manageable, and easier to release.
• Sharing allows us to access additional counsel as we work the steps and choose among alternative actions.
• Sharing brings someone else in our lives to provide the emotional and psychological support we need to help us address our regrets and then to let them go.
• Sharing reduces our isolation. It opens us to feelings of being valued and loved, which are healing gifts.
In Step Two, you will choose a confidant with whom to share your journey of letting go. While there may be many people with whom you can share parts of your story and find the insight, wisdom, and emotional support you need, your confidant will be a special person who understands and supports what you are trying to do. He or she will know more about your regrets than anyone else and will be an active participant in helping you work the steps.
Affirmations are an effective tool for bringing about a change in your perspective and, therefore, in your circumstances. An affirmation is a written or spoken statement made in language that is clear, positive, andconcise that a desired future state is already in existence. Perhaps the granddaddy of all affirmations was created by Emile Coue, a French psychotherapist. His affirmation was so popular that it became a national phenomenon that swept America in the 1920s. Still effective for general purposes today, Coue’s affirmation is: “Every day in every way, I am getting better and better.” The mechanism of affirmations is not entirely understood. Apparently, often-repeated affirmations are received by our unconscious mind as fact rather than fantasy, which leads it to conclude that what we want to happen has already happened. It may be that such a belief facilitates our bring-