Plugging Into the Power Source
Christopher Knippers, Ph.D.
We psychologists are ever searching for keys to good mental and holistic health. We always end up reworking some very ancient ideas, thousands of years old. Some clever author writes a book making it sound like a brand new breakthrough, it becomes a best-seller; and the process continues to this day.
Some of the ideas we recycle are: In order to be healthy you must freely feel and express your emotions to a nonjudgmental person (since “nonjudgemental person” is sadly rare one generally has to pay for this); relax; be “yourself”; fulfill your potential; think positively about yourself.
When I began my psychology training in the 1970’s, the field of psychology had just recently begun to again acknowledge (after hundreds of years in the dark) the spiritual aspect of humans as being an essential part of overall psychological health. It again became OK to talk about practices such as meditation in order to help a person connect to the spiritual aspect of themselves. We were encouraged to call it “higher consciousness.” Nowadays it has been relabeled “mindfulness” (think, best-seller).
Even though “spirituality” was acceptable to talk about in therapy, it was still not OK to talk about prayer for some reason. Perhaps it still seemed too controversial, unrealistic, or naive to academics. I do remember the words “wishful thinking” being taught in relation to prayer. But, at the same time we were also told in my Ph.D. program that we were to stop automatically labeling a patient as “schizophrenic” just because they reported that they talked to God. There had to be a few other criteria to earn the label of schizophrenic. Though back in the 1960’s people actually were sometimes labeled “schizophrenic” if they believed that they had a close relationship with God.
In the 1980’s a very skeptical physician began research into the phenomenon of prayer as a factor in people’s healing. Much to his surprise, his carefully scientifically controlled studies repeatedly yielded results showing that prayer was a significant factor in the healing of terminal illnesses. Regardless of the religion of the person praying, and regardless of whether or not the patient receiving prayer had any faith or any knowledge of the prayers there was still a significant improvement in patients receiving prayers. This research, though often replicated by other skeptics, never made much of an impression on the national psyche, and was not taught in even parochial universities (unless I was the psych professor at the time), even though the research was scientifically flawless. (I believe it was simply not popular with the religious community, nor with the skeptics.)
I, along with untold millions of people of hundreds of faith philosophies and cultures around the planet have experienced significant benefits from praying on a regular basis. You would think it would get more press; but it still does not. Perhaps most people are too intimidated by the minority of spiritual bullies in the world who openly mock and ridicule people who “believe” in something greater than themselves, and who talk to that power. Meditation, “OK”; but prayer, “naive and silly.” So, in this day of god-forbid offending someone who does not believe like you do, we academics and mental health professionals have come to believe best to just keep it to yourself and still enjoy the benefits of prayer.
I have to admit that there are zealots in every religious system who have given religion a very bad reputation with their judgement and hypocrisy. Many live opposite to the teachings of most religious figures including Jesus the Christ, whom they claim to love and worship. So, I’ll give a break to anyone who has been a victim of bad religion (a hypocritical religion that teaches a punitive as opposed to unconditionally loving god figure); and certainly abuse survivors of their church cannot be faulted for shying away from trust in a Higher Power.
Also, I do understand those who point to how prayer has been trivialized over recent years by people such as some political or religious leaders who are caught like deer in the headlights over the horrific increase in violence. Since they have no real solutions to offer, they mindlessly say, “I offer my thoughts and prayers to the victims.” Prayer has come to be seen by some as something passive, and as a means of brushing off people who are asking for tangible help.
There are also those who preach a sort of God-as-vending-machine type of religion. Understandably, a turn-off.
But, let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. At least on a deeply personal level, prayer is indeed extremely healing and helpful on numerous levels of human experience. In fact, prayer is an aspect of a personal relationship with one’s Higher Power (God, Spirit, energy force, or whatever makes sense to you). A “safe” personal relationship is what everyone is seeking: A relationship with someone who listens, genuinely cares about you, and is non-judgmental. For those of us who have been fortunate enough to experience true miracles through prayer, we have not only received a non-judgmental listener, but one with actual tangible power that often intervenes in the circumstances of our ives; and one who occasionally talks back to us (in a form of thought, not an audible voice) with life-changing wisdom. If this seems naive or quaint wishful thinking to some people, so-be-it. The reality is, prayer truly works miracles for billions of people. These billions of people are certainly more joyful than the general population (as validated and replicated in scientific research). Nothing wrong with joy.
I just heard a report that over 7 million people currently use an app that can listen carefully to what you are saying and can respond with appropriate feedback to let you know that it understood what you were saying. It offers no advice and of course cannot intervene in your life’s circumstances. It merely offers sympathetic-sounding feedback. None-the-less, this app is growing wildly in popularity. The reason you haven’t heard of it is that people are ashamed to admit that they talk openly to an artificial intelligence, and that it makes them feel better. People who use this app report feeling validated and calmer for being able to freely express themselves to a “non-judgmental friend” (a term that has become almost an oxymoron).
Volumes could be, and have been written about many aspects of “prayer”; however, right now, the only aspect of prayer I want to emphasize is the aspect that heals through developing a close personal relationship with a non-judgmental listener who also has untold power.
I highly recommend getting in touch with what you believe about a Higher Power in your life, then sitting quietly each day and begin expressing your thoughts to this Power. It will transform you, and your world.
Christopher Knippers, Ph.D., 01/09/2020