The Basics Of Deep Prayer


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Contents of the Chapter:

The Role of Virtue

How To Develop Virtue During Deep Prayer




Putting It All Together

Before Starting

During Prayer
The Role of Virtue:

    With consistency and focus we have built the vehicle that we need for deep prayer, and virtue is the fuel that powers it. When Jesus was engaged in His public ministry, He practically made it a habit of testing the person's faith before He helped them. After the person was healed, He would say something like, "Go in peace for your Faith has saved you." In deep prayer, we are dealing with the same God who tests our Faith before we our led to contemplation. From our perspective, we are constantly practicing virtue in deep prayer and practice makes perfect. Consistency introduces us to the possibility; focus takes us to spiritual poverty; and virtue disposes us towards contemplation.

    Virtue is the key that unlocks the treasure of deep prayer. Prayer times will not be consistently rewarding until virtue has been properly developed.

    Virtue is our identity as demonstrated in these examples. "The Chosen People are a people of hope." "We are a faith community." "They will know that we our Christians by our love for each other." Virtue is what sets holy people apart from atheists. It is our defining attribute.

    Faith, hope, and charity are three components of a higher hiearchical intelligence. We can not agape someone unless we also believe and hope in them. If we have hope for someone, we are extending charity to them. We could not hope in someone without also having faith in them, and vice-versa we can not have faith in someone without hoping in them. If we believe or hope in someone, then we also have some love for them. In other words, the practice of any one virtue, implies the presence of the other two because they are all part of the same higher intelligence.

    Since virtue is our highest intelligence (Note - rational thought is normally called our highest intelligence, but more is accomplished through virtue than any other trait that we might have), it is necessarily our least understood ability. For our highest part is not understood by the lower parts, but the lower parts can be understood by the higher parts. In other words, reason can understand sight, but the eyes can not see thought. In deep prayer, we only use senses or reasoning to promote virtue which is our highest ability.

    When we neglect virtue, we don't award it with the attention that it deserves. With the common phrase, "I won't believe it unless I see it," we are trusting only the dumbest part of ourselves, whereas Jesus challenges us to use the highest part or ourselves. In other words, we are more likely to get everything exactly backwards than to rely on our strongest capability, virtue.

    Virtue is not just our stongest ability, it makes us infallible. For Saint Paul in his letter to the Romans says, "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God." We will never know a virtuous person whose efforts come to naught. We will find no faith in the New Testament that does not produce a result. If this sort of failure occurred, it would be intellectually dishonest for the writers to omit it. In fact, they wrote the opposite by saying that He did all things well. It is not possible for virtue to fail.

    All of our other abilities are completely dependent on virtue. With our modern emphasis on education, we might be led to think that knowledge is our highest facility, but we all know very knowledgeable people who are highly ineffective and therefore unintelligent. As Aristotle proved, all effectivity comes from God. We have already shown that God demands virtue before fulfilling a request. While it can seem that we have ability without virtue, that ability comes from our belief or love in ourselves even if the virtue is not consciously expressed. We can therefore conclude that our ability is dependent upon our virtue.

    We can not answer God's call by merely showing up and going through the motions. As Saint Paul so eloquently demonstrated (1 Corinthians 13:1), God demands virtue. Our prayer time, earthly vocation, and eternal life all hinge on whether we develop the practice of virtue. When God calls us, we don't answer with "here" or "present" but with "I believe" or "Amen!"

How To Develop Virtue During Deep Prayer:

    Virtue sets apart Christian meditation from all other forms of meditation. To paraphrase Jesus and Paul from the New Testament, if the meditation doesn't develop virtue, of what use is it? To be sure, neither Jesus nor Paul spoke of meditation, but both emphasized that our relationship with Jesus requires that we believe in Jesus. In other words, to have a relationship with God, we need to believe that Jesus is God. The goal of Christian meditation is to improve our relationship with God, and therefore we need to improve our virtue. If the meditation does not attempt to increase our virtue towards God, it is not a Christian meditation.

    To make our virtue stronger, we must use it. We get stronger, when we use our muscles. To become more intelligent, we need to use our intelligence. As Jesus put it in the parable of the talents, if we don't use our virtue, we will lose what little we have. In deep prayer, we want to use or virtue.

    Our virtue should always be increasing. When we practice something, we expect to get better at it. Our virtue is not tied to our health. Our health will fail, but our virtue should always be getting stronger. For virtue, carries us into the next life.


    We practice our faith during our prayer time by believing we will find the objective that we seek. For example, one of our objectives is to feel the presence of either Jesus or Mary. Without using much Faith, we can look at pictures, imagine the feelings, or carry out any number of other mental exercises, and these things might sort of work for a while. The only long term solution is to believe that Jesus or Mary will show up. If we are having a hard time believing they will, even an attempt to believe will strengthen our belief. After we felt the presence very strongly, we should believe that it will keep getting better. God doesn't have any limits.


    To have hope, we need to long for something and attempt to get it. We can increase our hope by creating a better idea or vision of what we want. In deep prayer, a part of our meditation should be directed toward some goal of what we are trying to achieve during that prayer time. For example, we might form a mental image of the Nativity scene as we are meditating on the Nativity, but we would also hope to feel the presence of baby Jesus. In other words, we hope for the feeling, love, or experience, because we hope for the goal rather than the meditation. When we are attracted to another person, we naturally think about the person. This builds our hope and longing for the person, and a similar process occurs in deep prayer.

    We only have hope if we carry out our plan. In other words, hope is not only a plan, it is a plan that we are actively working toward. In our prayer time, our hope is not only a desire to experience God, it is working towards feeling God. It is not only the goal, it is the walk towards the goal.

    While we might remember the experience from a previous meditation, we can hope for either a new or different experience. We may be able to feel the familiar commemoration and associated experience, yet we can hope to add, change, or refresh the familiar experience. The commemoration of the specific meditation would not change, but our hope can change. If we are hoping for something different, we should have some notion that might be pretty vague about where we want to go. We would want to hope for an experience that is within the context of the divine relationship. As Saint John of the Cross points out, love is the only valid goal. When we hope, we are not required to always hope for the same experience.

    Our hope should always be increasing. As we progress in prayer, we should expect better experiences. With each successive prayer time, our goals should be greater. We should carry out the plan with more focus, and with God as our helper, we will ultimately master the interplay between the commemorative focus and virtuous goals. After all, each experience makes our habits deeper, truer, and more focused. It wouldn't make any sense that we would keep getting better at execution and at the same time have worse actual experiences.

    The concept of increased hope runs contrary to what is often associated with, "The Dark Night of the Soul" which was coined by Saint John of the Cross (John). John's system actually contains 2 dark nights which are differentiated as little and big. The little dark night comes as we gain self control and give up our habitual sins, and John specifically mentions that God gives many consolations during the little dark night. At some point after the little dark night, we will run into the big dark night, if we progress far enough. The big dark night is associated with the breaking of the false self, and all the vain joys of our self made world seem to evaporate. The prayer experience will need to be stronger to compensate for the lack of joy which used to come from our self made world, or we will likely fall into a depression. In neither the little nor big dark night of the soul, does the prayer experience lessen. On the contrary, our prayer experience should always be growing.


    Love has many meanings, but within the context of deep prayer, love is a supernatural power that is given to bring us to a supernatural end which is a divine relationship. Since God is more intelligent than us, we can not know God without some supernatural power that reveals to us the divine relationship. In other words, we only know supernatural love through divine revelation.

    Our response to the divine revelation is always changing and hopefully growing. It usually starts with the an attempt to keep God's commandments. We might not have the best reasons for being obedient. For example, we might be keeping the commandments under duress, because we will be punished if we step out of line. As our love for God grows, our response to the divine revelation becomes stronger and purer. Besides keeping the commandments, we might become more sympathetic or polite, and rather than being forced into something, we become more giving because of the good that is in our heart. We also begin to understand more about God, others, and ourselves. For example, we might know that we are nicer because God is making us more loving. This process strengthens and accelerates in deep prayer.

    If we our persistent in our good intent, it will become a habit which usually forms somewhat gradually. The habit is rooted in our will, but it is a part of the divine revelation. In other words, the habit of good intent does not occur without sanctifying grace infusing us with the ability to become more like ourselves. By this, we mean that the grace allows us to love God more than ourselves which could not logically occur without God's initiative.

    While the divine revelation is obviously outside of our control, we can cooperate with it by being consistent with our commemoration. In other words, the pupose of the commemoration is to strengthen the good habits that came from the divine revelation. The same commemoration is repeated and built to assist the habit. Within our feelings, the habit triggers the commemoration and vice versa. The more we practice the habit the greater the divine revelation. As we can see, we are beginning to form loving and feeling relationship with God which is our only possession that will last forever. By keeping the commemoration consistent, we provide fertile soil for the divine revelation. Nothing grows in soil that is being constantly turned.

    Since the commemoration is repeated so many times over such a long period of time, it becomes a part of us. The commemoration helps us initially to long for God, but as gain experience, we will find that the commemoration helps us to get past ourselves into a purer intent of increasing our love for God. To put this another way, the enthusiasm contained in the greatest commandment may seem rather abstract to us initially because we are torn in so many different directions, but as our whole body recites the commemoration together we open the only appetite which is common to every part of us (i.e., love of God). When the feelings start flowing through this appetite we will feel delight which without the commemoration would cause us to be distracted. As John of the Cross puts it, we are running through the flowers to Jesus, but then we stop to smell the flowers. After we have some experience with the commemoration, we will be able to stick with it through all sorts of feelings which allows us to pursue God even when the divine revelation is propagating through our body as waves of ecstatic delight. The commemoration is so natural to us, that we live it through these peaks which allows us to pursue the divine revelation rather than mere human delight.

    Besides the commemoration, we want to use faith and hope to empower the habits that became possible through the divine revelation. We can have faith and hope and still be in serious sin that might bring about our ruin, but love is incompatible with sin. While, as we have shown, faith, hope, and love are all part of the same thing, love is more of the completion of faith and hope. In other words, faith and hope are meant to uncover the divine revelation.

    If we love God, we go to Heaven. It is that simple. For example, Saint John Vianney was consoling a woman about the loss of her husband who did not go to church. John told her that her husband was saved because he once was attracted to the Blessed Virgin during one of her Marian adorations, but according to John, the husband was "way down" in purgatory and needed a lot of prayers. Yes, Mary is not God, but in her sinless state, she accurately portrays the feminimine side of God. We hope that faith will lead us to salvation, but we know that God will save those He loves.

    Love is more than salvation; love is meant to be the fulfillment of life, or as Jesus put it (John 15:11), "so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full." Within the context of prayer, love means we must identify with or conform to God. In other words, we no longer identify with ourselves; for we now identify with Christ. It is the sanctifying grace of the divine revelation that causes us to give up on our life to live for God. As Saint Paul said (Galatians 2:20), "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." Without the divine revelation, life is usually dreary, boring, and unfulfilling. On the other hand, love creates heaven on earth, or as Catherine of Siena put it, "The road to heaven is heaven."

Putting It All Together:

    By now, we have covered so much material that it would seem impossible to implement it; so let's make it easy by breaking it into a 10 step program.

Before Starting:

    We need to pick a meditation or reading. Any number of good meditations have been created. Two good examples are the Holy Rosary and Lectio Divina. When picking a meditation, we should keep in mind that we are looking for one that will expand with our growth, is conducive to our commemoration, and can change with the church calendar.

    If we have trouble staying awake through the meditation, we should take the measures we need to be alert. This might be coffee, exercise, or some mechanical device.

    We will take this step by step. When we go up a step, we are still practicing everything in the steps below it. After we are familiar with the levels, we will feel comfortable with moving up a level during the prayer time. Since we need to move between steps during the prayer time, we would profit from committing the steps to memory. If that is too hard, we might have them printed out and in front of us. After we have used them for a while, we would remember them without trying.

    Before we start, we should have a clear notion of what we are going to do. We need to know what our meditation is going to be, and we need to know what step we are going to start with. In most cases, we would want to start a couple of steps lower than we finished the last time. Within our mind, we need to know when to move to another level. We could use the following guide.
1. Overwhelmed: Drop down a level.

2. Inspired: Stay at the same level, unless we feel we can move up a level.

3. Bored: Move up a level.

During Prayer:
10 Steps to Heaven :

Beginning Level :

1. Establish Focus : We should establish the focus which has two parts.

a. Audio : We should silently vocalize the meditation.

b. Visual : We should visualize the meditation. In other words, we should shut our eyes and imagine that we see it.

2. Feel Presence : We should establish the focus which has two parts. We should try to feel the presence of the personality that is the focus of meditation.
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3. Check Results : Every few seconds we should ask ourselves if we are still thinking about the commemoration.

4. Practice Virtue : We begin to practice virtue.
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a. Hope : We hope to feel the personality of the meditation. If we already feel the presence of the personality, we hope for it to grow stronger.

b. Faith : We believe we will feel the personality of the meditation. If we already feel the presence of the personality, we believe it will grow stronger.

Intermediate Level :

5. Meditate Within : In this step, we will start moving the meditation around within our body. We will start with three locations.
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a. Abdomen :

b. Heart :

c. Mind :

6. Breathe Prayer : The commemoration and virtue are practiced with each breath. The area that we meditate within (e.g., abdomen, heart, or mind) is moved to the next area with each breath.
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7. Validate Breath : At each breath, we check whether the commemoration and virtue were practiced. If we are more experienced, we should get 3 of the four parts with every breath. In other words, the next breath is not started until we have 3 of the following four parts.

a. Audio : We should silently say the words of the commemoration (e.g., Hail Mary full of grace - 1st Joyful Mystery) from within the part of the body that we are targeting.

b. Visual : With our eyes shut, we should imagine seeing the commemoration (e.g., Mary - 1st Joyful Mystery) inside the targeted body area.

c. Faith : The target area (e.g., heart, mind, or abdomen) should believe that it will feel the personality of the commemoration (e.g., Mary - 1st Joyful Mystery) during the current breath. If we already feel the presence of the personality, our targeted area should believe that it will feel it stronger during the current breath.

d. Hope : Our targeted area should hope to feel the central personality of the commemoration. If we already feel the divine presence, we should hope for a stronger feeling.

8. Reach Goals : The intermediate level should have quality goals that we consciously reach each day. The two counts are centered around the number of valid breaths.
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a. Between Distractions : We should count the number of valid breaths between distractions.
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b. Total Count : We should keep an overall count for the entire session, and we should have some goal that we are shooting for.
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Advanced Level :

9. Pray Unceasingly : As in the seventh step, we move the commemoration and virtue from each region (e.g., abdomen, heart, mind), and we continue prayer, albeit without the goals, in the untargeted regions. In other words, the targeted areas must still reach the goal to validate the count, but the untargeted areas should continue to pray without the goals.

10. Nurture Flow : At this point, we have continuous prayer in three regions of our body, and in this step, we connect these regions with a flow that moves from the abdomen to the heart, and then to the mind. The flow is created and maintained in two ways.

a. Rotate Target : We continue the target rotation that we started in the seventh step.

b. Add Flow : For most of us, it is hard to create the flow through some mental process or meditation, but the flow will occur naturally if we long for it and believe that it will occur.
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Addendum to the 10 Steps:
Prayer is relationship. Would we say that we love someone, if we did not have any feelings for them? In deep prayer, we try to build a relationship with God by feeling the divine presence as it is potrayed by the personality in the meditation. We have to pray with our feelings if we are going to build a relationship.

Our concentration is governed by our emotions. In the meditation, we should try to feel the subject of the meditation. For example, if we are meditating on the first "Joyful Mystery" of the Rosary, we would try to feel the presence of Mary or at least wonder what it might feel like.

After some amount of time which might be a few minutes or several weeks, we may find that we can not emotionally connect to the meditation. We would be unable or unwilling to feel the presence of personality. If we are unwilling, we need to practice hope which is to want to feel the divine presence. If we are unable, we should practice faith by believing that we will feel the presence of personality.

For most of us, our minds simply wander off the meditation. The solution to this problem is practicing both the focus and virtue simultaneously. With persistence, we will eventually become focused at these beginning stages by using focus and virtue together.

At this level, we should have been consistent for long enough to build some level of commemoration. We may need to put in some slight adjustments, but we should have audio and visual commemorations that repeat at effective intervals and stay within the correct season of the Church. The commemoration may not be paying much in dividends, but it is still a good investment. As we move forward, it will become vital.

Each part of the body should practice the commemoration. The body has many parts, so to begin with we will keep things simple by beginning with only three parts: the heart, mind, and abdomen.

By mixing breathing into our protocol, we actually make it easier to keep track of the individual meditations in our heart, mind, and abdomen. With each breath, we move the meditation to the next area.

After we are comfortable with the breathing (which might be days, weeks, or years), we want to start counting the breaths to gain some control over the quality of our meditation.

Breathing out is one count, and breathing in is another. It is easier to maintain the count, if we know that every exhale is an even count.

If we have progressed to where counting is mostly automatic, we want to have a firm quality goal in our mind when we begin the meditation. The quality goal should include the number of counts during the prayer time, the number of the counts between distractions, and what constitutes a valid count in terms of focus and virtue.

At some points, we will take invalid breaths. We want to know how many valid breaths we took until we lost our concentration. It is more important to meet the goal than to be overly ambitious, so we should initially set the bar low. For example, if we are new to all of this, number of counts between distractions might be 5. As we become more proficient, we will want to increase the number. If we are distracted before we reach the number of breaths between distractions, then we would start the count over.

After we are comfortable with the breathing (which might be days, weeks, or years), we want to start counting the breaths to gain some control over the quality of our meditation.

Breathing out is one count, and breathing in is another. It is easier to maintain the count, if we know that every exhale is an even count.

If we have progressed to where counting is mostly automatic, we want to have a firm quality goal in our mind when we begin the meditation. The quality goal should include the number of counts during the prayer time, the number of the counts between distractions, and what constitutes a valid count in terms of focus and virtue.

The flow and the target are our basic tools, and we get better at using them with practice. We rotate the target (chakra) from one part to the next. We confess our sins, receive inner healing, evangelize the area, while maintaing the local feelings in each chakra. In other words, the feelings in the area are converted and respected. We respect the feelings by evangelizing them without suppressing them.

We want the target to increase the flow, and the flow to increase the target. The target increases the flow by creating a more cooperating region, and the flow increases the target by preparing the target for the focus and maintaing the focus while another area is targeted. By driving virtue and focus with the complementary flow-target (ying-yang) system, both the virtue and focus spirals with increasing strength until we reach spiritual poverty.

Spiritual poverty is the final thing that we can do to reach contemplation, but after we reach contemplation, we need to keep driving all of the things (e.g., commemoration, virture, etc.) that brought us to contemplation. For example, when we are in contemplation, we wouldn't leave our focus to listen to or record a message from God. We are interested in the relationship with God (not the gifts). God is the ultimate communicator, and we will know and understand anything that God wills. By focusing on the relationship, we will receive the gifts in a purer way. We maintain our discipline during our contemplation, lest we are immediately distracted from our communion with God.

While contemplation is not guaranteed, it usually occurs shortly after spritual poverty. It occurs faster with more experience. If it takes more than 50 breaths of spiritual poverty to get to contemplation, we need to be become more aggressive with our virtue. For the most part, virtue takes us from spiritual poverty to contemplation.

In contemplation, the presence of the personality seems to come alive. Of course, it was always alive, but as contemplation begins, we realize it. There is a popular misconception that it is okay to talk to God. It is when God talks back that we know we are crazy. If we use that erroneous concept, contemplation and insanity are the same thing. With that said, God doesn't do a lot of talking, and we should follow the divine example. As Padre Pio put it, when we are before God, we should not make a nuisance of ourselves.

There is no guarantee that the animated personality is God, but as Jesus put it, we will know them by their fruits. For example, in a typical Marian contemplation, Mary will simply smile, and somehow that smile makes the whole day utterly sublime. It is something that we will never forget, and it often contains thousands of bits of wisdom though nothing was said. On our own accord, it would be hard for us to manufacture such an experience, and an evil spirit leaves a bad after taste though it might seem heady at first. God is love and has no sin, and any communication from God would have the same characteristics.

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