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 If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice wrote the German Mystic Meister Eckhart. It is almost frightening to see how easily we ‘rush’ to pray when faced with adversity often not quite knowing what to pray for and ask for the first thing that comes to our mind  guided by our hearts and not our reason, and though I am the one who has always propounded the importance of looking with your heart, I have learnt the hard way that when ‘seeking’ you must let the heart take a back seat and bring out reason. I remember praying hard for my father to ‘live’ after his brutal and barbaric surgery till the day when I saw his pain and suffering and the emptiness of his life with mama gone and we on the verge of leaving for Paris. In the state he was, there was no way he would resume a normal life: the surgeons had ensured that. So why was I praying for him to live. I reworded my prayer making only one option possible. I asked for either restoration of his perfect health or his release. He passed away 20 minutes later, having asked for his glasses to look at the picture of his wife that hung on the opposite wall. A smile touched his lips before he  exhaled his least breath.

That day I had found the exact wording for my prayer but you often never do.

Normally one remembers God and prays in time of strife and trouble, when our pet hubris fails us and a rude shock brings us to earth. Then one hurriedly conjures a prayer and sends it out. Far too often it is not the right one. Last week a dear friend and my staunchest supporter was in town and talked about the elusive pot of gold that someone has ‘promised’ to give us next year to build our sustainability programme. Neither of us truly believe in it as the same person held out one such pot some years ago and never gave it. But what came out of our little chat was also the danger of having too many strings attached to the pot, strings that may go against the spirit of project why we so cherish. So do you pray for the pot? For the pot without strings? For sustainability? The list is endless and the prayer loses its value.

Prayer has to be humbling. I remember the days when Ranjan was fading away and I was totally lost, my hubris trampled upon and all my carefully nurtured cartesian options an abysmal failure. Along the way I did pray and even held religious ceremonies meant to ward off bad times. But it is only when I reached the point of accepting to crawl on a filthy path to the sanctum sanctorum of a Goddess were she to grant me his health, that doors opened one after the other. I guess sometimes God does test you in his or her own inimitable way. I of course kept my side of the deal!

I did not turn the picture on its head; this is the way Agastya posed!

But there is another way to pray and get what you want without asking. That is to turn the whole matter of praying on its head. Do not ask for anything, just be grateful for everything you have been given and leave the rest to the One upstairs who knows better. That is the true meaning of Eckhart’s words: If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice. We so often forget and take for granted the things we have been given with such magnanimity! If we did find that minute minute to say Thank You, the rest would follow. And if ask you must, leave it to children, God listens to them. 

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To the manor born