I managed to focus a little longer this morning. I also spent some time reminiscing about my time as a Christian.
I was what is known as a charismatic Christian. I spoke in tongues, I often trembled or cried when people prayed with me. I would sometimes feel a surge of joy, love and wellbeing as I prayed.
Now here's a thing.
I haven't had people pray with me for a long time, but I can still speak in tongues and can usually still summon up the feelings of love etc, if I try. I don't believe that my "tongues" is a genuine language, and I believe the emotions I experience are internally generated, rather than caused by interacting with God. Nevertheless, the feelings leave me contented, with a sense of peace and connectedness. Yet I very rarely try to summon them. This morning, I asked myself why.
The answer is multifaceted and I'm far from unravelling this, but I believe it essentially comes down to a fear of losing control, of letting go of thought and surrendering myself to emotion. It's similar, in some respects, to the way I have felt during vipassana meditation. For perhaps even less than a second, I would reach the point where my thoughts stopped and I experienced reality directly, rather than through the prism of my conceptualisations. Those moments were both exhilarating and terrifying. (It's all about the death of the ego, baby!)
Yet my reluctance to conjure the feelings I experienced during prayer is also to do with the fact that I don't want to go back to a belief system that I believe to be false, and that caused me a lot of distress. Not even as a "let's make believe for the sake of the outcome" exercise. If I can separate the ability to feel connectedness from the belief system with which it was associated - and my experiences with meditation lead me to believe that I can - then I'll be fine. Well, apart from my crippling fear of immersing myself in the moment...
What has all this got to do with the prayer experiment? Not a lot, really. That said, I've often heard theists claim that what they experience during prayer and worship is evidence for God's existence. It isn't. A correlation between prayer/worship and temporary good feelings (or even a lasting change in perspective) may require explanation, but "it's because God has changed me" is far from the most parsimonious explanation. (As I recall, a study of devotees of various spiritual traditions showed that, in terms of neural activity, they all experienced the same thing when they reported spiritual ecstasy.)
Perhaps I need to let go of the fear that allowing myself to experience my emotions will lead me to believe things that are untrue. I can observe and move myself, a puppeteer whose marionette is me; maybe it'd do me good to drop the strings more often and step inside the marionette. I can always take up the strings again afterwards.
Just some rambling thoughts for anyone trotting by.