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Talking to God

Over the last couple of years I've been learning more about meditation and feel like I have a decently stable understanding of "how it works". Roughly, it's something like "train your powers of observation, then observe the experience of being, in order to discover your unity with everything else".

There are a couple tricky bits in there, namely "unity" and "everything" else, but it should hold for a working definition.

Prayer is weird to me, because it has the same goal, but works by an entirely different mechanism. Roughly the core idea seems to be, talk to God.

That seems:

a) way too simple b) kind of opposed to unity, to talk to something don't you have to be seperate from it?

This newsletter is going to be a messy attempt to understand how it works, and make a case for prayer. I'm certainly going to get some stuff wrong, and almost certainly already have, but I hope we can learn something together.

One place to start is with the mechanism of conversation itself. I think there are a couple properties that lend it very nicely to spiritual applications.

To start with, human beings are, in general, extremely good at conversation. It's a skill that we're constantly practicing (perhaps a little less this last year), and that can launch into with minimal friction.

If we look at conversations, you can view them as bringing people closer together. We talk in order to share information, come to agreement, and in general, to change the states of each others brains.

In some cases that can definitely be pathological, where people manipulate others into wierd counter productive brain states, but in conversation with mutually trusted others, the goal is usually to bring out brain states closer together, to be more similar to one another.

Perhaps, through conversation with God, we become more "like" God?

An interesting point of reference is Internal Family Systems therapy. As I understand it, it's an approach to psychotherapy that treats the mind as composed of distinct sub-agents that have different goals/desires and aims to integrate them through systematically "talking" to them.

A detail I find interesting here is that the distinct sub-agents fundamentally emerge from their disagreements with one another. If they were integrated and perfectly aligned, they could be treated as a single agent, and hence conversation between isn't a meaningful construct.

This doesn't mean that the individual agents disappear, just that they don't conflict with each other.

This seems related to me with the idea of renunciation of desire. Desire is conflict between the agent that is you and the much larger agent that is the rest of the world. If the two were integrated, that conflict wouldn't exist.

So perhaps, prayer is a way for us to "integrate" with God through conversation. I'm unsure what the particular qualities of the conversation should be though. My guess would be that it's not just any kind of talking that would do it.

There is another larger problem as well. What exactly are we conversing with when we're conversing with God through prayer?

This is an important question, because if conversing with this entity is changing ourselves, it's essential that we be sure it really is God.

The framework of a conversation doesn't demand this kind total knowledge upfront though. Your conception of the other entity will change as you talk to them. And so your understanding with God can change as well. What's important is that the foundation of the conversation is towards understanding, and not separation. Perhaps this is why the idea of the love of God is so central to Christianity.

Ultimately, I think there's a piece missing in my conception of prayer: how do we learn about God through it. How do we update our model of that agent over time, decide that we've misunderstood it, or miscommunicated?

Perhaps, it rests on faith that God does fundamentally reside within us. That we're not conversing with a synthetic entity, but something real, that we need to learn to engage with.

Or perhaps there are some other answers.

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