This month's skill of the month is the use of prayer or, if you're not religious or believe in prayer, the skillful use of poetry.
For those that have been raised with some sort of religious affiliation, or have come to a religious affiliation later in life, prayer can be something that you use every day or, if not every day, at least sometimes. Nearly (if not) all religions have some prayer aspect built in. In Judaism, the prayer can be very organized, and is written down in a prayer book and recited at specific times. In Catholicism, too, prayers can be very "formulaic" and may be recited aloud or silently. In Protestant religions, prayer is typically more free-flowing, and impromptu, but even here we see "The Lord's Prayer" being recited together, publicly. Similarly, in Islam, prayer plays a very large role. Nevertheless, even if you do not identify as particularly religious or devout, prayer can be a helpful skill to call upon during times of stress but also during times of relative calm or peace.
In many religions as well, there is a distinction made between different types of prayer: prayers of supplication or petition, versus prayers of thanks or gratitude. Either of these can be helpful during times of stress and during times of calm.
If you identify as atheist or otherwise do not believe in some "higher power", who or what might you pray to? Probably no one at all, of course! So, instead of prayer, I recommend the use of poetry. There are so many wonderfully beautiful, peaceful pieces of poetry that can be read or recited to bring us to an altered state of consciousness or change our state from one of anxiety to one of calm. You might also find that you can write your own bit of poetry that could be helpful to you very specifically.
In this entry, I will use the terms prayer and poetry interchangeably to reinforce the idea that both are helpful in much the same way. The goal of our prayer is to bring comfort to ourselves or others, to remind ourselves of all the positive things that we have going for us, and sometimes, depending on where you are, prayer or the recitation or writing of poetry can bring together a community and show support for one another.
There are a few prayers, like the Lord's Prayer mentioned above, that have been publicized and are well known. My favorite is actually the Serenity Prayer which was made somewhat famous by Alcoholics Anonymous.
I particularly like this one because it really is a great reminder to practice Radical Acceptance. Additionally, it is almost like a poem and can be easily converted into such for our atheist friends by omitting the word "God" at the beginning. In this way, we are looking for the serenity, the courage, and the wisdom within ourselves. In our anxious moments, prayer can help us focus on something else (serve as a distraction), can help us to find strength within ourselves that perhaps we didn't know we had, and can hopefully remind us of other skills (like Radical Acceptance, Imagery, or Gratitude) that can be helpful in and of themselves.
I have mentioned several times, though, that prayer or poetry can be used even when we're not anxious. Much like all of the skills I have presented, I advocate that we practice them frequently, even when we don't really "need" them so that they're ready to go when we do. It can be wonderful to speak a poem of gratitude about anything small that captures our interest for a moment. Or, as you settle in to bed getting ready to go to sleep, reciting a prayer or poem or simply listing the things for which you are grateful can help to facilitate sleep, and put your mind in a happier space.
Poetry is the same way--when we "write" a prayer by composing it in our heads as we speak or think it, when we write a poem by writing it down in a journal or on a scrap of paper, our thoughts are immediately moved from what is going on to the verbalization of what is going on. How do we describe the scene we are in? What words are chosen for this purpose? It helps us to process what is going on. If it's something negative (an anxiety provoking situation) or if it's something positive that is going on (a moment of calm) we capture it in words and can transform it from something negative into something beautiful--perhaps. We can call on ourselves or a higher power to give us the strength to make it through this difficult time, reminding ourselves then, that it is temporary. So, it is a useful skill in both difficult times as well as positive times.
I have talked about different ways to use prayer to help ourselves through verbalization (either spoken out loud or in our mind) but one could very easily make the argument that poetry can be visual--with a sketch, a painting, or even a photograph.
The benefit of writing these down or somehow collecting them (even with images) is that we can use them time and time again. All of the major religions have prayer books. Prayers that have been written down--many very beautiful pieces of poetry--to read through when you cannot even put your thoughts into words. Even if you do not choose to collect your own words or images, though, the use of prayer or poetry is a great way to process, perhaps find meaning, look for strength, look for wisdom and courage, serenity and hope.