Spiritual Practice: The “Five P’s” of Prayer

This simple exercise appears first because of its foundational nature. You are encouraged to slowly read through the “5 P’s” listed below and then to incorporate each into the Practicing the Presence exercises that will follow in tis class. The Martin Institute Part 10 of 20


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You will need a place for prayer that is quiet, comfortable, and free from distractions. Any monastery will do—as will your living room, den, or office at certain times of the day. But there must be no chance of being disturbed by a phone or a person ringing for attention.


You will need to place yourself in a comfortable physical position. It will be better if neither your arms nor legs are crossed. Sitting in a straight-backed posture is best. Stretched out on the floor or bed will only work for true insomniacs. Recliners are often death to prayer.


First slow the paceof your breathing to four to seven deep breaths per minute.  In addition:

  1. Take deep, slow and diaphragmatic breaths. Do this by keeping your chest relatively still as your lungs fill with air and your belly expands. It may help to place your hand over your stomach and feel it push out as you inhale.
  2. After learning how it feels to breathe deeply by expanding your diaphragm, count (with thought or visualization) as you slowly breathe in and out.  That is, slowly count from 1 to 4 as you breathe in.  Hold the breath for a count of 1, 2, or 3 (whatever feels most comfortable).  Then breathe out as you slowly count from 1 to 4. Pause for a moment before you repeat the process.


As you set the stage for listening or contemplative prayer, don’t seek for anything sensational. Instead, limit yourself to observing. Become aware of sensations…the touch of your clothes on your shoulders…the touch of your clothes on your back, or of your back touching the chair you are sitting on…be aware of sensations coming to you from your hands, feet, and legs.  Feel the temperature of the room (and any warm or cool movements of air).  Focus your perceptions on your body and senses. For contemplative or listening prayer it is essential to make contact with the present and to stay there.Resist the temptation to seek novelty of experience.  Instead, seek depth of awareness.

When thoughts come to your mind try to resist the temptation to follow them around. Also, resist the temptation to become frustrated by your thoughts.  Instead, observe them as someone stationed by an open window might watch passersby on the street.  Or as you might passively observe ascending balloons.  But keep a stationary, observing posture.

Return often to the sensation of your slow, deep breathing.  Focus on the tips of your nostrils and feel the coolness as you breathe in, and the warmth as you breathe out.


Remember that the aim of prayer is to enter into conversation with God.  It is not restricted to certain hours of the day. A Christian can feel him/herself in the presence of God.  The goal of prayer is precisely to be with God always.

Listen to all parts in this Practicing the Presence series