I had an interesting experience last week. I haven’t been using my prayer beads as regularly as usual over the past few weeks, but I always have a rosary or two beside my bed. As I climbed into bed one night last week, I felt the urge to pick up my rosary and pray, even though I really wasn’t feeling very spiritual that evening. But as soon as I picked up my beads and started repeating the familiar prayers, I felt…calm. Centered. Connected to Goddess. It was like all of the prayers I had prayed with my beads were still contained within them, a sort of magic that transported me into a space of connection with and devotion to Goddess, just by picking up the beads and repeating the prayers I have prayed so many times before.
This wasn’t a flashing lights and trumpets kind of experience, it was quiet and gentle, but it was still profound. First, it showed me the benefit of regular spiritual practice. Our spiritual practice isn’t going to be filled with sparkles and fairy dust every day, but some days it will. And when we are in a difficult or dark place, turning to those practices we have done so many times before can help us find our connection to the Divine again, can help us find the spark of light in the darkness. There is a kind of muscle memory in our practices that helps imprint the good experiences we have had while doing them in the past, and sometimes just by going through the motions, we can move ourselves back into the experience of those positive moments again.
I have had a similar experiences while knitting or cross stitching. It seems that when we are doing something repetitive and engaging our hands in the process, our minds retain information and experiences more easily. I actually had an organic chemistry professor in college who encouraged us to knit or crochet in class because he thought we retained the information better than when we were furiously trying to take notes. Often when I’m working on a needlework project, and pick it up again, I’ll have vivid memories of what I was watching or listening to the last time I worked on it.
In a bit of wonderful synchronicity, the radio show “To the Best of Our Knowledge” did a whole episode yesterday on handwork, and how doing things like knitting and drawing can help us become calm and better retain information. I also found this study showing the physical benefits of repetitive prayers and mantras.
I think the reason I love working with prayer beads so much is that it combines both repetitive prayer and the tactile sensation of moving beads through our hands—a two-for-one combo of practices that are known to help us move into a calm, centered, meditative state. It’s no wonder that using prayer beads is a popular practice in so many religions.
Some days praying with my beads is just routine. Some days my mind wanders and I have trouble focusing. But by repeating the practice, I realize now that I’m creating a bit of magic for myself that can help me through the difficult times in my life. I’m creating a connection to Goddess that is there for me when I most need it. Sometimes just picking up my beads and holding them makes me feel better.
What spiritual practices do you use, and how have they helped you through the challenges in your life? I’d love to know!