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Perhaps due to my upbringing, I found myself liking the
repetition and reinforcement of nightly prayers. Though many people might find it silly,
I set about to write an invocation or prayer of my own.
I have but one life on Earth; my time should be used wisely.
May my actions better the world.
May I be kind to myself and others.
May I continue to learn.
May I daily improve myself.
Emotions are chemicals in my body; they are not in control.
May I correctly determine when my efforts will be effective.
The only moment I have is now.
Here, I will attempt to explain how and why I composed and the above, and how I chose the name.
I call it a “contemplation” because I have yet to find a better word. Other similar
words — prayer, invocation, mantra, litany — imply things I don’t
believe. I couldn’t find a word that meant: “something an atheist might
memorize to repeat occasionally that has the same effect that prayer has on a believer but
isn’t actually intended for imaginary beings to hear”.
During the past few years, I kept thinking about
prayer. Clearly prayer has an effect on the person doing it, even if there is no other
effect. Prayer calms people, adjusts attitudes, focuses thoughts, and
so on. It seems similar to the known effects of
breathing. There is no evidence of any of these actually curing or helping
cure any adverse medical conditions, but it is nonetheless obvious that mindful meditation and
similar practices have calming, peaceful effects on those who practice them.
I have racing thoughts that keep me from sleeping. During the day, I experience the same stresses
and anxieties as anyone else, but without the benefit of prayer. (I have long practiced
simple controlled breathing with some success). Observing others practicing memorized,
repetitive prayers, I wondered if I could try it without believing.
I searched the internet for “atheist prayer” and similar phrases without much luck. I
did find a few atheists trying the same thing, but none of the examples I found seemed
right for me. So I decided to write my own.
My first idea was to take “the Lord’s Prayer” (the “our Father” if
you’re Catholic) line by line, and transform it into an easily memorizable set of phrases
that could be repeated in times of stress, restlessness, anxiety, etc. But I quickly
realized that this particular prayer is worthless once you remove the God parts. It is entirely
about praising God and asking him for stuff, so I quickly moved on to write my own from scratch.
What did I want to say? As with actual prayer, I knew it would be me talking (or
thinking) to myself, so it should be composed of things I want to be reminded of, both about my
thoughts and about my behavior. It should be simple, no more than 10 lines, with all the fat
trimmed out. I wrote some lines in my journal as a practice run. Then I began to trim away
unneeded phrases and explanations. Accustomed to writing lengthy pieces, I kept reminding
myself: this must be short. Eventually, I cut it to what you see above.