Currently I’m reading two classic self-help books, both for my personal edification and as research for a project I’m working on. The books are Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and John Bradshaw’s Healing the Shame that Binds You.
If you’re not familiar with these books, they have long been perennial bestsellers in the self-help market: Cameron’s book is a program for releasing inner obstacles to creativity through an exploration of the relationship between art and spirituality, while Bradshaw’s book offers hope particularly to those in recovery by exploring the causes of toxic shame — and steps we can take to release such shame, thereby freeing ourselves to live with integrity and authenticity.
What immediately struck me was how both authors use affirmations as a tool to encourage readers to literally “re-program” their minds away from limiting, self-defeating, and toxic ways of thinking. An affirmation is a positive statement that anyone can use to recalibrate their thoughts in such a way as to encourage healing, creativity, trust, or confidence. It follows the classic book from over a century ago, James Allen’s As a Man Thinketh, which affirms (pardon the pun) how our thoughts literally direct our lives and can impact our physical and psychological health as well as our creativity and our productivity.
Thinking about this got me to reflect on whether affirmations might have a place in the practice of contemplative spirituality.
On the surface that may seem counterintuitive. Isn’t contemplation about silence, after all? Why clog up silence with the noisy chatter of affirmations, never mind how positive and uplifting they might be? If the goal is to be still and know God, isn’t any use of language, no matter how “affirming,” somehow a retreat from the silence we so desire?
That does make kind of sense, but it also fails to consider that silence is never purely silent: just as the brain always thinks (even when we sleep, it generates dreams), so the reality is that we are always engaged with language on some level. This is why mantras and sacred words remain so essential in any meditative or contemplative practice. We choose a single word or a short prayer like the Jesus Prayer to entrain our heart and mind on, simply because of our all-too-human tendency to fill the silent chalice of the mind with something — and a sacred word or short prayer is better than the wandering, chaotic distractions the mind will come up with on its own.
So back to affirmations. If we think of affirmations as prayers, then perhaps they do have a place in the contemplative life. Now, self-help affirmations tend to be very “I” focused: “I effortlessly maintain my perfect weight” or “I create art with joy and gratitude” or some such statement. These are good statements for helping to reorient the human mind from fear to trust — but in terms of contemplation, we need to set our sights a bit higher than just on the self. So for the following affirmations, I’ve created three “I” affirmations and four “God” affirmations — acknowledging that God, ultimately, is the active agent in the contemplative life, and we affirm, prayerfully, God’s love for us and God’s desire to (re)form us in the Divine image and likeness.
So I offer these affirmations as a type of “holy experiment.” Consider taking one or a few or all of these statements and integrating it/them into your daily prayer practice. Particularly if you find you resist one of these statements, or even just find it hard to believe, that might be the one to work with. Just as self-help affirmations are designed to recalibrate the mind for the purpose of healing and creative growth, so these “mystical affirmations” are designed to form our hearts, minds, and souls into who God calls us to be. We can trust this call because it has been reported to us by so many of the mystics, down the ages all the way back to Biblical times. Now as we live and breathe, it is our turn to take these promises and make them real — by praying them, by trusting God, and by consenting to the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
If you choose to integrate one or more of these affirmations into your prayer life, let me know how it goes. Leave a comment here are reach out to me on social media.
Seven Mystical Affirmations
- God loves me (and all people) unconditionally, and fills our hearts with Divine Love, transforming us into living incarnations of that joyful love. (see Romans 5:5)
- I consent to God’s action in my heart and my life, trusting God’s work to heal me and to make me the serene, creative person I am called to be.
- Christ abides in me, and I abide in Christ. As Christ is one with God, so I am one with Christ. We are all One in Love. (see John 10:30; John 15:4)
- I take delight in God, and in so doing I receive the deepest desire of my heart — which is union with God. (see Psalm 37:4)
- God dwells in my heart, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit: therefore I keep silence in that sacred divine presence. (see Habbakuk 2:20, I Corinthians 6:19)
- I partake in God’s Divine Nature. (see II Peter 1:4)
- God teaches me to be silent; every day I find the silence within me deeper and less distracted. (see I Thessalonians 4:11, translated literally)
I have other ideas bubbling up, but I don’t want to overwhelm anyone, so I’ll leave it at this. Enjoy these affirmations — use them, repeat them, pray them. And if you come up with some of your own, let me know about them.