top of page

The Power of an Imperfect Prayer

You don't have to be perfect to make the world a better place.

Anam Thubten Rinpoche taught me to end all my meditations with these words: “By this merit, may all attain perfect awakening, rising above all forces of negativity, going beyond the ocean of samsara.” It goes on from there, but it’s those first three words that gets me every time: “By this merit.”

My heart always sinks. By this merit? Really? What merit? I just sat here for five minutes and thought about what I wish I’d said the other day when that thing happened that upset me. Or, I kept realizing that I was frustrated about something that will never change. Or I got bored and made up trauma dramas to keep me entertained. That’s not merit. No one’s attaining “perfect awakening” because I sat there with those thoughts. How can my poor excuse for a meditation session help anyone “rise above all forces of negativity?”

Then I saw where my thinking was mistaken. Does only perfect awakening inspire perfect awakening? As in, I gotta be perfect before I inspire anyone else to perfection? Actually, it’s more often imperfection that points the way to where we’re heading.

Look at Leymah Gbowee. In 2011, she won the Nobel Peace Prize for leading a women’s nonviolent peace movement that helped end the Second Liberian Civil War. That’s what Wikipedia says about her. But if you read her memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers, you will also learn that she started out homeless, an unwed mother of children by multiple fathers, and an alcoholic. That woman is the one who became a force so powerful, she stopped a war. It didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen without a lot of hard work and heartbreak…but it happened. (I was commissioned to write a song for her. You can hear it here.)

I’m probably not going to stop any wars any time soon, but I can take heart from Leymah Gbowee’s example. Her form of sitting was different. She got thousands of women to sit on the ground, dressed in white, outside of marketplaces and government buildings. All they did was sit there. And they weren’t going away until there was peace.

My sitting is less visible. I have made a vow that I will do it daily, turning my attention to the mind, that I will notice its movement without getting lost in it, that I will practice staying present with my breath and body no matter what. The Amazon is burning, the homeless multiply and justice evaporates daily in the face of corruption. I can train to countenance all that without getting lost in it. There’s merit in that.

And showing up every day to do it over and over, to train for mastery over not only the carnival of thinking but the strong pulls of selfishness and ignorance. I’m not saying I have attained anything yet. But I’m training toward it. And there’s merit in that too.

So I do stand on the ground of that merit, and with my whole heart (tiny as it is in the face of the world’s hurricane of events) I go ahead and pray that on the strength of that merit, that all might attain perfect awakening, rising above all forces of negativity, going beyond the ocean of samsara — just because I showed up and meditated.

Every morning, in all different time zones and from all different backgrounds, all of us praying, meditating, doing our spiritual work in whatever way we do it, we are a little less pushed around by our crazy thoughts, every morning we’re a little calmer from refusing to drink the ego’s Koolaid.

So by that merit, may we all awaken to our true nature,

which is an inexhaustible source

of love, compassion,

and wisdom.


bottom of page