4 September 2018, Maputo, Mozambique
I just came from an afternoon of sightseeing and walking around several of Maputo’s historical attractions. I went to the Maputo Fortress (pictured above), the old train station, the Paroquia San Antonio, and the Immaculate Conception Cathedral. While inside the cathedral, I felt a certain longing for the kind of childhood I had – something characterized by a deeper connection with God, the Force, or the Divine, however you call the transcendental being of your life.
I grew up in a very religious family. My father was an accompanist in church liturgy, while my mother was part of an organization that takes care of the priest’s vestments, the cleanliness of the church, and the design and decoration of the church altar during special celebrations. My sisters were all part of the choir and the youth association. From time to time, I also served as accompanist in church and acted in the church’s youth theatre for more than four years.
The church, and God, has been an important feature of my childhood. I have always believed, and I even do until now, that I am blessed more than I deserve. Modesty aside, at least for a quarter of my life, I experience a deep relationship with the Divine, that for some reason or another, especially in the last ten years or so, has been lost, or broken, or untended.
When I talked to my friends about my anxiety disorder, a few of them told me that I just lacked faith in God or failed to pray incessantly. In the beginning, I resented the idea, for how can a loving God punish me this way just because I failed to show up in church on some occasions or avoided moments of deep prayer? Later though, I began to be more accepting of people’s comments, or unsolicited advice, or amateur rationalization. I also realized that with or without my anxiety disorder, I need to re-establish that relationship with God because I wholeheartedly believed that it would help me face the future with less fear, worry, or anxiety.
As I frequently travelled, I decided to use my phone to regularize prayer and meditation time. I put up a daily calendar reminder to pray in the morning before starting my day. I also used a phone app to guide me in prayer. At the suggestion of a friend, I installed Pray as You go on my phone.
Pray as You Go is a prayer website, phone application, and podcast created in 2006 by the Jesuits in the United Kingdom. I find the app really useful in providing daily prayer and meditation guidance based on the Bible readings for the day. It also has other extended prayer packages, prayer tools, and a collection of meditation songs that it also uses in its daily prayers.
I used Pray as You Go for the first time while I was at the Polana Serena Hotel in Maputo that fine Tuesday morning in September 2018 before I started preparing for a conference presentation that day. Like most days when I speak in international conferences, I was very anxious and worrisome, with my flight or fight hormones fully activated. I sat on the balcony of my hotel room facing Maputo Bay and pressed play. The prayer session, which lasted for roughly 13 minutes, calmed my mind, assured me that I would be fine, at least for the day.
I continued using the app, and it has been a great help in building back my relationship with God and calming my anxious thoughts. I sometimes used it during anxiety attack onsets. I also find it very useful during travel. I make use of its music to calm myself during long flights.
Then I discovered another app that suited my interest in meditation. I subscribed to Headspace, one of the leading meditation apps in the market these days. I liked Headspace’s user interface, as well as its overall approach in teaching meditation. I also liked the many topical meditation exercises that it introduces. There was even one focusing on anxiety. Then later, I also found Hollow, a Catholic meditation app that helps you meditate and pray at the same time. I also found its journaling function very useful in recording my thoughts.
I think what I am trying to say here is that meditation and prayer have helped me deal with my anxious thoughts and feelings in a more strategic and focused way. The apps that I use are secondary. What is important is to find a space and time to meditate and spend time with yourself in silence and in prayer.
There are at least three benefits of meditation and prayer for me to manage my anxiety attacks better, and I briefly outline them here.
- Prayer and meditation provide me with an opportunity to pause my racing thoughts, calm my fears and worries, and start my day with less negativity. The Hallow app’s call to prayer starts with some introduction and an invitation that says, “Take a few moments to quiet your heart and mind as we prepare to pray.”. This, to me, is a reminder, especially in this time and age when we reach out to our mobile phones early in the morning as soon as we wake up.
- Starting my day with meditation and prayer helps me find that inner space, oftentimes cobwebbed with a mixture of pleasant and unpleasant thoughts and grow it into a haven that I go back to every time an attack is about to develop. Revisiting it just requires a few breath-ins and breath-outs. My daily meditation and prayer prompt me to practice mindfulness, though how difficult at times.
- My daily meditation and prayer remind me that I have the power over my anxious feelings, thoughts, and emotions. I can acknowledge them and let them pass, unlike before, where my energy is wasted resisting them and trying to control them. But more than anything else, Somebody up there has better control of everything, including some parts of the future that I fear. Lifting all my worries to Him makes me enjoy the present better.