by Mary Rees
Houston, TX: Nutshell Publications, 2006
Reviewed by Sally Taylor
Being Prayer offers a wonderful exposé of what Buddhists call “skilful means” in order to live life from what His Holiness the Dalai Lama calls a “good heart.” Mary Rees writes primarily from within a Theravadan Buddhist perspective. She weaves these “skilful means” into a fulsome, open-hearted perspective that people of any faith tradition can access in the process of “awakening” into the infinite life which is available to all.
Rees’ own journey toward wholeness embraces practices in several traditions while also a spiritual director and community Dharma Leader in Insight Meditation. Being Prayer is a profoundly useful tool for practitioners and spiritual directors in all spiritual traditions.
An aspect I appreciate in Rees’ writing is the clarity with which she defines and creates a common language throughout the book, establishing a beneficial common ground. Prayer is described: “As we pray we become the conscious meeting point and mediating space of multiple dimensions of existence. In fact, prayer from this perspective includes awareness of all existence as fullness and everything as interdependent, connected and interwoven” (p. 2). Providing this frame of reference allowed me to enter into Being Prayer in a practical, hands on manner.
At a very ordinary level, this book is a training ground for opening one’s self. It may be important to say what the book is not. Being Prayer is not about anything. It offers practical skills through which anyone might step into the infinite possibility of who they are as a human being, from whatever background they come. It is applicable for accomplished practitioners and beginners alike. Not a book to be rushed through, Being Prayer is meant to be savoured, felt, and lived with. The text has a density that calls forth an attentive awareness from the reader, leading to a desire to respond by practicing the prayers and meditation so clearly explained. It is here that the greatest benefit of the book is surely felt—through direct transformative experience.
The practices are laid out in a staged process, beginning with preliminary practices of exploring consciousness, followed by techniques for analysing our mind. This is described as knowing the mind, freeing the mind and shaping the mind. The process opens us to the possibility of “birthing embodied being” which is addressed by Rees in the final chapter.
Very quietly, Rees opens us to a profound interfaith realisation, that we are one, with multiple expressions: “The pointing out done through language and the teachings of the various traditions, including this writing, are valuable in that they provide culturally specific ways to come to understanding…But it is important not to confuse the pointing out with the actual experience. The experience we open to is the knowing that arises beyond and beneath our gift of language through our direct experience” (p.10).
References are expansive, detailed and often exquisite. They indicate profoundly that to which Rees is calling all of us: an embodied spiritual life.
Sally Taylor is Canadian by birth, and a fifteen-year-practitioner within the Tibetan Buddhist Gelugpa Tradition. She hosts the “Hermitage Cottage” in Co. Down, Northern Ireland, a spiritual retreat open to practitioners of all faith traditions, or those with none. She has lived and worked in Northern Ireland for over thirty years; administers the Maitreya Charity (USA) that benefits Tibetan Refugees in India and Mongolians living in great need.