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The best way to be thought a fascinating conversationalist is to listen attentively, and with interest. This principle applies also, though of course not in quite the same way, to the practice of prayer.

Most people when they pray talk to God rather than with Him. They don’t take the time to listen, in deep inner silence, for His answer. Prayer, however, to be most deeply meaningful, needs to be a two-way communication, a giving and receiving — like conversation. And while it would be absurd to think in terms of “fascinating” God with our part of the conversation, there are proven ways of making our prayers more effective. Listening is one of them.

Prayer must come from the heart. That is what I mean by conversation. As there is a world of difference between talking at someone and talking with him, so there is a universe of difference between petitioning God and including Him in the needs we feel.

We need to involve Him in our lives, in our love for Him. How can we hope to do that, if we merely pray to him? That’s like talking at somebody.

Leaving aside the question of fascination, conversationally, how are we most likely to involve anyone in anything that interests us? It isn’t much different from listening for answers to a question. We involve them best when we include their reality in our own. To awaken concern in them for our needs, we must show an interest in their needs. To get them to participate in our lives, we must participate in their lives. To get them to show love for us, we must love them, first.

All this involvement on our part is, in its own way, a kind of listening. We need, in the same way, to listen to God. The kind of prayer that most often wins a response is one in which the person praying converses with God: calls to Him, while at the same time listening for His silent response in the soul.

And that is, essentially, what is meant by the practice of meditation. Meditation is the act of listening for, and hopefully, in time, listening to, God’s whispered response in the soul.

Meditation is more than a practice conducted at specific times of the day. It is a habit of mind, a way of life. Try sharing your thoughts and feelings with God all day long. Listen for His guidance, His approval — yes, even His silent laughter within! When you share your life with Him, your meditations also will be much deeper.

When people exclude the practice of meditation from daily prayer, it usually means they aren’t really convinced there is anyone “up there,” listening to them. All too easily, their prayers become a process of simply talking to themselves.

The breath is one such influence, when it is used rightly. Not only does the breath reflect one’s mental states: It also greatly affects them.

Take the breath as a reflection of thought and feeling. When a person is agitated, his breathing automatically speeds up. When he falls asleep, his breathing rhythm changes: two counts of exhalation, to one of inhalation. When he is deeply concentrated, he tends to hold his breath. When he is calm, his breathing becomes calm also.

The reverse also is true. By breathing agitatedly, one tends to create an agitated mental or emotional state. A photographer, when taking a photo demanding sensitivity and concentration, learns to hold his breath before clicking the camera shutter.

By calm, deep breathing, similarly, the mind and emotions grow calm also, releasing us from any turmoil that may have been seething within us. This is why the advice is so often given to people who are angry or upset, “First, take a deep breath, and count to ten.”

Gradually, you will feel His peace stealing over you, like a weightless waterfall.