I learned about “affirmation meditation” in the fall of 2005. It’s in quotes here because that way of prayer really had no name. We simply called it: Todd’s Prayer Method. Todd Scott was the guy who first hatched it. He discreetly shared it with a handful of emotionally and spiritually bankrupt members of a cult.
Eventually, it set everybody free, including me. The cult had basically outlawed it. Todd had shared it on the sly. It seemed it had no chance of survival, but it had the power to conquer a cult, cause an exodus from a cult, and precipitate a full-fledged Vatican investigation. You can read the full story in my memoir: Vatican Intervention, by Andrew Lee Sullivan.
At that time, I was a suicidal Catholic priest. I’d been systematically traumatized by a sociopathic cult leader and the toxic environment he’d created. I also suffered from a syndrome called “emotional deprivation disorder.” Basically, this condition made me emotionally retarded. The prayer truly saved me. Today, I’m married and thoroughly delight in my life with a loving wife and two wonderful boys. So, what is this prayer that packs so much power? Really, what is affirmation meditation?
Skipping over the history here, I’m finally in a position to elaborate on the nature of that life-changing way of prayer. What is affirmation meditation? That’s what I’ve come to call it. I’ve enjoyed plenty of time to practice and reflect upon it.
My explanation may get a bit technical. But bear with me; the details are important. So, here we go. I just want to give a bird’s eye perspective. I’ll start with the theory and end with the practice.
After fourteen years of affirmation meditations, it’s finally time to articulate the fundamental principles and the step by step practice.
The Modern Perception of Affirmation
Popular culture suggests a modern perception of “affirmation meditation.” Many writers, public speakers, and gurus describe “affirmation meditation” as a mental exercise focused on self-improvement. Each teacher proposes his or her own hallmark-tweak of a self-orchestrated technique. In each case, a sorry soul essentially withdraws to a hidden corner and mentally pats himself or herself on the back. “I’m good.” “I’m smart.” I’m a leader.” It’s a kind of cognitive self-brainwashing to alter the subconscious.
There are many proponents of self-improvement by self-affirmation. Norman Vincent Peale, Zig Ziglar, Jack Canfield, and many more elaborate on various paths of self-empowerment by utilitarian efforts. Such gurus outline strategies to imagine or think oneself into a positive and productive leadership position of some kind. In each case, remember this: I make myself into a better person. I’m in control of a process. I have a goal of changing the core of who I am to find worldly advancement. Heaven forbid, I don’t propose any of this.
There are inherent pros and cons of such self-affirming methods. Of course, it’s a real value to nurture positive and productive self-improvements. I must have productive characteristics to keep putting bread on the table. At the same time, there are fundamental limits to self-affirming methods.
While self-affirming methods may make me rich, they all fall short when it comes to the world of love. What self-affirming technique can break into the soul with a hallowed outpouring of transforming love? Not one of them. Love is not the result of a Jedi mind trick or mental gymnastic.
I receive love from God, who loves me without limit. Positive thinking or brain-dancing-mantras can’t do that. Love comes from another person who freely gives it, unconditionally. Notice how the infant receives the mother’s outpouring of love. The infant does nothing to receive this. The infant is simply present to the mother.
My claim of affirmation meditation is radically set apart from the popular perception. Although the mind-gurus and I are employing the same word, we’re defining “affirmation” completely differently. For them, affirmation is something you do for yourself. For me, affirmation is something you passively receive from Jesus. And his affirmation is anything but a superficial mind mantra.
God Affirms – Differently
Before outlining the nuts and bolts of affirmation meditation, it’s indispensable to define two essential terms. I assign precise meanings to the terms “affirmation” and “meditation.” This clarification is extremely important because modern culture’s use of these words is so thoroughly misleading, especially for our specific purpose.
Affirmation is often defined in terms of “doing.” It’s commonly understood as a positive declaration or assertion performed by word or act. The “self-help-industry” advances a way of affirmation as something done to oneself. For that industry, many methods and techniques invariably boil down to acts of “self-doing.”
The dictionary also defines the word “affirmation” as a confirmation. An affirming act makes a person certain and strong. This is a better starting point for us. I’d define affirmation as a confirming that strengthens. So, the affirmation meditation I propose firmly establishes me. But most importantly, I’m not the person who affirms myself. It’s God who affirms me by his loving presence. I do nothing but receive his love that strengthens.
I speak of an affirmation that is neither done for myself nor for another person. Rather, it’s a state of being, God’s state of being to me. God radiates affirmation by his presence. He doesn’t so much “do” affirmation, he emanates it. His infinite goodness and love goes forth and affirms whoever allows his presence to enter. I sit in his presence and open my heart to it, and let the affirmation of my being happen.
Affirmation is not a technique focused on tweaking my thought patterns; it’s a way of God’s presence that confirms my goodness. He’s present with his limitless love focused upon me. God is love. He affirms with love. And love within me is the result.
One further clarification. God’s affirmation it not so much directed at my mind. It’s not done by him repeating positive declarations to me. No, his affirmation is his personal love present to me, focused at me, penetrating me. I can believe he loves me, but affirmation meditation makes me profoundly feel it.
Meditation – A Mysterious Word Simplified
“Meditation” is a slippery word too, with multiple meanings. Simply put, the world of meditation might be divided into Eastern or Christian. Though they share the desire to seek understanding and peace of soul, they radically differ from each other.
Generally speaking, Eastern meditation sinks its roots in Buddhism, Hinduism, or Islam. It may be practiced by a believer in one God, many gods, or by the atheist. Eastern meditation seeks to empty the mind to discover a higher level of consciousness. It wants to tap into an inner self-power or a mysterious power outside of oneself. This kind of meditation either seeks moral conformity with the practices of a religion, or some kind of self-realization. Some forms of Eastern meditation attempt to arrive at the self-realization that: “I am God.” Wow! Really?
Christian meditation is completely different. Jesus Christ reigns at the center of its scope and purpose. It’s actually a form of Christian prayer. It wants to fill the mind and heart with the divinely revealed truths of Christianity. By contemplation of truths, Christian meditation aims at greater conformity to Jesus Christ. This contemplation may focus on the meaning of words, or visual representations of the life of Jesus. Each path or enlightenment is rooted in long Christian traditions.
Christian meditation rests on a solid theological foundation: Jesus’s teaching on the greatest commandment. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” Christian meditation flows from this. I use all within me to reach out and love God, and receive God’s love too. I use my thoughts, external senses, internal senses, imagination, and free will to know and communicate with Jesus Christ.
What is Affirmation Meditation – but Walking in God’s Love
Putting everything together now, affirmation meditation is a Christian form of prayer by which I visualize myself in the loving presence of Jesus. There’s the underlying truth that Jesus is God, present to me always and everywhere. I’m merely trying to walk in the embrace of this truth, not so much conceptually but visually. I want this truth to become more real in my life. Since Jesus is invisible, I use my imagination to better live the awesome truth of his unlimited love for me. What I imagine is not real, but the underlying truth of my imagining is real indeed.
Affirmation meditation fits into the general context of prayer. Prayer is communication with God, and there are many kinds of prayer. What is affirmation meditation within the world of prayer? The Christian may talk with God and listen to him in many ways: petitioning, interceding, praising, thanking, confessing, offering, and more. So, where does affirmation fit in?
In my opinion, affirmation meditation is the most humble and simple of so many kinds of prayer. I like to call it “baby meditation.” The other kinds of prayer involve giving. That’s for big people. But affirmation meditation involves passive reception. Baby meditation is best suited for those who missed unconditional love and acceptance growing up. And because they missed this profoundly formative experience their emotions got stuck in an undeveloped state. Affirmation meditation helps a believer grow past that undeveloped emotional condition.
Besides a way of communication with God, affirmation meditation is “therapeutic prayer.” It mimics the therapy for emotional deprivation disorder. Dr. Anna Terruwe and Dr. Conrad Baars pioneered in affirmation therapy. This therapy helps undeveloped emotions resume their natural growth, enabling the client to receive and give love with emotional participation and enjoyment.
Affirmation therapy places the psychotherapist in the position of providing the unconditional and mature love the client lacked when growing up. As this love is absorbed, true human development gradually results. Affirmation meditation replaces the psychotherapist with the Divine Physician himself, Jesus Christ. I simply sit in the presence of my loving God and see how much he loves and accepts me as I am. The “prayer-therapy” is effective to the degree that I relinquish self guidance of the experience. Passive receptivity of God’s love is the therapeutic key.
That’s enough. I think I’ve shared way too much theory. Believe me, I could write a book. Let’s get down to the nuts and bolts now. How do I practice affirmation meditation?
I’m Already Loved
Receiving love starts with opening the doors of my heart to God’s love. It’s easier than I might think. Oh, but I want human love. Just wait. That will come soon enough. God pours forth his love upon me. But if my heart is like a stone, love cannot penetrate. The heart must take on the qualities of a sponge.
God’s madly in love with me. Perhaps my background and life experiences make me doubt this, but it’s true. He created me to love me, to love me first even before I love others. God’s love for me is selfless, limitless, profuse, and unconditional. It’s perfect, pure love. If I can’t experience it, there’s a receiving problem.
From the instant of my existence his love was there, and it’s still beating for me now. No matter how thoroughly crises and traumas have destroyed my faith and hope, still, I can really experience God’s personal love. The sun still rushes and erupts for me hidden behind the storm clouds.
Opening up to this Love – with Faith and Prayer
I start with a step in faith, a step into the world of prayer. If I’m to enjoy this explosion of God’s love for me, I must find a way to experience contact with God. Faith is the opening key. Prayer is the answer. Oh, but a completely new way of praying. Hang on. I can experience so much love that I will feel I’ll burst.
Let go of my past ways of praying, or at least move them to the side. Shelve the prayer book, the seeking of knowledge and understanding. Abandon prayer as learning, self-improvement, begging, introspection, and achieving. Let my prayer become a way of receiving love. Approach this new kind of prayer like a helpless infant who can only receive.
Set aside an hour a day to retreat to a still and quiet place, a hidden womb. An escape. An oasis. It will demand an effort to shift from doing to being. Void of internal and external distractions, noise, and movement, I step into a place of receptive stillness.
Imagine a Peaceful Place – and Meet Jesus
Get physically comfortable. Close my eyes and imagine a peaceful place. It could be a forest, park, or sea shore. Use my senses to help me lose myself in that scene.
I see the vast horizon of the ocean, the movement of the waves, the swaying trees. I feel the breeze upon my skin, the sun’s warmth. I feel the softness of the sand between my toes, the comfort of the bench where I sit. I smell the salty, fresh sea. Maybe I smell the alluring, subtle scent of coconut oil. I hear the lapping and crashing of the waves, seagulls. Let me experience the beauty and refuge of the moment.
After enjoying my paradise, I imagine Jesus. I see him enter into the picture. Maybe he simply appears sitting next to me. Maybe he comes from behind or from the shore. See how he’s dressed and the details of his face. See his interest in me and his love-filled demeanor. A greeting takes place. See how much he loves me.
I come to this experience neither with a plan nor words. I just want to soak up his loving presence. Maybe we just sit together looking at the ocean. Maybe he offers his hand, wanting to walk. Maybe I can lean into him and rest my head upon his lap, letting his hand rest upon me. Maybe he rests his head upon my thigh. He loves being in my presence. This raw prayer of presence will take on a life of its own. Let God lead.
This daily, fundamental way of receiving God’s love may or may not prompt a conversation; it doesn’t matter. The key part of this prayer is the experience of God’s loving presence and the reception of love.
This prayer takes the truth of God’s love for me and symbolizes it in images. The images are not real, but the truth of God’s loving presence and his outpouring of love upon me is very real. The images merely help me experience what is truly happening to me, God loving me.
This prayer doesn’t make love; it helps open the door of my heart for the reception of love already lavishly present.
My relationship with God – Overhauled, Rebooted, Reclaimed
As the prayer advances, after weeks or months, mixed feelings may arise. I’m happy for the unexpected and fresh wave of consolations and calm in my soul. Yet, I may experience some disturbance about the discovery. Anger may emerge. Why has God left me in the dark for so long in my traumatic life? Why has he waited for so long, for so many years to start revealing his love for me? These two currents of feelings (consolation and anger) may overlap and toggle back and forth as the daily prayer progresses.
So what’s happening? My relationship with God is entering into scrutiny and healing. Let any negative feelings have their intensity and expression.
Don’t be afraid of my own emotions. Jesus is not afraid of human emotions. Perhaps I really need to get mad and express it. See how Jesus responds to my wounds and words.
The bottom line: the most important of all relationships is entering into healing. The fundamental grief of human life, the torn relationship with God is now exposed and raw. See how Jesus understands and lovingly absorbs my melt down. My life now passes through a barrier. Newfound faith and trust result. Just hang on. Let him listen.
Discover Memory Healing
I’ll find that Jesus will start walking me into the most important memories of my life. Just let it happen. Make no plan, no checklist, no agenda. Simply let Jesus suggest where he wants me.
I start with the prayer of presence in a comfortable place, receiving love. Suddenly, I’m whisked away to a memory. I experience the place, the event, the wounding. While I observe, emotions well up within me. The natural process of grief is unfinished. Let my emotions breathe unhindered. Let them find a way out. This may take days.
Jesus will appear with me, somewhere within the memory. He’s there consoling me, listening to me, calming me. He’ll unveil his hidden place in the memory. He observes or plays some kind of role. Above all, he empathizes and reveals his constant love for me.
It may take many repeated visits to a key memory for healing to finish. Just let it happen, whenever it happens. Don’t force it. Each day starts fresh with the passive reception of love. Jesus will suggest the direction of the prayer. Healing Life’s Hurts by Dennis Linn & Matthew Linn is the best book on memory healing.
Whenever a traumatic memory is healed, a gift will appear. Each healing experience will conclude with a gift for me. It may be visualized. The gift may be connected with an act of forgiving, understanding, accepting. The essence of the gift will be something that has turned a bad memory into a good memory in one way or another.
The Natural Progression of Love – from Receiving to Giving
Receiving God’s love is not the end of the story, but the beginning. I’m now capable of enjoying human love. Repaired and renewed relationships result.
Love is first received. It then matures my emotional and psychological powers, developing my capacity to give. I fill to the brim and then overflow. The end result is that I can freely give love, practically effortlessly. As the receiving process perhaps takes root, the possibility of a genuine, mature, human relationship appears. I’ve received love and can really give it.
Some may say that this receiving-prayer is selfish. Love should be about giving. I’d say that both things are true in their own way. Think of the normal development of a person. The infant, toddler, child primarily receive love as a first step. Call this “selfish love.” Okay. But it’s not bad, only a first step. It’s simply the way human love grows. As the years advance mature love develops, characterized by giving. Love matures into its perfected outpouring. The perfection of love is a development both in the natural and supernatural world.
For instance, before the grounding of receiving love the rich feelings of relationships may hardly be enjoyed. Relationships may exist in the intellectual realm, without proper corresponding feelings. But once receiving love matures the whole life of supporting-feelings bursts forth. I may have a friend for many years, and suddenly I actually, profoundly feel the friendship for the first time. It’s truly wonderful! And this enrichment of my relationships applies to both human friends and my newly anointed relationship with God.
Try it Once – and See for Yourself
Perhaps this kind of prayer may find its way into your heart. Maybe it’s just what you need? It offers much value for those who suffer from emotional immaturity or languish in a toxic environment of some kind. Anyone who can’t maintain an emotionally satisfying relationship, neither with a friend nor God, will certainly find this way of prayer helpful. It’s especially good for anyone who has hit rock bottom in life. It’s beneficial for those haunted and crippled by traumatic memories.
Affirmation meditation is particularly suited for anyone with emotional deprivation disorder. Look it up and see if you have the symptoms. This practically unknown disorder is rampant in modern culture. Google: Healing the Unaffirmed by Conrad Baars, MD and Anna Terruwe, MD.
Here’s the thing, many people have this disorder and don’t know it. Or they have the condition in a less severe way, establishing an unaffirmed state of being. That was me. So, affirmation meditation doesn’t replace therapy, especially when the disorder is severe, but it may offer great benefit for every other Christian or Catholic.
It’s very difficult to find a good therapist who properly administers affirmation therapy. Hardly anybody knows about this stuff. I neither had the opportunity, location, nor money to indulge in a therapy that would have been proper to my need. But in the end, affirmation meditation cured me. Perhaps many therapists might say that’s impossible. Yet, you can’t argue against a fact. Maybe they don’t know enough. Can’t God himself heal his own creation?
What is affirmation meditation – for you? It’s a way out and up. But I warn you. It packs the power to truly fill your life with love. And it seems to have a mind of its own. This is hard to explain, but it’s enough to say that this way of prayer will take over your life and transform you. Try it once. Test it. See for yourself. See if a path opens up for your future.
For anyone wanting a more detailed instruction on the way of prayer I propose, take a look at the book: Quenching the Soul’s Thrist, by Todd M. Scott. My love goes out to everybody. I pray that you may find all the love you need in life.