Put very simply, prayer is when we ask the universe for something, and meditation is when we stop and listen.
Prayer and meditation are similar practices in that they both offer us a connection to the divine, but they also differ from one another in significant ways. Put simply, prayer is when we ask the universe for something, and meditation is when we listen. When we pray, we use language to express our innermost thoughts and feelings to a higher power. Sometimes, we plumb the depths within ourselves and allow whatever comes to the surface to flow out in our prayer. At other times, we pray words that were written by someone else but that express what we want to say. Prayer is reaching out to the universe with questions, pleas for help, gratitude, and praise.
Meditation, on the other hand, has a silent quality that honors the art of receptivity. When we meditate, we cease movement and allow the activity of our minds and hearts to go on without us in a sense. Eventually, we fall into a deep silence, a place that underlies all the noise and fray of daily human existence. In this place, it becomes possible for us to hear the universe as it speaks for itself, responds to our questions, or sits with us in its silent way.
Both prayer and meditation are indispensable tools for navigating our relationship with the universe and with ourselves. They are also natural complements to one another, and one makes way for the other just as the crest of a wave gives way to its hollow. If we tend to do only one or the other, prayer or meditation, we may find that we are out of balance, and we might benefit from exploring the missing form of communication. There are times when we need to reach out and express ourselves, fully exorcising our insides, and times when we are empty, ready to rest in quiet receiving. When we allow ourselves to do both, we begin to have a true conversation with the universe.