The exercise for my integrative medicine friends was to bring words or images to blank prayer flags that would represent their “vision (and prayer) that is at the heart of what it means to be a doctor and support people in their journeys of healing.” There were beautiful expressions of values such as kindness, presence, empowerment, vulnerability/authenticity, and love.
In creating prayer flags, or in any other way declaring an intention that is personally meaningful, we are making commitments to embody what we say. If I create a flag that highlights kindness, I’m making a commitment that this is a value and quality that matters to me, and at the very least, I’m creating an imperative to be kind.
But it’s more than that. The energy of prayer flags is “carried on the wind.” Setting an intention brings the very real possibility of touching other people directly, at a distance, apart from whatever may be the influence of my own behavior.
Everyday life has countless examples of this “distant intention” that most of us can relate to. Dogs know when their owners are coming home, right? We’ve certainly seen tis with our dogs, when my wife or I will be driving home from somewhere and our dog will come awake and go to the front door while the car is still much too far away to see or hear. Or with your phone. How many times have you had the experience of dialing the number of somebody you love, at a random time (I date myself with that phrase, of course) and find that they are calling you at precisely the same time? Or crossing the country as we often do in our snowbird lives, my wife and I will sit quietly in the front seat for the better part of an hour and then one of us initiates a conversation that is just what the other person had been thinking about. We are connected in ways that go far beyond what we might expect from our historic, materialistic world view.
There is abundant cultural/ethnographic evidence about distant intention or “nonlocal” connections. Aboriginal communities apparently drew upon nonlocal connections just as a matter of course. In his fascinating 2013 book, One Mind: How Our Individual Mind is Part of a Greater Consciousness and Why it Matters, Larry Dossey points out that smoke signals in aboriginal communities didn’t send messages per se, but rather prompted distant community members to pause, sit down, and hold a posture of openness to messages that were being sent. Dossey says that these nonlocal connections, by the way, are mediated by love.
There is also quite good modern empirical evidence for distant intention and nonlocal effects. Laboratory studies consistency show, for instance, that Person A has the ability to influence various physiological functions in distant Person B to a statistically significant degree by holding an intention for that person. Real-world, clinical studies are methodologically challenging and less conclusive, but what data there are about practices such as distant intercessory prayer suggest that there is enough possibility that something is really happening to warrant continuing exploration.
For those of you who are academically inclined, there is an excellent review of a number of meta-analyses by Dean Radin and colleagues in Global Advances in Health and Medicine (2015). See 10.7453/gahmj.2015.012.suppl
So especially in the long isolation of the pandemic, you might consider the idea… the reality… that we are all connected in ways that transcend direct contact. What would you put on a prayer flag about your “vision or prayer that is at the heart” of what it means to be who you are? Who is there out there who you love, for whom you may hold an intention of love even at a great distance?