If you don’t believe in God or Nirvana, it’s highly unlikely that you will spend much time praying or meditating. There is no reason to retreat from the world in order to commune with nothing. It’s just a waste of time and effort.
If you do believe, you will be much more likely to turn you attention to the transcendent beyond. As C.S. Lewis put it, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” Your longing for this other world will lead you to pray and meditate.
In the last few posts I have been exploring the trinitarian doctrine of Kashmir Shaivism, which consists of “Parashiva”, “Shiva” and “Shakti”. Parashiva is the transcendent God (God the Father in the Christian trinity), Shiva is immanent consciousness (the Logos or the Son) and Shakti is the manifest energy of existence (the Holy Spirit). I described how meditation (and prayer) involves the gradual withdrawal of consciousness from all objects of consciousness, which can be understood as the withdrawal of Shiva from Shakti.
Without this intentional process of separating consciousness and form, there is such a fusion of awareness with the objects of awareness, that Shiva and Shakti cannot be distinguished. So the world and the self are experienced as an undifferentiated field of action. It’s all just stuff: things and thoughts, feelings and events. It’s just “one damn thing after another”.
Whether you are theoretically a monist or a dualist, that is, whether you believe that minds are reducible to physical processes or not, you will experience the world in a similar way, as a collection of stuff and experience. That’s if you live on “Earth”. If you live in “Hell”, everything will be tinged with the implacable malevolence of the Great Machine, but we don’t need to concern ourselves with that right now.
So what happens when you pray to God or meditate on Nirvana? Your individual consciousness withdraws and merges in absolute, universal consciousness. Shiva merges in Parashiva. What happens when you return? You come back “trailing clouds of glory”. You retain something of the experience of pure consciousness and develop a taste for it.
The more often you pray or meditate, the more often you “commune with God”, the stronger this sense of pure individual consciousness becomes, the stronger your Soul becomes. Shiva emerges from Parashiva. This is how God makes Souls.
Eventually your life becomes suffused with Soul. You become simultaneously aware of experiences and aware of your awareness of experiences and develop a capacity for Self Remembering or Mindfulness. Wherever you go, wherever you turn, you see both Shiva and Shakti, consciousness and form. This is what I call Pachananda, the “Bliss of the Earth”. This is the Pure Land, the Kingdom of Heaven.