If you strain too hard for it you grow frustrated and it recedes. At this point you may decide that it's best to quit trying and trust that it will come to you when you're not thinking about it. And sometimes it does arise on its own.
But what if you're taking a test and you need to remember a geometry formula to solve a problem, or you want to remember an analogy that will perfectly express an idea for the essay that you're writing?
And doesn't life feel like an important test where you wish you had access to everything that you know, everything that is best in you?
This begs the question, "What is the state of mind most likely to surface the knowledge and love that you need to live well?"
It seems to me to be a combination of contradictory skills: an utter calm that is willing to wait as long as it takes for the treasure to reveal itself, AND a fierce focus that can follow the faint thread of vague and random images that will lead you, you know not how, to the object of your search.
The better you get at integrating these opposing energies the easier it becomes to slip into the "flow state" from which creativity and excellence emerge.
I'd like to suggest that this fierce patience is the heart of prayer. And more, that to move from the experience of scarcity and limitation to a place of abundance is contingent on developing the skill of prayer. This is why prayer is referred to as a "practice."
Faith in this realm is believing that the necessary treasure is available, has already been given, (abundant life, the kingdom of heaven within).
The activity of faith is in returning one's attention to waiting, with fierce patience, for the necessary abundance — which we can call love — even when everything appears to be less than. When your whole experience is lack, a lack of energy, courage, compassion, patience.
The ability to delight rather than diminish, to be patient rather than hurried, to be generous rather than fearful and stingy, all these things and many more needful things that make up the beautiful thing that we call love, they all exist. You've seen them. You've expressed them. They are the kingdom of heaven within that Jesus announced.
Yes, there is also a whole lot of fear and shame and all the willful ugliness that follows. Obviously. But all the darkness that ever was can not extinguish the light of love that shines from the image of God within you.
In prayer the ugliness becomes inert in the calm willingness to wait rather than react impulsively. And then the capacity to see and receive, and finally, to express the beautiful emerges, sometimes slowly in small kindnesses, sometimes explosively in courageous acts of generous solidarity.
Everyone knows that all good and beautiful things require skills that are developed through effort, but because of a misunderstanding of grace twisted over the centuries since the reformation, effort in spiritual matters has been equated with earning and pride rather than growth and humility.
"Salvation comes through faith alone, not through works, so that no one may boast."
Okay, whatever that really means, God only knows.
The reason I'm talking about salvation and grace and effort is because prayer is tangled up in religious ideas, and at the heart of true religion is grace, which is a gift, not earned.
But what I'm saying is that the gift of abundant life — which amounts to love received and freely given — has already been gifted, there is no need to earn it, but there is a need to access it. This is self evident. Love abundant exists. But I have and express a paltry portion.
The pearl of great price exists, it's worth selling all you have to acquire it. Prayer is the means of experiencing how everything but love has no value, so I become willing to let everything go and stand in poverty, open-handed, with fierce patience.