Imagine God is right in front of you when you’re praying.
We are given this advice an infinite number of times when trying to figure out how to not be distracted during prayer.
But how does one actually do this? No one knows what God looks like. It’s not like having another human in front of you. You aren’t supposed to close your eyes during salah so your surroundings are still visible—the floor, carpet, the room around you, the decorative prayer mat whose designs are now starting to emerge as little gnome faces. In short, it can be difficult to transcend into another place.
I’ve found a couple things over time that aren’t the full answer but have at least helped me try and accomplish this:
Knowing that Allah is paying attention
As humans we are used to seeing things and it’s challenging for us to imagine what we cannot observe visually. But the important part to remember is that it isn’t just us trying to pay attention to Allah. Allah pays attention to us. The Prophet alayhis salam has related:
“Allah faces the servant during prayer as long as he does not turn away.”
It’s not as easy paying attention to someone who could care less. But that isn’t the case at all during salah. Allah is turned toward his servant when he is engaged in prayer. The more we acknowledge that Allah is listening, the easier it becomes to stay focused.
Entering Allah’s Presence
There was a two-minute segment by Hamza Yusuf that always comes to my mind called The Metaphysics of Salah. It’s short and definitely worth the watch, but he basically explains that prayer is: entering into The Presence. And that the reason we say ‘Allahu Akbar’ by lifting our hands up into the air is that we are pushing this world away and putting it behind us, reminding ourselves Allahu Akbar—Allah is greater—than all of this world, and we leave it, entering a state of presence with our Lord.
This has been my precious, little wonderland for a few years now. While studying stars, relativity and other fun things up in the sky, my friend showed me a video about the scale of celestial objects in our universe. After watching, I paced up and down my cousin’s room thinking: “how can this be…!” I was overwhelmed, perplexed, but to be completely accurate—emotionally upturned. It was my first or second instance of feeling this way (the other being the Hubble Ultra Deep Field). You must see the scale video though before I continue speaking:
How does this relate to prayer? It offers a way of feeling Allah’s presence not by seeing Him like we see other things, but by seeing Him through His other creation.
When I pray, I sometimes imagine the model of Earth in this video, as it turns to show the eastern hemisphere and I get a glimpse of Saudi Arabia where I grew up. In that split second, I try to grasp something whose scale my mind can process. I imagine the size of myself in my room, in my home, in the city I grew up in, in the tiny part of the Eastern province, in the gigantic Arabian peninsula, which takes up only a small part of the entire planet.
From there I imagine the next largest planet, and the next, and then the stars and then the much later image that shows the size of Earth compared to the biggest known star. It’s a much quicker thought process than it sounds. And at the end of it, I remember that Allah is much, much bigger than all of this, and here I am standing before Him as He faces me listening to my prayer.