The “work of prayer,” in brief, consists of being in tune, paying progressively deeper attention to what one is saying until one’s heart is in tune with one’s words.
This inner work precedes prayer itself.
Like the foundation of a building, it is the basis of one’s concentration–whether it is the mystical unifications of the Ari or “praying like this little child.”
There is a world of difference between focused attention based on kabbalistic secrets, in which the words of prayer are understood on a profound plane, and simple prayer, which focuses on the literal meaning of the words.
But they both possess the same necessary foundation: attention to what one is saying.
If a person recites a prayer that is not his-if he is merely speaking someone else’s words-that is not truly prayer.
A person should mean truly what he says; on whatever level he speaks, it should be the reality in which he lives and prays.
The main point of prayer is that “I am praying.”
When I am saying my own prayer, then it is on a very high level.
–Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz