Rabbi Yosi and Rabbi Hizkiyah were traveling to see Rabbi Shimon in Kappadocia. Rabbi Hizkiyah said: It is known that a man should first arrange praises of his Master [in the first 3 blessings in the Amidah] and only then to say his prayer [for personal and communal requests in the intermediate blessings]. What of a man who is in distress or whose heart is occupied and he wishes to pray, yet cannot bring himself to focus properly on his Master's praises because he is under stress? What is [the law, if he is still required to arrange praises of his Master first]?

Rabbi Yosi said to him: Even though he is not fully focused in heart and intent, why should his Master's praises and their arrangement be lacking? He should pronounce his Master's praises, even if he can't focus on them properly, and then say his prayer
[and request his needs]. This is the meaning of: "A prayer of David. Hear what is rightfully Yours, O G‑d, attend to my cry." (Ps. 17:1) First, "Hear what is rightfully Yours, O G‑d" [King David would first focus on G‑d's praises] and only then "attend to my cry, give ear to my prayer [i.e. requests of his needs]." Whoever can praise his Master, yet does not do so, of him it is written: "Even when you say many prayers [requesting your needs], I will not hear..." (Isaiah 1:15) [your prayers will not be accepted because you didn't arrange praises of your Master first].

[More is said about the intention of prayer:] It is written, "One lamb shall you offer in the morning, and the other lamb shall you offer at evening." (Num. 28:4) The prayers [of Israel] were arranged in place of the daily offerings [and achieve all that was to be achieved by the sacrificial offerings]. Come and see: by the awakening below [from the world of Asiya through sacrificial offerings and prayer] there is also awakening above [in the world of Yetzira]. Through the awakening above towards that which is higher still [to the world of Beriya] too, until the awakening reaches the place [of malchut of Atzilut] where the light is to be lit, and it shines. Thus, through the ascent of the smoke [of the sacrificial offerings] below, the candle is lit above [in malchut of Atzilut]. When this light is lit, all other lamps are lit and all the worlds are blessed through it [i.e. malchut of Atzilut sends the light of consciousness and blessings to the worlds of Beriya, Yetzira and Asiya]. Thus the arousal of the offering from below [or the prayers that are recited in their stead] is the rectification of this world and causes blessings to flow to all the worlds.

How is this
[awakening above through the offerings] performed? When the smoke from the offering commences to rise, the holy forms [of the angels] appointed over the world [of Asiya] are caused to rouse [through the elevation of Feminine Waters]. They cause an arousal of passion to rise upwards towards the levels above them [in the world of Yetzira] with great desire [for their sustenance], as it says, "The young lions roar after their prey..." (Ps. 104:21) [ie. asking G‑d to provide their sustenance] Those are aroused toward the levels above them [in the world of Beriya through the elevation of Feminine Waters to malchut of Atzilut] until the King [Zeir Anpin] wishes to join the Matron [malchut].

Through the passion below
[of fulfilling mitzvot and good deeds], the lower [feminine] waters rise to receive the upper [masculine] waters [which are the abundance flowing from the heavens]. The higher waters do not flow other than through the arousal of this lower passion. Then both desire to cleave together [in a supernal union], the lower [feminine] waters flow to meet the upper [masculine] waters. The worlds are blessed, all the lights [the sefirot] lit, and the upper and lower beings are endowed with blessings.

BeRahamim LeHayyim: Why did the Ari and Chida include this section? What do they want us to learn?

The above Zohar describes the ascent of prayer and the resultant lighting of celestial luminaries. When we do mitzvoth below, we shine on our earth plain and when we do teshuvah, we become supernal lamplighters.

The plan:
(1) Cleanse yourself with love as water and refine yourself with passionate love as fire. Do good first, and turning away from evil will happen at the same time, guaranteed. Use waters of chesed to immerse in, return to the womb of Supernal Imma/mother - "My G‑d, the soul You placed within me is pure"! Use fiery love as passion to arouse yourself to even higher heights than you ever imagined!
(2) Reject the negative self-labeling; do not consider yourself a Rasha/wicked. See yourself as good. You are wonderful, love yourself as such, and you can make a great start, shining the heart light from within to without.
(3) Now see the shining heart light of your fellow. It too burns bright and glows, even if he or she can't see it. For only the tzaddik sees Holy sparks even in those places where the shells have concealed all outside light. See this light in your buddy or neighbor, and you will have completed the introductory course in Tzaddik 101.
(4) Assist this person in his or her efforts to return. Not by words, but by your example.

This is what it means to me, and to my teshuvah!

Bracketed annotations from Metok Midevash and Sulam commentaries
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