Twenty Minutes

Teachers of centering prayer recommend that you devote twenty minutes at a time, twice a day, to centering prayer.

Ken Wilber, in advocating meditation as a tool for the transformation of consciousness, advocates thirty minutes, twice a day.

Yesterday I had the rare opportunity to devote an hour to silence: once in the morning, and twice in the evening, twenty minutes per “sit.” What I noticed is that each time I probably took fifteen minutes just to flush out the mental chatter and the screeching of the monkey mind, thus allowing me to rest in that elusive place “below” my inner discourse, for a good five minutes or so until the bell rang signifying the end of the twenty minutes.

Another twenty minutes this morning, and indeed, much the same dynamics.

This isn’t really news, and not even news for me. I’ve experienced this before: twenty minutes of contemplative time equals the hope of a brief glimmer of the peace which surpasses understanding. But experiencing it four times in a row over little more than a day’s time just brought it home to me all over again.

So let me encourage you: if you are struggling to establish a daily discipline of centering or contemplative prayer, give yourself the gift of time. Allow for twenty minutes without interruption when you sit down to pray. Breathe into it. Don’t struggle with it, or with yourself. When the monkey mind chatters away, just keep breathing. And persevere for the twenty minutes, all of it a gift to God — the gift of your fully unadorned self.

And then do it again, and again, and again. Ideally twice a day, but once a day is better than nothing. Just keep breathing.

Entering the Year of Mercy: Are You Willing to Take the "Rahner Challenge"?
Emptiness and Non-Attachment
Catholic Meditation and Contemplative Prayer: What's the Difference?
Preliminary Practices for Christian Contemplatives
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • al jordan

    Very encouraging and helpful. Thanks for sharing from your personal experience. Anyone set upon a spiritual path confronts the monkey mind and mental chatter as a constant challenge to inner stillness and centeredness. I guess it’s because our sense of control and small self (i.e. ego) are dependent upon keeping up the noise and assurances of our mental activity. But the truth, as you point out, is that we cannot grasp peace, we must let go into it, a breathing out and surrender. I really like you notion of “the gift of our fully unadorned self.” That really captures the essence of what’s left when we let the all the chatter go. Life’s demands are such that we cannot live there, but we can visit as often as we will. Thanks again.

  • Jan

    This is very important. Check out my priest Sandy Casey-Martus’ Christ-Centered Prayer and books about that topic here.

  • Jan

    Here’s the address; I’m not sure if I put it in correctly with the former comment:

  • rosanna mahmood

    Does using a verse or repeated word/s interfere with silence or aid it? especially if you are a newby and trying to set aside all things to be done (running a family and being involved in the church i.e many dimensions of things going on).

  • Bob

    The twenty minute thing always seemed very mechanistic to me. The relational characteristics from prayer have been striped away. Much ado has been made with the likes of Keating and Rohr that implies doing a 20 minute sit is the pinnacle and highest achievement in prayer. What ever happened to intercessory and psalm type praying. Ignation retreats are not based on centering prayer. Scripture is very sparse on prayer techniques. Was Jesus blanking out his mind or doing a mind dump repeating a word over and over. Centering prayer is a recent Eastern religious technique.

  • Marcia

    The “monkey mind” comes from Hinduism and Buddhism. They believe that thoughts and thinking interfere with spiritual insight and enlightenment because the brain is part of material reality, and hence, an illusion. This is a very Gnostic dichotomy between matter and spirit and also not biblical. I used to do Buddhist meditation (and Hindu before that) for many years. Buddhist texts are full of references to the monkey mind and to “chatter.” This type of meditation is not biblical meditation. The 20 minutes comes from TM (Transcendental Meditation) via Thomas Keating, who had a TM teacher come to a monastery and teach his techniques. Biblical meditation is meditating on God’s word, which means reading and pondering it. It does not mean to sit still and go beyond thinking or into a no-thinking state. Contemplative prayer advocates have syncretized Buddhist and Hindu techniques with Christian prayer, including the mantra, though it’s not really prayer at all. They even admit this in their books. God tells us to use our mind. The Bible is in words, and language is based on order and logic. In fact, order and logic are based on God’s character. Eastern meditation is a form of self-induced hypnosis. The mantra is used to get into an altered state, as are the breathing techniques. One can feel peaceful and like one is in touch with God, but this is all part of the result of this state. We know God and are close to Him through faith in Christ, through the indwelling Holy Spirit, through God’s word, through biblical prayer, and through worship and praise.