20 Minutes Twice a Day
Listening to sacred stillness each day I follow guidelines for a contemplative practice of centering prayer.
Centering prayer is a way of praying and listening beyond thoughts, words, and feelings. We practice giving our consent to the presence and action of spiritual life within us.
One of the standard suggestions about centering prayer is to practice for 20 minutes twice a day. We pause in the morning and in the afternoon or evening for 20 minutes to practice being open.
People ask me practical questions about centering prayer. They want to know what the goal is or how their breathing affects their practice. Some people ask what to do if they make a mistake or get confused.
A question I hear often is about what difference can 20 minutes twice a day make. Some people are skeptical a relatively minimal period of time can be important.
Now 20 minutes, even twice a day, does not sound like much of a commitment. We spend more time than that each day getting ready for work or reading email. A lot of us spend more than 20 minutes twice a day drinking coffee.
I cannot give you scientific information or even good statistics about the difference it makes. Each of us has our own lives and responds in our own unique ways. The best I can offer is to tell you about the difference it makes for me.
My experience is a case study of the difference a practice of 20 minutes twice a day can make. I do not believe only the practice of listening to sacred stillness makes these differences. In fact, I am convinced our lives consist of what we practice, whether we intend them to or not.
The behaviors we practice fit together to create the lives we live.
The Difference 20 Minutes Makes For Me
Our days seem to fly past in the blink of an eye. It feels like we spend weeks trying to catch up starting the moment we open our eyes in the morning. At the end of the day we close our eyes wondering where the time has gone.
It is already July! Could New Year’s Day have been more than two weeks ago?
We may think spending 20 minutes twice a day listening to sacred stillness is a waste of our time. It would be wiser for us to use that time to get something accomplished, right?
When I spend 20 minutes twice a day listening to sacred stillness, I am open. My mind is free to pay attention.
Those 20 minutes twice each day remind us our days are not whizzing past. We take time to sit and listen so we become able to hear sacred truth in the stillness.
Our practice of listening to sacred stillness is not the solution to all our problems. It is not as if we never become frustrated and distracted. We still experience challenges and things still make us angry.
Listening for 20 minutes twice a day helps us learn how to live in our present moments. Each moment is full of eternal potential. Listening is how we build the spiritual muscle to do life’s heavy lifting.
It is not about hearing profound truths or secret messages in the stillness. Listening to sacred stillness helps us learn to hear whispers in the quiet.
Practicing listening each day does not make us especially spiritual people. If anything, our practice reminds us we are not as special as we might want to think we are.
Listening to sacred stillness does not make us superhero. It reminds us we are human.
Why is 20 Minutes Twice a Day Important?
There is nothing magical about practicing for 20 minutes twice a day. On many days I need more than 20 minutes practice listening.
Our practice is not about maintaining a certain level of listening for 20 minutes. It takes us time to stop paying attention to distractions. There are days when we feel we have achieved something by listening well. Then we realize we are not listening, we are evaluating how well we are practicing.
In my experience, 20 minutes gives me enough time to get settled. My practice is not about finding or sustaining a “perfect” level of listening. I practice listening to sacred stillness long enough not to be assessing my performance.
In some ways, practicing for 20 minutes is important because of how we do not spend that time. My practice makes my choices and priorities clearer to me. I learn about myself when I give up something else I would like to do to practice listening to sacred stillness.
Practicing listening to sacred stillness for 20 minutes twice a day is like other practices. As we practice playing a musical instrument we become a guitarist or a drummer. We practice basketball and we become players. When we practice law or medicine we slowly become lawyers or doctors.
Through our daily contemplative practice of listening to sacred stillness we become listeners.
20 Minutes Twice a Day Can Change Our Lives
We do not practice listening to sacred stillness to transform ourselves into different people. We are not trying to make ourselves better or stronger or improve ourselves.
Our practice of listening is about opening ourselves to what sacred stillness has for us.
Practicing listening is not about learning to be more effective listeners. We listen so we can hear what is there. As we spend 20 minutes listening twice each day we become more accustomed to and comfortable with stillness.
The truths we are most hungry to hear are waiting for us in sacred stillness.
Our experience of stillness helps us recognize how sacred it is.
We listen to sacred stillness and begin to hear how valuable life can be.
Listening to sacred stillness in the world around us we begin to hear the sacred stillness which is within us.
What we hear when we listen for 20 minutes twice a day changes how we live our lives.
When will we spend 20 minutes making a difference today?
How will spending 20 minutes twice a day change our week this week?
[Image by Ian D]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.