When I was a little girl, my family and I lived, what is considered today, ‘off the grid’. We had no electricity. Our home was heated with wood and we used kerosene lanterns and candles for light. We listened to the news of the world on a battery-operated radio.
I clearly recall staring at the candles or the kerosene lanterns at night and looking up to watch the flickering shadows on the wooden beams of the ceiling and the whitewashed walls of our rooms. There was, and is, something so beautiful, calming, and ancient about the light of a flame.
When I began exploring contemplative practices, meditation and yoga in my twenties, candle meditation seemed natural and nurturing. Not only did it remind me of the caring and warm moments of childhood but it calmed my busy ‘monkey mind’. The dancing flames created a form of constant entertainment for the mind so it didn’t wonder off from ‘branch to branch’. Candle gazing is a very good way to focus our attention. It’s special because fire has a unique effect on the mind and our primal relationship to survival.
For thousands of years, our ancestors gazed at fire every single night, sometimes for hours, while preparing food, keeping warm and eventually to calm themselves to sleep. Gazing at fire is mesmerizing and trance-inducing.
Today, in our home, a wood stove is still prominent, particularly on cold winter nights. Watching the dancing flames, our brain begins to shift out of beta brainwave state, which is associated with thinking and alertness, into alpha brainwave state, which corresponds to a relaxed and creative state of mind. Alpha brainwaves then become theta brainwaves, which are associated with meditation, intuition, the unconscious and our relationship to Spirit. When we shift out of our beta/monkey-mind activity and into alpha and theta, the mind becomes relaxed, open, and receptive.
Today, in our world, fire has been replaced with screens – phones, computers, televisions, etc. The difference between fire and screens is that, when fire is our focus, the mind is able to relax and process un-integrated content. Flickering screens, on the other hand, move us into a receptive space and then project images into our minds when they are most vulnerable and open. This easily leads to restless sleep and feelings of fatigue and ‘brain fog’.
During the winter months, candle focus can be a particularly powerful practice. As the days grow shorter and the darkness deepens, meditating with a candle can be both soothing and inspiring. You might want to wrap yourself up in a cozy blanket, turn out all the lights, and settle onto your cushion or a chair. The candle is a presence of its own, and you may feel the element of fire almost as a living, breathing companion as you settle into your meditation – whether it’s for 5 minutes or 25 minutes.
So, even though, today we are blessed to live in a house with electricity and the usual modern amenities of the day, candlelight is an integral reminder of simplicity. It’s a soothing balm for the spirit. The quality of light is so peaceful and comforting, that no matter how small, it can warm the long winter nights and support us in accessing deeper states of tranquility and contemplation.
What is now for many, a very busy time of the year, I encourage us all to take time to settle with the light of a candle to help refresh our eyes and settle the nervous system. Calming and balancing our being is a wonderful gift we offer ourselves, and all those we interact with.
Wishing you the peacefulness of a calm mind, a balanced body, an awakened spirit and a loving heart.