Candle gazing meditation
The meditation method that quite literally lights the way…for all those seeking respite from a busy mind. By Mark Pearson
Meditation — or rather the goal of meditation, the route to the destination of meditation — is a difficult thing to explain in words, for the goal of the practice itself, is to get to a place of peace beyond words, beyond language and labels. It is to fall into a place of thoughtless awareness. We do experience these moments ordinarily throughout the day.
Even if we have the busiest mind in the world, full of ideas, thoughts and a narrative of reflection, remorse, or rage, we do have those peaceful moments, but they are so brief that we don’t recognise them, as the echo chamber of our skull reverberates to the vibration of habitual thinking and inner dialogue. Here is a first practice: set a timer for five minutes and observe your mind. Sitting on the floor, or on a chair, with a straight back, close your eyes, slow deep breaths and just sit.
Notice how your mind operates. The chit chat, see how it leaps in both associative and dissociative ways. It seems likely that at the end of those five minutes you’d be more aware of just how messy your mind is. Don’t worry most minds are. So what's next? Next is to extend that awareness, and to notice the brief moments of stillness that do occur. To notice that amidst all the noise, you do in fact have moments of peace. Like when you pause a film or some music that you’re listening to, you notice the silence, in contrast to the sound that went before.
The practice then in meditation is to notice the sounds of silence as they come. But here's the kicker…as soon as you notice the silence, you've actually slipped back into thinking mind: “Oh there is the silence. I see it”. Thinking, labelling, speaking. So nothing to do but reset and observe again. Feel the silence. Move into the silence.
For a person who has never meditated before, and has grown up in a culture and society predicated upon noise, instructions such as “feel the silence; move into the silence” can prove frustrating. So let me share with you the meditation method I consider best suited to leading the beginner toward the space of mind and awareness that is meditation.
A place beyond the noise and language that has been input into your mind since the early days of childhood. The practice is called Trataka, which is the Sanskrit term for concentrated gazing. Generally it could be staring at anything with concentration; a dot on the wall, a flower, an icon, a mountain, the sea, but forget those for now.
If you're someone who has never tried meditation, or who has tried it but never quite found the place, then read on, because this, I believe, is the way in. The method that quite literally lights the way. The method is candle gazing, and here’s how to do it.
Light a candle and place it before you in a dimly lit, preferably pitch black environment, approximately three feet away. Have it positioned neither too far below, or too far above eye level, and simply stare at the flame. Just stare at it. Stare at its centre and try not to let your eyes wander too much. Do this for approximately 5-10 minutes.
During this time you may notice your eyes start to sting ever so slightly, possibly begin to water. Don’t panic, you're not going blind. Look away briefly if you must, but come back to the flame, then when the time is up, close your eyes. After that time spent gazing upon the candle, you should now find that with your eyes closed, the imprint of the flame is visible to you in the area of Ajna chakra, or the third eye; a spot located between your eyebrows.
If that is so, simply observe the image of the flame embedded on your awareness behind closed eyelids, just as you observed it in the 5-10 minutes previously, when your eyes were open. That light is your light at the end of the tunnel.
Do not lose sight of it. Imagine you're in a disaster movie, buried deep underground, and that light is your route out. That is the one pointed focus of your meditation. No thoughts, just awareness. The candle flame is it. If the candle flame becomes less visible to you, and you find your mind wandering, open your eyes and refuel on the dancing blaze of fire for a few minutes.
Then close your eyes again to observe the flame imprinted on your mind. Repeat, repeat, repeat, and with practice you’ll eventually be able to meditate without the candle, as the landscape of your interior stillness becomes more familiar to you. May you see the light.
Mark Pearson is a dreamer, idler and explorer of yogic and Buddhist ideas and practices, as well as a qualified yoga teacher, who blogs at: dharmayoga2106.wordpress.com or find him on Facebook @dharmabum2106
First published in November 2009, OM Yoga magazine has become the most popular yoga title in the UK. Available from all major supermarkets, independents and newsstands across the UK. Also available on all digital platforms.