Staring at the light of a candle flame, it turns out, might have health benefits. OK, I know it sounds weird, so let me explain.
I’m talking about using light to assist in meditation. Here’s how it works: You darken a room. Make it a comfortable temperature. Light a candle, sit down and set the candle near eye level. Notice that the center of the candle flame is dark, like there’s a shadow within the flame. Stare into that shadow. It’s a neat trick.
You’ll notice that your mind completely clears as you stare at the center of the flame. I know this is getting really new-agey, and that’s not my intention. When I tried this I was as skeptical as you. But, I’m telling you, when I stared at that flame, it was like my mind became like that shadow. Very tranquil. And I never meditate or any of that stuff.
After I settled in and became comfortable, I stared at the center of the flame for about ten minutes. I lost focus of the flame after only a few minutes. The flame’s movement becomes a thrilling dance. Now it’s still, now it’s flickering wildly. All the while, no real coherent thoughts creep into my mind. I even try what I’ve learned online, pretending that I am breathing the light of the flame in and out with every breath. It might sound weird now, but it was pretty awesome.
Afterwards I felt a certain internal heaviness, like there was some gravitational force emanating from the core of my being, pulling my whole body toward unconsciousness. In other words, I wanted to go to sleep! But as I became more alert, I realized that I was in a great mood, and I was happy to be back to work.
OK, so is this a good thing? Or was it just a moment of mental vacuity? Don’t we achieve enough mental stillness when we’re, you know, SLEEPING? What is the point of this?
Staring at a candle flame is one method people use for meditation. I don’t meditate at all ever, although I’ve heard that there are certain benefits to “mindfulness,” as they call it. Decreased stress levels. Increased ability to focus. I know some people even think some forms of meditation help keep fatal diseases at bay. Some people even meditate for religious or spiritual purposes. For them, the benefits of meditation extend into the afterlife!
I’ve never heard anyone say meditation is bad for you.
In fact, according to Science Daily, transcendental meditation reduces the risk of heart disease significantly. That’s right, I said it. Boom!
A 9-year, $3.8 billion study conducted at The Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee in collaboration with the Institute for Natural Medicine and Prevention at Maharishi University found “a 47 percent reduction in the combination of death, heart attacks, and strokes” in those who practiced transcendental meditation daily. Does pretending to breath in light still sound weird?
I also encountered a study in a peer-reviewed journal that reported that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), “a structured group program that employs mindfulness meditation to alleviate suffering associated with physical, psychosomatic and psychiatric disorders,” found that “MBSR may help a broad range of individuals to cope with their clinical and nonclinical problems.”
It has even been argued that meditation is great for kids. One peer-reviewed study found that “Meditation provides a good starting point for learning and creativity.” The researchers assert that “There are strong pedagogical reasons for including meditation as part of the daily experience of pupils of all ages and abilities.” The study concludes that “Meditation is a proven means for stilling the mind, encouraging mindfulness, and providing optimum conditions for generative thinking and reflection.”
I’m sold. But, you know what? I’m also “sold” that drinking kale juice every morning would be great for me. That doesn’t mean I do it. Meditation, I’m convinced, is GREAT for you and for everyone. I really believe that. But how does one meditate? And when? And what will people think of me if I stare into the dark center of a candle’s flame daily?
For me, the benefits of meditation outweigh any concerns, and using the candle light solved the problem of how to meditate. I think it would be cool to stare at the dark center of a flame for a few minutes per day. Better mood? Increased focus? Better thinking and reflection? Less risk of heart disease? Yes, I think I’ll sign up.
You know, it goes without saying, but light is truly amazing.
Just as an extra bonus for you all this week, here’s a link to the song “A Candle’s Fire” by Beirut, a band that I, personally, love. It seems appropriate, so enjoy!