Monday, March 30, 2015

Meditation Monday: The Candle Gaze

By Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC

In an effort to take the “manic” out of “Monday,” this weekly post explores techniques, issues, latest research, and other thoughts on meditation. Nancy facilitates a weekly meditation group at The Awakening Center. For more information, contact her at 773.929.6262, extension 17 or

“My mind keeps wandering!” It is perfectly natural to become distracted during meditation, but often, we get discouraged and start believing we’re “doing it wrong.” Meditation can become very frustrating when the distraction is followed by self-criticism, which just leads to more distraction.

It takes time to accept our challenges with self-compassion, so in the meantime, using a technique that facilitates focusing can be helpful

The Candle Meditation technique can help build focus but also takes some practice and guidance. But the technique gives the practitioner a relief from self-critical thoughts that can be so discouraging. 


Choose your candle carefully. A scented candle is fine as long as the fragrance is agreeable to you. Sneezing and having an itchy nose do not exactly foster relaxation and focus. You want a good-sized flame, so make sure the wick isn’t trimmed too short. Position the candle so that it is at eye level or slightly below. You want it directly in front of you so that you don’t have to turn your head.

The room should be dimly lit to avoid eyestrain; make sure the candle is placed away from breezes or drafts. You want the flame to be as still as possible. 


Start by taking a few deep breaths to center yourself. Then allow your gaze to softly rest on the flame. Try to remain as still as possible. Allow the flame to become slightly out of focused. When your eyes become somewhat uncomfortable or begin to water a bit, close your eyes and focus on the after image. Once it fades, return your gaze to the candle. 


As you practice, you might notice that objects in your periphery fade away and all you are aware of is the candle. This is when you can focus your energy toward something virtuous that the candle represents. The candle can allow you to shift into a type of lovingkindness meditation: 
“May light of acceptance replace darkness of fear and hatred.”
“May light of knowledge replace darkness of ignorance.”
“May light of kindness replace darkness of selfishness.”
Follow your breath and imagine you are inhaling candle light, allowing the glow to fill the dark places in your mind and body. 


When you feel ready, allow your focus to expand to the room around you. Give yourself a few minutes to sit quietly before returning to your activities.

Experiment with this meditation, finding what works for you. See if you notice a difference when you practice other meditation techniques. Introduce music or calming sounds—try different candles. Customize your Candle Meditation and enjoy the results!

Nancy Hall, MA, NCC, LPC is a staff therapist and the intake coordinator at The Awakening Center. In addition to seeing clients for individual therapy, she leads the weekly meditation group and co-leads the Somatic-Experience-Informed Trauma Healing Group. Check and subscribe out her blog “All Shapes and Sizes,” which appears on Chicago Tribune’s media partner

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