There are many ways of allowing for the meditative state to occur. The most well known way is to sit somewhere comfortable, like on a meditation cushion, with shut eyes, while turning the attention inward to the realm of thoughts and/or some physical sensation, like the breath.
Trāṭaka (look, gaze in sanskrit), also known as a candle gazing meditation technique, is an ancient yogic and tantric way of allowing the mind to settle down, defocus and refocus. By placing your attention upon an external object, which in this case is a candlelight, the mind and attention are gradually aligned with the inherent nature of the flame, both as movement and silence. In fact, a candlelight or fire in general are, in a somewhat poetic way, mirrors of our own minds and psyches, the way it flickers, the way thoughts come and go, and most importantly, the potential for stillness, however brief those moments may be.
The potential benefits of practicing trāṭaka are many, here are some of the most notable ones:
- Boosts your ability to concentrate and focus
- Soothes and calms the psychological mind
- Strengthens the muscles of the eyes
- Potentially improves your eyesight
- Good practice for people with short attention spans
There are many pros of being able to focus on one object at a time. Think about it, if you’re always distracted by internal and external noise carrying you away, you won’t be able to grow in any given field, artform, skill or discipline. Whether spiritual or secular, physical or psychological, focus on demand is a great ability to have.
The trāṭaka technique, if practiced regularly, will most likely heighten your sense of concentration and willpower while simultaneously allowing for more still moments of mind in your life to appear.
You can practice candle gazing as a stand-alone meditation practice but we mostly recommend doing it as preparation before doing a proper and longer meditation session.
So then, how do you do go about doing it? Let’s have a look together!
How to Candle Gaze
First things first, preparations are necessary for an effective candle gazing meditation session. If you have the time and resources we recommend acquiring comfy clothes to wear or a blanket/shawl, a decent meditation pillow or bench, a meditation altar, shrine or table of some sort, and last but not least, a good set of non-toxic candles like those made from beeswax or soy. Our recommendation is the 10″ beeswax taper candles from Hyoola, they are handmade, natural, unscented and last a fairly long time.
When you’re done with the preliminary preparations, it’s time to do the trāṭaka:
- Choose a quiet and dark or dimly lighted space in your home, a place where you know that you won’t be disturbed.
- Remove and turn off distractions such as electronics, phones, tablets, computers etc.
- Light a candle and place it on your meditation table about 2-4 feet directly in front of you. Also make sure the surface is leveled so the candle won’t tip and fall over.
- Sit down on your meditation cushion or bench. An comfortable and upright posture with relaxed shoulders is good. You could try the lotus or half-lotus position if you’re experienced.
- Take a few deep breaths to relax in to the assumed position. Feel yourself physically and psychologically settle down into the moment as it is.
- Now, gaze at the candlelight, intently but in a relaxed manner.
- Allow the candle to be the main focus of your attention and mind.
- Maintain your stare and hold your gaze steady, even or especially if you start feeling distracted or slightly irritated.
- Avoid blinking as much as you can. This will result in your eyes starting to water slightly, but its normal.
- Whenever you sense that you starting losing focus, however slight, just return your full attention to the flame before you.
- While you’re gazing at the candle, thoughts will appear that distract you from the flame to the internal noise of the mental world. Recognize this and return your focus and attention to the flame.
- Being aware of the breath while gazing at the candle is a good addition to this technique. The breath and the flame can appear to start synchronizing, which is a good thing as the mind naturally becomes more one-pointed.
- When your trāṭaka meditation is completed, lay down on your back and close your eyes for a couple of minutes. This is good for your body, mind and eyes to return to its natural way of functioning before going about your day or starting your proper meditation session.
In this highly advanced technological age, a time of distraction and overstimulation, we need techniques that focus the mind more than ever. As we go along into tomorrow, the trāṭaka meditation technique and others like it may become more important than we know. Because think about it, everything you perceive is essentially trying to grab your attention left and right, by learning to understand how your attention and mind faculties operate, you’re more able to realign yourself with the invaluable sense of presence which is your essential nature.
Daniel Seeker is a wandering dervish and lifelong student of the past, present and future. He realized deep relaxations of the psyche when meditating in his hermit cave on the island of Gotland. His writings are mostly a reflection of that realizaton. Daniel currently studies history and philosophy at Uppsala Universitet, as he is currently writing his B.A. thesis in history which explores how Buddhist and Hindu texts were first properly translated and introduced to the western world in the late 18th and 19th century.