Candle Light Meditation
The holiday season is officially upon us. It’s that time of year we hope is magical, but the reality is that it’s usually high stress. Our days are jam packed with things to do and people to see. My own traditions are centered around Christmas.
Years ago, in my late twenties, I moved to Italy the week after Thanksgiving. Why this seemed like the best time to make that leap, I’m still not entirely sure, but there I was lugging two giant suitcases through the Rome airport to a train to Florence to a taxi to Fiesole. I arrived with my ex-husband on a dark and wet night and we woke up in a jet-lagged fog the next morning, barely dragging ourselves out of bed before the town shut down for siesta. It took a good long while to find our footing. What I remember most about those first days and weeks, ahead of Christmas, was the fairly quiet anticipation. The little town where we lived, as well as the city, had a festive, yet muted, atmosphere–a stark contrast to the hustle of Decembers back in the States. I was so surprised by the lack of manic preparation, by the contemplative nature of the first few weeks of our arrival. Decorations were hung, yes. Gifts were purchased, sure. Meals were planned with care, of course. Yet, a calm hovered over it all, right up until Christmas Eve. And then, suddenly, the village came alive. Everyone bustled about gathering ingredients and packages. Shops had normal, or longer than normal, hours. Anticipation grew and grew, as the entire countryside seemed to show up for mass at the church in the piazza. Midnight felt like mid-day. We went home high on Christmas cheer and barely slept. The next day we cooked and feasted with friends. And the party continued as energy built towards New Year’s Eve. And even then it didn’t stop. We just kept on celebrating through Epiphany and on into Carnivale, right up to Mardi Gras. January was this festive, indulgent season, rather than a time to diet and renew exercise commitments.
Ok, you’re thinking, nice story, but how does this translate to a wellness Wednesday tip? I hear you. I live in America again and I get swept up in the December craze just like everyone else. I wait too long to make my lists, rush around figuring out gifts, put off the photo card order until mid-month and dissolve into an angry mess when that final strand of lights for the tree won’t turn on. I expect to feel happy and joyful, and forget that every year I struggle with disappointment, sadness and loneliness. I’m not immune to the culture I live in. But there’s a part of me that longs for the peace I experienced back in Italy and I look for ways to cultivate it here, even in if it’s just in little doses. I imagine most of us could benefit from some simple ways to de-stress this time of year and connect with feelings and needs that are often pushed aside as we attempt to live out an idealized holiday fantasy.
One practice I have is with candles. Lighting a little flame is a soothing ritual. It brings an element of warmth and tranquility to our lives. And it’s a great way to wind down at the end of a hectic day that probably involved a lot of screen time. If you want to change one small thing about the way you move through the next few weeks, I recommend candle gazing as a way to soothe the nervous system and reduce anxiety. Here’s what you do. Set aside 5-10 minutes before you go to bed. If this seems hard, set a timer on your phone as a reminder. Then, turn off your phone for the night. Find your matches and a candle. Sit down somewhere comfortable or even climb into bed. Take a few deep breaths and light the flame. Pay attention to the sound of the match lighting, of the burst of light, of the scent of the wood burning. Let your body relax, especially your eyes. Let your eyeballs settle back into your head and turn your gaze to the flame. Let your awareness rest with this gentle light as your world slows down and you remember how to breathe deeply. If you feel the urge to fidget or reach again for your phone, take a breath and let the sensation pass. It will, as all things do. Return your attention to the flame and let your eyes find respite from the addictive, digital lights of our regular lives. Prepare your body for the rest it needs. Give yourself just a bit of time to disengage from the modern world and prepare your inner self for this season that can be so full of a spectrum of emotion.
Rebekah Papé is a writer, yoga teacher and Riveter member. Her personal wellness practices and teachings are seasonally inspired. Join her weekly for yoga and meditation, and on December 20th for Accessible Ayurveda - Welcome Winter.