The Candle Exercise is really quite simple. It’s best if you use quality candles, but any candle will do, if that’s all you have.
Here’s the ideal setup; you can adjust accordingly:
One beeswax altar candle (approximately one inch in diameter), the kind used in Catholic and Episcopal churches. You can get them at any Catholic supply store. Avoid colored or scented candles and those with decals or any other ornamentation. Don’t use votive lights or candles inside a glass container.
A small, inexpensive brass candle holder is best, preferably polished and without too much ornamentation. The simpler the better.
Set the candle on a table, preferably on a clean, white napkin or table cloth. There should be nothing else on the table, or, at the very least, nothing that could distract you from the candle.
This exercise should be done in a darkened room.
It’s always best to prepare yourself by saying a short prayer, such as the Our Father or Hail Mary, or you can read an inspiring poem—anything that will calm your mind and emotions and help you get centered.
The Candle Exercise is a concentration exercise. This means that no unrelated thoughts should enter your mind while you’re doing it. Do not let your mind wander.
Sit at the table with the candle directly in front of you. Sit up straight but comfortably. The candle flame should be just below eye-level.
Begin the exercise by thinking about the candle and its flame. Notice the different colors within the flame. See how the heat rises up from its tip and how this convection current shapes the fire into a point. In your mind’s eye, see how the heat from the flame rises straight up, creating vortices in the air.
Notice how the wick of the candle draws wax up into the flame, which uses it for fuel. What are the byproducts of this combustion? What is combustion? How does it work? What are its requirements?
At some point, turn your attention to the candlelight. Notice how and where the light is brightest and where it is most dim. How does the light propagate from its source, the flame? Use your imagination to see how the light moves out in all directions in a globular shape. Get a sense for how fast it is moving and get a feel for how it moves. Appreciate how inexhaustible it is, how much is produced by this tiny flame.
These are the kinds of thoughts you should be having while you do the Candle Exercise. You can have any thoughts you want, just as long as they relate in some way, either literally or symbolically, to the fire or combustion process.
What you should not do is space out or let yourself get lulled into a hypnotic state. The purpose of the exercise is to train your attention, to develop focus. So don’t drift. Also, don’t try to “see things” in the flame. This isn’t Game of Thrones. You’re not looking for guidance or trying to peer into other realms. No, really…I mean it. Don’t do that. Stay present, stay focused. Discipline your mind.
This process should last about ten to fifteen minutes. Any longer than that tends to defeat the purpose. When you’re finished, get up and do something else. Don’t think about the thoughts or experiences you had while doing the exercise. Just put the stuff away and go about your day or evening.
After three or four weeks of doing this exercise at least once a day, every day, begin it as you normally do, but then, after a few minutes or so, blow out the candle and complete the exercise with your eyes closed, visualizing the candle flame in front of you. Do this for at least a week. Then, once you have that down, slowly move the visualized candle flame towards you and into the space just behind and below your heart. Don’t force it. Let it happen gently and naturally. If you try to force it, you risk disturbing yourself at a pretty deep level. This is why you must first master the focus part of the exercise before moving on to this part.
Also, don’t “experiment” with placing the visualized flame in your head or any other part of your body. Do it exactly as I have described. If you see it in your head, it can over-stimulate your nervous system and can even give you a headache. Don’t mess around with this. It’s more powerful than you think.
So, in the visualization phase of this exercise, remember these few rules:
1) don’t force it.
2) stay in the area just behind and below your heart.
3) stay relaxed but alert.
4) don’t let yourself fall asleep with an unattended candle!
This kind of exercise is usually only given to students under the direct supervision of a teacher. If you have read this far and are committed to doing this exercise, AND you actually do it for the lengths of time specified above without interruption, then you are going to want to have a teacher. If and when that day comes, contact me, Michael Maciel, at email@example.com. You can also reach me via Facebook Messenger.
I’m a priest and teacher trained in the Holy Order of MANS. I believe that understanding comes from direct experience, not from reading a mountain of books. I help people take charge of their spiritual life by providing them with a systematic, self-guided program designed to get the most out of their spiritual practice and to create a deep and fulfilling relationship with God.