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What Is Light? Candle Meditation

Why do we call Chanukah the Festival of Lights?

What is light? (I’ll leave the physics to scientists).

Light is often viewed as a metaphor for wisdom or a deep spiritual experience, such as closeness to G-d.

And then there is the symbol of a light going off in someone’s head when understanding, or the “ah-ah moment.”

This time of year that we celebrate Chanukah, we have the shortest days of the year with the least amount of light.

And yet we naturally yearn for light, and hope.

So what do we do when things are dark?

Light candles!

One of the reasons we light candles is explained in The Talmud by one of our commentators (Rashi, Shabbat):

“... without light, there can be no peace, because [people] will constantly stumble and be compelled to eat in the dark ( Talmud, Shabbat 25b).”

Candles are also equated with joy in Judaism, drawing upon a passage in the biblical book of Esther, one of the many illusions to light in the Bible. It says:

The Jews had light and joy, and gladness and honor (Esther 8:16).

לַיְּהוּדִים הָיְתָה אוֹרָה וְשִׂמְחָה וְשָׂשׂן וִיקָר

In Jewish tradition, the candle's flame is also thought to symbolically represent the human soul and serves as a reminder of the frailty and beauty of life. The connection between the candle's flame and souls is found in Mishlei (Proverbs) 20:27:

"Man's soul is G-d’s lamp, which searches out all the innermost parts."

נֵר יְהוָה נִשְׁמַת אָדָם חֹפֵשׂ כָּל חַדְרֵי בָטֶן

A little candle that illuminates the dark also teaches us how much good a single person, or even a single act, can accomplish.

And just like a human soul, flames must breathe, change, grow, and, ultimately, fade away.

So the flickering of candles helps to remind us of how precious and fragile life is,

and also to appreciate and be grateful for what we have.

One way to help us to notice our feelings, sensations, and thoughts, is through meditation.

Here is a candle meditation that you can try after you light your candles.

Candle Meditation (5-10 minutes) (you can use the instructions as a guide. Feel free to do this at your own pace :

-To start this meditation, light a candle or candles.

-Find a space where you won’t be disturbed.

-Find a comfortable spot to sit. Sitting straight with shoulders relaxed.

-Make sure that your candle is at least 50cm/20 inches away from you, and

start to notice your breath. Breathing in, and breathing out.

-Stare at the candle and allow it to be the main focus of your mind.

-Hold your eyes steady.

-Take a few moments to bring your awareness to the flame :

Notice its color, or maybe there is more than one color;

How big or small it is;

What is the shape of the flame?

Is it emitting a lot of light or a little bit?

Is there an odor coming from the candle?

-How does it feel to notice the candle in this way?

And taking a moment to really take in the candle...

- When you feel distracted or bored, returning your attention to the flame.

-Allowing your eyes to blink or water if that happens.

-As you gaze at the candle, breathe.

-As you focus on the candle, imagine the light flowing into you with each inhalation(take a moment to allow yourself to receive the light).

-Continuing to keep your eyes fixed on the flame, and allowing yourself to breathe naturally.

Where is your mind right now?

Taking a few more breaths to focus on the candle.

-Taking a moment to slowly return your gaze and attention to the room at your own pace.

As the winter begins and we experience more darkness, may we recognize our own role, and if it’s fitting for you also G-d’s role, in bringing light into the world.

As we light candles in our homes, we can also use this as an opportunity to allow the light to illuminate our home and contemplate all our blessings.

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