Today is the Winter Solstice. In the northern hemisphere where we are, it is the day with the least amount of sunlight. The days grow longer from now until the Summer Solstice in June.
Early this morning I had an empowering experience involving light as I meditated. Normally, I just sit in a darkened room as I meditate. For the past days, I’ve kept my eyes open and fixed on the flame of a small votive candle. Lighting candles each day in this season leading up to Christmas is a tradition I decided to follow this year.
As I sat to meditate, I noticed the wax and wick in the votive candle were low. I wasn’t sure the flame could last through the entire meditation period.
I lit the candle anyway. Soon the flame was barely a flicker. I thought if I removed some of the melted wax, the flame might get a bit bigger as it did when I did this the day before. Then, I recalled that my meditation practice advises that once the period starts, neither move nor hold onto any thought. So, I let the candle alone. I just observed. I let go of desiring an outcome (having the flame last the entire session) or of doing something to extend the life of the candle. I let it be.
The flame continued to flicker faintly. At one point, the flame was so faint, I wasn’t sure it was still alive. Then, it did go out. After it went out, my judgmental mind awoke and said, “See, the candle didn’t last.” No sooner had that thought entered my mind, when the bell to end the meditation session had rung. Without my doing anything, the flame had lasted.
What I experienced reminded me of what it was like to sit in the hospice room when my mother was in coma the day before she died. I so much wanted to do something to change what I knew was coming. Listening to her struggle to breathe was like watching the flame faintly flickering.
Unlike with my experience with the candle during meditation, I was not there when my mother drew her last breath. Unlike my experience with the candle, I did wish I could do something, I just didn’t know what. I struggled just to be there despite attempts to read, pray and meditate. Nothing I did made it any easier to be with her. Finally, having finished the book I was reading, I got up and left.
Now, all these years later, observing the candle has taught me a lesson of how to sit with someone who is dying. Be a compassionate presence. Let go and let it be. Suspend the desire to do — anything.
Enjoy the light as each day grows longer!