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Being in the Dark to See the Light -- Meditation, Palming, Tratak, and Earth Hour

Posted Mar 26 2009 3:03pm

I've never been scared of the dark. Ever since I was a kid, I seemed to associate darkness with safety and coziness. It's not unusual for me to keep the lights low in the evening or to take a nighttime swim (sans pool lights) in the summer time or give a little jump for joy when I'm hiking in low light conditions because the tree cover blocks out the light. And have I mentioned that I like to keep my bedroom as dark as possible (I like to think of my bedroom as my cozy little cave)? I love all of the windows in the house and all of the light that they let in, but my bedroom windows are covered in room darkening shades for a completely black effect. I was definitely not the child who needed a night light or who thought that the darkness heralded monsters creeping out from under the bed and in the closet.

As I got older and became more interested in eastern healing modalities and practices, I learned that in many cultures darkness is seen as something nourishing as opposed to scary. Needless to say, this resonates with me. There's actually a meditation found in Tibetan Buddhism in which you sit in a completely darkened room -- windows covered completely, tape over any LCD displays (alarm clocks, stereos, alarm key pads, etc, and towels stuffed in the gap between the bottom of the door and the floor. You simply sit in the pitch blackness with your eyes open Take in the dark and feel the tension drain from your mind and body.

Sounds anything but relaxing to you? Believe it or not when someone in Bali begins to show signs of mental imbalance, he/she is ushered to a dark room and left to sit for a few days. I've actually tried the meditation above a number of time and have always found the dark to be nourishing, calming, and rejuvenating.

If sitting in the dark seems a bit too extreme for you, I highly recommend the practice of palming. I first learned of this practice when I stumbled across a gem of a book in a yoga studio book store -- Yoga of Perfect Sight. You simply close your eyes gently and cover them with the palms of the hands without putting pressure on the eyeballs. Any light should be shut out completely by keeping the fingers of the hands close together. You can keep your eyes opened or closed. Although this practice is recommended for improving eyesight, I also find it to be extremely relaxing. It's great for headache sufferers as well. I like to practice 5-10 minutes of palming each day, preferably before bed (or any time I need a break from the computer and want to rest my eyes).

Another one of my favorite practices in the dark is tratak or candle gazing meditation. I love doing Tratak at the end of the day or right before bed. This meditation is simple and only takes a few minutes. Here's what you do:

  • Light a candle and place it on a table so that the flame is at eye level when sitting
  • Sit in a comfortable erect spine posture with the candle about arm's length away from the body
  • Start with the eyes closed and spend a brief amount of time noticing the stillness of your body
  • Open your eyes and gaze steadily at the tip of the wick -- try not to blink or move your eyeballs
  • If your mind begins to wander, simply bring it back to the practice
  • After a minute or two -- when the eyes become tired or begin to water -- close them gently

You can practice 3-4 rounds in a sitting.

If you're still feeling a bit nervous about the dark, how about closing off the lights for a good cause like taking a stand against global warming? This Saturday, March 28, you can participate in Earth Hour by closing off your lights for an hour, starting at 8:30PM. The WWF is sponsoring this event, for which switching your lights off represents a vote for earth over global warming. You can learn all about this challenge and how you can take action here.

My lights will be off on Saturday at 8:30 for sure, but then again, that's not all that unusual for me! Who says you need to be afraid of the dark???


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