I live by rituals. I do so deliberately, knowing that if I don’t consciously impose rituals on myself then the attention economy will do so for me. There is no middle ground, no place for passivity. If I don’t practice discipline and ritual, I will be captured by the invisible manipulators of the attention economy who are intent on holding me hostage.
A staple of my daily ritual practice is my candle ritual. This ritual has become one of the most important in my day-to-day life, and I thought I would share it with you. I hope you find it as enriching and transformative as I have.
First, some definitions.
“Deep Reading” was coined by Sven Birkerts in The Gutenberg Eulogies. He writes,
Reading, because we control it, is adaptable to our needs and rhythms. We are free to indulge our subjective associative impulse; the term I coin for this is deep reading: the slow and meditative possession of a book. We don’t just read the words, we dream our lives in their vicinity.
“Deep Work” was coined by Cal Newport in his book Deep Work (a life-altering text for me). He defines Deep Work as,
Professional activities performed in a state of distraction-free concentration that push your cognitive capabilities to their limit. These efforts create new value, improve your skill, and are hard to replicate.
I use two separate sacred, committed candles with different scents to enhance both of these disciplines. The flame of the candle is a physical representation of my own focus, perpetually reminding me to push deeper into the text or the work. The scent cast by the candle envelopes me, creating a sacred space set apart from the mundane. The scent also signals to my partner that I am getting work done, and that I’m not to be disturbed.
Here’s a step by step guide for my own Candle Ritual. I will use direct terms like, “you” “your” etc. for the sake of concise style, but this ritual is not a mandate, and you are welcome to modify it however you see fit.
Step One: Acquire Your Candle
Buy (or make) a candle with a scent you enjoy. Yes, this can be a costly or time consuming process, but that’s the point. Making a sacrifice of time or money (even a small amount) for a symbolic representation of focus is necessary for the ritual to work. It signals to your brain that this is not an arbitrary process, but one that needs to be taken seriously. If you are woefully uncrafty like me and opt to buy your own candle, my personal favorite candle company is Burk Hare Co. Runners up are Frostbeard Studio, Werther and Gray, and Spireside. If you want to make your own candle, I suggest consulting the website Candle Science. (This is not a paid promotion. I just like these companies and think you should give them money.)
Step Two: First Burn Ritual
Soy candles require a prolonged first burn of about 3 hours so that the wax can melt from edge to edge. Take this first burn as an opportunity to meditate on the purpose of the candle and the space it is meant to cast. While the candle is burning, take a few minutes to commit the candle to sacred use. You can do this by writing an intention for the candle in your journal, or anointing the candle with a dedicated oil. Once committed, it is important to not use the candle for any purpose other than that which was established during the first burn ritual (but if you slip up on this, don’t stress it. The Candle God isn’t going to set you on fire.)
Step Three: Deep Work and Deep Reading Ritual
Now your candle is ready for sacred use and focused work. When I settle in to do Deep Work or Deep Reading, it is important to set up the boundaries for the sacred space.
- Do whatever you must do to make sure your devices don’t distract you. Put them on Do Not Disturb, throw them out a window, lock them in a vault, give them away to a family of raccoons. Or, more pragmatically, delete all social media off your phone so you won’t fight the debilitating temptation to look at them in the first place.
- Set a timer for how long you want to focus. An hour and a half is usually the upper limit of my own focus. I find one hour tends to be the sweet spot.
- Light your ritual candle, and do the work. Let the flame and scent of the candle continually remind you to center on the work or reading.
- Whatever you do, do not break the seal of the Sacred Space. Don’t look at your phone, don’t take a phone call. If a UFO lands on your lawn, ignore it. If your cat starts prophesying about the future of humanity, tell it to shut up.
- When you reach the end of your session, blow out the candle. Your mind will be tired and need a break, so give it one. Play a videogame, go for a walk, listen to a podcast, do the dishes. Do something low stress and enjoyable. Just don’t recover by going onto social media.
I do this ritual for both deep reading and deep work at least once a day. It maximizes my productivity and my quality of life. It helps me feel present, fulfilled, and fosters a rich interior life.
If you decide to do this ritual for yourself, please let me know. I would love to hear your results, or how you modify it to suit your own needs. Please write me an email or leave me a comment below. If your comment is excellent, I might feature it in my monthly Best Comments Series.
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