When meditating, people are sometimes encouraged to visualize a flame, flickering and dancing on top of a candle, in order to focus their attention on one dynamic image, thus channeling the constant wandering of their minds. Sometimes a real candle is involved, sometimes a candle of the mind (which while perhaps slightly less mesmerizing is certainly more sustainable).
This beautiful video of the sun (below), spinning, sparking, and shooting out plasma over the course of a decade, which was recently published by NASA, has sparked a new meditation focal point for me. A solar visualization. Now, don’t go looking up at the sun for inspiration. But watching some minutes of this hour-long video (one second of the video equaling one day for a total of ten years of data) you can now visualize what the sun looks like as it warms the world 24 hours a day. Well at least one band of energy: 17.1 nanometers, which, as NASA explains, “is an extreme ultraviolet wavelength* that shows the Sun’s outermost atmospheric layer—the corona.”
- Sit in a zazen or cross-legged position in a comfortable spot (and like all Gaian meditations, ideally outdoors if possible).
- Place your hands together in your lap in a position to represent the sun. Cup one hand and place it on your lap, palm facing up. Cup the other and place it palm facing down on top of your first hand, making a ball with your hands (like you carefully caught a firefly and don’t want to hurt it, which, by the way, is another beautiful source of light, though probably too fluttery to be the source of a trataka-style meditation!). Your cupped hands represent the sun, or you can imagine the sun in your hands, radiating energy outwards.
- Next, close your eyes and visualize the sun, either still or rotating as in the video. (Interestingly, the sun looks to be rotating in the video because the satellite is in an Earth orbit, thus going around the sun once every 365.25 days. But I did wonder if the sun rotates, and it turns out it does: once every 24-30 days depending on which part. As the sun is not solid, different parts rotate at different speeds: the equator faster, rotating every 24 days, the poles at a slower 30 days. Wow, huh?)
- Breathe. Try different combinations of 11 seconds—which is the length, in years, of the solar cycle (the cycle the sun’s magnetic field goes through, with north and south poles flipping each cycle). Inhale for 5 seconds, exhale for 5 seconds, pause for 1.** Or try breathing in for 3 seconds, pausing for 1, breathing out for 6, pausing for 1. (The first being more balanced, the second more relaxing—at least according to yoga breath ratios, and while I couldn’t find the science behind this, this meta-analysis does show the value of yogic breathing more generally, and this systematic review shows the many benefits of breathing fewer than 10 breaths per minute). Though if focusing on breathing distracts you from your visualization, just breathe slowly and regularly.
- Continue for as long as you like, ideally at least 5 minutes. Or try 11 minutes, again to represent the solar cycle, though of course you can meditate longer.***
As you meditate, you can also try imagining the energy of the sun warming or filling you (I do this as my morning meditation, so get to feel the rising sun on my face as I do this, which helps). Or imagine the sun radiating outward from your sun hands. Or how the sun’s energy is nurturing and bringing life to Gaia and every living thing on Earth.**** Or don’t. Just come back to the image of the sun, solar flares dancing and shimmering, and let your mind stop for a bit.
Enjoy and feel calm. And if you try this meditation, let me know how it goes in a comment, or offer an improvement or variation.
*Extreme UV is the band of UV rays just before moving into X-Ray bands and are far smaller than UV rays we typically think of (UV-B and UV-A), which range from 280 to 400 nanometers.
**This came up in an earlier post. Pausing does not mean locking your breath. Instead, it’s almost like you’re still trying to breathe in/out but you’re full/empty. Kind of like the moment at the top of the rollercoaster. You didn’t stop though it feels like it—you’re just at the end of the up cycle and about to go down. Wheee!
***In fact, a full solar cycle is 22 years, as after 11 years the poles have been reversed, so 22 minutes is a longer form of the meditation to aspire to.
****There might need to be a “nearly” in that sentence, as perhaps geothermal vent feeders are the exception, though I’m not sure the environment would stay habitable to them without the rest of life thriving, so I’m going to err on the side of being overinclusive.