Phil Nuernberger asserted that concentration was the ultimate skill for an executive to develop. He offered candle gazing as a primary exercise for the development of this skill. Added emphasis appears in red, and my reactions are enclosed in a box: (Note 52)

We depend heavily on our vision to function in the world. We can use this powerful sense to enhance our power of concentration by practicing gazing. We hold a gaze when the eyes are not allowed to move off the target object, to waver or even blink. We focus all of our attention on the object, ignoring all thoughts and sensations, until our eyes begin to water, or our concentration is involuntarily broken by blinking. At that point, we close our eyes and visualize the object internally. We create an internal gaze and hold it at least as long as we held the external gaze. . . .

I used a candle for a period of time. Living in a home with air conditioning, it was difficult to obtain a steady candle flame. When the blue star drawing came, I was drawn to it as the object of my gaze. This avoided problems with air currents disturbing the flame.

Candle gazing can be done in two ways:

  1. With direct light, looking directly at the candle flame, which creates a heating sensation in your eyes
  2. With indirect light, looking at a reflection of the candle flame in a mirror, which creates a subtle, cooling sensation in the eye
While using a candle, I followed the first practice. When I switched to the blue star drawing, I continued with the direct light approach. After briefly experimenting with the mirror method, I found that did not work as well.

Whether you use reflected or direct light doesn't matter. What does matter is that you train yourself gradually to hold the gaze without blinking or distraction for longer periods of time. To practice any gaze exercise, take your glasses or contacts off. If you wear contacts, you should take them out whenever you close your eyes to do relaxation or concentration exercises. Otherwise, the discomfort of the contacts will eventually distract your mind.

At the outset, a few moments were the most I gazed before a strong urge to blink took over. This urge was usually accompanied by a burning sensation in the eyes. The period of time that I could hold the gaze slowly lengthened.

Gaze Exercise

Place an even burning dinner candle approximately an arm's length distance in front of you. The flame should be level with your eyes so you can hold your head steady and gaze straight ahead. If you want to use a reflected light, place the candle behind you so that you see the reflection in a mirror directly in front of you, at the proper height.

I taped the blue star drawing to the wall so that it was level with my eyes while sitting on a meditation stool. I placed it at a distance that was comfortable for my eyes without glasses.

In a dark, quiet room, gaze at this steady flame without blinking until your eyes begin to water, or until you feel too much discomfort or strain. Keep the thought of the flame in the mind, ignoring other thoughts, sensations and feelings. When you blink, stop the external gaze.

Inevitably the chattering mind interfered with concentration. How well I gazed without distraction indicated how my concentration would go that day. I devised "Billy's banana test" to discover how well the day began. When cutting a banana for my morning cereal, I noted the number of times my mind drifted off. The greater the number, the less focus I had to start the day.

Close your eyes and picture the flame as clearly as you can in the center of your mind. Hold this internal gaze on the image of the flame as long as you comfortably can. The smaller, clearer and more defined the image of the flame, the better the training for concentration. Don't worry if at first the image of the flame is undefined or vague. As you become more skilled with concentration, the image will become more clear and defined.

I adapted this part of the exercise to a relaxation practice that I introduce in another thread. In that exercise, I used the internal image of the blue star to move from point to point in the body.

Don't try to become expert in two days or even two months. Keep a daily practice, and let your capacity slowly expand until you can hold the external gaze for at least twenty minutes. If, at any time, you get a headache, simply reduce the time you spend gazing. Headaches are an indication that you are pushing too hard and going beyond your natural capacity. After reaching this twenty minute capacity, maintain at least a weekly practice of twenty minutes. You might notice an increase in both the intensity of your dreams and in your ability to recall them.

I did not work up to the twenty minute level. I found that shorter periods of success made a difference in my ability to concentrate throughout the day. Rather than headaches, I had burning sensations in my eyes. The "softer" I held the gaze, the easier it was to avoid the discomfort. The less I tried to hold on with my eyes, the less I tried to hold on in my daily life.