Once upon a time, I was working in a small coastal town on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The town is at the end of the TransCanada Highway and is stunningly beautiful. Set in the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, it is no surprise that Tofino attracts impressively large quantities of tourists each summer during what locals call “tourist season.” I grew up in Tofino and moved away when I was eleven, but I was always somehow drawn back to it. Tofino will always have a special place in my heart. Luckily for me, my grandparents used to let me live in their cabin there for free in the summers, allowing me to work there between school years during high school and university.
One day the power went out at work. A café really cannot provide hot coffee or much for lunch without electricity so we closed down early. I picked up some candles and discount gelato on the way home, with a loose plan around spending the afternoon on the beach. Before setting out to the beach, I caught myself trying to turn lights on at home regardless of the fact that there was no electricity. This made me realize how often I brightened up rooms that did not need brightening. I was able to see everything just as easily with the natural light as I would have been able to see had the lights been turned on. It then dawned on me that I was needlessly wasting a lot of electricity simply out of habit. Turning the lights on when I entered a room had become second nature. After this realization, I decided to try a new challenge: not using the lights unless I absolutely had to. Seeing as I had just bought candles, I no longer needed to use much electric lighting at night but I like to think this decision was also fueled by science. As a psychology student I had learned that artificial lighting interrupts the circadian rhythm. By using candlelight instead, I figured my sleep cycle could improve. It was like my own very poorly structured research experiment. Some of the biggest interrupters of the circadian rhythm are the bright screens on phones, tablets, TVs, and computers. This made me rule out my phone and computer at night, which was made a lot easier by the fact that I neither had Wi-Fi nor good reception. I can continue to come up with reasons why this somewhat strange and harebrained plan seemed like a good idea but in all honesty, the decision came down to curiosity.
By the time night fell, the power was back on and I could have easily forgotten my resolution to brighten my night with candlelight but I didn’t. I was intrigued. What better time to experiment with a new lifestyle than when responsibilities are limited to waking up for work and feeding myself? I caught myself turning on lights a couple of times but quickly shut them back off again when I realized what I had done. After a few days I became used to my new regime and electric lights at night simply felt too bright. Using candles was so much more peaceful and relaxing, the lighting from them casting a soft yellow light across my small cabin.
That summer I had made a commitment to myself that I would walk the beach every day. I did not want to leave at the end of the summer with any regrets so enjoying my beautiful surroundings was a major priority. Since I worked all day most days, the best time for walking the beach was around sunset. This allowed me to witness the spectacular west-facing views of the sun saying goodbye followed by playing with the phosphorescence after darkness fell. The candlelight-only nights rounded out the peaceful evenings. Every night, before heading to the beach to bask in the natural beauty, I put a candle and lighter beside the front door. When I came back in it was easy to light the candle without any unnatural lighting butting into the calmness of the night. Brushing my teeth and reading by candlelight became almost second nature and I slept really well. One of the only problems I had was accidentally extinguishing my candle while reading books. A sigh of relief meant sudden darkness. A quick intake of breath during a suspenseful moment meant that the suspense was elongated until I could find the lighter and relight my candle. I definitely yawned myself into darkness a few times. These somewhat awkward situations were made completely worthwhile by the calming effects of using candlelight instead of electricity.
It has now been a few years since that magical summer full of beach walks and candles. Between student-ing and now working, those calm evenings have now disappeared into working, late-night food prep for the following day, being a total potato, and grabbing the occasional drink with friends. None of those activities are particularly prone to candlelight, and that experience really does feel like it was “once upon a time,” not simply two and a half years ago. That being said, I have decided it’s time for me to wick up and smell the candles again. Everybody deserves the peace, calm, and relaxation brought on by switching phones onto do not disturb mode, turning off the TV, shutting off the lights, and just being. Many of us flounder now without our technological gizmos and gadgets to occupy our time. This should not be the case. Ask yourself right now, how would you spend an evening without technology? Are you reading a book? Do you have a hobby that does not require a screen? Can you occupy yourself for hours on end without any social media, Netflix, or Google? Can you deal with silence? Can you handle being alone? Do you want to find out? My suggestion is that everybody tries, at least once, to take a night off from the usual demands. If you have somebody you can share a quiet evening with, enjoy a relaxing conversation, play cards, share chocolate. If you are on your own, learn to love your own company.
What does any of that have to do with candles? It’s about being relaxed. It’s about saying no to the overstimulation technology gives our brains right before we go to bed. It’s about taking the time to get to know yourself. It’s about taking a break. With your only light coming from candles, your distractions become limited. It really allows you to take a night off. If you haven’t recently kicked back and relaxed, it’s time you tried wicking up to smell the candles too.