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Thread: Visual irritation during Zazen?

  1. #1

    Visual irritation during Zazen?

    Dear "leafs",

    recently I was struggling a little more than usual with a frequent occurrence during my sitting. I sit in medium daylight about two feet from some generic white woodchip wallpaper (not sure of the term, it's that grainy textured stuff) which after a few minutes of zazen tends to turn into swirling green and violet blots. A bit like being inside a lava lamp. If I ignore the dazzle my field of view will usually dim after another few minutes. If I blink or move my eyes the nuisance vanishes – together with my concentration.

    The problem is less apparent in candle light and in the dim lit zendo. I read that a too tense meditation can lead to visual irritation or temporary loss of sight. So what to do? Change lighting, change wallpaper, change attitude, change nothing?

    I'll keep an eye on the problem (haha), but maybe I can benefit from your experience.

    Thanks,

    Mensch

  2. #2
    Hi Mensch,

    I would change lighting, change wallpaper or, at least, don't stare so intently at the paper. Relax. Blink blink, naturally. No need to force the concentration. Your eyes should be open about 1/3rd (or 2/3rds), and your sight normally focused ... just not on any object in particular.

    Does that help?

    Gassho, Jundo

  3. #3

    Re: Visual irritation during Zazen?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mensch
    which after a few minutes of zazen tends to turn into swirling green and violet blots. A bit like being inside a lava lamp. If I ignore the dazzle my field of view will usually dim after another few minutes. If I blink or move my eyes the nuisance vanishes – together with my concentration.
    I used to get this too. I don't know why but it stopped quite a while ago. I don't think I changed anything. I'd say just sit with it.

    Gassho,
    Jordan

  4. #4
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    As Jundo said, make sure you blink. If you don't, you'll see weird things. If I don't blink, I find that my eyes tend to zone out, and my visions gets weird.

    Kirk

  5. #5

    Re: Visual irritation during Zazen?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mensch
    recently I was struggling a little more than usual with a frequent occurrence during my sitting. I sit in medium daylight about two feet from some generic white woodchip wallpaper (not sure of the term, it's that grainy textured stuff) which after a few minutes of zazen tends to turn into swirling green and violet blots. A bit like being inside a lava lamp. If I ignore the dazzle my field of view will usually dim after another few minutes. If I blink or move my eyes the nuisance vanishes – together with my concentration.
    I seem to experience the exact same thing, even though a face a blank white painted wall. It seems that as my concentration backs away from my vision onto the sounds, smells and stillness of the room, I begin to see the same swirls of colour that I would normally see when I close my eyes; only skewed slightly as now they are on a white backdrop (the wall) rather than a black one (my eyelids). If I try to keep my vision acute enough to prevent this, I loose the acuteness of my other senses. It’s almost like my brain is not capable of remaining completely focused on all five senses (six if you include thought) at once, and so some have to be sacrificed to remain attentive to others.

    So far, I have dealt with this by simply accepting the colour swirls, and leaving them be as much as possible. Resisting them takes too much away from my other faculties. I don’t find that blinking my eyes more helps; I don’t think (in my case at least) it is due to dry eyes. If anything, bringing my attention to blinking only makes this phenomenon go away by causing my vision to sharpen (and my other senses to dull).

    So I guess I don’t really have any answers for you Mensch other than to say that your not alone, and that this still occurs even with a ‘regular’ white painted wall.

    Cheers,
    Kelly

  6. #6
    Harry

    relax the face and eyes, the stomach and legs... let it all 'drop off'... but that's just what helped me. I often find that my shoulders have become hunched during practice and I let them 'drop' in this way when I notice.
    Good advice. I also found in my practice that sometimes there will be too much trying. Just let things go the way they go. It might seem like I'm sitting still on the Treeleaf zazen (maybe, I haven't watched it yet), but actually there's a lot going on because I was on the show. When the camera went to me it was like "oh crap" hehe. But in that time their were moments when I just let the eyes and stuff do their thing. Those are the moments when zazen is enjoyable. So I guess, don't try too hard and just let everything relax. If you blink, move your eyes, shift a bit whatever. Doesn't matter.

    Gassho Will

  7. #7
    Haha. :lol:

    Jundo ask me to post a picture with a smile so...

    Gassho

  8. #8
    Wow, thanks for the mass of helpful response! "Concentration" may sound like effort but usually I sit quite relaxed, body "hanging" from the spine, only the neck stretched and the chin pulled back a bit (for that cool Deshimaru look), eyes always higher than the recommended 45 degrees, looking nowhere, blinking when blinking.

    I think Kelly captured the actual experience very well. At some stage during meditation you simply forget your eyes, that's when the paisley patterns start. So it could possibly be assigned to so-called sinking as much as to effort. I doubt it depends much on environment, though it never happens outdoors when I look at a rock or something.

    Tension: It does occur when I hit an experience of apparent perfect vertical alignment of the body, when the slightest shift of posture seems to directly affect the mind (if the mind were different from the body). I love to indulge in that experience by stretching the neck a bit more and pressing the shoulders down. Maybe I should not do that. I doubt it makes one go blind though.

    Conclusion: Not sure. Instead of fiddling with a lot of details I'll give my meditation attitude a substantial review as I want it more in sync with the openness and simplicity of my "just walking around practice" and my "just looking at things practice": Simply allow the body, allow the mind to seek nothing.

    Regards,

    Mensch

  9. #9
    Hi,

    I would say that there is a very simple explanation for this particular illusion. The eyes contain cones and rods for color that we usually do not notice (but, if you look at any object closely, you will see little dots of color, much like the picture tube of a color tv):

    http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/retina.html

    The sensory deprivation effect at staring at the white surface just brings the little dots to our attention, and they play pattern tricks in the brain. Here is an example of such an optical illusion. Try it:

    http://209.85.165.104/search?q=cache:ak ... cd=2&gl=us

    Like a new pair of glasses, the brain will adjust and soon not notice the dots as much. Maybe you are now subconsciously looking for the patterns, and thus noticing the patterns. I would just forget about them, and they should go away.

    However, visual hallucinations are common in Zazen. Not a worry, nor of any particular importance other than as an amusement, possibly with a small lesson about how we create the world through the senses:


    Hallucinations and Illusions

    Kornfield (1979, 1983) noted that there was a strong correlation between student reports of higher levels of concentration during insight meditation, when the mind was focused and steady, and reports of altered states and perceptions. He reported that unusual experiences, such as visual or auditory aberrations and hallucinations, and unusual somatic experiences, are the norm among practiced meditation students. Walsh (1978) reported that he experienced hypnagogic hallucinations, and Goleman (1978-79) reported visionary experiences during deep meditation. Shimano and Douglas (1975) reported hallucinations similar to toxic delirium during zazen.

    ... Earlier, Deikman (1966a) reported that during meditation on a blue vase, his subjects' perception of color became more intense or luminous, and that for some of them the vase changed shape, appeared to dissolve, or lost its boundaries. Maupin (1965) reported that meditators sometimes experience "hallucinoid feelings, muscle tension, sexual excitement, and intense sadness."

    The contemplative literature contains numerous descriptions of the perceptual distortion produced by meditation. It is called makyo in Zen Buddhist sources, and is characterized in some schools as "going to the movies," a sign of spiritual intensity but a phenomenon that is regarded to be distinctly inferior to the clear insight of settled practice. In some Hindu schools it is regarded as a product of the sukshma sharira, or "experience body," in its unstable state, and in that respect is seen to be another form of maya, which is the illusory nature of the world as apprehended by ordinary consciousness.

    In a similar manner, St. John of the Cross described the false enchantments that may lure the aspirant in prayer, warning that "devils may come in the guise of angels." [51] In his allegory of the spiritual journey, The Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan described Christian's losing his way by following a man who says he is going to the Celestial City but instead leads him into a net. In all the great contemplative manuals, one is taught that detachment, equanimity, and discrimination are required for spiritual balance once the mind has been opened and made more flexible by prayer and meditation. Illusions and hallucinations, whether they are troubling or beatific, are distractions—or signposts at best—on the way to enlightenment or union with God.

    http://www.noetic.org/research/medbiblio/ch4.htm
    and a little more detailed information from the neurological field (Zen and the Brain):

    http://books.google.com/books?id=8ywrjD ... #PPA373,M1

    Move along folks ... nothing to look at here! :-)

    Gassho, Jundo

  10. #10
    Thanks Jundo, that snippet was interesting. The lava lamp effect that I see during Zaren does not sound as extravagant as those mentioned in the snippet, although after looking up what hypnagogic hallucinations are, I was shocked to realise that this is the formal name for visions I have been having since a child! Haha good times.

    Anyways, the lava lamp is not that distracting if I leave it be.

    I think Kelly captured the actual experience very well. At some stage during meditation you simply forget your eyes, that's when the paisley patterns start. So it could possibly be assigned to so-called sinking as much as to effort. I doubt it depends much on environment, though it never happens outdoors when I look at a rock or something.
    Ok Mensch, here’s one for you. When your doing Zazen outside have you ever stared at the grass in front of you and had it start to ripple like water? I find this little illusion to be common when staring at the ground in front of me (if I’m sitting on a park bench for example). I think it may be tied into the lava lamp experience, but only visible when looking at a complex surface (like grass) rather than a simple one (like a blank wall), and only when there is too much light around to see the faint lava lamp colours.

    The mind is interesting isn’t it?
    Cheers,
    Kelly

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