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Thread: Visual hallucinations while sitting

  1. #1
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Visual hallucinations while sitting

    This afternoon, I was sitting for a while, and I started having some interesting visual hallucinations. I wasn't especially tired or anything, but the wall I was looking at started moving. In the room where I sit, two of the four walls are white, and they have a kind of stucco on them. I sit facing one of them. After a while, the pattern on the wall started moving. It moved up and down, swirled a bit, stopped and started. I didn't freak out or anything, and tried to take it in stride. Very odd.

    So this brings me to a question: at what distance should one sit from the wall? I was sitting fairly close, and if I were sitting further from the wall, I wouldn't see it as clearly, as my vision is not very good (and I take my glasses off when sitting). Should I sit further away? I find that if I sit fairly close to the wall, I see less in my peripheral vision.

  2. #2

    Re: Visual hallucinations while sitting

    That happens to me too occasionally.. distortion of colors, movement of things I know do not move, etc.. I figure its either my breath rate or the mind's tendency to detect motion (illusory motion) depending on color contrasts and shapes in the near field. I find it enjoyable sometimes though I suppose that is using discriminatory mind and judgement in meditation.. but what can you do... at least I'm aware of my enjoyment and discrimination :P

    Most of my readings and general understanding is a gaze about 4 feet in front of you.

    _/_ Nate

  3. #3

    Re: Visual hallucinations while sitting

    I don't get visual hallucinations, apart from a little bit of stim stuff sometimes. There was a period when I was first really determined to "sit without wobbling" when there were a lot of physical hallucinations. One time I had the distinct feeling that I was bent over like a hinge at the waist, with my face pushed into the floor. I could feel my face pushed into the floor. Another time I had a really long neck so that my head was up at the ceiling. There was also the sensation of being a cloud of buzzing bees. I was told it was just "stuff". It passed.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Amelia's Avatar
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    Re: Visual hallucinations while sitting

    This happens to me often when I sit. Colors distort and things become kind of black and white, or fuzzy. Things also move and swirl.

  5. #5

    Re: Visual hallucinations while sitting

    I get lots of minor hallucinations like the ones you describe, if I sit with eyes closed, in a dark room or when I'm really tired.

    A few times I've had som major ones too...
    One time everything exploded into bright white light and something was streaming into me from the wall, like small pieces. It wasn't only visual, I felt myself being pushed backwards by it. Sounds really silly, but here goes! :lol: During that hallucination, which felt quite real, out of a sudden there was this strong thought, exclaiming "I AM A BEING OF LIGHT!" :roll: ops: Then I was physically sucked into and merged with the wall in front of me. :shock: :lol:
    Normally, I can assure you that I'm quite sane! :mrgreen:

    Many years ago when I tried silently chanting Mu during Zazen, I got a freaky sound hallucination too. Something other than me chanting Mu with a really deep voice, sounding almost like the Balrog in the Lord of the Rings movie. That really scared me. I'm glad it happened, otherwise I may not have been practicing Soto Zen today!

    /Pontus

  6. #6

    Re: Visual hallucinations while sitting

    YOU SHALL NOT PASS PONTUS! hahhha

    I get minor visual stuff, like swirls of light.. it's no big deal; I believe it's referred to as Makyo.

    Gassho,

    Risho

  7. #7

    Re: Visual hallucinations while sitting

    Stucco and swirly carpets are a killer. Just go with it if you are comfortable. If not, blink a few times and change focus. Comes with the territory!

  8. #8

    Re: Visual hallucinations while sitting

    Hi,

    This just happens sometimes, and is a reminder of the mind theatre. If facing the wall, about a couple of feet (about half a meter for the rest of the world) seems pretty standard.

    Here is what I post when things like this come up (be sure to catch the "cheap carpet" optical effect it mentions) ...

    All manner of sensory "tricks" can occur during Zazen. Some are quite interesting, as seems this one. We may note them, but do not particlarly encourage them in our little corner of Buddhist meditation. ...

    In Zen Practice, we have to be careful of certain games the mind will play during Zazen once in awhile ... including unusual visual and auditory sensations, brief periods of paranoia or panic, memories arising from deep down in our subconscious. We are not used to the stillness and quiet of Zazen, and it lets certain memories, emotions, fears and like psychological states rise to the surface ... or allows some things (spots in our eyes that are always there even though not usually noticed, background sounds) to be noticed that are usually blocked out by all the noise and busyness in our heads, senses and around us.

    Once, during a Sesshin, I became irate inside because I felt the monk at Sojiji sitting next to me was "encroaching on my space". I once had a little Buddha pop out of the wall and chat with me for several minutes (I pinched myself ... he stayed!), and felt like I was floating in the air. Once I think I heard the ants walking across the floor really loud! It is common during Sesshin, because of the strains involved, the "sensory deprivation", to experience such things as emotional swings, hearing becoming so sharp you can be disturbed by an ant walking across the room, strange bodily sensations such as feelings of floating or being giant sized, and paranoia. I think what you describe fits into this category.

    If it is just once in awhile ... and if you are aware of this, and it was not too overwhelming ... then I do not think it cause for worry. If it becomes too overwhelming, break off that sitting and take a little time off until you cool down. If it becomes a regular event, or too profound, that may be a sign of something else that needs to be approached. But, once in awhile ... I would not be concerned.

    We tend to call such things "Makyo", defined as follows (by Daido Loori Roshi). He speaks of hallucinatory like experiences ...

    In Zen, hallucinations are called makyo. It is not unusual for practitioners sitting in meditation for long periods of time to experience makyo. Some people feel like they are levitating, others see visions of the Buddha bathed in light, some hear sounds or voices. This in itself is not a problem. The problem arises when we confuse these experiences with enlightenment. When students come to me in dokusan to give me elaborate description of their makyo, a common response from me could be something like, “Oh, don’t worry about it—it will go away. Maybe you’re not sitting straight.” In other words, don’t attach to it. But if a dream is real, why isn’t makyo real? Are dreams, makyo, enlightenment and delusion the same, or are they different?
    We learn from all these experience ... we learn how the mind is like a theatre, and creates our experience of the life-world.

    I also posted this once ...

    Sensory deprivation, and really paying attention to objects of sight that we usually do not pay attention to (the patterns on the carpet, for example) can have such an effect. These things usually are connected to the mechanics of the visual sense, and often beyond our control. It is just an optical illusion.

    A dry as toast, but good book on the topic is Dr. Austin's Zen and the Brain ... he has a discussion of all manner of hallucinations here (from about page 373).

    d%3D8ywrjDa0vZ8C%26dq%3Dzen%2Band%2Bthe%2Bbrain%26 printsec%3Dfrontcover%26source%3Dbn%26hl%3Den%26ei %3DvAK1SfK1MZiy6wPt34S6BQ%26sa%3DX%26oi%3Dbook_res ult%26resnum%3D5%26ct%3Dresult&ei=vAK1SfK1MZiy6wPt 34S6BQ&usg=AFQjCNEkHKnyAAZJFZ60JYBO-txzdjUW2Q&sig2=gpC5vxamEJTUDyJTKBdEnA">http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=w ... DyJTKBdEnA

    Seeing patterns on the carpet or wall you are looking at, and floor undulation, is kind of like this effect produced by a bad carpet:

    http://www.moillusions.com/2007/11/wavy ... usion.html

    Another common effect is to see "spots in the eyes". Most are there all along (floating impurities, early cataracts and such of the eyeball itself), but we just do not notice them until we sit still. Many are just the "cones and rods" of the eye that were there all along. The cones and rods of color, for example, are always present in our eyes, but we do not give them notice so often in day to day life. In Zazen, what is always there just stands out sometimes, and the brain plays some tricks by seeing "connect the dot" patterns.

    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.

    Like a new pair of glasses, the brain will adjust and soon not notice the dots as much. Maybe we are subconsciously looking for the patterns, and thus noticing the patterns. If we just forget about them, they usually 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
    Move along folks ... nothing to look at here! :-)

    Actually, it is all a fine lesson in how the body-mind-self-world are all interconnected.
    What you are seeing is a fine lesson on how objects are all interconnected. Truly, in this world, one things does blend into another, and only the mind cuts it apart into pieces. Learn that lesson, and return to just sitting.

    Gassho, Jundo

  9. #9

    Re: Visual hallucinations while sitting

    i get some visuals too.
    i sit 3 times a day.since a week i sit for 30mm insted of 20mm.in those xtra minutes i have to close my eyes 'coz i get to distracted by visuals.small dots & things a bit like looking in a microscope...like being one...

    gassho
    gilles

  10. #10

    Re: Visual hallucinations while sitting

    Everybody needs to stay off the wacky backy before sitting!

    I am only joking. I also have had my mind or eyes play tricks on me when sitting. I have woodchip on some of my walls and i used to see mini warriors in front of me doing battle. But i just saw it as stuff and it passed away like everything else does. Even my terrible jokes pass.

    Gassho

    Ray

  11. #11
    Senior Member Nenka's Avatar
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    Re: Visual hallucinations while sitting

    Quote Originally Posted by Ray
    I have woodchip on some of my walls and i used to see mini warriors in front of me doing battle. But i just saw it as stuff and it passed away like everything else does. Even my terrible jokes pass.

    Gassho

    Ray
    Ha ha! I used to see faces and such in the carpet when I sat. Now I make sure to stare at a white wall instead (like I guess I should have been all along. :roll: )

    Jen

  12. #12
    Senior Member Nindo's Avatar
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    Re: Visual hallucinations while sitting

    This morning the sun came up while I was sitting and the wall turned orange. Then suddenly it lost the glow. Then it came back again. This went back and forth a few times. I have no idea whether it was my mind playing tricks or a cloudy horizon. Probably the former.

  13. #13
    Senior Member pinoybuddhist's Avatar
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    Re: Visual hallucinations while sitting

    Quote Originally Posted by Ray
    Everybody needs to stay off the wacky backy before sitting!
    Hmmm... that takes me back.. ops: But nope, not for me anymore. Anyway, to return to the topic, I used to see cartoon faces in the wall and floor.

  14. #14

    Re: Visual hallucinations while sitting

    Quote Originally Posted by kirkmc
    This afternoon, I was sitting for a while, and I started having some interesting visual hallucinations. I wasn't especially tired or anything, but the wall I was looking at started moving. In the room where I sit, two of the four walls are white, and they have a kind of stucco on them. I sit facing one of them. After a while, the pattern on the wall started moving. It moved up and down, swirled a bit, stopped and started. I didn't freak out or anything, and tried to take it in stride. Very odd.

    So this brings me to a question: at what distance should one sit from the wall? I was sitting fairly close, and if I were sitting further from the wall, I wouldn't see it as clearly, as my vision is not very good (and I take my glasses off when sitting). Should I sit further away? I find that if I sit fairly close to the wall, I see less in my peripheral vision.

    Yeah, it comes and goes sometimes. Just straight your posture and let go.

    Gassho

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