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Rose on a blank face

On the Practice of Self-Generated Hallucination


Recent studies surrounding the nature of the visual patterns that result from meditation and other practices.

Jared Lindahl, researcher at Warren Wilson College and expert in the clinical analysis of meditation, recently published a study where he compares the visual hallucinations reported by people who meditate regularly. The resemblance between different patients’ visions and the similarities these share with those who practice voluntary sensorial deprivation is astounding.

After interviewing 28 subjects who for a long time have regularly meditated, Lindahl discovered that many of their descriptions about the hallucinations they experience during meditation (with open or closed eyes) are surprisingly similar: lights with sphere shapes, cobwebs and rays of light. On occasions, these visions move and float side by side. Additionally, some patients describe lights that emerge from behind them or from certain objects they observe during the practice.

Buddhist literature, specifically in the Theravada tradition, refers to the visions of meditators and calls them nimmita. In said texts, the hallucinations are described as pearls, clouds, moons, suns, lotus flowers, cobwebs, smoke clouds or stars, and the shapes that are perceived boast different meanings: in some cases they are the reflection of the pure mind of the meditator, while in others the symbol of an object that exists in reality.

Lindahl has also studied the relation between these visual patterns and those reported by individuals with neurophysiological disorders. The researcher maintains that this type of visions is very similar to that experienced by people who practice voluntary sensorial deprivation, isolation or stimulation (through blindfolds or earplugs, for instance) used by some alternative medicine disciplines. This type of isolation generates a hypersensitivity in the brain which results in neuronal reactions in the face of barely perceptible stimuli.

In some way, meditation is a sensorial privation, since the practice fosters inner silence and, in some cases, it implies closing our eyes or turning the lights off. This inspiring phenomenon, similar to lucid dreams, is also a voluntary act, which is why, after adequate training, visions can be generated at will.

Aside from their aesthetic potential, their ludic character or their experimental usefulness, the art of self-induced hallucinations is yet another example of the infinite field we have at our disposal to exercise the mind. And if we understand the mind as a seed that germinates in that which we call reality then, perhaps, we will confirm that we are designed to lay the foundations of a new world. At the end of the day, we are engineers of reality.


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