Author Topic: Seeing visions  (Read 6410 times)

Lokuttara

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Seeing visions
« on: April 28, 2010, 12:29:25 AM »
On a recent 10-day meditation retreat I practiced anapana sati quite seriously for the first three days. During some of my time meditating, I noticed shapes and movements before my eyes, as well as some high pitched ringing sounds which came to both ears (previously it had only occurred in one ear). The shapes and movements were often difficult to make out, and were constantly moving and changing. But some of the more recognisable ones seemed to be:
- Animals moving under a tree, jumping across something. Various types of strange four legged animals that I couldn't make out. Some seemed to be in the trees, swinging out of them. This one occurred in green monochrome.
- A cliff face, which I zoomed into, and saw a house on the cliff. Then I was hovering around the house, the gates, the doors. Lots of big walls and doors. Then seemed to be in the interior, looking at different rooms, then I was floating around inside through doors which opened for me into different parts
- Circles of shapes spinning around, they seemed to be like diamonds with eyes in the middle. Spinning rapidly and making patterns, with circular layers
- A very strange world that was hard to recognise. Strange shaped pillars and weirdly shaped, angular rocks/buildings and beings moving - I couldn't make out what they were really

In some cases I opened my eyes to be sure there wasn't something outside causing me to imagine these things from the lighting. So there was definitely something occurring that, to me, was not common during meditation. In all cases, the visions were a little hazy but gradually got clearer for a time, then vanished, leaving behind a sense of calm and oneness. None of the visions were crystal clear, and most were not in colour. It was kind of like a bad TV reception with plenty of fuzz, and they were all in monochrome. Sometimes green and black colours, sometimes black and white. After I moved to observing sensations, instead of breath, on day 4, the visions stopped.

I don't crave to have these visions again, and I'm sure it's probably not a big deal. But I'm just curious if it means anything, and if any of you have used visions to help you in some way. Or are they totally useless and a distraction to serious meditation?
"One may be surrounded by great beauty, by mountains and fields and rivers, but unless one is alive to it all one might just as well be dead." Krishnamurti

unprevadedrapture

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Re: Seeing visions
« Reply #1 on: April 28, 2010, 12:48:41 AM »
the only way these visions have helped me has been in catching them, and using energy, mindfulness and discernment to see the influence of "mind on matter", and explore the process in which this "ignorance" can affect "ordinary consciousness", misconstrue views, etc.   
Quote
C. Images

These are of two sorts:

 1. Uggaha nimitta: images as they are first perceived.
2. Patibhaga nimitta: adjusted images.
Images of either sort can appear at certain mental moments or with certain people. When the mind becomes still, uggaha nimittas can appear in either of two ways:

 — from mental notes made in the past;
— on their own, without our ever having thought of the matter.
Uggaha nimittas of both sorts can be either beneficial or harmful, true or false, so we shouldn't place complete trust in them. If we're thoroughly mindful and alert, they can be beneficial. But if our powers of reference are weak or if we lack strength of mind, we're likely to follow the drift of whatever images appear, sometimes losing our bearings to the point where we latch on to the images as being real.

Uggaha nimittas are of two sorts:

 a. Sensation-images: e.g., seeing images of our own body, of other people, of animals, or of corpses; images of black, red, blue or white. Sometimes these images are true, sometimes not. Sometimes images arise by way of the ear — for example, we may hear the voice of a person talking. Sometimes they arise by way of the nose — we may smell fragrant scents or foul, like those of a corpse. Sometimes images are sensed by the body — the body may feel small or large, tall or short. All of these sensations are classed as uggaha nimittas. If the mind is strong and resilient, they can act as a means for the arising of liberating insight. If our powers of reference are weak, though, they can turn into corruptions of insight (vipassanupakkilesa), in which we fall for the objects we experience, believing them to be true. Even when they're true, things that are false can mingle in with them — like a man sitting under the open sky: When the sun shines, he's bound to have a shadow. The man really exists, and the shadow is connected with him, but the shadow isn't really the man. Thus, we're taught to let go of what's true and real; things that are untrue will then fall from our grasp as well.
b. Thought-images: When the breath is subtle and the mind is still and unoccupied, things can occur to it. Sometimes we may think of a question and then immediately know the answer. Sometimes we don't even have to think: The knowledge pops into the mind on its own. Things of this sort are also classed as uggaha nimittas. Sometimes they may be true, sometimes false, sometimes mixed. You can't trust them to be absolutely true. Sometimes they're true, and that truth is what leads us to fall for them. For example, they may be true about three things and false about seven. Once we've placed our confidence in them, even the false things will appear true to us. This is one way of giving rise to the corruptions of insight.

So when sensation-images or thought-images arise in one way or another, you should then practice adjusting and analyzing them (patibhaga nimitta). In other words, when a visual image arises, if it's large, make it small, far, near, large, small, appear, and disappear. Analyze it into its various parts and then let it go. Don't let these images influence the mind. Instead, have the mind influence the images, as you will. If you aren't able to do this, then don't get involved with them. Disregard them and return to your original practice with the breath.

If a thought-image arises by way of the mind, stop, take your bearings, and consider exactly how much truth there is to the knowledge it gives. Even if it's true, you shouldn't latch onto what you know or see. If you latch onto your knowledge, it'll become a corruption of insight. If you latch on to your views, they'll become a form of attachment and conceit, in which you assume yourself to be this or that. Thus, you should let go of these things, in line with their true nature. If you aren't wise to them, they can skew your practice so that you miss out on the highest good.

~Ajahn Lee

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai/lee/themes.html
« Last Edit: April 28, 2010, 01:01:07 AM by unprevadedrapture »

Lokuttara

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Re: Seeing visions
« Reply #2 on: April 28, 2010, 12:59:54 AM »
So this is like one of the defilements of insight?
Quote
8. Excess sati (uppathana). Too much sati can lead to excess samadhi and the yogi will see nimitas(sign that appear before the eyes). Then he will lose rupa and nama as objects--- i.e., he will be out of the present moment, and won't be able to continue.
"One may be surrounded by great beauty, by mountains and fields and rivers, but unless one is alive to it all one might just as well be dead." Krishnamurti

unprevadedrapture

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Re: Seeing visions
« Reply #3 on: April 28, 2010, 01:27:41 AM »
thanks for the reference. i really don't understand the context, or validity with respect to the suttas, in the ten imperfections of the Visuddhimagga. i think it refers to imperfections juxtaposed with nibbana.

---
Rely on the teachings, not just the teacher.
Rely on the meaning, not just the words.
Rely on the real meaning, not just the interpretation.
Rely on the experience, not just the idea.
The Buddha

« Last Edit: April 28, 2010, 02:28:58 AM by unprevadedrapture »

Jhananda

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Re: Seeing visions
« Reply #4 on: April 28, 2010, 01:33:57 AM »
Hello Lokuttara, it sounds like you were at some jhana when you were having the meditation experiences that you mentioned.  You may find reading the following essays of use to you:

The Fruit (Phala) of the Contemplative Life (September 13, 2004)
http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/fruit.htm

The characteristic manifestations of absorption, Jhana-Nimitta (October 1, 2004)
http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/jhananimitta.htm

Clairaudience or Charismatic hearing or the Divine Ear and meditation induced tinnitus (May 9, 2004)
http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/clairaudience.htm

Best, Jhananda

kidnovice

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Re: Seeing visions
« Reply #5 on: April 28, 2010, 05:00:57 AM »
It turns out that on my last two retreats (Goenka), I also started being "bombarded" with vivid images of the sort you describe:

Quote
Animals moving under a tree, jumping across something. Various types of strange four legged animals that I couldn't make out. Some seemed to be in the trees, swinging out of them. This one occurred in green monochrome.
- A cliff face, which I zoomed into, and saw a house on the cliff. Then I was hovering around the house, the gates, the doors. Lots of big walls and doors. Then seemed to be in the interior, looking at different rooms, then I was floating around inside through doors which opened for me into different parts
- Circles of shapes spinning around, they seemed to be like diamonds with eyes in the middle. Spinning rapidly and making patterns, with circular layers

The visions for me are also quite diverse: weird stuff that I can't quite place (kind of like those photographs taken from an unlikely angle), sexual images, disgusting images, peaceful images, beautiful scenes, neutral stuff...you name it. All coming and going like waves.

So, you ask:
Quote
if it means anything, and if any of you have used visions to help you in some way. Or are they totally useless and a distraction to serious meditation?

I can't say for sure whether our experiences are akin, but I'm happy to share my intepretation.

For one, I think all experiences on the cushion are helpful, even those that I am choosing not to give attention (for the time being). For example, when I'm cultivating Samadhi, I don't find it skillful to examine my thoughts and study the stories my mind likes to tell. I'm certainly not bothered by these thoughts. If anything, I think its good for me to have those thoughts arise because this is how the purification process works: the thoughts arise, I don't get carried away by them, and thus they die away. And its skillful to not pay (too much) attention to these thoughts because it allows me to cultivate a deep state of one-pointedness and quiet tranquility.

But does this mean that I should NEVER try to directly and purposefully observe my thoughts? Heck no. This is pretty much where I diverge from Goenka's style of vipassana. Bodily sensation is an awesome entry-point for mindfulness, and I think it deepens my awareness of the intimate connection between thought, awareness and sensation (as unprevadedrapture put it: "influence of mind on matter"). But at some point, I think it is incredibly important to turn one's attention directly and thoroughly to the other "foundations" of mindfulness, especially thinking. I have found that this is fertile territory for cultivating insight into anatta. But when is the "right" time to practice mindfulness of thinking? Precisely when your concentration is sharp enough, and the quality of your awareness is gentle and equanimous enough that you can see into a thought without inadvertently fueling it or being carried away by the process of identification.

With all that said, I think it pretty much works the same with these visions. They are simply new fabrications that my unconscious mind is generating once I have largely stilled ordinary "thought."  At some point, I suppose that it may be fruitful to really turn my awareness directly to these visions, and I'm pretty confident that I'll know when the time comes (assuming they're still around). However, for the time being, I'm letting these visions run in the "background" while I refine my awareness of vedana and deepen my concentration and equanimity. This just feels most skillful to me. And as with thoughts, it feels like I'm being somehow "purified" as the visions arise but then die because they have no place to land.

Hope you find these somewhat rambling thoughts helpful.  Metta!
May we cultivate the serenity to accept the things we cannot change; the compassion to change the things we can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

unprevadedrapture

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Re: Seeing visions
« Reply #6 on: April 28, 2010, 07:13:49 AM »
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« Last Edit: April 28, 2010, 08:00:07 AM by unprevadedrapture »

Lokuttara

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Re: Seeing visions
« Reply #7 on: April 30, 2010, 03:42:38 PM »
Many thanks and metta for all of the well considered responses :)

Yes Kidnovice, I think this approach works well. It's best to just observe without identifying myself with these things that occur during meditation/life. They arise and pass away, and there is no attachment. Although, like thoughts, it may be useful to observe the contents of these phenomena to develop insight into anatta. I've already been practicing that on the satipathanna course, and for me - it basically means:
- A thought arises
- Before it gains momentum I catch it, and say "ah look, a thought filled with craving about x,y or z has arisen"
- The thought loses it's intensity and I am able to observe the sensation on the body associated with this thought
- I observe that the thought has now passed away, and the sensation associated is anicca and is passing or may pass away
- Anatta is deepened and so is anicca and sampajana

Is the above what you mean? Or do you go further into the contents of the thoughts, exploring them with more contemplation? Can you describe it to me.

Thanks to unprevadedrapture for all of that information, I will go into it later on when I get the chance, it's very interesting.

I will read those links now also Jhananda, thanks.
"One may be surrounded by great beauty, by mountains and fields and rivers, but unless one is alive to it all one might just as well be dead." Krishnamurti

kidnovice

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Re: Seeing visions
« Reply #8 on: May 02, 2010, 12:21:37 AM »
I really like what you described, Lokuttara:

Quote
- A thought arises
- Before it gains momentum I catch it, and say "ah look, a thought filled with craving about x,y or z has arisen"
- The thought loses it's intensity and I am able to observe the sensation on the body associated with this thought
- I observe that the thought has now passed away, and the sensation associated is anicca and is passing or may pass away
- Anatta is deepened and so is anicca and sampajana

I think that is the type of insights that Goenka's style of Vipassana is especially well-suited to developing in practitioners.  Its what I had in mind when I said:

Quote
it deepens my awareness of the intimate connection between thought, awareness and sensation (as unprevadedrapture put it: "influence of mind on matter").

However, that ISN'T what I had in mind when I said:

Quote
at some point, I think it is incredibly important to turn one's attention directly and thoroughly to the other "foundations" of mindfulness, especially thinking. I have found that this is fertile territory for cultivating insight into anatta. But when is the "right" time to practice mindfulness of thinking? Precisely when your concentration is sharp enough, and the quality of your awareness is gentle and equanimous enough that you can see into a thought without inadvertently fueling it or being carried away by the process of identification.

I was referring to an insight borne from devoting ALL one's energy and awareness toward seeing into the nature of thoughts. This isn't about seeing the connection between thought and vedana. Rather its about seeing the connection between "thought" and "you."

I find this insight requires focusing entirely on thoughts (and at first breath, which serves as an anchor) until you gain sufficient familiarity with the process by which thoughts arise, and enough detachment and sharpened awareness that you can truly observe them at the very moment that they are born, without "merging" or "identifying" with them.

Personally, I think this type of insight is extremely important (its a moment that words can't describe, and which truly shatters your understanding of your "identity" and "personality") but in my limited experience, isn't as "purifying" or "transformative" as the gradual cultivation that comes from Goenka's style.

Of course, that's just my take on something which I am still exploring. With metta...
May we cultivate the serenity to accept the things we cannot change; the compassion to change the things we can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

Lokuttara

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Re: Seeing visions
« Reply #9 on: May 02, 2010, 08:54:31 PM »
Thanks for clarifying this kidnovice.

Focusing entirely on the thoughts - this sounds like some of the teaching advocated by Krishnamurti. Observing the silliness of the mind, the arising and passing away of thoughts, as well as the actual contents of these thoughts. So you are not identified with the thoughts, but you are observing them, observing the activity of the mind.

This sounds like an IMS technique? In addition to this, isn't there some sort of "noting" going on with regard to the thoughts?
"One may be surrounded by great beauty, by mountains and fields and rivers, but unless one is alive to it all one might just as well be dead." Krishnamurti

convivium

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Re: Seeing visions
« Reply #10 on: May 03, 2010, 09:46:50 AM »
you think you can observe your thoughts? there is smoke and there is static. thoughts are smoke, feeling is static. the smoke is dreamlike; we can only feel to observe it objectively, or else get carried away from discernment. noting the content of the thoughts seems like a feedback loop of the senses. noting seems useful in discerning the "coiling clouds" of aggregates. beyond that there is contemplation and inquiry.

Quote
Here begins the sea that ends not

till the world's end. Where we stand,

Could we know the next high sea-mark
set beyond these waves that gleam,

We should know what never man hath
known, nor eye of man hath scanned.
Nought beyond these coiling clouds
that melt like fume of shrines that steam
Breaks or stays the strength of waters

till they pass our bounds of dream
« Last Edit: May 03, 2010, 10:18:01 AM by convivium »

Lokuttara

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Re: Seeing visions
« Reply #11 on: May 04, 2010, 07:49:05 PM »
I am just curious as to what is meant by contemplation and inquiry in the context of thought observation? Isn't there a danger of the mind becoming active again, after all the word contemplation means "thoughtful observation", as opposed to just silent observation where the mind is not engaged?

convivium, I think I know what you are getting at about the "feedback loop" - in general, when a thought it born there is a momentary lack of awareness or ignorance. There has to be, otherwise we would be continually aware of anicca and there would be total silence in the mind. A sharp mind will detect that a thought has arisen quite fast, and will say "Ah, here is another thought about that girl", as soon as one is aware of the thought objectively, it drops away. Now we can choose to:
a) Go into the thought - what is it about, why has it arisen, what does it mean, OR
b) Bring the awareness back to the breath and/or sensations, and completely let go of the thought without further engaging the mind in any type of thinking or analysis

If I choose a) above, then this is a feedback loop because I am using the mind to draw conclusions on the what has arisen in the mind, and this goes on and on?

Lets go into it very slowly, otherwise I get confused :)
"One may be surrounded by great beauty, by mountains and fields and rivers, but unless one is alive to it all one might just as well be dead." Krishnamurti

convivium

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Re: Seeing visions
« Reply #12 on: May 05, 2010, 12:06:19 AM »
it's not the content or labeling of any of the 6 consciousnesses that matters, as much as not getting carried away by it.
so noting the mental contents themselves, could help one get back to the present sense-data.
what's important is to see how the mind is getting carried away from the present reality on subtler and subtler levels.
 
« Last Edit: May 05, 2010, 12:38:48 AM by convivium »

kidnovice

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Re: Seeing visions
« Reply #13 on: May 05, 2010, 03:01:34 AM »
It is easy to assume that mindfulness of thinking always entails "being carried away" by a thought. Let me suggest that you drop that assumption.  Granted, it SEEMS like you have only two options when aware of a thought:

(a) You can begin an inquiry, asking different questions about the thought. Of course, this is a discursive process, which therefore sticks you in what you call a "feedback loop" because you're just generating more thinking about thinking.
             OR
(b) You can disengage from the thought, allowing it to dissipate.

However, even if you haven't experienced it (yet), there is a third option. And here it is... 

(c) Experience the thought as if it were a lucid dream. Be fully aware of the thought from the very moment it arises, and if you choose,be aware of the thought continuously through to its cessation.  However, at all times be unidentified with the experience of it, fully and objectively aware of it as a fabrication which is not you (but you). This process definitely doesn't involve asking questions. Instead, it involves a radically different way of experiencing a thought.

Of course, most of the time, given the quality of one's concentration/awareness, the third option is simply unavailable (at least this is true for me).  As I mentioned in my initial comment:

Quote
But when is the "right" time to practice mindfulness of thinking? Precisely when your concentration is sharp enough, and the quality of your awareness is gentle and equanimous enough that you can see into a thought without inadvertently fueling it or being carried away by the process of identification.

Thus far, that type of awareness (conjoined with sufficient dexterity to turn the attention directly back at a thought) has been extremely rare for me. But its quite possible. Especially on retreat. In my daily practice, because I lack the requisite concentration/awareness, I don't really bother trying to be aware of my thoughts when meditating.  Of course, I frequently engage in contemplation, self-inquiry, and reflection, but I don't think of that as my "meditation practice" per se. On the cushion, I largely devote my energy toward cultivating both shamatha and insight through vedana (feeling).  I have found this to be very fruitful.

Hope these comments help. With metta....

May we cultivate the serenity to accept the things we cannot change; the compassion to change the things we can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

convivium

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Re: Seeing visions
« Reply #14 on: May 05, 2010, 03:24:48 AM »
we can think to the effect of knowing what is belief, and what is real, when we use sensations to stay grounded. that is source of lucidity, and also brings one back from being carried away uncontrollably. you could argue or pursue the insight that dreams and waking life are of the same substance. in terms of breaking through with discernment of anatta by means of the aggregates, one must merely observe this process, and break apart the aggregates. inquiry is meant as a practical, or conventional skill, not discursive. for example, why am i suffering, identifying habituation, false views etc. discernment can involve using noting, but we aren't abstracting anything, only using it as a tool to observe and discern the literal sense-data/aggregates.

Matthew

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Re: Seeing visions
« Reply #15 on: May 20, 2010, 04:14:26 PM »
On a recent 10-day meditation retreat I practiced anapana sati quite seriously for the first three days. During some of my time meditating, I noticed shapes and movements before my eyes, as well as some high pitched ringing sounds which came to both ears (previously it had only occurred in one ear). The shapes and movements were often difficult to make out, and were constantly moving and changing. But some of the more recognisable ones seemed to be:
- Animals moving under a tree, jumping across something. Various types of strange four legged animals that I couldn't make out. Some seemed to be in the trees, swinging out of them. This one occurred in green monochrome.
- A cliff face, which I zoomed into, and saw a house on the cliff. Then I was hovering around the house, the gates, the doors. Lots of big walls and doors. Then seemed to be in the interior, looking at different rooms, then I was floating around inside through doors which opened for me into different parts
- Circles of shapes spinning around, they seemed to be like diamonds with eyes in the middle. Spinning rapidly and making patterns, with circular layers
- A very strange world that was hard to recognise. Strange shaped pillars and weirdly shaped, angular rocks/buildings and beings moving - I couldn't make out what they were really

In some cases I opened my eyes to be sure there wasn't something outside causing me to imagine these things from the lighting. So there was definitely something occurring that, to me, was not common during meditation. In all cases, the visions were a little hazy but gradually got clearer for a time, then vanished, leaving behind a sense of calm and oneness. None of the visions were crystal clear, and most were not in colour. It was kind of like a bad TV reception with plenty of fuzz, and they were all in monochrome. Sometimes green and black colours, sometimes black and white. After I moved to observing sensations, instead of breath, on day 4, the visions stopped.

I don't crave to have these visions again, and I'm sure it's probably not a big deal. But I'm just curious if it means anything, and if any of you have used visions to help you in some way. Or are they totally useless and a distraction to serious meditation?

Lokuttara,

My suspicion is that you were trying too hard and ended up in a form of self-hypnosis. I have often warned that Shamatha at the nose can lead to this, especially when practiced intensively.

There is a fine balance between awakeness/attention and relaxation/calm to be found in treading the path. Your description sounds to me as if you pushed yourself off the edge for a while.

Warmly,

In the Dhamma,

Matthew
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