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I often experience hallucinogenic images during meditation. I don't believe they are caused by lack of sleep as they occur irrespective of my state of tiredness. Typically the sequence goes

  1. Meditating with a lot of discursive thoughts
  2. Discursive thoughts settling down
  3. Commencement of strange dream like images
  4. If i go through this then thought drops away and it the start of a calmer more focused meditation

I don't always get the images but if I do then they are very difficult to work with. They are more dominating than the discursive thoughts and more difficult to see them for what they are. However I know that if I can go through this stage then meditation really becomes a lot easier and more pleasurable afterwards (fourth stage above).

Has anyone got any advice about working with these kind of hallucinogenic images? Is there any advice either from traditional texts or contemporary teachers about them? Is it just me?

  • I once read a physiological explanation for this which is that when one closes the eyes the body begin producing the sleep hormone melatonin because the body thinks its going to sleep. This could maybe bring about the imagery you experience. Is it the same hypnagogic imagery that happens before one falls asleep at night or is it a different kind? Its good you know how to overcome them. – Lanka Apr 23 '15 at 22:06
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These sound like nimittas, often a precursor to jhanas. They can be deeply immersive, often you can interact with them, direct them, but as said elsewhere, they are akin to meditative dreams.

Day 7 Morning Talk on Nimittas - Nov 2013 Ajahn B…: http://youtu.be/4tYf8ijMsxk

YouTube has several talks by Ajhan Brahm, his retreat series listened in entirety is beneficial. He also has a book on jhanas that deals with nimittas.

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There is an interesting section on Visions and Signs in the teachings of Ajaan Fuang.

§ "Don't be amazed by people with visions. Visions are nothing else but dreams. There are true ones and false ones. You can't really trust them."

§ A Bangkok housewife who was practicing meditation with Ajaan Fuang heard some of his other students say that meditation without visions was the straight path. It so happened that she had frequent visions in her meditation, and so hearing this made her wonder why her path was so winding and convoluted. When she asked Ajaan Fuang about this, he told her: "Having visions in your meditation is like having lots of lush wild greens growing along the side of your path. You can gather them as you go along, so that you'll have something to eat along the way, and you'll reach the end of the path just like everyone else. As for other people, they might see the greens without gathering them, or may not even see them at all — because their path goes through arid land."

§ "Visions — or whatever things appear in the course of your meditation: It's not the case that you shouldn't pay any attention to them, for some kinds of visions have important messages. So when things like this appear, you have to look into how they're appearing, why they're appearing, and for what purpose."

§ "There are true visions and false visions. So whenever you see one, just sit still and watch it. Don't get pulled into following it."

§ "You should watch visions the same way you watch TV: Just watch it, without getting pulled inside the tube."

§ "If you can't let go of your visions, you'll never gain release."

§ One of Ajaan Fuang's students asked him, "When you see something in a vision, how can you know whether it's true or false?"

His answer: "Even when it's true, it's true only in terms of convention. You have to get your mind beyond both true and false."

§ "The purpose of the practice is to make the heart pure. All these other things are just games and entertainment."

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As ruben2020 wrote, "Visions are nothing else but dreams".

I suspect that such might be happening all the time, like the air pump in an aquarium that's permanently blowing bubbles; but that usually there's so much other noise (sensory input including sight, sound, and haptic; and discursive thought) that we're not aware of it.

When other turbulence (senses and thoughts) in the aquarium (brain) calms down, then you may become aware of the stream of bubbles (hallucinogenic images).

If you (I use the word "you" here but what I mean is, "in my experience, if I") delight in such an image, "what a delightful image!", then it's possible to keep the image in sight, to pursue the vision: the image becomes replaced with another image, your awareness is filled/taken over by images, and, that's like an ordinary dream-sequence. Maybe I guess doing that (delighting and pursuing) encourages your brain to dream, opens some kind of door or path between the image-bubble-producing part of the brain and the rest of the brain, and allows the images to take over. I imagine that if viewed with an EEG a doctor would see sleep-type or dream-type brain waves taking over.

I think the way I try to 'work with' (i.e. overcome) these hallucinations is:

  • Recognize them (e.g. think "Ah yes, that vision of that image is the beginning of a dream")
  • Try to remember something else instead, perhaps remember Right View i.e. reason for meditating instead of for 'hallucinating'.

IMO the hallucinogenic images are conditioned and therefore impermanent, unsatisfactory, and anatta.

If it's true that image-bubbles are generated in a continual stream by a mechanism in the brain, why doesn't it dominate our awareness all the time i.e. how do you ever make it go away again?

Imagine it's like a waterfall, making a permanent noise: how would you make that go away? The answer is that you'd move yourself away from it, put some distance or close some doors between you and it.

I think my answer to that is that we learn to control, for example, our hands: you can open and close your hand if you want to: make a fist, make an open palm. There are connections (like paths or currents) between different parts of the brain.

Ideally, when you want to go to sleep for example, then you go to sleep. Your brain reconfigures itself for sleep. Your brain and body begin to go to sleep, you experience symptoms of beginning to sleep, you recognize those symptoms, you like those experiences/symptoms (because you want to go to sleep), you don't resist/discourage/reverse those incremental changes, the changes remain and are added to, and so you move (are moved) into deeper sleep.

I suppose that if you don't like/pursue the images, if you don't encourage (using your will) and therefore reinforce (perhaps by subconscious neurochemical feedback) the state of mind in which they're generated, then they will go away again (being impermanent).

If you're eventually no longer conscious of it, and if the image-bubble machine is nevertheless still ticking away somewhere in the brain, then at least its signals have become more insulated/disconnected from whatever part[s] of the brain my conscious/attention/awareness/self is at. Perhaps you could say I learned to "shut the door" through which those/its images had been manifesting to 'my consciousness'.

I don't have a good answer a) because I don't have a good answer for myself b) because it's difficult to describe. I think it's a difficult question to answer: like asking, "how do you see? how do you open your fist when you want to?" I think it's a good and important question and I hope I've at least added to a description of the problem.

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I may have synesthesia (I asked a scientist and he says that it sounds like it, anyway). When I e.g. get more tired, the colours and shapes get more vivid, more like the real thing (though very rarely quite the same). I suggest that you treat them like anything else which comes up in meditation, be that a belief, a thought, or whatever...

PS I suffered from psychosis.

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