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“Uncommon” meditation experiences, sensory deprivation, and synesthesia

On a Buddhist dialogue discussion board the place I often “lurk” (I’m to see what goes on there however I don’t actually have the time to become involved in dialogue there) somebody requested if what are referred to as “nimitta” experiences in meditation are the results of sensory deprivation.

What the heck are nimittas?

Should you’ve by no means heard of “nimittas,” they’re barely uncommon experiences that may come up in meditation, which can be usually considered being useful to your apply. There are a lot of completely different sorts of nimitta they usually can seem in any of the senses. Generally they’ll take the type of a light-weight that seems within the thoughts, or a refined sensation related with the respiratory which may have the standard of a tremendous silk thread being drawn between the fingertips, or the sound of the respiratory, however heard internally moderately than by means of the ears.

The phrase nimitta means a “signal” or perhaps a “trace.” When considered one of these experiences arises, then it’s a sign that your apply goes deeper. And should you take note of the trace that your thoughts has produced for you, then you definitely’ll go deeper nonetheless. Take into consideration what it could be prefer to be misplaced on a darkish moorland. You’ve no thought the place to go, however then you definitely see within the distance the faint glow of sodium lights on the horizon. It’s a city! Now which course to go in, and as you progress towards the lights they turn into clearer and clearer. That’s the perform of a nimitta; it acts as a suggestions mechanism, steering you towards turning into extra absorbed in your expertise.

However these experiences don’t come up from sensory deprivation. True nimittas come up as we turn into extra immersed in our direct sensory expertise, and as we sense it in additional element. When the thoughts is stuffed with sensation on this method, there’s much less room for pondering, and so the quantity of inside chatter begins to die down. In different phrases we expect much less. This isn’t that notorious (and legendary) “clean thoughts” that newcomers to meditation usually ask about. The thoughts isn’t clean. It isn’t pondering a lot, however the consideration we’d usually pay to our ideas is now directed towards, and absorbed in, the physique.

Synesthesia and true nimittas

Now, it appears to me that a lot of the experiences that I’ve encountered that I’d name nimittas (whether or not in my direct expertise or which have been described to me by others) contain a component of synesthesia. Synesthesia is the place data that’s in a single sensory channel is represented in one other sensory channel. So some folks actually expertise a selected shade related to sure phrases. This isn’t them utilizing their imaginations: the cross-over is automated and constant, in order that if the phrase “David” is orange at the moment, it’ll nonetheless be orange subsequent 12 months.

Synesthesia in all fairness widespread. When 500 folks had been studied in Scotland (who weren’t recruited on the premise of getting reported experiences of synesthesia) the incidence was 4.4%. So in a random group of 24 folks in a meditation room, roughly considered one of them, on common, can be a synesthete. However I think {that a} bigger share of individuals are potential synesthetes: that’s, they’ve a weak type of synesthesia that they don’t usually discover within the on a regular basis turmoil and hubbub within the thoughts. It’s solely when the thoughts calms that their synesthesia turns into obvious—for instance once they’re meditating.

In order the thoughts stills and we turn into extra delicate to our expertise, we might discover a tactile high quality related to the respiratory, however in a roundabout way related to the precise bodily sensation of the physique transferring. Or psychological calm could also be represented as inside mild, or a way of being surrounded by a bubble of stillness. As you expertise kindness, it’s possible you’ll really feel heat or mild radiating from the guts. These nimitta experiences are arising as a result of the thoughts is calming down, and as you take note of them and turn into absorbed in them, the thoughts calms additional.

Sensory deprivation and “para-nimittas”

Now, there are different types of experiences that may come up in meditation which can be superficially much like nimittas however aren’t useful in taking you deeper into meditation. Actually they’ll do the alternative. And people do come up from sensory deprivation. I’m going to name them “para-nimittas.”

Now, sensory deprivation isn’t the purpose of meditation, however it may possibly occur. If the thoughts begins to settle down, however you haven’t but realized to be deeply attentive to the bodily experiences arising within the physique, then the thoughts is under-occupied. There’s not a lot stimulation flowing in from the physique, and there’s not that a lot pondering (i.e. inside chatter or inside motion pictures) occurring within the thoughts. So there’s the identical sort of sensory deprivation that goes on should you’re in a impartial buoyancy tank heated to pores and skin temperature and sealed off from exterior mild and sound. In these sorts of circumstances the thoughts will get a bit dreamy, and odd issues occur.

A basic is swirling lights. That is completely different from the regular radiance of a real nimitta. Or dream-like imagery, similar to faces, might seem within the thoughts’s eye. Or the physique might really feel prefer it’s leaning to at least one aspect (though it isn’t) or as if it’s floating. So-called out-of-body experiences in all probability belong in the identical class.

These are distractions. They don’t assist us turn into extra absorbed in meditation.

If this second sort of expertise arises then they’re greatest ignored. Taking note of them is like getting extra absorbed in a dream that arises if you’re mendacity in mattress, half-awake; you’ll merely retreat farther from lucid consideration, regardless that it’s possible you’ll really feel such as you’re absolutely awake and conscious.

What’s wanted right here is to turn into extra grounded within the vividness of our precise bodily expertise, versus the illusory experiences that the thoughts is conjuring up for us. See should you can discover the sensations of the physique and the respiratory extra clearly, in order that your thoughts is crammed with sensory expertise moderately than disadvantaged of it. You would possibly need to observe, for instance, how three completely different sensations of the respiratory are associated to one another: say, the air flowing out and in of the airways within the head, the actions of the ribcage within the higher again, and the sensations within the stomach. Giving your self a problem like it will assist you to be extra attentive to and absorbed in your moment-by-moment bodily expertise.

The way to inform the distinction

True nimittas are secure and esthetically pleasing. The opposite sort of expertise are typically trippy, scary, bodily uncomfortable, or disorientating.

Though they’re not useful to concentrate to, these para-nimittas are a very good signal! They solely come up when the thoughts is beginning to cool down, so though there isn’t sufficient depth of expertise within the physique, they present that one thing constructive is occurring. And people who find themselves liable to para-nimittas usually expertise true nimittas as effectively.

And should you don’t expertise both true nimittas or para-nimittas, that’s OK. Not everybody experiences these items, and though true nimittas are useful, they’re not important.

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