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HomeMindfulness"Uncommon" meditation experiences, sensory deprivation, and synesthesia

“Uncommon” meditation experiences, sensory deprivation, and synesthesia


On a Buddhist dialogue discussion board the place I sometimes “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 are usually considered being useful to your follow. There are lots of totally different sorts of nimitta they usually can seem in any of the senses. Typically they’ll take the type of a lightweight that seems within the thoughts, or a refined sensation related with the respiration which may have the standard of a high quality silk thread being drawn between the fingertips, or the sound of the respiration, however heard internally reasonably than by way 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 follow goes deeper. And should you take note of the trace that your thoughts has produced for you, then you definately’ll go deeper nonetheless. Take into consideration what it might be wish to be misplaced on a darkish moorland. You’ve no concept the place to go, however then you definately see within the distance the faint glow of sodium lights on the horizon. It’s a city! Now which route to go in, and as you progress towards the lights they develop 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 develop into extra immersed in our direct sensory expertise, and as we sense it in additional element. When the thoughts is filled with sensation on this approach, there’s much less room for pondering, and so the quantity of interior chatter begins to die down. In different phrases we predict much less. This isn’t that notorious (and legendary) “clean thoughts” that newcomers to meditation typically ask about. The thoughts isn’t clean. It isn’t pondering a lot, however the consideration we might 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 info that’s in a single sensory channel is represented in one other sensory channel. So some individuals actually expertise a selected colour 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 present, it’ll nonetheless be orange subsequent yr.

Synesthesia within reason widespread. When 500 individuals 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 individuals 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 after they’re meditating.

In order the thoughts stills and we develop into extra delicate to our expertise, we might discover a tactile high quality related to the respiration, however circuitously related to the precise bodily sensation of the physique transferring. Or psychological calm could also be represented as interior mild, or a way of being surrounded by a bubble of stillness. As you expertise kindness, you could really feel heat or mild radiating from the center. These nimitta experiences are arising as a result of the thoughts is calming down, and as you take note of them and develop 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 are superficially much like nimittas however aren’t useful in taking you deeper into meditation. In truth they’ll do the other. 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 could possibly occur. If the thoughts begins to settle down, however you haven’t but discovered 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. interior chatter or interior motion pictures) happening within the thoughts. So there’s the identical form 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 traditional is swirling lights. That is totally different from the regular radiance of a real nimitta. Or dream-like imagery, equivalent to faces, might seem within the thoughts’s eye. Or the physique might really feel prefer it’s leaning to 1 aspect (though it isn’t) or as if it’s floating. So-called out-of-body experiences most likely belong in the identical class.

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

If this second form of expertise arises then they’re finest ignored. Taking note of them is like getting extra absorbed in a dream that arises while you’re mendacity in mattress, half-awake; you’ll merely retreat farther from lucid consideration, regardless that you could really feel such as you’re totally awake and conscious.

What’s wanted right here is to develop 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 respiration extra clearly, in order that your thoughts is stuffed with sensory expertise reasonably than disadvantaged of it. You may wish to observe, for instance, how three totally different sensations of the respiration 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 this can enable you to be extra attentive to and absorbed in your moment-by-moment bodily expertise.

Learn how to inform the distinction

True nimittas are secure and esthetically pleasing. The opposite form 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 going on. And people who find themselves liable to para-nimittas typically 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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