Some people report having visions during meditation. Having a “vision” is defined as experiencing something out of the ordinary that wouldn’t be real in the normal state of things, but that seems very real to us when it occurs. One of the characteristics of a “vision” is that others can’t see it. By definition, a vision involves mental images, but in this context we include perceptions of sounds or scents that aren’t really there as well. This perplexing phenomenon is not very common, but it does happen enough to warrant investigating.
Visions tend to occur when our meditation takes us to a zone between sleep and wakefulness. A popular woo-woo belief maintains that when someone starts having visions during meditation, it means that he or she has unlocked the “third eye.” This unfounded rumor is outside the Mindworks purview: as meditators, our goal is awareness, serenity, and presence, not the unlocking of supernatural powers. So if the beauty of mindfulness is an enhanced ability to experience and appreciate the present moment, where do visions fit in?
How should we react to visions during meditation?
An important part of meditation is learning to recognize thoughts, emotions, and sensations as they arise, then allowing them to pass by without rejecting or making a big deal of them. If you become aware of a vision while you are meditating, simply acknowledge it and let it pass, like you do with everything else. A vision is a very realistic form of thought, and it holds a compelling power of attraction. If you try to hold onto, interpret, analyze, or replicate it, you are no longer meditating: you’re distracted. Great – you realized that! Now smile, pause, and go back to your breath.
Cultivating clarity and awareness is the principal rule of meditation. Seeing visions during meditation and acting on them is like setting your sights on a mirage in the desert in hopes of finding a pool of water there. From both points of view, there’s nothing valuable to be gained. Zen meditation guides usually encourage practitioners to ignore meditation visions if they arise. They even refer to them as mara: illusions that are aimed at distracting from the overall meditation experience. By ignoring visions during meditation, you continue your training in letting go of distractions and remaining aware of every moment.
The meditative journey
Meditation is designed to be a process, not a one-time affair. As committed meditators, we incorporate this practice into our lifestyle with time set aside for daily meditation. Khenpo Dharma Mitra is a world-renowned Tibetan scholar and meditation practitioner who teaches that it takes time and a good degree of patience to change long-held habitual patterns and learn to let go and live in the present moment. Khenpo believes that meditation helps people maintain a positive perspective towards life, which is the key to long-term happiness. Regular practice can give rise to significant health benefits as the mind calms down, bringing relief from stress, anxiety and depression. Mindfulness also brings out our joy, love and humanity. Most visions can’t hold a candle to these results.
There’s a story about a young Buddhist nun who had some very vivid visions during meditation – at one point, she even saw the Buddha! Super excited by what she’d witnessed, the nun ran to the abbess and told her about it. “Don’t let the Buddha bother you,” said the abbess. “Continue your practice and he’ll eventually vanish!” This tale has two important lessons at its core: the mind tends to conjure up the very thing we desire most, and the goal of meditation is to learn to let go of any vision (or thought, emotion, or sensation) that prevents our full appreciation of the present moment.
If you have a deep wish for mystical experiences, your brain just might manage to create visions for you to play with during meditation. These probably seem more fascinating than the ebb and flow of the breath! But please understand that these visions are mere projections of your illusions and desires, and don’t read too much into them. There’s nothing there, and, as always, if you don’t grasp at mind’s projections they will vanish of their own accord.
Meditation should be fun, so have fun!