It’s not all that unusual for meditators to have an experience of light during their practice session. The experience may be along the lines of “I felt I was dissolving into an intensely bright white light,” or “I could really ‘see’ swirling lights even though my eyes were closed,” or “My mind was perfectly calm and I became aware of the presence of energizing white (or another color) lights.”
Especially at first, many people who have experiences of this sort are either fascinated or disconcerted by them. While having such visions may be sought-after in other forms of spiritual practice, such as New Age, most of the legitimate mindfulness teachers will tell their students that the white light experience is nothing to be worried or excited about.
Is there science behind it?
Actually, there is! An article published in Frontiers of Psychology magazine in 2014 presents the results of a pilot study investigating this phenomenon among regular meditators. The article, A phenomenology of meditation-induced light experiences: traditional Buddhist and neurobiological perspectives, is a very well-rounded exploration of the subject seen from the perspectives of several different Buddhist schools. The experiences as described in Table 1 of the article give a good sampling of the kinds of light perception incidents that have been linked to meditation. For example, one participant states, “I was just bursting with light, I would just close my eyes and it was just brilliant light. I just felt like I was radiating, like there were rays of light coming out of me. … It felt like it was just emanating from my body and my system.”
One of the researchers’ suggestions is that the experience of lights during meditation is similar to that during sensory deprivation. In their conclusion, the authors state: “Investigating meditation-induced light experiences suggests that on account of restricting attention by deselecting sensory stimuli, certain meditation practices may function in a manner analogous to sensory deprivation and perceptual isolation. The arising of lights may signal a period of enhanced neuroplasticity and potential for important and enduring shifts.”
Another popular explanation for the phenomenon posits that the experience of light is linked to meditation-based stimulation of the pineal gland which is situated deep in the brain at the level of the “third eye.” Some would suggest that visions of light indicate that the “third eye is opening.”
Should I be excited about seeing light?
That depends on your motivation. While there are a good many stories of the “I opened my third eye, saw the lights, and have regretted it ever since” kind on internet, most people speak of their experiences with a mix of curiosity and gratitude. Some meditation-related practices, both traditional and New Age, actually focus on arousing experiences of light. For example, in certain Buddhist visualization practices, the meditator imagines light as an expression of lovingkindness and wisdom that touches all living beings, relieves them of their suffering and endows them with lasting happiness. This deliberate visualization method is not related to the experiences of light that may arise from the lack of sensory input connected to deep states of meditation.
As meditator and sobriety activist Tokpa Korlo explains in his Mind Talk, one purpose of regular mindfulness practice is to develop love and compassion for others. Being rooted in the present moment helps individuals appreciate the beauty of now. As a result, they develop an overriding peace of mind and well-being that they naturally want to share with others. The ability to mindfully appreciate the power of now is the basis for more active inquiry into the nature of the mind and how best to use the insights gained to benefit others and the world.
You may possibly have a “white light experience” during your mindfulness or awareness meditation session; just embrace it as a natural part of your practice. If you’re practicing mindfulness, you can regard the light as another mental event, acknowledge it, and go back to your practice. If you’re practicing awareness meditation, the white light experience can be integrated into your investigation of mind.
Interested in learning more about mindfulness and awareness meditation? Mindworks Meditation Courses have everything you need to get your practice going or enhance the practice you’ve already got. White light experience not included, but welcome.