© By Gary Vey
Seeing the light.
Until quite recently, I thought that the term "enlightenment" was a metaphor. But I met an individual who suggested that the word accurately describes the sensation when one remembers that they are something other than their human body. The phenomenon of "seeing light" with the mind is what happens when the reality of our non-material being is interpreted by our brain.
That hiatus of irrational thought made me uncomfortable and I hurried back to the rational habits that I rely upon when I encounter anything weird -- more research. What I learned about the phenomenon of "enlightenment" was quite a surprise for me. I think you will enjoy this story.
We start this journey in Greece, about 3600 years ago, during the Bronze Age. Our focus is part of a secret cult called the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Nostradamus and the reflected flame
The phosphene method was used by Michel de Nostredame, Nostradamus, in the 1500s, to see the future. It is obvious that he did not invent this method himself but it shows that staring at a bright source of light was a legitimate way to connect with the "other side."
"Gathered at night in study deep I sat. Alone, upon the tripod stool of brass, Exiguous flame came out of solitude, Promise of magic that may be believed."
The brass tripod supported a bowl of water into which Nostradamus gazed in order to see the reflection of a candle in his dark room. Being reflected, the light reaching his eyes would have been polarized. It has also been mentioned that Nostradamus would gaze at the Moon's reflection on a silver tray -- again producing polarized light. This type of light seems to have been preferred by many ancient seers. The specific mention of the "tripod" probably echoes the Oracle of Delphi [right], who sat upon a tripod and gazed at a light, reflected in a shallow bowl of water, when she made her prophecies.
The technique is the same as phosphenes -- after staring at the light, the source is extinguished leaving an after-image that, together with meditation, results in the ability to have a vision of "the other side", from which we can "see" the true reality of our being and temporal circumstance. A bowl of water can be used, but a reflective mirror, crystal ball, a puddle of water, a stream or even the ocean can successfully reflect the light of the Sun or Moon and produce the same results with the proper meditation.
Often there is a degree of complicated ritual associated with this simple act. Nostradamus wrote of using a magic want to touch the bowl and the hem of his robe. Sometimes special incantations are said aloud or magical gestures are made. But these are irrelevant.
Zoroastrians: More Fire and Water
Zoroaster (Zarathushtra), the founder of Zoroastrianism, made reference to the mainyu athra - the spiritual fire - as one that illuminates the path of asha. Asha (enlightenment) is only available through individual choice (hence the necessity for proper meditation) and brings order to human thoughts, words and deeds. It does this by showing the initiate the real self. After this happens, a different hierarchy exists -- one which places greater value on compassion and righteousness.
Followers of Zoroaster worship fire, but not as a deity. They see fire as representing the energy of the Creator and as the messenger of truth. Devotees face the sacred flame in their ceremonies and practice the phosphene technique, mixing the light and after-image with "good thoughts". They also utilize water, which reflects the Sun and Moon. The Fire Temple of Yazd (Iran) [above] has a large pool of water for this kind of contemplation. In Mumbai (India) [right], Zoroastrian devotees worship while basking in the reflections of the sea, mixing meditation with the phosphene procedure.
Gazing at the Sun: Fatima
On May 13, 1917, three Portugese shepherd children spoke of experiencing a vision of the Virgin Mary in the Cova da Iria fields close to the town of Fatima. The eldest child was Lucia, aged ten, and she was accompanied by her two cousins, Francisco, aged nine and Jacinta, aged seven. They repeated the visions on the 13th day of each month until October.
On October 13th a crowd of 70,000 gathered [below] at the Cova da Iria in response to the children's claim that a miracle would occur on that day "so that all may believe." At the appointed time, in the middle of a rainstorm the clouds broke up and the sun was seen as a disk spinning in the sky, throwing off great rays of fantastic colors. As one columnist reported, "Before the astonished eyes of the crowd the sun trembled and danced."
Before the solar event the three children had continually stared directly in to the Sun when they had their visions, proclaiming that they were in communication with luminous woman they took to be Mary, the mother of Jesus. This bright apparition later gave the girls a prophecy about the future and pleaded for them to pray for world peace.
Certainly the Sun did not move. It was a local phenomenon. What happened in Fatima on October 13th, 1917 was an example of a mass phosphene. All of the necessary ingredients were present to enable thousands of people to experience the portal through which they could see their own true self: they had been staring directly at the Sun for several minutes; they were praying and meditating with good intentions; and they closed their eyes to witness the after-glow and its accompanying range of colors as their retinas and visual cortex regained equilibrium. For those that did these things it was a true spiritual and life changing event.
Thirteen years after the "dance of the Sun", the Catholic Church declared that the phenomenon was "worthy of belief."
Surprise... a white wall works just as well
Bodhidharma founded Chan Buddhism. Rejected by a local Buddhist monastary, he sat in meditation, staring at Shao Lin's whitewashed monastery walls, every day for years. Bodhidharma eventually became an enlightened master and discovered that the brightness and contrast coming into the field of vision could also produce enlightenment.
Modern psychologists have found that wall-gazing is a great way to induce alpha in both its upper and lower (and even upper theta) frequency ranges. It was the first hint at what was likely going on in the mind of the initiates and what these phosphenes were actually doing.
In this technique, called 'ganzfeld' -- a German word which means complete field -- alpha waves are generated by staring at a blank, preferably white, bright visual field and holding the eyes steadily upon it. A white-wall fulfills this condition. All that is necessary is that the wall occupy the complete field of vision so that distractions are eliminated. Once the vision of the bright wall has saturated the retina, the eyes are closed, revealing the phosphene. At this moment the appropriate meditation is introduced and the mind's eye becomes full of visions. This technique is so powerful a generator of alpha that it is practiced by monks even today. [right].
So what's going on here?
If you've read the Dan Eden's article on Left Brain : Right Brain, you’ll know that your brain is divided into two sides or hemispheres which are slightly different from each other. Each hemisphere can function independently and processes information in different ways. Our personality depends on which hemisphere is dominant, depending on the activities it is processing.
Here is a list of traits associated with each human brain hemisphere:
When you measure the brain waves generated by both sides of your brain, you'll find that they're slightly out-of-sync or out-of-phase from each other. Scientists know that the more one-sided our brains are, the more erratic and higher the frequency will be.
In the 1970s, psychologists were experimenting with brain waves and discovered that "enlightened" individuals (i.e. Buddhist monks and Gurus) had a remarkable synchronization of their brain waves in both hemispheres. As a result, their overall brain wave patterns were slower.
As brain wave synchronization increases, the two sides of your brain communicate more with each other -- and that's what is important. If your brain waves slow down enough, you'll eventually enter Theta (a bridge to the subconscious and insight and creativity) and maybe even Delta brainwaves (a deep dreamless state or extremely deep meditation).
Further brainwave synchronization will lead to both sides of your brain being so balanced that your brainwaves will merge into a single coherent brain wave pattern. Some people believe that at this point, the normal conscious mind is bypassed and you finally achieve the "it", the "oneness" or enlightenment -- the awakened mind.
The theory makes sense because in order to know (left brain function) our real self, we must experience or feel it (right brain function).
"...it is like Aristotle's view that men being initiated have not a lesson to learn, but an experience to undergo and a condition into which they must be brought, while they are becoming fit (for revelation). -- (Synesius Dio 1133)
Others have described brain waves as like ripples on a pond. Only when the pond is smooth can it reflect the light like a mirror. Only when our brains are quiet can our real self be remembered.
Phosphenes and Enlightenment
As the knowledge about brain wave synchronization became known, an assortment of different apparatus were developed and marketed. Bio-feedback machines allowed the user to experiment with different meditation techniques to lower their brain waves and audio CDs promised to synchronize the hemispheres with subliminal sounds. A few apparatus tried to use blinking lights to do this visually -- but the results have been abysmal.
It makes sense to use visual stimuli to synchronize the hemispheres for a number of reasons. Humans rely primarily on their vision to survive. Our consciousness and attention is primarily in visual language and the brain devotes a significant portion (visual cortex) of its neurons to process the sensory data from our eyes. Just close your eyes for a few seconds and you will experience a dramatic change in your consciousness.
Each retina in our eyes is connected to both the left and right hemispheres of our brain. The left field of vision goes to one hemisphere while the right goes to the other. This division is un-sharp and a narrow strip of the visual field midline is represented in both hemispheres. This overlap of the visual field is important to our discussion.
Because depth perception requires the coordination of both eyes, communication between the two visual centers is usually made through the corpus callosum -- a bundle of nerves that connects the two hemispheres like a network cable. Recent experiments have shown that this inter-hemisphere communication is not necessary for visual data coming from the midline of our visual field, or macula. This central point in our retina is the focus of our vision and its information is hard-wired to both sides of our brain.
It is well know that our visual system has a high degree of specialization. Neurons in some areas of the visual cortex process information only from a restricted range of features. Things like form, color or motion are analyzed independently by separate processing systems. All of these processing activities require excitation of the brain waves as they try to interpret changes in our field of vision.
So here it is: The phosphene method saturates the midline visual field with intense light. It is almost an overload. Visual data is sent to both hemispheres simultaneously. The visual cortex stimulates the entire hemisphere. The visual data is coherent, with minimal variation in form, color or motion and the involvement of both hemispheres in synchronous. By closing the eyes, attention is shifted from the external world to the inner one and, with pre-requisite meditation and preparation to be receptive of the truth, the real self is experienced as light.
A Warning To All
First, don't look at the Sun for more than a few seconds. In fact, it is better to use an ordinary light bulb in a dark room. The results will be the same. In my research I have read that a 60-watt incandescent bulb placed two meters (about 5 feet) away is sufficient to produce the effect. Then, of course, there is always the white wall... (But the wall must take up the entire field of vision to avoid distractions of form, shape or color.)
Next, there is the matter of the pre-conditioning of the mind. Enlightenment is something you must allow to happen. It cannot be rushed or wished for. It requires a fertile environment brought about by good thinking, good living and good intentions. Some have said that this part of the quest for enlightenment requires the help of an enlightened teacher. Others say that good intentions will allow your own self to show you the way.
No one can tell you about your true self with words. We simply do not have an adequate vocabulary for this. The experience that one has is unique and unlike anything in this mortal experience. It is emotional and enduring. It is felt (right brain) and understood (left brain).
Bright lights and amnesia
In the 1980s, researchers found that even low-level exposure to a beam of electrons caused rats to forget what had just happened to them (an effect known as retrograde amnesia). One theory was that the amnesia was a result of the brilliant flash experienced when the electron beam struck the retina. The flash only caused memory loss about the previous four seconds -- but the effect was very real.
To test the theory, rats were placed in an environment where they would have to learn to avoid a certain behavior or be subjected to an electrical shock delivered through the metal floor of the cage. Since the shock is painful, they generally learn this almost immediately. But when the initial shock was followed by a bright flash of light they didn't learn. Supposedly then, the brains of the rats were somehow rendered inoperative to learning.
Retrograde amnesia was demonstrated for the 80-, 85-, and 100-V foot-shock test trials. At 40 V the voltage may not have been great enough to be felt by the subject. For groups examined at shock levels above 100 V, the foot shock was so potent that a photoflash was ineffective in producing RA. Our conclusion was that the photoflash was an effective amnesiac until the intensity of the foot shock became more potent than the photoflash; this is consistent with the recency theory generated in serial learning and memory tasks. -- Source
It is a well known fact that strobe lights can cause disorientation and even incapacitate a person. This could be more evidence that the hemispheres can be made to synchronize, thus lowering their brain wave frequency -- a prerequisite for experiencing "enlightenment."
Let me know your thoughts on this.
Hi Gary -
I have been doing this type of meditation for many years. My process is pure visualization - I imagine a white light almost too bright to gaze at, surrounded by a golden halo full of strength and compassion. My meditation comforts me, gives me valuable intuitive insight and has integrated my dream experiences with my conscious waking awareness. Your article is right on!
Most of the time, I do not ask for anything. Once in a great while, I ask for guidance. It has never failed to surprise and amaze me. I am a part of a greater consciousness that I have just begun to marvel at.
Thanks for a great article.
As my teacher always tried to tell me, "don't think...do", but being cursed with an enquiring mind I persisted to rationalize my experiences in spiritual training with scientific reasoning. After many years I found some modicum of success. The mind processes visual information and learns to screen out much of the visual data and/or one will perceive the data within a preconceived belief system.
When in a deep meditative state visual data can be perceived directly by the pineal gland. This is the visual field that is experienced on the path to enlightenment. One can see the ultraviolet light that is continually given off by our own cellular functions. Over time a person can begin to see auras. One of the ways I first discovered this was from art training where I focused upon objects and then perceived the retina burn as opposites of colors from the actual objects. Over time however, I discovered a difference between the retina burn of animate and inanimate objects. I first discovered this at funerals where people in the room had what I perceived to be retina burns but the dead body in the casket did not.
I later discovered my own particular colors during meditation and found that the colors changed over the years. The colors themselves can be related to different frequency levels, Over time this perception of reality became one of energy and light and an understanding of consciousness independent from a physical form.
Enveloped by light during meditative states also changed the perception of relative time. Enlightenment is so much more than brain wave activity. Miessner fields and quantum coherence provides for an existence or reality that transcends normal experience and this is the path to enlightenment.
Very good article. Coral Castle in Miami has some indications of using something like that. Ed Leedskalnin cut at least two 6 pointed star basins on the top of the walls. One on the north and one on the east. He also had a basin called the baby bath, but the area is more like an altar area. He also had a large reflecting pool called the Moon Pond.
The attached is a picture he took that I blew up a little. Look above his right shoulder in the window like area. You may see a face in it. This photo was used in an advertisement way back then with that window like thing in it. There are others that have it removed. That window like area is a small obelisk set out side the wall, beneath it was a basin if I remember correctly. There are steps up to it.
good article on phosphenes and light. Looking at the Sun for a few seconds provides a type of nutrition for the pineal gland. As you know, it has cells that resemble photo receptors. This should be done just after sunrise and only for 15 to 20 seconds to avoid damage.
As for achieving enlightenment, this is a faulty concept. The monks staring at a white wall does lessen distraction, but their eyes are never closed. This too lessens distraction.
Love you website; need more concerned individuals like yourself.