Someone in Wildmind’s Community asked the following question:
During my sit I saw a bright white/yellow circle shape flash of light in between my eyebrows (closed eye meditation). The light came rushing at me and filled my vision then vanished. While very interesting, it actually freaked me out a bit. Is there a name for this experience?
I replied, “It’s what we call a samapatti. There are various kinds of these, and some of them involve light, although they can be tactile, proprioceptive, auditory, etc. They usually arise as the mind is starting to settle, and they’re more common in people who are relatively new to meditation. They’re nothing to worry about (they’re common) nor are they something to get very excited about (they’re just “noise” in the system).”
“There are more stable sensations that are similar but more conducive to mindful concentration, and those are called nimittas.”
I see samapattis as arising in a few ways: They’re very similar to experiences that people have when they’re exposed to sensory deprivation, which makes me think there’s an element of that going on; the mind is getting quieter, but we’ve not fully tapped into the richness of our experience — especially of the body — and so the mind starts trying to make sense of random neuronal “noise.” One of the most common samapattis is the perception of “swirling lights.”
Samapattis can involve exaggerations of actual sensations. Someone else recently wrote: “I just started meditation, and today while I was meditating, I felt like I was being pulled to the left, and felt like I was stuck leaning significantly that way, even though when I opened my eyes I was sitting perfectly straight. Do you have any thoughts on what that might be about?”
Quite possibly she was actually leaning a little to the left, and because the mind was quieter, those particular sensations were sensed much more strongly than usual.
Sometimes people feel that their hands or lips are huge, and this actually reflects the rich sensory input that those parts of the body have. If you’re familiar with the image of the sensory homunculus then you’ll have an idea of how disproportionate the body can feel. In this particular case I suspect that some part of the brain that’s responsible for convincing us that the hands and lips are actually proportional, despite the fact that they’re sending huge amounts of data to the sensory parts of the brain, has gone “offline.”
Samapattis tend to be a bit distracting. So we just notice them and keep on with the practice. They’re not a sign that you’re going crazy, nor are they a sign of impending enlightenment. They are a sign that the mind is starting to quiet down, but also that you’re learning to adjust to the reduced level of inner quiet.