Seeing patterns with eyes closed

by | Thursday, February 14, 2008

Oliver Sacks has a fascinating piece in today’s NYTimes (titled Patterns, as a part of his NYTimes blog, Migranes, perspective on a headache). Oliver Sacks describes the visual auras he has suffered through his life as follows:

tiny branching lines, like twigs, or geometrical structures covering the entire visual field: lattices, checkerboards, cobwebs, and honeycombs. Sometimes there were more elaborate patterns, like Turkish carpets or complex mosaics; sometimes I saw scrolls and spirals, swirls and eddies; sometimes three-dimensional shapes like tiny pine cones or sea urchins.

He wonders “whether certain basic forms of geometric art, going back for tens of thousands of years, might also reflect the external expression of universal experiences…. Migraine-like patterns, so to speak, are seen not only in Islamic art, but in classical and medieval motifs, in Zapotec architecture, in the bark paintings of Aboriginal artists in Australia, in Acoma pottery, in Swazi basketry — in virtually every culture.”

Though I have never suffered from migraines, reading this article brought back to me memories from my childhood, seeing similar intricate, geometric patterns when I stared at a light with my eyes closed, or when I pressed against my closed eyes with my fingers or my palm. Not having a sense of scale to calibrate these images, I remember thinking of them either as being immense architectural designs from an alien civilization, or microscopic details of some complicated structure seen in extreme closeup. I often wondered why these patterns and designs would show up – and remember trying to draw them. Sadly any attempt to represent them on paper never captured their simmering dynamic nature. It is rather intriguing to think that these geometrical hallucinations “allow us to experience in ourselves not only a universal of neural functioning, but a universal of nature itself.”

Topics related to this post: Biology | Design | Fun | Personal | Psychology

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  1. LesliQ

    I woke in the middle of the night, disturbed by my barking dog. When I opened my eyes there were slightly illuminated white figures on the wall in front of me. They looked like cave drawings you see in many documentaries, and yet I couldn’t quite recognize any of the pictures. They were all over my wall. I rolled over closed my eyes for a few seconds, then opened and looked at the ceiling. They were still there but not as bright. I also felt an odd sensation that I cant even describe…just not the normal feeling when one wakes up. Kind of a pulsing sensation, but not unpleasant. Just unnerving because I knew I was awake and…please don’t laugh, but I wondered if something otherworldly was present.
    Don’t think my brain is capable of such vivid imagery.

  2. John

    I looked for this for a long time. I saw them more often in childhood, but even today I see these colorful geometric shapes, they move and rotate among themselves as if they were mandalas (with designs that are at the same time simpler but with complex functioning). Each shape has a color, but the set of geometric shapes forms a whole that also rotates and moves. It’s a beautiful structure that I’ve never seen elsewhere outside of mind. May vaguely resemble ancient forms and symbols (Mayan, Aztec, Indian and also Oriental). At the same time, it doesn’t feel like that at all. Unfortunately I can’t draw, I can only contemplate when I see it when I have my eyes closed.

  3. carol

    Since college I’ve had migraine auras caused by bright overhead fluorescent light, but not the actual headaches. Sometimes it would also cause me to lose words, & I had to go sit in a dark place for awhile. The aura was a sort of browning out of vision so I could see big objects but not read or see anything in detail. I’ve always been super-sensitive to bright light. In August 2021 I had 4 “drop attacks” where you just fall to the ground, then get right up in a second or two. Only with the last of the 4 I fell getting into bed & was “out” for maybe a minute or more. I had a lot of tests done in the hospital but nothing amiss found except I had unusually low blood pressure that couldn’t be steadily maintained at a normal level.

    At that time when I was too tired or stressed I’d get a bright “sunspot” when I closed my eyes, that would turn into a very detailed oriental carpet design, a mixed pattern of a lot of corals, Mayan carvings, geometric wallpaper & the like. They had no color, just brownish, & didn’t usually move except to fade in & out . I can’t call them up at will but will usually get them when I’ve done too much physical work. There must be a connection to nutrients–too few or too many in the wrong combination. I lost 12 lbs without trying in about 2 months (122 to 108) and frequently feel shaky & kind of unsteady walking. My dr. thinks because of my age (80) I’m about to have a stroke or have had TIAs but I function almost as well as I did 30 years ago. I had cataract surgery at 75 but hate how it destroyed by close-up vision. I enjoy seeing all the designs, but don’t think they have anything other than a neurological explanation.

    • John

      I looked for this for a long time. I saw them more often in childhood, but even today I see these colorful geometric shapes, they move and rotate among themselves as if they were mandalas (with designs that are at the same time simpler but with complex functioning). Each shape has a color, but the set of geometric shapes forms a whole that also rotates and moves. It’s a beautiful structure that I’ve never seen elsewhere outside of mind. May vaguely resemble ancient forms and symbols (Mayan, Aztec, Indian and also Oriental). At the same time, it doesn’t feel like that at all. Unfortunately I can’t draw, I can only contemplate when I see it when I have my eyes closed.

  4. Camillia TEMPLE

    Finally I found a place where what I saw is discussed here! I woke on morning with my eyes closed seeing a Mandala rotating moving in all different degrees through every layer it felt Alive and breathing….this is the only words I could choose to describe it. I don’t know how, but I knew It was Important for me.

  5. Dawn Feuerberg

    I am so grateful to find this blog an article. In 2016, after a 10 day meditation retreat, I went to have an EEG done where they have you close your eyes and send pulsating light to your eyelids while they’re closed to check your brain waves. I was doing this because I had suffered from my supposed concussion six months earlier. And here is what I experienced below. I wrote this back in 2016 and decided to do a little more research and that is how I found you.
    Wow. what an experience. I saw the most beautiful moving kaleidoscope geometric matrixes with every new light change. I kept thinking how are they getting these incredible images in my head. It was a cross between a kaleidoscopic network of repeating symbols and a geometric grid of quickly spinning 3D silver images. Hard to explain. I’ve never done any psychedelic drugs but i think this is as close as I have ever come to an induced altered hallucinogenic state. It was beautiful really.

    When I think about it, I supposedly got a concussion during a kundalini six week course I was taking with the Highly regarded teacher of non-door tantra philosophy., Sally Kempton .. There are no coincidences and
    Highly regarded teacher of non-door tantra philosophy., Sally Camden.. There are no coincidences! Thank you for posting and sharing all of your experiences. It’s nice to know that there were others out there that I’ve had this happen as well.

    • John

      Your story is the closest to what I see. But I see it all the time, since I was a kid.

  6. Tor

    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences guys! I also see these incredible forever moving geometric patterns when I shut my eyes. It takes up my whole vision like an iMax theatre experience. It started around the time I was giving myself Reiki healing as I was learning to do it and I started to see waves of light pulsating to the areas I was healing – always with my eyes shut. It’s nuts! And it’s cool I’m not the only one experiencing these crazy visions. I’ve also seen places, random people, intricate things. I also hear people’s conversations in my mind when I’m about to fall asleep as if I’m tuning into a radio where I can pick stuff up! Are these real people I’m sensing, am I seeing the geometric patterns that makes up us and the universe? Everything is energy right, so we are made of it and also geometric pattern’s, sound and vibration is what makes matter. I guess it makes sense?! It’s like I can see what we’re made of – like the code of the universe of this dimension. This happens randomly to me and I cant seem to plan for it to happen. It can happen at any time I shut my eyes in the day or sometimes at night. I have also seen space and the universe is my vision – like I was floating in space and I felt tiny in comparison to what I was seeing. All while being awake, not tired and but with my eyes shut. There is something going on here that we can’t explain and I want to know more! It’s crazy fun!! The most common geometric pattern I see is an intricate sunflower pattern but it’s always moving and evolving itself.

    • Kira

      Hi Tor, I wonder if you know what does geometric patterns mean? Does this mean you’re clairvoyant? Yesterday when I was trying to fall asleep with my eyes closed I saw Aztec-like geometry pattern takes up my whole vision too. I can also see my room with my eyes closed. I suddenly got goosebumps and chills. I was kind of scared. I’ve been meditating for almost a year now and never thought I have this ability. I’ve been researching online about what it means but haven’t found a lot of information.

      • brenda

        I see the exact same ever changing aztec like symbols

    • Dawn Feuerberg

      So amazing! Thank you for sharing. I just posted about my experience and it’s incredible that you can access this all the time. It’s only happened to me once but it was profound and I got to see 10 different kinds of undulating rhythmic kaleidoscope type of images that were reflected in my entire field of you.

    • Dawn Feuerberg

      However, I would also like to add that since then. I see images and videos. I’m kind of a hypnagogic state. And it is clear to me that I am viewing something that has been or something that will be. So maybe that was the beginning of this opening.

    • torria

      Tor, i could’ve written this comment. it describes exactly what I’ve been experiencing since my soul mate passed mid March this year. and oftentimes the patterns correlate symbolically as a response to our telepathic communication, and/or my meditation. also, I see the colors and patterns as multidimensional, holographic or smoke-like matter, as if i’ve detected another realm.

      by the way, i was compelled to reach out when i saw your name, which is curiously close to mine.

  7. Carl Haynes

    For me its like the shape is the size of a grain of salt then one second later it feels like its grown into a shape the size of the empire state building. Back and forth in size and shape. Never staying in one size. Its nothing that can be touched. Its just Projected in my head with strong feelings of the mass of the shapes. I can feel it very strong. As if the shape can fit in my hand then it shrinks down to microscopic size then jumps to the size of the great pyrimid!

  8. Feeya

    They’re called CEV: closed-eye visualizations – and there are five levels of them! It’s all really fascinating, I have them myself.

  9. Kiella

    At the point of exhaustion this started to happen to me. As I settled to go to sleep I notice the patterns grow and change almost like a weak battery at the thought of words… and this would happen only when I was tired, closed my eyes, and thought of a word. It was not the usual light reaction and squiggly neon lines or dots.

  10. Kim

    “Fantastic geometric shapes and colors, slowly moving and changing”
    Yes – this description resonates with me. If I remember to do so, the moment I wake from sleep – immediately close my eyes and such patterns always appear for a moment or so, then quickly fade away. I have seen a wall of stone blocks moving back and forward in on itself, switching order. I have seen large stacks of gears moving in different directions at different speeds. I have seen complex hieroglyphics moving across the face of what appeared to be a stone wall. I can only see such images the moment I wake, but my eyes must be closed, and it fades so quickly.

    • Wy Leong

      Hi Kim,

      I have a playlist that I listen to sometimes when I go to bed and I drowsily woke up one morning last week, with hieroglyphs/cuneiform ‘flashing’ right on my eyelids (my eyes were closed) while an audio clip of something about Thoth was playing.

      The glyphs were not static and we’re behaving more like when a programmer would write a line of code and my eye lids were the terminal monitor.

      Was hoping to clue out something from this article and found your answer to be the opposite of my experience, so I thought of leaving a line to you.

      And to Punya Mishhra, thank you for the post, I will be digging into your blog soon 🙂

      • Carlos Mas

        Hi Wy Leong,

        I had the same experience that you had this morning. This has never happened to me before! Were you able to find out what it was or where I can find additional information.

    • Shiwali

      I can see the wall since i was a kid. It was like a wall made of small rectangular pixels moving randomly. Only now I have realized that I can control it’s movement. As for designs i used to see them every night as a child in pitch dark, not so much now.

    • Paige Archambeau

      Hi Kim! Thank you for sharing your experience like seriously thank you. I’m shocked i even found an article about this. Im even more shocked i found a comment that was exactly like my experience. What could this be? What are we seeing? Why do so many other people see what we see as well? This can’t just be a something all of our brian’s are creating. There’s something more too it.

  11. Wisdom

    Hello, I’ve seen a lot of things while closing my eyes. Though I’ve not been able to understand the meaning of most of what I saw. I saw the word (La Gersona and La Suna) and I saw myself in a new place (world) with a guy. In the place there are some people who didn’t put on footwear. He told me that I was in the world 1993. I ask him about the month but he told me that there was no month or day in the place but only years.
    I’ve seen other image like an books when I close my eye. I found out that I usually read those books but when I’m conscious about the books, it quickly vanished (so as other images I’ve seen recently).
    I recently see 65th KPN……..PDF (I can’t remember what’s on the dots).
    I also saw the names Praiz Braine and Judge Walters but didn’t know the the meaning of these names.
    Please how do I get the meaning of what I see when I close my eyes. I’ve had countless encounters when I close my eye but didn’t get the meaning?

    • Paul

      Floaters are completely different than what is described here. Floaters look more like bacteria in a petri dish. This is a more holistic visual experience seen in the mind.

  12. HRM Caesar Saint Augustine de Buonaparte

    since i was a little child I’ve seen these shapes but as ai grew i began to visit places that used to exist a very long time ago in places not of this earth, I speculate that all human beings have this gift of seeing into the past a race we all came from that is carried in all of our almost limitless DNA, I now have an extensive background in Quamtun feilds of research and in biology, it has lead me to
    very contravesial theories many of them provable in the real world some day soon, I have seen with closed eyes of
    meditation these cities only after I allow absolutly no light to creep in so as to reset my mind to lights that would only slow down my exploration of these universes
    of the past…

  13. Kay

    I need only press my fingers to my closed eyes and amazing geometic (aztec-like) shapes appear before. Like Oliver they are ever changing and therefore my attempts at capturing them on paper is unsuccessful. I have always been able to do this and will treasure it even more knowing that others have lost their ability to do the same. Kay

  14. luciano G

    I have been fascinated by such beautiful patterns myself. I have sen such patterns many times. With eyes closed, they would appear.

    I found though, that they changed quite quickly. this made it difficult for me to really observe these ever-shifting patterns in great detail. I always found the experience to be inspiring.

    Some ten years or so ago, I had a most profound experience with these dynamic, geometric patterns. I had a few friends over from out of town staying with me…as I later lay in bed, I noticed a bight white light. Now before I go on, i do need to give a little background.

    Just a few years earlier, i had lost all sight in my left eye from a retinal detachment. I also have very limmited vision in my right eye. Resulting from eye operations, I most commonly see flashing lights of various shapes and sizes along with floaters and various other visual debris, whether my eyes are open or not.

    this light though was bigger and much brighter then the ones I usuall would see. I focused on it and it appears that it became like a portal of some sort, for I found myself moving into it.

    At some point, I was suddenly seeing through my entire visual field, fantastic geometric shapes and colors, slowly moving and changing! I was awe-struck!

    part of me was afraid I was having some kind of retinal detachment experience in my good eye, but then I thought, what can I do about it right now…so i just relaxed and enjoyed it.

    This must have gone on for a good half an hour or so…until i must have fallen asleep.

    All I can say is that i felt honored to have experienced such beauty!

    At one point, i remeber thinking, “I should tell my friends what I am experiencing. I want to share it with them.”. Of course I realized they could not share what I was seeing.

    A few months later, i had the same experience once again. but I have not had it since.



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