A status update by the writer Anthony Peake popped up on my Facebook wall yesterday. His investigations always walk the tightrope between science and mysticism adeptly and it was he who first alerted me to the Lucia Light Simulator – developed by psychologist Dr. Engelbert Winkler and neurologist Dr. Dirk Proekl – a year or so ago. In his note he mentioned that a group of people in Finsbury Park have made one of the machines available for the public to try.
I remember being particularly interested in Peake’s reporting that Buddhists from the Bon tradition have tried the device and confirmed that it simulates (or even stimulates) deep states of meditation and, as something of a novice meditator and a dabbler in dream yoga, I couldn’t resist jumping on the first bus to N4 to give it a whirl.
Alex and the rest of the LEM crew honestly couldn’t be more welcoming. The only downside was that, unfortunately, I’d had two cups of strong coffee before going in and accepted another on arrival. Totally my fault and a mistake I won’t make again when I return. In actual fact, the only physiological negative I experienced in the whole hour or two I was there was a head vibrating violently from caffeine.
I’ve experienced deep states of trance before in which the subconscious seems to spontaneously generate images of its own accord and this hugely enjoyable phase of meditation usually occurs when I’ve managed to get myself into a deeply hypnagogic state. It takes a heap of self-discipline to remember to practice and the process of getting that deeply into a meditation is something that puts most people off trying. There have been very brief periods where my ‘visions’ (so to speak) have been lucid enough to experience consciously, but usually the ego chips in to distract from the fun – or sleep arrives uninvited and obliterates the process. It’s very hard not to stray from mantra or practiced breathing techniques and into worry-based thought. When that happens, the visual is guaranteed to drop out.
With Lucia, this predicament is completely avoided. It’s incredible that LED and halogen bulbs can cause the brain to produce such incredible geometry. Without going into too many abstract explanations, the brain produces some incredible visuals during the session – in fact right from a session’s inception. Repeating hexagons morph into spheres whilst mandalas of light open up, swirl unpredictably and suddenly get washed away by clashing chequerboards. On top of that, depending on whichever iconography you’re interested in, archetypes show up and rotate madly. In my case, Hindu gods made an appearance, shaking a limb or three about the place. The Tree of Life, central to the Qabalah I’ve been reading up on recently, also popped up without provocation. Most prominently, a repeating orb of eye-shaped light at the top centre of my field of vision was particularly entrancing – and if this is as common as reports seem to suggest, it may lend some weight to the ideas surrounding the pineal gland (or third eye) that have been linked to Lucia.
These particular visuals were part of my experience, but presumably everyone will have a different array of images to play with, featuring the archetypes they’re most comfortable with. The next time I have a stint in the booth, without the novelty of it being my first time, I’m looking forward to meditating more on the mystical side of things. It seems the process of visualisation is made much simpler through Lucia and further investigation of the pineal gland factor is pretty tempting.
In addition to the wild, shifting colour spectrum the observer witnesses – entirely self-generated (the bulbs are simple white light) – the most astonishing aspect for me was the effect of music on the imagery. LEM provide a pair of headphones with quality ambient music that fits the bill, but after my half hour session ended I was drawn to ask Alex if they’d somehow synced up the audio and the visuals. Between tracks there was a distinct lull in visual activity and it occurred to me that a rest period of a minute or two must have been pre-arranged. Weirdly enough, audio and visuals haven’t been synced at all, which means that the movement of the imagery was produced purely by the music in my ears.
I’m still a little baffled and amazed by that. It causes the sitter to ponder synesthesia pretty deeply. Time distortion too, as the between-track period probably only lasted a couple of seconds but seemed to be far longer.
To capitalise on the synesthesia fun, I’m looking forward to trying binaural beats next time I’m sitting back in the kiosk, to see if the Robert Monroe Effect will enhance things even further. I might even try some of my own choices of music. I’m keen to experience Lucia with a little bit of 70s era Zappa in my ears.
When the process was over (signalled by lights out and a gentle tap on the arm) I was offered another cup of caffeine but opted for water in the post-Lucia window. We chatted a little more about other users’ experiences, as well as what I’d experienced in the session.
Writing this now, a few hours after the experience, I find the light device has given me the sense of tremendous well-being that usually settles in after a week’s disciplined meditation. This makes me think that the Lucia Light device is potentially a direct route into mindfulness for those who find the opening stages of meditation a difficult canyon to cross. That possibility alone has all kinds of huge implications for people suffering from all sorts of psychological conditions. The mind boggles, and then it boggles some more.
Even for those not particularly interested in consciousness, mindfulness, spirituality, dream states or brain science, the Lucia provides an absolutely hectic light show, comparable to the most intense, entheogen-pumped evening you’ve ever had – minus the accompanying and occasionally troubling ego death. Or, for that matter, any trace of a comedown. Win-win.
I’ll be returning to the Salon and I’m hopeful the LEM collective will outlive their current pop-up shop status. The more people that are out there, regularly giving over half an hour of their lives to sample the Lucia phenomenon, the better. It’s seriously magical, so go and like them on Facebook if you’re curious to know more (and go easy on the coffee before you turn up).