Seeing patterns with eyes closed

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.”


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

  2. 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.

  3. “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.

    1. 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 :)

  4. 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?

    1. 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.

  5. 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…

  6. 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

  7. 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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