I came across this article on Charles Bonnet Syndrome today by the BBC News, “Eye condition makes man hallucinate tapestries and monks.” This was the first time I had heard of the condition and its symptom, hallucinations.
Charles Bonnet Syndrome
Charles Bonnet Syndrome (CBS) refers to the the visual hallucinations some folks experience in cases of visual acuity loss or visual field loss. The condition was first noted in the late 1700s by Swiss naturalist and philosopher, Charles Bonnet, but didn’t earn its official diagnosis until the 1930s. Currently it affects 300,000 people a year.
In 2009, Mary Lou Jackson, MD, of the Harvard School of Medicine–affiliated Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (Boston, Massachusetts), cited that CBS, while often underdiagnosed, actually affects 10% to 38% of patients with visual impairment. According to research collated by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (UK), three in five individuals experiencing serious sight loss may develop this condition.
Hallucinations in CBS
In the BBC clip, a man describes his experience of seeing everything from a familiar cartoon face to an Indian tapestry in central vision, skulls, silver swirls, a stained glass window, Tibetan monks and dancing green and/or red men. He explains the visions tend to be more prevalent under conditions when the lights are low, things are calm and quiet, and when he is feeling a bit more tired. He mentions a “vision change” that can cue an oncoming hallucination.
Western medicine does not know the cause of the hallucinations; though researchers M.L. Jackson, MD and Joseph Ferencz, MD PhD write the condition is “most commonly attributed to deafferentation or lack of true visual input into the brain, which causes a release phenomenon similar to phantom limb symptoms after amputation.” Differential diagnosis includes assessing the patient’s ability to distinguish that which is “real” from that which is not, even if only explained to them after the event. As to be expected, not all individuals hallucinations are a sequela of sight loss; there can also be mental health concerns.
Visions in Energy Work
In the world of energy work, seeing visions is known as clairvoyance. Listening to this man’s audio journal, I was struck by the similarity. Clairvoyants see what to some may be called a hallucination; and they know that it is both real in its message, while not necessarily existing as “real” on this plane. Clairvoyants work over time to stay mindful through the experience while staying grounded in their body and consciousness on this plane. We also often choose lower lighting, and meditative conditions (read: “calm and quiet”) to help us see multidimensionally.
I wonder, what would happen if these folks with Charles Bonnet Syndrome chose to study with an energy worker or Shamanic practitioner? What if they learned to work and play with what arose? Would they gain deeper insight into their lives and experience? Perhaps what Western medicine calls a “syndrome” is really a gift, honed with guidance.
Visions and Blindness
Blindness and clairvoyance have long gone hand in hand in history. (My brain always goes to the Odyssey and Clash of the Titans….) The thought is when the external vision grows dim, inner vision is allowed to arise. We spend a lot time deeply enmeshed in our outer senses; it’s easy to miss the subtle. That’s why we energy workers practice!
Not only can visions be suggestive of possible outcomes to the current stream of events (as is the case in prophecy), but more importantly, in my opinion, clairvoyance allows for deeper insight into one’s nature and the nature of reality. It allows us to dream bigger than we could ever think up; it allows us to connect more deeply with what’s truly alive for us in our hearts and in our bodies.
I agree with Jackson and Ferencz that it’s imperative one be deeply grounded in our common reality and in one’s being (my terms) for experiencing visions to be a safe and comfortable experience. Without a solid foundation, a person can get disconnected from the self and feel split in consciousness. This leads to a sense of being out of control, and unsafe. With that, comes a whole slew of other things.
For anyone already experiencing hallucinations or visions, unsure of where to start, I recommend working with a good counselor, energy worker, and meditation instructor. If your ability to function in daily life is impaired, I’d recommend starting with seeing a psychiatrist.
Reflect on your experience; have you ever seen, heard, or felt something that wasn’t “there”? Does daydreaming count? (Why or why not?)