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How People Are Getting High on Light

The Lucia N°03 machine mimics the effects of LSD and DMT to help mental wellbeing

The phrase ‘seeing the light’ is understood as an idiom: a moment of mental breakthrough and new awareness, or a sudden spiritual conversion. But does its meaning have literal roots, with light possessing an actual transformative power? That’s the belief of Austrians Dr. Dirk Proeckl, a neurologist and psychologist, and Dr. Engelbert Winkler, a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, inventors of the Lucia N°03 Hypnagogic Light Machine.

Looking part high-end design lamp, part futuristic medical apparatus, Lucia N°03 flashes white lights at different frequencies, while users sit in front of it with their eyes closed. The luminescent ectopic visions that it induces, an ever-shifting display of sacred geometry (or what Proeckl and Winkler call neural art), has had a huge range of reported positive effects, from feeling of oneness with the universe to a sense of increased openness and creativity. “As (Arne) Dietrich says about alternate states of consciousness, you have an oceanic feeling,” explains Proeckl, the oldest of the two at 62 (Winkler is 52) in a distinctly slow, cheery manner, when we meet at a demonstration in west London. “You lose a sense of your ego. Further on, you have people who say they experienced god, or met people who have died. One lady at the University of Sussex experienced all her life again. It goes beyond our concepts of time and space.”

To comprehend this diverse range of transcendent experiences, and their benefits, involves going back to the genesis of the Lucia N°03. Winkler was seven when he had what he calls a near death experience, or NDE. “I was lying in bed with my mother,” he says, now matter of factly, on this defining event. “Suddenly it was if the wall opened and there was a tunnel. In the far distance small creatures appeared beckoning me. I told my mother they were coming to take me. She panicked and told me not to look. From her reaction I panicked too, then lost consciousness and was sucked into the tunnel. Then it was hard to describe. Now I’d say it’s just the same as when you take DMT.”

This experience propelled him to study psychology to try to understand the bizarre event’s significance. Here he discovered Kenneth Ring, an American psychology professor who spent much of his life researching NDEs. While the NDE itself Ring deemed beyond the realm of scientific inquiry, the after effects weren’t. “People were living their life much more intensely,” Winkler says on the pattern that emerged of a radically transformed outlook. “They were less interested in earning money, and more interested in enjoying life and other people.”

Inducing a radical change in attitude, leading to a shift in all aspects of behaviour, was what was advocated by Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, whose tradition Winkler trained in. “That’s what happens in a near death experience. Someone sees something in an extreme altered state of consciousness and it changes their attitude toward themselves and the world. It’s an experience that lasts just a few minutes, but it cause changes that would normally take years of psychotherapy.”

“You lose a sense of your ego. Further on, you have people who say they experienced god, or met people who have died. One lady at the University of Sussex experienced all her life again. It goes beyond our concepts of time and space”

Attempting to replicate this experience with his patients, he first tried getting them to visualise going into a tunnel of light. When some struggled, he began using halogen lamps. It was Proeckl, who lived and worked in the same small village, who suggested added a flashing light to this constant one and led to their first proper prototype, built from an old coffee machine.

Proeckl’s life is marked by a similarly defining event. Taking LSD at the age of 14 on a family trip, it “was the most impressive experience I had in my life,” he says, adding that trying DMT more recently was another. When he began studying psychology, also motivated by a desire to share and understand what had happened, German psychiatrist Hanscarl Leuner was using LSD as part of his practice, later developing Katathym-Psychotherapy, a technique of guided visualisation, after it was banned. Because of prohibition, by the time he met Winkler, Proeckl had all but given up his proselytisation of the power of psychedelics, instead studying biofeedback, biochemistry of the brain and neurology, before settling down to raise a family.

Following in Ring’s footsteps, they’ve bolstered the grand esoteric nature of their findings with more objective work. A study at the University of Sussex, whose full findings will be published later this year, indicates Lucia N°03 has a similar effect on outlook for those who use as psilocybin. Another study from Munich’s University of Applied Sciences came to the conclusion that “one’s thought patterns can be challenged and an openness to new ideas achieved. It was confirmed after the first few light experience sessions that new creative solutions are possible after exposure to the Lucia No.3.”

A light traveller's brain waves, at rest

A light traveller's brain waves during a Lucia N°03 light experience

Brain scans have shown what might be part of the process of this, with the brain producing new frequencies in response to the light. “If you use a flickering of 9HZ the occipital pole will take over the same vibrational frequency,” explains Proeckl. “When people tune into a trance state it will then have other distinct frequencies produced by the brain, a kind of harmonic ratio.” That is, it produces an equivalent of musical overtones, often extending into the gamma range, an area usually only seen in experienced meditators.

Winkler writes in the preface to his book The Pursuit of Being: The Sunshine Game, “many assume that the utilisation of psychedelic states of consciousness will become a central part of science and medicine in the future.” Slowly restrictions are loosening on the scientific use of various controlled substances discovering potentially therapeutic uses, such as treating PTSD with MDMA. Despite widespread recreational use though, and the advent of trends like micro-dosing, most still remain illegal.

Lucia N°03 offers the potential for similar benefit. Shamanic journeying via hallucinogenics is well known, but using light also has a precedent, points out Winkler. In Ancient Greek mystery cults, initiates would sit in pitch black caves, then move to another with a bright fire, using a spinning wheel to get a similar effect to Lucia N°03. Intriguingly its effects may partly be due to stimulation of the pineal gland, the much speculated about ‘third eye’ linked to NDE’s by Rick Strassman’s 2001 book DMT: The Spirit Molecule, which processes light to regulate our body clock via the secretion of melatonin.

With machines available to buy, both for personal use and for treating others, they’re now all over the world, from Japan to Australia. Last year the pair took four machines to Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert, converting the lamps to be used lying down so that they could treat four people at one time. Each user’s experiences and revelations seems to shed more light on its potential too, from relaxing people about to undergo physical therapy or do yoga, to providing clarity on difficult decisions.

“This is our point, to let go of our pre-formed understanding of the world,” says Proeckl, who has regained his teenage zeal. “Let it go loose, then come back and see what has happened. It can come back new. But you can’t do it by intention, because the other point of view is in conflict with your current point of view. You have to get out of your old matrix.” Lucia N°03 literally shines light on this new way forward.

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