Synaesthesia is one of my new favorite words and concepts.
As Wickipedia defines it, synaesthesia (or synesthesia) “is a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. People who report such experiences are known as synesthetes.”
Synesthetes often experience this phenomenon in the course of every day life – vowels, for example for many synesthetes have colors where as consonants don’t. But I’m particularly interested in the intersection of synaethesia and strengths and talents. What if your strengths and areas of talent have a color or a sound, or both?
For years I’ve been describing my feelings when in a state of “flow” or deeply immersed in an area of strength as having a color – often a vibrant blue or yellow or orange and conversely moments of weakness as colorless, black or red. What I never talked about and never knew how to articulate is that in these “photisms” or “chromesthesia” episodes I actually SAW these colors, tasted and heard these colors. In fact, my personal form of synaethesia involves color and sound – a hum, or thrumming permeates my brain and I see what I’m doing tinged with vibrant colors of orange, yellow and violet blue that has a fractal nature about it. Examples:
“The pixels of light and darkness captured in the mind’s eye are filled with the pallet of color of the results – hence the memories of winning somehow pull from the yellows, blues and golds, success and color implying a relatively easier effort, while the losses are inevitably painted with the charcoals of those chiaroscuro efforts – blackened, brutish, pain and disappointment closely linked.”
“I choose to repaint this race differently. And in so doing what I did accomplish was a unique mastery of the instrument of my body. For over two hours, I played it like the first violinist – drawing out of it with every lash of the straight bow every possible note, every emotion, every tremble of resonance the space of ribs and air and bones was capable of producing.”
Conversely when I’m suffering or pursuing a weakness, color and sound disappears… an example:
“The halls of pain echo for an experienced athlete. The suffering is nothing and yet is everything. The pain is white. It is black. It lacks color or sibilant sound – just reverberations reflecting off the porcelain tiles of the stony discipline of the psyche. But blood, glittering red-black blood, pulses through hidden rivulets in the gutters of the mind.”
As a kid when I would ride my bike – whenever there was a sprint or an acceleration I would hum inside my head. In the early days it was sort of a motorcycle sound and I assumed it was an artifact not dissimilar to putting a playing card in the spokes to sound like a motor, but over time I just realized I did the same thing when skating or when painting or when working certain subjects in school. Now I get it when I’m writing, riding, racing or traveling.
So an oft repeated question is, “how do I know if something I’m doing is a strength?” “How do I know if something I’m doing is a weakness, or just a skills gap?”
Perhaps one way to know might to be to simply ask, “what color is it? what does it sound like?”
I close every speech on finding your strengths with the following advice: When seeking your strengths, “pay attention to your internal hum: you’ll know it when you see it, feel it, hear it.”
PS: this whole post was a medium blue, tinged with some yellow.