The meeting started. It was an important meeting.
A woman stood up in front of the audience and spoke. As her voice trailed across the room people wondered what happened? She wasn’t speaking of bottom line profit numbers – she was describing colors arranged in patterns floating around in a precise arrangement. They wondered, is this the famous financial wiz, the person who was advertised as dazzlingly skilled in the financial field? Is this the person supposed to show them how to increase their business profitability?
Oh yes she was! And she was good! She was exceptional! Her thinking was so different from other financial big-shots and this is what made her so different.
There are people out there who don’t relate to the world the same way you do. They’re “special“. In the past, they were thought of having a psychological problem. Their senses seem to be less compartmentalized compared to “normal” people. In other words, their senses overlap.
There are people who see words or letters as colors, arranged in a certain patterns in space. There are people who hear numbers as musical sounds, who feel smells with their bodies not their nose. No, they’re not disturbed. In fact they’re having a better quality of life and are in general more creative than people whose senses are strictly and rigidly compartmentalized.
These people usually experience more from life. They perceive the same experience in a fuller and more powerful way than through a single sense alone. Certainly, more complex experiences in our life, those experiences that leave us “breathless”, in “awe” or “ecstatic”, most likely involve an integration of more than just one sense.
Now imagine there are people out there who have no awareness of experiencing all their senses. I did not say they’re not, but they are not aware of all of them. For example there are people who swear they make no pictures inside their heads. Or people who have no experience of feelings. They don’t feel anything. They are like computers – cold and rational. Do these people have any feelings? Do the ones that swear they make no pictures have images?
Well, yes to both. As long as there is not something wrong neurologically that could impede the functionality of certain organs, they do but they are not aware of these senses. They prefer some to the denial of others. The person who does not make pictures inside his or her head, may prefer to “feel” the world or relate to it with a lot of self-talk. In NLP this is called the preferred representational system. The preferred sense through which they relate to the world.
Then by deduction, these people’s experience of life is even narrower than the average person who is experiencing life through compartmentalized and well defined senses.
Oh, let me see? Yup, colors.
Now I feel. Yup, this is happiness.
Now my nose smells something – cinnamon!
Simple, distinct separation between visual, kinesthetic (visual) and olfactive (smell).
But what about the person who sees the smell? Oh, they must be weird or something must be wrong with them.
Actually nothing is wrong with them. They overlap different senses and thus they enrich immensely their experience of life. It is like the difference between drawing on a piece of paper with Crayola VS a paint brush where you could combine colors in thousands of different shades.
In the NLP Practitioner Training we teach a little but very valuable technique called overlapping. In fact, what is happening once you’re aware of how your senses interact with each other, you discover that not all of your mental experiences are clearly evident in terms of the five senses. Sometimes these five senses become coupled and linked – in NLP the term is “overlapped” – so completely that it is not possible to easily distinguish one from the other. You hear people say “Let me see how this feels“. This is an example of visual – kinesthetic overlapping. This is called a synesthesia. They two senses work together in tandem – they are both there simultaneously like the Yin and the Yang. Each needs the other in order to be there. When you listen to a great song, and you get into a positive happy state is an example of this synesthesia. The happy feeling could not exist without the song you hear and it ceases to exist when the song is over.
Although in the past synesthesia was considered pathological, it is not a psychological problem, in fact it is an advantage. It is a normal human phenomenon not a “condition”.
Separating the senses artificially puts restrictions on our ability to experience life fully and as such they can become are a way of shaping, channeling and ultimately draining away energy.
But could it be possible to train yourself to experience the world from a new, multisensory perspective? And if so, would it have the same effect as those to whom it comes naturally?
Technically it should be possible. Practically it depends from person to person. There is evidence that at least some aspects of synesthesia can be learned. In a study at the University of Amsterdam, normal people without synesthesias were given books to read in which the letters e, t, a and s were colored while the rest of the text was left black. Despite reading the text as normal, after reading the text the participants began associating those letters with their color.
So, it is a matter of learning how to associate different senses in a brand new way. However, the downside was that when the people did not continue to refer to this process later, they forgot the association between letters and colors. I guess “use it or lose it” at work once again!
The people with constant synesthesias were most likely people who were not told in childhood not to do it. The rest of us were well trained to separate our senses specifically.
It is worth trying to improve though. Life is worth living to the fullest. Who knows what wonderful experiences (maybe even improved memory) you could achieve if you try it out?