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What's your color? (a question of synesthesia)

(This was originally shared in a newsletter, Sept 2022)

It depends.

That's my answer. "It depends."

What's your color? (Or what's your favorite color?)

Settle in, today we explore some curious, reative thinker thoughts.

I’d want to know what we are talking about - people, places, and things just scratch the surface. Numbers, ideas, dates, songs - another can of worms.

This question is way too broad for me to answer. Although, I have met people who know exactly what their color is - they identify with it. It is their color. I once met a woman who was pink and black. Every single piece of clothing she owned had pink and black in some sort of combination (and I believe she mentioned decor in her house, her car, her shoes, make-up, all the things) - she and these two colors were inseparable triplets. The funny part was that I didn’t see her as pink or black. I could see her through her filter of pink and black, but to me, she was the softest of pale, faded yellow.

Color means something completely different to me. I identify the energy of people, places, things, music, objects, sounds, emotions, numbers, and even certain smells through color. And sometimes the color isn't a color, sometimes it is a cross-reference of some other combination of senses. Such as seeing a person in my mind can move to hearing a musical instrument. There's a man I know, I don't see him very often, but I "see" him as the guitar sound I hear from the band The Eagles.

This is a broad subject and depending on which direction we go, it can be interpreted as intuition, being psychic, sensory observation, logical identification, weird or lucky.

There is a scientific word for getting a trigger from one sense and processing it through another sense. Like those who hear music and see swirling shapes or colors. It is called synesthesia (sin-es-thee-see-ah). It comes from the Greek roots of "together" and "sense." But in actuality, it's even bigger than the five senses, since it can include numbers, alphabets, spatial organizations, and more.

Synesthesia has a cousin, anesthesia, which is the opposite - anti-sensing, not feeling. You’re most likely familiar with this word as in people receive anesthesia before surgery by an anesthesiologist. Synesthesia is a "multidimensional spectrum" with three levels according to Richard Cytowick, MD., MFA. High-level synesthetic attributes show up like hearing in color, number forms, and tasting sounds. Low levels are associations in combinations like colors that are warm and cool. Intermediate levels are experiences with sensory episodes of music-induced imagery, empathic pain, and smells induced by sounds/music.

Two famous synesthetes (pronounced sin-es-theets, a person who has synesthesia) were Vincent van Gogh and Beethoven. Van Gogh identified sounds through colors and saw his contemporaries’ artistic styles as specific musical instruments. Beethoven saw B minor as a "black clef" and D major as an "orange clef." Another famous musician, Schubert, saw E minor as a very specific personification - "a young lady dressed in white, with a pink and red bow on the chest".

Now, there are different kinds of synesthesia in addition to the levels of experience. 1) You are born with it. There is evidence of a genetic sharing of the ability to use the brain in cross-referencing. If you have it, chances are your parents/ancestors did too and your children will as well in some form or another. 2) Drug-induced. LSD and other psychedelic hallucinogens can produce short-term synesthesia or long-term residual experiences, but they are different from naturally occurring phenomena. 3) Trauma or damage. A car accident or brain injury can create pathways in the brain to rewire in order to send messages resulting in cross-referencing of senses and organization of information processing.

In my case, I have combinations of high, intermediate, and low levels of synesthesia, with additional intuitive processing that doesn’t quite fit the descriptions of synesthesia. There is a strong family line of intuitive experiences and knowing (clairsentient). I know I am not the first person to ask about these connections and correlations between intuitive and synesthetic experiences. Maureen Seaberg, wrote about spiritual and synesthetic experiences, in her book Tasting the Universe, People who See Colors in Words and Rainbow in Symphonies. (We’ll save that discussion for another newsletter).

All this recent research, me being curious and all, has me wondering…are we all capable of using our senses in this way? Maybe we just haven’t cultivated the creative use of our brains. And maybe it has nothing to do with creativity. What if it is the way our brains are supposed to work? What if we are designed to use our senses like languages that know how to translate each other's messages effortlessly? Apparently, I’m not the only one to ponder as such (again, perhaps we’ll discuss it in another newsletter).

I know some of you might find this hard to process or will immediately discount it all saying "I don't think that way", "my mind doesn't work that way" or "I don't get it." And all that is valid. I think right now, in our world, not everyone is using their senses in the ways described. However, there is evidence that our ancestors of the past knew how to use their senses in ways we are not currently utilizing.

So, just to get you curious, and maybe a little creative, try this out over the next week. When you hear a piece of music you respond to, ask yourself, if this were a color, what would it be? Or maybe a shape is what comes to mind. Or perhaps a location (like a mountain top trail with crisp air and the light of dappled sun on pine needles).

And if you want to have some fun, ask yourself what color is your house - and I don't mean what literal color is your house - I mean, what color, big thought, feeling, energy, movement, shape, or sound is your home?

Just for fun, giggles and grins, and why-the-heck-not, imagine this week your senses can cross-reference each other. Drop me a line if you have an interesting experience with this exercise. I'd love to know. And if you have synesthesia - drop me a line, I'd love to know how you process the world.

Natural synesthetes will not have to “imagine” anything. It will be automatic, and already in place within the brain. It’s kind of wild.

So, you can see, when people ask me what’s your color (or what’s your favorite color?), it will always be, “it depends.” Because, to me, it’s more than color.

Be curious, live curly, get creative.

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