Synaesthesia is often defined as a mixing or cross-mapping of sensory experience. The phenomena results in a person experiencing one sense, based on the information of another. For example, some people see sounds as flashes of colour, others may experience a taste on hearing certain words. There are many different forms of synaesthesia, which range from fairly common, to very rare.
Scientific studies of synaesthesia have discovered that around 4% of people are synaesthetes, however this figure is probably much higher, because most of the time, the brain simply filters out synaesthetic feedback. In these instances, a person would be completely unaware of their abilities as a synaesthete, until they actually train themselves to recognise the effects. And yes, people can actually train themselves to consciously experience synaesthesia, depending on their own particular types of synaesthesia.
One of the commonest forms of synaesthesia is when a person feels pain at the sight of another person sustaining an injury. This is a form of Visual-Kinaesthetic Synaesthesia. This example is not the most pleasant of synaesthesia forms, however, others can be utterly awe-inspiring. The Aural-Visual or Kinaesthetic-Visual Synaesthesia of colour and shape, when sounds, such as music are heard, or emotions are felt, can be some of the most pleasurable experiences.
Perhaps even more amazing is how some people can use their abilities as a synaesthete to communicate consciously with their unconscious mind. Here, a person can contemplate a particular course of action or decision that must be made, and will literally receive a response as a burst of coloured lights, or shapes and movement. This could also be experienced as sound or voice responses, depending on the individual synaesthete’s abilities.
People who display synaesthesia abilities can also train themselves to alter the experience – so if a person has a tendency to feel or hear feedback, they can change it to an experience more visual in nature, if preferred.
Connecting to your own synaesthesia can have a number of benefits. These may include higher cognitive abilities, enhanced memory, greater mathematical abilities, enhanced literacy skills, greater time management, better decision-making abilities, and even enhanced intuitive abilities. In fact some people who display synaesthete abilities are often believed to have ‘mystical’ or ‘psychic’ powers, which present themselves through the synaesthesia experience.
Learning how to consciously experience your synaesthesia is a rather ‘cerebral’ experience. In the early stages, people will often find the initial experiences very distant, or subtle, so have a tendency to dismiss the synaesthesia as ‘imagination’. In fact this is the reason most people discount their synaesthete abilities – because they simply assumed they imagined it! It is vital that you remain open-minded in these early days – focusing upon the slightest ‘odd’ sound or flash of colour is the key to building stronger experiences.
The golden rule is that, allowing yourself to believe when it is so easy to doubt, will enable you to retrain yourself to the level where your doubts will be negated. Synaesthesia will become so vibrant and strong that eventually you will get to the point where you know it is ‘real’. So, focus on the results you will achieve when you are fully-aware of your synaesthete abilities, rather than the fact that it will be vague at first.
Being relaxed and having a quiet mind are imperative for the novice synaesthete. Thinking about things, or moving around, will distract you from your synaesthesia, although sometimes, having other people around does help to increase the experience.
Remember that you will most likely need some sensory input, in order for your brain to give you a contrasting ‘output’. Music and sound are often great for enticing your abilities out. Scent and taste may work for some people, whilst letters and number affect others. Sometimes, low lighting can help – this is the way all these things are used in meditation, because in a trace-like state, synaesthesia can be very profound.
You may want to keep a journal of your experiences to help you through any times when your confidence is faltering – and to remind you of your progress so far.