Close your eyes. Now imagine your dead father’s face. Pull it into your inner sight, the wrinkles on his face, the dear crooked smile, the stubble of beard, the gray-brown hair that fell just so on his precious forehead.
Feel that which arises at this inner sight: the up-rush of warmth, the soft nostalgia of memory. Bathe in this image as you might bathe in a crystal clear stream. Ahhh, you have him back for a moment in your inner mind and heart. Aren’t you lucky to be able to pull him into memory in this way, to not lose him entirely?
Now that your eyes are open and your heart softened, imagine those of us in the world who can’t see this way, who can’t pull up the faces of loved ones into inner focus. Try to imagine the differences of perception which exist among us.
Now hear the term that scientists use to describe this condition: aphantasia. This term refers to a condition where a person does not possess a functioning mind’s eye and cannot visualize imagery.
Welcome to the dim and blurry edges of trying to visualize in my world. Although I am not sure if I would clinically qualify (because I can sometimes visualize vague and hazy images) there does seem to be a huge difference between the way many others are able to naturally pull forth images in the mind’s eye–and the way my mind’s eye mostly refuses to cooperate.
I cannot fully picture my husband’s face. He left for work this morning; he’s gone. When I try to pull him forth into the mind what exists is a dim and hazy feeling of his essence, etched in with some mental brushstrokes of possible hair and cheeks and vague eyes.
Our daughter in Oregon? In this mind she’s an energy, easily accessible, easily pulled into an envelope of love, easily available. But to actually picture her? I can–almost–imagine her, but it’s mostly a wavering blurry energy field with snippets of possible blond hair and–is that a smile? Perhaps.
Our son in New Jersey? Yes, there he is, but he’s not really a steady reliable image. He’s a sense that I feel in nooks and crannies of my perception. He’s larger than life–I can almost feel his mannerisms as he’s reading these words. And now he’s gone until the next moment when this almost-image arises.
My friend–the only other person I know with this condition–says she sees mostly nothing at all. The inner world remains mostly dark. And that can make her very sad at times. When she wants to see her dead father or mother’s face. When she really, really, wants to see her daughter in her mind’s eye.
I have felt shades of that sadness at times, but my experience has been somewhat different. Back in the 1980’s, in a time of spiritual opening, images started pouring into me. I could clearly see the faces of relatives, the neighbor down the block, that lady with crazy hats in town, a house on the hill, people who had died.
These full-color images never arose when trying to visualize. They appeared as an amazing gift. Oh, there’s my dearly departed Grandpa! Why in the world am I seeing the lady at the gas station? Why, there’s my mom!
Between the ability to see inadvertent images, and the ability to deeply feel energy, I have rarely mourned the haziness of inner sight. It can be a nuisance–it can be darn right challenging–but it also feels that the compensations have resulted in a deep rich life. I am actually truly grateful for the way this brain perceives.
Challenges, you ask? When you can’t really recall a person’s face, guess what you do? If they’re rarely seen, you tend to forget them. This happens with many people, anyway, but those without clear inner sight can suffer more easily. Memory issues can also arise.
OK, an example. Two years ago I stood in line at the grocery store. In another lane stood a woman I knew.
“Hi, Kathy,” she said, smiling.
“Hi!” I replied cheerfully and immediately felt full-blown panic. This was a woman who I knew well. Really well. Someone I saw regularly. But who WAS she?
At such a moment you can feel so lost. I had never forgotten a well-known person in this way before. Who was she? Was this early onset dementia?
It took another hour or two, but I finally figured it out. She was a board member that I saw every month–but had never seen her out of the context of board meetings. Since her face was not memorized, it was virtually impossible to recognize her in a different scenario.
Barry says my lack of ability to visualize has worked in his favor at times. When building our house he used to ask, “Hey, Kath, should we put the front door here? Should the windows go there? What kind of boards should we put up?”
My standard answer: “Sorry, I can’t picture it.”
If you’d like to learn more about this condition, here are a few links:
To make a long story even longer, I probably won’t recognize you, dear blogging friend, unless we’ve met at least three times before. There’s a 50/50 chance I could spot you in a line-up. So please be patient if we ever meet. Tell me who you are more than once, if you please…until I memorize who you truly are…