By Fiona Robertson.
I listened to a podcast recently about people who have no mind’s eye (a condition called aphantasia) and so do not see any visual imagery, including memories. Some of the people featured also have no mind’s ear and cannot imagine sensory experiences that aren’t happening. As someone who has always had abundant visual imagery – sometimes to the point of overload, especially when the imagery has been disturbing – I found it fascinating to hear more about aphantasia and I’m still wondering if it makes life quieter or somehow more straightforward, or if it feels like a loss.
One of the things we become more aware of as we inquire is the multi-layered nature of experiencing. There’s the immediate, environmental sensory content – what we are seeing, smelling, hearing, touching, feeling (what we might call outer experiencing), and the internal sensory content, (which we could call inner experiencing) – what we are thinking, seeing and hearing in our mind’s eye or ear, and what we are feeling emotionally. It’s easy – and common – to imagine that, with all this going on, not only is some of the content of our experience wrong (I shouldn’t be feeling this feeling or thinking this thought) but that the way we are experiencing is wrong (I don’t feel things strongly enough, or I feel things too intensely, or I’m supposed to see images but I don’t, and so on). Reading books and articles and watching videos about inquiry can be helpful, but can sometimes heighten the idea that there’s a right way to “do” inquiry, and if we fall outside those parameters, we’re getting it wrong.
Yet having spent nearly ten years both inquiring myself and facilitating others, I can attest that there is no right way to process. We all experience our experiencing differently. For some people, sensations are fleeting, coming and going rapidly. For others, they can last for days (I’m sometimes in the latter camp). Likewise, some people have abundant, vivid imagery while others have none. We all experience thinking in subtly different ways, too. Some people say very little during sessions, others talk more or less continually as they process. Most people are somewhere in between, or vary from session to session (again, I’m in the latter camp). It’s natural that we would conclude – when our own experience doesn’t match up to someone else’s description – that we are somehow lacking or defective, but that’s simply not the case. The more we inquire, the less we compare ourselves to some idea of how we think we are supposed to process, and the more we come to recognise, honour and value our own unique way of processing.
(For more information on aphantasia, https://aphantasia.com/)
To read more about Fiona Robertson, click here.