I’ve always been considered ‘strange’ and ‘weird. I was only two when I started school and could already read. By five, I had completely devoured the entire children’s library. I lived in a world populated by fairies, elves and dragons. I read so many books, but could not – ever – recall a single character’s name. I’d turn a page and totally lose the plot of the story. I thought it was awesome – I could read a book a hundred times, and it was still new.
It wasn’t until much later in my life that I discovered aphantasia, that I couldn’t picture or create sensory experiences in my mind. But just because we cannot “see it” doesn’t mean the knowledge is not there. Aphantasia is a gift, and if we want to ride dragons or visit the stars, the knowledge is locked away within us; we just have to believe we can find it.
Learning that People Could Actually See in Their Minds
I also lived in a world where I couldn’t recall people’s faces, names, or special dates. School was a nightmare of bullying. A breakdown in my early 20s was the trigger that eventually, decades later, led me to study for a Diploma in Holistic Counselling and Meditation Therapy, and that was where I discovered that most people could actually see in their minds. Not only do they see, but they can hear, smell, taste, and even imagine textures. A friend told me that she’d never forget the feel and the smell of her first child’s head just after birth and that she could conjure that in her mind to re-experience it. That blew my mind.
It was a random comment from my lecturer that alerted me to the fact that I could be different. He mentioned the importance of being aware when writing a meditation script because not everyone can visualize. For a moment, my world stopped.
What do you mean? It’s not just conceptual? This whole ‘picture an apple’ thing, and it’s there in all its red or green glory in your mind, is most people’s reality?
I was 62 years old when I discovered this.
Aphantasia is a Gift
People think it’s funny that I can have total aphantasia and work as a meditation therapist, but my mind has developed its own way of understanding. As part of my spiritual practices, I meditate every day, and it is here that I first recognized the immense advantage that non-visualizers have, especially those with total aphantasia.
Aphantasia is not a hindrance; it is the best possible gift you can have. You have a mind that is naturally quiet and image-less. You don’t have a million random thoughts and mental pictures floating through your head distracting you. You do not have to deal with a Monkey Mind.
The Monkey Mind is a Buddhist term that basically means a mind that won’t shut up. For example, you settle down into your meditation, and your mind decides to sort out the shopping list or tries to answer unanswerable questions such as: “What’s on the other side of infinity?”
I find it very interesting, especially as I teach people how to deal with it when I have never had to deal with it myself. My mind is a black screen with an overlay of golden mist, although I do understand what it could be like to visualize. I had three dreams as a child. All nightmares while under general anesthesia and all in terrifying-big-screen-Technicolour. I’ve also had a handful of episodes where I have visualized something within meditation, but these are very rare (and I get really excited when they happen.)
For a time, I worked with a group of advanced meditators around the world. We would agree to meet up within our meditation, and on our return, we’d each write a report on what we believed had happened and compare notes. It was tricky, but (very importantly) I trusted the other people not to laugh. So, I relaxed and allowed the moments to happen. Slowly I came to realize that my experiences were in alignment with theirs. I Knew (take note of the capital K) where each person was in relation to the others. I Knew who was opposite me and who was to my right and my left. I learned to expand this out to the area we had agreed to meet – for example, over Glastonbury Tor, a beautiful monument in Somerset, England, steeped in history and legend. I Knew where the sun rose and where the nearby farm lay as if I was remote viewing without the visuals.
I Don’t Know How I Know; I Just KNOW
Intellectually I know what an apple is. I can’t recreate it, but somewhere in my neurons, or maybe my aura, is a filing cabinet labeled ‘Apple’. I Know ‘apple’. I don’t see it, smell it, taste it – but I Know it. I use the capital letter to highlight that I have Knowledge of that apple even if I have no idea how to describe it or quantify it in my mind. I accept that it just IS apple. And I’m pretty sure we all do that or something similar.
But I am a meditation therapist and also have a natural need to explain stuff, so I asked myself, how do I Know ‘apple’ or where the farm is at Glastonbury? Maybe it’s Clairsentience – the ability to pick up on extrasensory knowledge through feelings. Maybe it’s something else.
First described by a Canadian doctor in 1991, Dr. J. Andrew Armour M.D. Ph.D., we all have a “little brain in our heart.” We have cells in our guts and around our hearts that are exactly the same as brain cells. The Knowing of something happens in my gut – I feel the energy of it. The Belief that I Know is felt within my heart. Could it be that I use these other cells to understand what others see and hear in their minds? I have no idea. It’s an interesting thought.
I have learned to trust this Knowing even when there is no basis for where the knowledge comes from or even if it’s true; the knowledge is filed away somewhere, and I access it somehow. It happens.
Within meditation, I now have a rich world of Knowing because I Believe; and I Trust in what I Believe. It allows me to ride on the back of a dragon, to swoop and soar through the stars. I can climb the highest mountains, dive to the bottom of the ocean, climb a pyramid or delve beneath the feet of the Sphynx.
I know, in physical reality, what it feels like to skydive, for instance, or to swim underwater. I understand ‘apple’, and somewhere in my mind or body, this knowledge is hidden away. It’s there, just not accessible in a way that is considered ‘typical’. I Believe I am traveling in my meditation; therefore, I am, even though I do not see, feel, hear, etc. It is the closest I come to dreaming in my inner world of black overlaid with golden mist.
In Daoism, there is a form of meditation where the aim is absolute forgetting – oblivion. With total aphantasia, there is no Monkey Mind; Knowing can be turned off. The mind is quiet. Dark. Peaceful. Oblivion seems perfectly achievable – except for the aches of my 67-year-old body that keeps me anchored in the here and now.
Learning that I have total aphantasia has led me to delve deeper into how I work within my mind. I find that although it is a dark and quiet labyrinth where knowledge – and dragons – are hidden away in dark corners, I now have a clearer picture of why my mind works in weird ways. And hey. I’ve managed to exist for 65 years without knowing what I didn’t know.