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  • Andy Steele

Sound effects: Seeing colours when we hear



Earlier in the year, I met a lady who after attending a soundbath told me how she became very emotional when she saw colours raining down as I played, like she "was watching the Northern Lights".

This is called "Synaesthesia". It's when our senses merge as neurons within our brain fire at once. There are different types of Synaesthetes. Some may hear a sound and see a colour, while others may smell or taste something instead.

While I was training as a Sound Therapist, I was told on multiple occasions that seeing colours is a common effect while attending a Soundbath. I regularly see colours when I hear sounds, to the point that I called myself "Painting Sounds" because I felt I could paint with my instruments for people. However, when I started my case studies, this wasn't always the case. Some people instead felt things instead; maybe pressure, maybe temperature changes, maybe even pain. There are different reasons for why these sensations may occur of course, but one common reason is that they are all different types of Synaesthesia. It just depends on which neurons are firing at the same time for that individual.

Synaesthesia is not however common. Only about 4.4% of adults in the world experience it. And if like me, you're neuro-divergent, then you will have more neural-connections present in your brain so have more chance of these neural triggers coinciding with each other, thus resulting in the condition.

But you don't have to be neuro-divergent to see colours when you hear sounds. The lady I was speaking to was particularly emotional about it, because she has Aphantasia. This is a condition which means that someone can't see with their mind's eye. She still has dreams; but these are mental-based thought dreams rather than actual images flashing before her. This wasn't just someone seeing colours. This was someone who could not see colours or images ordinarily but somehow, during the soundbath, her neurons fired in her brain in a way which which meant she saw colours raining down in her mind's eye for the first time in her life.

I feel deeply privileged that she had this experience and I have spent the last couple of months tracking down exactly why, but in truth, I can't find one that neatly fits her situation. This is where most papers I have encountered just resort to saying that more research is needed and that the brain itself is so complicated; we just can't say why it happens for everyone and why certain sounds trigger certain reactions; be it colours, physical sensations or words etc.

Some people may even hear an inner voice guiding them or giving them an insight into a problem or symptom. This too could be argued is another type of Synaesthesia. But that only explains that you're hearing something; not why you're hearing exactly what you need to be hearing or seeing something that helps you understand a problem or situation better. This for me is the real magic; not why we're hearing, seeing or feeling something when we hear a sound, but what we're experiencing and why. And it's that ability to inquire about our own unique experience that I feel gives us the most chance for some kind of insight to occur.


The magic therefore is not in the sound itself, but in the person receiving the sound and inquiring about their experience with it. We are all amazing. We just need sometimes something to come along and remind us of that.


om shanti.


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