People often ask me if certain senses of mine are heightened because I am blind. They want to know if my hearing is extraordinarily tuned or if I have a keen sense of smell. The answer is yes – many of my other senses (particularly touch and hearing in my case) are extra sensitive. But people are surprised when I add that anyone, sighted or unsighted, can develop their senses to the same extent I have.
Most of you would probably recognize the smell of a fire, and you would pay attention to the change in aroma and would proactively investigate to see if there is danger. My sense of smell works the same way, but just as you have become familiar with the smell of a fire, I have become familiar with dozens of different smells that all mean something to me. Being blind, I was forced to rely on my other senses to gather information and discover my environment from the time I was born. I learned to cross the street safely, study for a test in school, identify what spices were used in a certain dish, recognize a friend by the sound of their footsteps, and determine with what fabrics various pieces of clothing were made – all without the use of sight.
Though I make use of all my non-visual senses, my sense of hearing and my memory have become my most valuable assets. Because I couldn’t use my eyes to learn to play the piano from sheet music, I used my ears instead. Gradually, I trained my ears to be my eyes, and before long, I could learn a complex classical piano piece note for note, just by listening to a recording of the piece. When you listen to music, your ears are exposed to the same information that my ears would be if I were listening, but the difference is in how focused we are on what our ears are telling us. In every-day situations, your sight is more than enough to help you navigate your environment, interact with other people, and perform almost any daily task, so there is no need to pay attention to all the other information that your senses are relating. But if you chose not to use your sight, even for a few minutes, you may be surprised by what you hear.
Next time you’re at the beach, the park, a restaurant, or in church, close your eyes and listen. You just might experience the world in a completely new way.