Do You Live In Black And White?

Imagine you’re watching old film, with people moving around in monotone. Do you, like me, get drawn into thinking that these people actually lived in a world that was black and white?

Of course, their reality was just as colourful as ours. The sky had a thousand hues of blue; the grass was as fresh a green; a lover’s eyes still sparkled like a kaleidoscope.

Our ancestors shared with us the same human perception of colour. It may surprise you but this can be a guide towards our most inspiring mental functioning.

You see, our ancestors shared with us an interesting trait: the perception of colour varies throughout the day. Check this for yourself – sometimes you are acutely aware of colour and other times you miss it completely. When did it last happen to you?

Perhaps you see your car catching the sunlight in the car park and notice that the shade is nearly the same as a car nearby, but somehow the colour has more warmth in it. In contrast, you stop to buy a coffee and do not register the colour of the vendor’s clothes. We all do things like this. We tune into and tune out of colour every day. I’d love to hear your examples (you can post a comment below).

So, what does this tell us about our general mental functioning? Well, obviously we detect colour through our sense of sight. We could describe this in terms of the physical structure of the eye and the optic nerve that connects with the brain. But this misses the key point: our sense of sight is turned on or off by whatever else we are thinking at the time.

This is how you can walk past a friend in the street and not notice them (perhaps you remember the toe-curling embarrassment?!!)  We apologise with something like ‘I’m so sorry – I didn’t see you there – my mind was somewhere completely different’. And this commonplace expression captures the truth beautifully.

It’s true with our other senses too – which feeds the old joke that when a man is reading the newspaper, he goes deaf!

The more serious point is that you’ll inevitably turn colour on and off. This is not a problem in itself but it is an indicator of your mental landscape. When you are in tune to colour, the indication is that your mental activity is relatively light and spacious, excellent for creativity and inspiration.

But when you are tuned out to colour, and living in black and white, the indication is that you are preoccupied mentally. This is a warning that you may be stuck in a mental rut.

Now here’s the key principle – awareness brings choice. Becoming more aware of when colour is on or off brings the opportunity for you to choose. You could think of it like traffic lights: colour ON signals a green light to continue; colour OFF is a yellow ‘mental rut’ warning – do you really want to follow your current line of thinking or drop it?

The good news is that you don’t need to make this another task on your list; simply notice what happens. With growing awareness you’ll find that you automatically tune into colour more often. You will literally be coming to your senses. And with this you’ll spend more time in your most creative and inspiring mental space.

Let me know how it works for you…


Do You Live In Black And White? — 2 Comments

  1. I can relate to this Trevor when things are clear and everything is running smoothly or you simply just let go of whatever is bothering you the colour floods in and shares its full beauty. When things are stressful and we are in overload we rarely have time to enjoy and appreciate colour so we need a simple yes/no or black/white option which is quicker to deal with and so I find my vision is more limited and I fail to notice the full colourful beauty of anything.

    I work with colour as part of the therapy work I do and I encourage people to enjoy colour in many different ways not simply by seeing it. I often use colourer cloths or a coloured light source to help support the body and ask the client to simply be with the experience. When recently working with a blind person they experienced colour in a very different way. We can imagine breathing it into the body and perhaps even taking it to a specific place where it is needed. We may associated a particular smell with a colour and for the sensitve they say they can feel the difference between colours too. We have a wonderful set of language that can use colour to describe things like I was so angry I saw red, it was like a red rag to a bull, I am feeling blue, I was green with envy, I was tickled pink etc. I am sure there are many more that everyone could add.

    Thats try and bring our attention to the colourful world we live in.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience Jon. Your point about working with a blind person shows that the way we experience colour is through the thoughts we have (This is indeed the way we experience everything). While my original post is about how our thinking impacts our perception, you are adding that the way we go on to experience that perception is also through our thinking (conscious or otherwise).