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The Toki Ponist on the Mountain
Chapter 8: Aphantasia

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September 2020

When I enter Dr. Holger’s office a few weeks later, I immediately notice the large white open bookcase has moved smack in the middle of his office, creating two separate spaces. An uncomfortable-looking folding chair has taken the place of the proven uncomfortable yellow cushion.

To prevent repeating my last seating disaster, I pick a large, cushioned lazy chair with head rest. Dr. Holger seems a distracted, but moves his chair to sit across me. Instead of aligning himself to me, he fetches his mobile phone from his suede jacket and starts touching and swiping.

“Everything alright?”

“Yes, yes,” Dr. Holger replies, “I will be with you in just a moment.”

I sit back and close my eyes. Far away, a gnawing sensation sublimates. Its origin is so deep, my nerves can feel but not pinpoint it. Akin to a black hole gnawing at the fabric of space-time without being directly perceived. It emanates an unrest that takes hold of my entire upper body. My muscles tense and my stomach braces itself.

I open my eyes and observe Dr. Holger. The bushes of his eyebrows interlock into a forested frown. They almost mask the wrinkles in his forehead. With fury, he taps his phone, without stopping for a moment for thought or fixing autocomplete mess-ups. I expect an imminent end to the message, but I am mistaken.

I now blame Dr. Holger for the unrest in my body and it seems as if a constant flow of nausea permeates from his body and hits me in repetitive waves of dread. How can this feeling originate both from him and from directly inside of me? Is my body a sensor for unease that resonates inside of me? Or am I just projecting my unrest on Dr. Holger, who might be perfectly calm within, like he always seems to be. I can almost see and smell the droplets of sweat appearing on his forehead. When I am about to burst, he presses a button and tucks the device into his pocket.

He looks up and smiles. Then he drops the smile.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I don’t think I can properly align with you today. You don’t have to pay for today’s visit. You may go. We’re not getting anywhere like this.”

“Okay,” I sensed the situation well. “Thanks for being honest, “ I reply. “I could feel your unrest, it’s just too bad that I had to travel all this way for nothing.”

He nods. Actually, he does not nod; he is shaking his head.

“No. No. What do you mean, my unrest?”

I sit up, not ready for defending any position.

“I can’t align with you because you have been dishonest.”

“Dishonest?” I hold my breath after saying it. A wave of shame washes over me as if it is the worst thing someone could say about me. I am exposed as the imposter I am without knowing what part of me has been exposed.

“It surprises you?” he asks. “Let’s do an exercise to find out what is really going on. Close your eyes and think back to our last session.”

I close my eyes and think back to about halfway through the last session. I had just taken my seat again on the uncomfortable yellow cushion after some breathing exercise. Dr. Holger asked me to close my eyes.

“Imagine your six-year-old self sitting in the corner of this room,” he said, “then imagine you are approaching him. How does he respond?”

“He’s not doing anything,” I said. “He is just sitting there.”

“Can you tell me more? What is going on?” Dr. Holger asked.

“He’s hiding his face; I cannot see it. His arms wrap around his knees and he just doesn’t budge.”

“No!”, Dr. Holger said. “That’s not cutting it, you must be able to tell me more.”

“Honestly, I don’t know what you expect from me!”

“Calm down. To understand what is going on you have to think back to our previous session,” Dr. Holger said.

I rewinded my mind to the previous session, when I was leaning against a wall looking out the window with a view of the city. From the third floor, I was mainly looking at rooftops of nearby terraced houses and domestic buildings. A flock of birds passed by the window. I remember asking the doctor what he had said, because I had missed it while looking outside.

Dr. Holger said: “I asked you to turn around so you are leaning with your back against the wall and then to close your eyes.”

After I did what he asked, he continued: “Now I want you to imagine yourself lying down on a beach.”


“Now imagine that on the beach you see a sand castle and far away a ship sails by. The sun shines brightly and warms your body.”

He paused.

“Can you describe me how you are feeling?”

“I feel calm, relaxed,” I said.

I heard the doctor sigh, but with my eyes still closed I could not grasp what his sigh meant and by the time I could come to any conclusion the doctor continued.

“So then, tell me. What do you see?”

“I see a beach, it is bright from the sunlight, and there is a sand castle near the water. In the water a white boat is passing by.”

“Tell me about the sand castle.”

“What can I say. It’s just a sand castle.”

“Open you eyes! Look out the window and describe the first building you see.”

“Okay, well, it’s a brick house with slightly worn bricks. There are two windows on the top floor. I see dark wooden window frames and thick blue curtains that are closed right now. A sad plant is on one of the window sills. And on the other, a tabby cat is asleep. The roof is …”

“Stop!”, Dr. Holger interrupted. “Now close your eyes again. Tell me about the sand castle.”

Slightly taken aback by his intrusive manner I tried again.

“Well, it is made of sand. It has, eh, three or four towers. There is a moat around it.”

“How many towers exactly? How deep is that moat?,” Dr. Holger pushed on.

I disliked the sudden barrage of questions. I was not having any of this.

“What is your point? What does it matter how many towers there are, how deep the moat is, what kind of boat is it.”

I opened my eyes and stared straight into his.

“I will tell you why it matters. You are not imagining anything at all.”

“But I am! I have played along with all of your exercises. I’m paying for it am I not? Why would I fake it and make up stories?”

“Oh, you are not making up stories. And you are playing along nicely. But you are not imagining anything.”

Then he was silent. I remained silent as well. What could I have said to this? We both breathed in and exhaled simultaneously.

Dr. Holger now continued: “This reminds me of our last session, if you will join me and remember what we did then.”

He walked towards me, and in a single grand gesture he closed my eyes with his fingers. Near the end of that session I had been sitting on the floor with my hands on my knees. Dr. Holger walked up and down his office. Heavy rain attacked the office windows. The darkness outside made the office a beacon of light. He fondled his beard.

“It is time to shave it off. A clean slate,” he said. I thought this was an odd statement to make to your client in the middle of a session. “Imagine an apple,” he then proceeded. So I tried, closing my eyes along the way.

“What do you see?”

“Well, I… “ I started, hesitantly.

“No! Be honest, what do you see!”

“Blackness, of course. Pitch-black. Nothing is there, I have my eyes closed, and it is rather dark here,” I said with a cynical grin.

“Yes, of course. But what do you see with your mind’s eye?”

“My mind’s eye? I don’t know what to tell you, nothing is there. I’m not dreaming right, so of course there is nothing my mind really sees.”

Dr. Holger walked away from me towards a bookcase next to the entrance of his office. It seemed like a rather inconvenient location because to reach the main light switch he had to reach into the bookcase.

The mind’s eye. Those words did not leave my mind. It has the quality of seeing, but without using the eyes. If it can be seen it must exist in some form. If the mind can see, things can exist that cannot be seen with the eyes.

But there is no real mind’s eye. It is only an expression. There is only what my eyes can see and partial darkness when I close them. I can think about things. I remember things. Then it suddenly dawned on me. Do people actually see things in their mind’s eye? Can they really think of an object and describe it as if it is in front of them? I opened my mouth.

“Are you saying that people actually can see things in their mind’s eye?”

Dr. Holger snorted.

“So they are not making things up?”

“They are.”

“But, I mean, I know there are people that can draw an entire city plan from seeing it for only a few seconds. But those people are, like, crazy.”

“Some are better at it than others. And some, simply, can’t. And never will.”

Dr. Holger turned around. “What does your mother look like?”

“I can describe her,” I answered.

“But what does she look like? See her!”

“It’s black.”

Dr. Holger took a step towards me. “Did you have a pleasant weekend? What did you do? Can you see the memories?”

“It’s dark.”

I clenched my fists in despair. The questioning interrupted my mourning process about this newly found lack in my abilities.

“Do you remember anything? Do you see it?”

“There is nothing there.”

“How do you see yourself in two years? Do you see it?”

“I have nothing for you!”

I tallied up the consequences. My past is darkness, and darkness clouds my future. My family, my friends, nothing. There is only now. I see only now. Out of sight, out of mind, well at least out of the mind’s eye. What else do I miss? Then I realized.

“Do you hear music, voices?” I asked out loud, out of context.

Dr. Holger did not seem surprised.

“It does not matter what I see or hear. But yes, people hear with the mind’s ear. But you, Joakim. You hear only yourself.”

He spoke the truth. I sing the songs I love in my head; I hum melodies, I beatbox pop songs, I imitate people in my own internal voice. I am all alone.

“You!’ Dr. Holger widened his eyes and broadened his shoulders.

“You! You are all alone with nothing to see, hear, or smell, but yourself and this small slice of reality and time. I will tell you what you are. You are a damned aphantasiast!”

The knot in my stomach twisted and turned, and nausea washed over me. A pang of loneliness paralyzed my entire chest region. And before I could ask what he was talking about, he grinned menacingly. With me on the floor, he suddenly leaped forward and flung his arms around my neck and we toppled over. He hissed. “But you can think back to our first session, can’t you?”

I remembered the first session well. It was rather strange, but that is why I stayed with him for more sessions. I didn’t remember much of what he had said that day because it seemed rather incoherent. But I recalled the moment he stood next to his bookcase and took out a book about knot theory; a mathematical approach to the frustration of not being able to unknot your shoelaces. Dr. Holger opened the book and said: “Why not write a message in the form of an epic tale of victory? It will unnoticeably improve your past life, but noticeably propel your future self. Such a rewrite of future history requires a sending ritual.”

It was things like this that made me want to hear more, if only to find out whether this doctor was crazy or that I could possibly learn something from him. Dr. Holger closed the book, and with that, he vanished. The book fell on the floor with a soft thump. I blinked my eyes. What the hell happened here? I crawled towards the book and opened it. I started reading it. The book had nothing to do with knots. It said:

“In our ike experience, we have to stand by hopelessly when we witness our past. We cannot fix the mistakes we made, the past has already happened, right? On the other hand we can look forward to the future as the realm of opportunities, hope and change. Let us first acknowledge that it is strange that we claim to know the past even though it is out of our control, yet that what is unknown, the future, would be in our power. Does one not need to own before exercising control?”

There was a diagram, and then the text continued.

“Communicating with the past is possible. You can send a message to your former self. Your former self has no choice on how to perceive your communications, but your future self can. Your current choices are, therefore, influenced by messages sent from your future. The art of communicating properly with your former self does not only help your former self, but also your current and future self. In this way, you are co-writing your own life’s story.”

I flipped the page to read more.

“But how can you listen to your future self? Due to clear limits in the physical realm, the message will be coded in many forms and symbols that your current self has no control over. There is absolutely no certainty that you will interpret the coded messages in the right manner, either. However, your former self will listen to it in such a way that your current self is sending the message it has sent.

Therefore, it may appear that you cannot control the future, but that is because your message has already changed the past as you experience it. So, you have the power to change the future, by letting your current self write a message to your former self.”

I closed the book. In the door opening, a man was observing me. I could not see him clearly. His clothes, his face, it all seemed vague.

“You must open up and take out that daemon for good!” he said.

Who is this man? Where was I? This is not how my first session went at all. Dr. Holger had not disappeared during our first session, he had not jumped on me a session later. He had not told me to think back.

I blink my eyes a few times. Dr. Holger touches my knee and speaks to me in a soft voice. “Like I said. I’m not feeling well today. You should go, no need to pay for this session.”

He gets up and opens the door for me. I get up too, still a bit dazed, and make my way to the exit and into the cold, wet streets.

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