A group of us recently visited what’s called “Cafe in the Dark.” It is what it sounds like, a place to hang and drink coffee in the dark. But it’s not just dark, it’s pitch-black. Upon arriving, a blind host led three friends and I inside to our table. We shuffled along in a single file line, placing our right hand on the right shoulder of the person in front, and praying that we didn’t fall flat on our faces. Once at our table, the host grabbed my hand and placed it on what was allegedly a chair. I felt the entire thing up with both hands before trusting it enough to sit.
A few moments later, a blind waitress took our orders. As we waited for our drinks, we attempted to make sense of our surroundings. We called for each other’s hands. We reached out to feel everything within arm’s reach. There was a wall three feet to my left. Our table was square with a center beam securing it to the floor. There was plastic trim lining the edges of the table and an empty vase velcroed down in the center.
Our conversation focused on the experience at hand. Where do you think our table is in the cafe? Are your eyes opened or closed? How long do you think we’ve been here?
During the conversation, I began to notice some unusual behavior in myself. For one, I wasn’t facing whoever was speaking. There was no need for eye-contact. Instead, I leaned heavily towards the speaker with my ear. At one point, someone wondered aloud if they might be filming us with a black light camera. Before I had even processed the thought, I felt my posture straighten up.
Towards the end, my sense of hearing became heightened. The pace and tone of people’s voices became much more pronounced. Without even trying, I was surprised by my awareness of how things were being said rather than simply what was said. It felt cool to have such a good grasp of what others were trying to convey.
Since leaving the cafe, I’ve struggled to recreate that experience with my eyes open. It’s amazing how one sense can affect your ability to make use of your others. I’d heard about this effect but never experienced it for myself. If the next time you see me, and my eyes are closed. I’m not sleeping. I’m not meditating. I’m listening.