Making sense of the senses

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.” – Helen Keller


The above quote has been inspiring millions of people for decades and has been exuding the much-needed optimism in trying times for people facing unpleasant situations in life like losing jobs, losing loved ones, financial crisis and emotional sufferings on countless occasions

My idea of deliberating this quote here is to look beyond the literal meaning, which is unarguably effective in itself. The purpose is to understand this quote from Keller’s perspective as that makes this thought extremely powerful and touches various aspects of mind & thoughts.

In the pursuit of seeing it from Keller’s standpoint, a quick sneak peek into her incredible life is worthwhile;

Keller was blind & deaf since she was 19 months old. She was born a normal healthy child until she suffered from a serious illness which left her deaf & blind. The frustration of not being able to express led to wild & struggling childhood. At first, she withdrew, and that’s obvious for any of us. At times people persevered after losing sight and many managed life being deaf, but it was unprecedented for anyone to continue with no access to these two senses.

Out of many wild instances, at the age of 6, she once tipped over the cradle holding her little sister. Keller’s parents tried everything to have all kinds of medical help as well as guidance from personalities, including ‘Alexander Graham Bell’. This turbulent journey of Keller & her parents once connected them to ‘Annie Sullivan’ who went on to become Keller’s teacher for life. Annie too had a troubled childhood and was plagued with poor vision to the extent of partial blindness.

This association of Annie & Keller was full of troubles for obvious reasons and had frequent clashes. The biggest challenge Annie had was to find a way to communicate & teach her about objects/words in absence of ‘sight’ and ‘hearing’ starting with teaching her self-control. Annie, 20 years old, without any formal training to teach 7 years old with such critical conditions, was determined to do her best and this battle of wills finally was won by both as Keller’s learning kick-started by paying more attention to other senses ‘touch’ and ‘feel’. Annie found ways to spell words on Keller’s hands and made her feel all the objects, and once Annie accepted the situation, she learnt 600 words in no time.

Though the learning had begun, the challenges were waiting at every step in further studies at school, as the books in Braille script were rarely available. Annie used to read those books and taught Keller by spelling them on her hands. After the schooling, Keller got admission to college, and she became the first deaf-blind person to attend the college. The rigorous routine at college, staying in isolation (off-campus), made things tougher for both Keller & Annie, which resulted in making Annie completely blind in the future.

Keller, after overcoming all odds, not only became the first deaf-blind to have a college degree but also went on to write multiple books & articles, and even became a lecturer, traveled across the countries to teach and touch so many lives.


So, the quote above wherein one is talking of ‘seeing’ was completely blind and never saw anything actually since infancy. And the closed doors mentioned therein are actually two major senses out of our total five senses like ‘seeing & hearing’ and the doors she found opened are other senses which she activated upon countless painful moments, lifetime struggle, and unparalleled determination. She used the power of ‘touch’ to learn everything, and that’s the open door she is probably hinting at.

In one of her most popular books “The World I live in” she has shared how she used ‘touch and smell’ instead of ‘sight & sound’ and according to her how most of the people take their senses for granted. The ones who can see are hardly seeing anything, and the ones who can hear aren’t paying enough attention to use it effectively. She mentions she could even hear through touch and because sound produces vibrations, she could feel those vibrations to hear sound.

Keller is a story of resilience, removing limiting beliefs, and indomitable courage. Personalities like her paved the way for generations to believe in themselves despite all odds. Of course the advancements in technology has also somewhat helped people fighting with such issues, however, the importance of efficient sensory organs remains paramount in order to lead a healthy & meaningful life.

In the pandemic ridden world, things have slowed down to some extent, and the world is struggling to cope up with the challenges thrown in these times. The ones who fought with the disease, have learnt the importance of calibrated senses in a hard way. According to NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming), we can calibrate our senses; VAKOG (Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, Olfactory, and gustatory) in order to make full use of these. With increased sensory acuity, one tends to see things which others would miss, and this makes one much more aware in terms of the internal representation of mind as well as achieving excellence in the external world. 

“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” – Aristotle Onassis