John Kluge knew there was a reason he needed to fly to Menla Mountain Retreat in Phoenicia, N.Y. this weekend.
The Goteborg businessman "just had a feeling," he said.
He was invited to the retreat run by Dr. Robert and his wife, Nena Thurman by their staff medical anthropologist Dr. William C Bushell (previously featured here for adding so much Buddhist wisdom to the study of synesthesia). On the weekend's agenda are a tour of the magnificent 300-plus acre facility and its new Mahasukha (Great Bliss in Sanskrit) Spa by Menla co-manager Michael Burbank, which just had a soft opening and is intended to feature the best of Tibetan medicine and therapies. Chisti Dryden and Rebecca Shim, chefs at Menla, provided extraordinary vegan and vegetatarian fare. The facility is owned and operated by Tibet House and has been blessed by the Dalai Lama during a visit. He believes that Menla, which was given to him and the Tibetan people, will continue to become a thriving resource for health, healing, and spiritual evolution. They were also to meet with the charming Nena Thurman, a founder and executive director of the facility who immigrated to America from their homeland, Sweden, at 16. She has spent the last five years tirelessly working on the spa and a decade overseeing the whole facility.
During the weekend, the subject of synesthesia came up and Kluge's eyes grew large. "This is like how I have colors for each of the days of my week," he said, as though for the first time. "I try to talk to my friends about this but no one seems to understand it. I never knew there was a name for it." Soon he was Googling all he could about it and finding that synesthesia might also explain his empathic and intuitive nature through the preponderance of mirror-touch neurons in synesthetes' brains. Welcome to the rainbow tribe, John. He now says coming to that awareness is clearly one of the reasons he needed to make the journey. He also made friendships with Michael Burbank and others that he hopes last a lifetime.
While sitting in the Delos Inn, the main building on the Menla campus, John stared out at the multi-colored Tibetan prayer flags suspended across the terrace. The flags have prayers written upon them which are believed to be carried into the wind by Tibetans. "I think they may be synesthetic," he observed. "The color and the writing and the wind..."
Readers of this blog will not be surprised that someone who is a singer, like John, turns out to be a synesthete. As Dr. VS Ramachandran of the University of California at San Diego says, they are 7-8 times more likely to be found in the arts. And can Kluge sing. In one touching moment at the Thurman's nearby home in Woodstock, N.Y., he broke into a patriotic Swedish song about leaving the land to one's children in a rich tenor. People were deeply moved by his ex-temp stage presense and resonant voice.
John Kluge sings all over the world and can perform many genres from opera to pop to standards. He has spent much time in Los Angeles in America and was once accosted by a group of Asian tourists there who mistook him for the action star The Rock.
To sample John's music see his website, www.kluge.se
Update, July 2016:
John Kluge is now a “double threat.”
The handsome Swedish tenor is known around the world for his extraordinary singing voice.
But now he has added painting to his list of many talents.
“I took a watercolor class on the Crystal Cruise - Serenity. I discovered my ease with choosing and blending colors. When the paintings dried I saw faces and eyes in the colors. I started to mark them as I saw them. My style was now found!”
When John began to show the paintings on social media, orders started pouring in from around the world. He has sold 84 works so far and is still getting orders each day. He recommends people tell him their favorite hues and what size canvas they would like before ordering.
He is pleasantly surprised by the huge interest in his latest venture. “I did it because it was peaceful just to sit with colors. I did not expect this to come out from me or the enormous response !”
John says he is inspired by nature, people he meets, travel and his own emotions. He also credits a neurological gift called synesthesia – a type of bonus senses – for his profound creativity. “My understanding is that it helps me to see and blend colors beautifully and put it together.”
He says his mission now is to combine his painting with his singing.
“It would be really unique to be able to do my songs together with my own paintings. The paintings are my supporting lyrics. I now can express more feelings, encounters and my travels in a bigger way.”