One important aspect of the hypnotic experience is the continuity between trance and the so called ‘waking state’. What do I mean by this? I mean that in hypnosis you are conscious and have an awareness of being conscious during the experience. You will both experience and at the same time consciously record and observe what you experience. This is of course different to most psychedelic states where the ingestion of a compound or a plant/mushroom allows you to pass through a threshold which appears to stand between your everyday self and your psychedelic self.
Now, that passing through a threshold is of itself a deeply meaningful element and, personally, one I think everyone should experience in their development. But to be able to experience an altered state, such as an hypnotic trance, without having to step through a threshold, means we can bring what we learn in that state directly back into our lives, we can recollect is as we experienced it, we do not need to translate it. And that means it naturally expands how we feel and how we think whilst feeling accessible and close by. And I think this is a very powerful quality to states like hypnosis and meditation, they are readily integrated into our conscious self. They do not require the ingestion of anything external to you, they can simply be entered by you through you.
This reflects on the feeling that we are left with when we come out of a trance, a form of confidence and clarity, an increase in our self-belief. Often to believe in ourselves can mean to narrow who we understand ourselves to be, strong beliefs are seldomly open and embracing beliefs. Shaking our beliefs is essential, and sometimes it feels that the only to shake our acquired or chosen beliefs is to crack the self open with a crowbar. In hypnosis we are gently yet markedly expanding that sense of self whilst experiencing a connectedness to both the self and its inner capacity to expand which gives us a strong sense of agency. It is not this thing or that thing which gives you a ticket to a higher experience, it is you who can shift your perception and experience greater depth, higher perspectives, and fuller texture.
I, the therapist, cannot hypnotise you, only you can hypnotise yourself, hypnosis is always self-hypnosis, and it is an articulate yet direct surrendering to our own innate capacity for reaching states other than the waking state. So is meditation of course, but like anything in life, it is always much easier and quicker to find a way whilst in the company of another human than it is alone. Having the support and guidance of another person without them directing and informing your experience makes accessing that experience as easy and as available as drinking water.
Once you are out of trance the feeling of what you have experienced and allowed yourself to express to yourself will pour out into your everyday life, giving you the courage to express and allow expression to develop and manifest. This comes in part from the very way in which trance arises from within and brings out our deeper feelings and thoughts, memories and sensations, but also from the very closeness we experience to our deeper self in trance. It gives us courage to be close and intimate with who we are and what we feel, think, and sense. This intimacy is the only true requirement to health and growth, once we are comfortable to be with ourselves we are comfortable to be with the world.
Image : page from a Ragamala Series: Gujari Ragini, Pali, Marwar, 1623 (National Museum Of India)
Hypnosis is a powerful way to access unmediated creative resources. Creative resources can be often tarnished by our tendency to over-reflect, by our exposure to stress, by many other factors which detract from the creative impulse, or from the capacity to fully immerse in the creative process itself. With hypnosis the person can find a level of focus which quietens the dualistic experience of the mind and allows for a surrendering to one’s own subtle internal experience which can starkly regenerate the creative thrust. Individuals will find their mind has 'unblocked' allowing them to reconnect with a direct and vivid creative experience. As such, hypnosis can deepen, reframe, and expand an artist relationship with their medium, very often with surprising and exciting results. This is have witnessed over and over again, with writers, visual artists, dancers and with artists of thoughts, i.e. philosophers and theorists.
Is creativity a process of hammering at some kind of content until it has transformed into an evidently creative ‘thing’, an artefact? Is it the product of labour and effort and determination? Yes, and no. It certainly requires thinking and labouring to manifest the creative impulse and the creative insight into some external form, it might then require strategizing, alertness to context and good social skills to bring that form out into the creative field so that it can be appreciated and perhaps acquired by the public. But it is more often than not a matter of silencing the thinking mind and releasing effort the first fundamental step from which the idea for that creative act arises. In endlessly different ways artists receive an idea, witness a bubble bursting from the depth of their unconscious into awareness. The imagination needs to be unfettered to resonate with creative content, not pushed around by need or wishes to success and recognition, by fear of failure or doubts of direction, this any successful artist who enjoys his/her practice knows.
Hypnosis, so as many other techniques of course, can release the fetters we have added onto our imagination through all the experiences of success and failure which have been laid upon our past. All good and bad experiences from the simplest responses we got as a toddler to our wondering about on four legs, to the more articulate ones of later life brought about by expert critique and feedback weigh down our imagination with some kind of visible perimeter of possibility. The work is to erase that visible perimeter and break out of the enclosure we are electing around our selves, and expand the field to infinity, or beyond.
The difference between hypnosis and other approaches is that it capitalises on our natural innate already very powerful capacity to daydream, to trance, to drift off and the fact that such state is inherently pleasurable and nourishing therefore a place where all minds like to be allowed to go to. The other advantage of the hypnotic process is that it is made easier by the presence of a witness, the therapist, which mounts the sails so that the traveller can simply enjoy the journey and take in the landscape. If the therapist understands the subtlety of the creative process, and the tenderness of the imagination, he/she can nudge the journey so that it stays on the powerful currents already in place within, and through them, reaches as far as the inner eye can see.
Image : A sonorous figure excited on a circular steel plate, CYMATICS : A Study of Wave Phenomena and Vibration, Hans Jenny (Macromedia Publishing 2001)
One of the fathers of modern hypnotherapy, the French physician Hippolyte Bernheim writes in De la suggestion et de ses applications à la thérapeutique (Suggestive Therapeutics: A Treatise on the Nature and Uses of Hypnotism, 1888) - hypnosis is ‘the production of a dynamic change in the nervous system of a person…by another person by means of the calling forth of representations or ideas’
Long title and a complex sentence, what does it actually mean? At its essence, it means that in hypnosis, an ‘idea’ gives rise to a dynamic in the body – a thought initiates the development of a process, in the body. And of course, a dynamic in the body can give rise to an idea, a realisation, in the mind. As I experience trance, an image appears, a memory arises, I ‘hear’ inner words, and together with it, I notice a feeling, a sensation, a movement giving rise to smiles, tears, laughter, muscle release, adjustments. My mind and my body begin a conversation, or perhaps I let go of the distractions which generally prevent me from being aware of this constant creative flow of communication which is the reality of my mind/body. As the therapist holds space for me to fully immerse in the richness of this dialogue, I experience a shift, a moving away from self-doubt, inner conflict, struggle, towards an experience of deep listening, trusting and eventually flow.
Does a hypnotic trance cause this dynamics? Perhaps it is more accurate to say that in a hypnotic trance I am able to pay close attention to the subtle meaningful ongoing natural dynamics of my mind/body. As I am fully supported into paying closer attention to the dynamics of my embodied self, a healthy positive feedback is established, which increases their resonance while allowing me to register into awareness their significance. If I make myself quiet enough to listen, the creative inner intelligence of my mind/body will be freer to affect change, bring balance, clear blockages and release what is no longer useful.
Rather than constantly talking over my somatic self, I am openly receiving the communication. This is a fundamental step, it not only opens the channels which allow for that communication to become clearer, it also develops our capacity to being ok and comfortable with that communication, making it potentially smoother and gentler rather than harsh and violent. This is a necessary skill and a fundamental resource for our development. If we listen to our embodied voice, if we give it space, it doesn’t have to shout. When it shouts, we get a panic attack, we can’t sleep, our shoulder aches, our neck gets stiff, we feel our heartbeat race when we are in a public space, we can’t speak in front of an audience without freezing, and so on.
And so we start walking on the long meaningful mesmerising challenging scenic route of our healing. Our healing is our understanding, not a conceptual understanding but a somatic tuning in to the awareness of who we are and how our experience relates to us meaningfully. When we listen, we allow those gaps and cracks which often create an inner felt sense of disconnection and void to start filling up, we become fuller, even though we might feel lighter. And yes it sounds a bit like magic and it is pretty magical, so is everything else you experience every day really, if you just pay attention.
Image : Vishnu sleeping upon his multi-headed serpent Shesha over the ocean of consciousness from Sage Merkandeya's Ashram and the Milky Ocean (folio 5 from the Durga Charit, Jodhpur, ca. 1780-90, Mehrangarh Museum Trust).