Hypnosis and Ordinary Trances
The highest possible stage in moral culture is when we recognize
that we ought to control our thoughts.
— Charles Darwin
Hypnosis means different things to different people. It can be used as a label for experiential phenomena, or for the protocols that produce the phenomena. Moreover, there is no way to know if another individual experiences the phenomena in the same way that you do.
This section describes two strategies to directly influence subjective experience. As you explore these paths certain phenomena will emerge in your consciousness. These phenomena only exist within you. The exercises to follow will enhance your ability to have an intentional influence on them. The exercises fall into two catagories:
- Trance Formation refers to any significant change in subjective state. When, for example, a stimulus signaling threat captures your attention it evokes state-dependent changes in arousal and perspective in preparation for the expected fight-or-flight challenge. This is an unintentional trance formation. Intentional Trance Formation is achieved by purposely attending a particular stimulus for the purpose of inducing a particular trance or psychological state.
- Suggestion is another name for Reification, and is achieved by pretending or acting as if a particular belief were true.
Everything Is Hypnosis
There is nothing weird or unusual about hypnosis. All subjective experience is trance experience. In fact, there is no such thing as hypnosis, because everything is hypnosis. The only thing unusual about a formal hypnotic induction is that the state change is elicited intentionally rather than as an unintended consequence of a person's reactions to whatever has captured her attention.
Hypnosis [the Greek word for sleep] is, paradoxically, an excellent path to awakening. We are continually and automatically shifting from one psychological state or another. The hypnotic state that clients experience in my office as a result of a formal trance induction is just one of the many different trances they experience throughout their day.
Anxiety, confidence, anger, and romantic love are each trances, or psychological states, and each filters subjective phenomena such as perception, motivation, and behavior in a different way. You are a different person when you are anxious than when you are confident; when you are calm than when you are desperate. In a sense, there is no real you. How you see things and how you react depends on your psychological state at the moment. Consider the following thought experiment:
Thought Experiment: The EmergencyImagine that you just got a message that someone in your family had been seriously hurt in an automobile accident and you must get to the emergency room right away. Your biological state would change immediately and you would run or drive there as fast as you could, heart pounding, thoughts racing, experiencing great distress. When you got there and discovered the report was untrue, you would experience relief (a very different trance). Objectively, the report was never true; nevertheless, it had a great impact on your physical and emotional state.
In this example your psychological state — including your motivation, perceptual bias and response tendencies — was determined by what your thought was true, not by what was objectively true. Since it was what you think, not what is objectively true, that determines your psychological state [a noteworthy insight for those of us vulnerable to Thinking Errors], you can have a willful influence on which state-dependent resources are available to you by purposely attending to stimuli — including thoughts or images — that elicit the intended state.
It takes a strength to purposely attend to one stimulus and resist the pull of other stimuli that demand attention. Focused Attention Meditation is an exercise to develop this strength and is analogous to lifting weights. To follow that metaphor, hypnosis may produces more rapid results than meditation for some individuals for the same reason that working out with a trainer produces better results than exercising without the external structure the trainer provides.
To sample a formal trance induction now, please click here. By paying close attention to the script and focusing on the visual stimulus [feel free to let your eyes close at any time], you will alter your psychological state, and along with it will come changes in your level of arousal, perceptual bias, and other state-dependent phenomena.
Change that comes from within
What you say and do becomes part of world history (and so can never be undone), but the subjective reality that motivates and directs your overt behavior is a creation of your nervous system and does not exist outside of your consciousness. Bringing about change in the objective world begins within.
When you tell yourself to raise your hand it goes up, but when you tell yourself to calm down, become sexually aroused, or salivate, you may not get the desired response. This is because consciousness is a property of the Abstract Processing System, which can operate your skeletal muscles, but does not directly control state-dependent phenomena such as arousal and salavation. You can manipulate these phenomena willfully by using the method of Intentional Trance Formation.
Instead of willing the response directly, as you would to produce a skeletal response like clapping your hands, aim your attention to the stimulus that elicits the intended response. For example if you want to salivate, instead of telling yourself to salivate, imagine licking a juicy but sour lemon—the same approach works with sexual arousal, anger, and other emotional reactions.
Thought Experiment: Eliciting a Cringe
Take a few moments to relive a time when you embarrassed yourself. You will find that the more vivid the image and the more you can get into it, the greater the cringe effect.
If you were able to evoke the cringe, then you initiated Intentional Trance Formation—that is, you willfully aimed your attention to a particular stimulus, in this case, an embarrassing moment, in order to produce the intended state change.
Thought Experiment: Eliciting Negative Emotional States
Can you bring on the subjective experience of fear or anger intentionally? How would you do it?
Below are some common paths to negative emotional states for you to explore. [Please do not spend too much time with this exercise or take it too seriously. It is presented as an introductory demonstration of what not to do in real life]:
- Think of everyone you know who is younger than you and makes more money.
- Review the Popular Thinking Errors. Choose the ones that might apply to you and reify them by making a case for each. Note the ones that elicit an emotional reaction and dwell on them.
- Use the powers of your imagination to create thoughts and images that would elicit the emotional state of anger or fear. The topics can be real or imagined, and may pertain to the past or future. Themes of pervious episodes of Ruminative Self-Focus are good places to start.
- Act as if you were an anxious fellow [Barry] or an angry one [Bernie]. For this personal experiment you are an actor playing the part of Barry or Bernie. Because you are a good method actor, you can really get into it and see the world through the character's eyes, and feel in your heart what the character feels.
Because this is an early exercise and I wanted to make it easy, I asked you to attend to negative rather than positive cognitions. Efficacy-enhancing thoughts and images are far more difficult to work with than pathogenic ones. In fact some people are so biased against efficacy enhancing suggestion that they actively work to suppress suggestions such as I am competent, successful, loveable, etc., because they were trained to be modest or self-deprecating. If shaming suggestions such as: I am not good enough, I am defective, I am unlovable, etc. are part of you conditioning history, then De-Reifying these beliefs is likely to be the key to good long-term outcome.