Hypnotherapy is an excellent thing. A couple of recent exchanges have made me realise there are some who aren’t aware what it can do for them. That’s no accident — by now you know that good stuff is being hidden from you all the time these days! The evidence for its benefits is even better than that for spiritual healing, discussed in the last post, but there is a similar net of silence lying over it. You might not know much about how it works, nor about how well it works, and what you do know could well be false.
Lists of the great psychologists contain many I namecheck, but they never seem to include Milton Erickson, the greatest hypnotherapist of the 20th century and a man whose cure record will astound you. Yet his influence has reached everywhere. He’s the primary source for the burgeoning field of NLP, psychology conferences organised under his banner are the largest ever convened honouring a single individual, and there are some 129 Milton Erickson Institutes worldwide, the last time anyone I know counted. A documentary about him, The Wizard of the Desert, is on its way.
As so often happens with pioneers, he faced quite a nonplussed reaction, and sometimes a hostile one, when he started to explore the potential of hypnotherapy. Yet all societies use trance, the engine of hypnosis. It’s part of the basic human toolkit. It’s also certainly a part of all religious systems, including shamanic ones, and all forms of art and entertainment. It is much used in healing too, although not always consciously so. More or less unknown to the mainstream, what has developed in clinical Ericksonian hypnosis (since Freud’s dismissal of the modality was itself dismissed) is a highly effective and flexible use, in a completely modern setting, of basic states and capacities humans have found in themselves for millennia. What’s good about it is how well it works. It’s also plain fun to experiment with.
I’d like to give you a feeling for how it happens practically. It’s easier than you might think because you’re always using trance, as everyone does. You see people at the bus stop absorbed and not present — they are reorientating internal maps and goals, adjusting energies, in a trance state. These maps exist at a level of which we aren’t normally conscious, so people usually will not notice what they’re doing (meditation will change that, but the ability to observe the mind skilfully need not interfere with trance — they can complement each other.) Stephen and Carol Lankton, in their seminal Ericksonian hypnotherapy text The Answer Within, point out that if you watch many different types of therapy at work, as they did, on video, you will see patients and indeed therapists going into trance as they retrieve memories and alter those internal maps. (Stephen Lankton comments on that in this interview as well.) Just as all human life involves trance, all therapy is in a sense hypnotherapy, because the maps can’t really be altered without trance of some kind.
And what are the maps? Just your world as you see it on an intuitive lived level, with all its experiences and relationships, stored unconsciously in your nervous system. Normally quite hard to alter consciously, that process becomes far easier when accessed the right way, and then your world and behaviour instinctively changes. A bulimic who underwent a session of therapy with the Lanktons told them later that she went into a store to buy junk food — but noticed when she came out that she hadn’t bought any. The map had changed, but she had not yet consciously caught up. You can probably instantly think of a dozen applications for that in your own life. It’s the very opposite of the willpower approach.
The interesting thing (and ignorant writers on hypnosis never bring this out, nor do stage hypnotists) is that it was really the bulimic woman herself who changed her own map. Ericksonian hypnosis in particular is concerned with giving you you. It operates on the principle that various breakdowns in communication and meaning are preventing you from the becoming that you deeply know needs to take place, and allows your subconscious to bring out what needs to be there. The hypnotist sensitively provides a setting, maybe a relationship or a superstructure, a way in, which will allow this to happen — but with that channel open, it is the person in the trance who actually does the work. I’ll illustrate this as we go. Deep-seated drives within a human being, their truth and meaning getting mixed up, can be hard to handle consciously, but unconsciously the way forward is known. Symptoms are seeds whose cure is their flower.
(A couple of myths to skewer: no, you can’t be hypnotised if you don’t want to be, and no, you can’t be made to do things you don’t wish to do. By the way, it’s also true that it is easier to hypnotise people of greater intelligence.)
Another example of internal maps comes from Irving Yalom’s super book, Love’s Executioner, a riveting set of tales from the chair of a skilled working therapist — but not a hypnotherapist. One of his patients is unable to get over the death of her daughter. She finds herself going into a store and suddenly realising she is in a checkout queue, in tears, holding a birthday card for the daughter, who has been dead for years, but whose birthday is coming up.
Compare the behaviour of that patient with the bulimic of before. Each goes into a shop, and does something not consciously intended, which reflects deeper parts of their maps than they were consciously accessing. For the bereaved woman, her internal map still contains her relationship with her daughter, whom she consciously knows is no longer present. But she has not yet accepted the truth on the deeper level — one could say she maintains her inner map by hypnotising herself. Opening up those deeper parts to a different way is the key, allowing them to express. Often we can’t consciously see a way forward that we are dying to take deep within. (When I read that chapter in Yalom now, I wish he knew something about hypnosis.)
In the Reading List I’ve emphasised different sorts of psychology until now, and they remain useful — but recent discoveries, which I’ll detail as we go, make me think that hypnosis is the most essential of all modern psychological methods of altering the self available, a great testament to the fact that our secular culture gets things absolutely right sometimes, and a marvellous partner for ch’i kung.
It’s comfortable, so enjoyable… and it seems to work so durn quickly. Erickson’s speed of cure increased dramatically over his lifetime, and the methods are now amazingly compact and efficient. I’ll save more details of his successes and methods for another time, but just have a look at the cases detailed by the Lanktons in their Answer Within book: child abuses, chronic depressions with psychosomatic elements, deep social panic and so on, are cured time and again in one unprepared session, and the cures hold up when checked months and years later. That I’m aware of, other forms of therapy simply can’t do this. Imagine having that kind of flexible power at your disposal, in the service of your best truth, or anyone’s. (Your own access to kundalini power will be a lot smoother if you’ve ironed yourself out this way first.)
The more esoterically-inclined reader will also have noticed the similarity of those bulimic and grieving patients to the “extraordinary knowing” of a previous post. They are all examples of human beings doing things without conscious intention, from an inner prompting that feeds more into the bodily end of consciousness. If those deep levels have been made harmonious, other things speak through them. As Glenn Morris described one example: “Leon had a “bad feeling” and stepped back when the others moved forward” — thus avoiding a collapsing bridge. Can one encourage this kind of unconsciously-motivated action with hypnosis? The answer is that one can, and I’ll show more of this as we go too.
I love to make trance into a work of art and I’ll release some hypnosis cd’s at some point (in fact I plan to make other deliberately trance-based works of art too, if I get the chance) but Ericksonian hypnosis in particular is at its best when dealing with the individual directly and spontaneously rather than generically. It assumes you are at your best when you are most you, and it works with your own personal sets of symbols, not the therapist’s.
It may be somewhat tricky to get the most out of hypnotherapy by yourself, but there are easy ways in and short cuts to beginning — next post I’ll go into that. The subtle and indirect Ericksonian approach, with its paradoxes, metaphors and double binds, is the very opposite of the direct-command ‘you are feeling sleepy, you no longer crave cigarettes’ stereotypical direct hypnosis idea, and is a real education in human nature. There are some good resources there now, especially if the only person you want to work on to start with is you. You progress quickly approaching things as a fun experiment to begin with. (If you don’t know how to do that, make it a hypnotic goal!)
How does hypnosis tie in with energy work, and with spiritual enlightenment? The answer is they are made for each other. A story from energy healer Donna Eden springs to mind. She describes working on a patient named ‘Leah’ whose bronchitis was so bad she had to be carried into Eden’s office. A blocked meridian received a lot of attention, and Eden became aware of an overwhelming grief surfacing, in Leah and herself. They were both in tears. It turned out Leah’s best friend had died after being nursed through a long terminal illness by Leah herself. A complicated story in Leah’s own mind and heart had built up amidst all the difficulty, until, after the death:
She had fallen into a pit of existential despair over the thought that no-one would ever be there for her as she had been for her friend. At a level below her conscious awareness, she had given up on life. Her sense of emptiness and isolation had buried itself in her lungs and manifested as bronchitis.
This is more than simply a useful confirmation of the fact, well known to chi kung, that grief collects in the lungs. (Although it’s good motivation to use healing sounds and/or a lung exercise to clear them!) It’s really a recapitulation of what the bereaved patient of Yalom’s was dealing with, showing how the map can be altered from the energetic angle too. The blockage in Leah was also manifested in her internal map of meanings, in a way she could not help living, just as with the earlier two examples. It was about deep meaning, the deep meaning of being loved and cared for. It starts to become clear how useful hypnosis is as a partner with energy work, because those are exactly the kinds of things it can deal with. Internal maps, deep-level stories and beliefs and experiences and self-images, passions and meanings, are bound up with the energies that run your body and soul. If you change the internal maps, you also change and clear the energies. (As Michael Winn likes to say, ‘your life is how you are using your ch’i’.)
If dealing with energetic blockage within yourself, imagine being able to go within and enable your own body’s and soul’s knowing to unblock the energy, or tell you how the map needs to change, or even change it without telling you! Letting go is the classic hypnosis skill. I’ll give later some juicy cases of Erickson’s that demonstrate what’s possible — one example is the time he hypnotised himself to write an article in his sleep, and woke up to find it completed on his desk.
Here are some recent more ‘psychic’ experiences of my own; they showed me a little of the potential of ‘clinical’ hypnosis methods with transpersonal energies. In a hypnotherapy lesson over at the school of the excellent Terence Watts in Essex (not primarily an Ericksonian, but someone with some very useful tricks — check out Warriors, Settlers and Nomads), there were quite a few of us with spiritual interests. I was sitting next to one such, as Terence launched into work with a class-member on the other side of the room. I was delighted to notice a beam of light emerge from his third eye as he began to work with her, and I turned to my neighbour asking if she saw anything in his aura (Glenn taught me: always confirm, and make it a folie à deux, if possible). After a moment she lifted her hand to her forehead and extended it out, imitating what we both saw.
I think we both hushed up when we realised the sign we were making could be misinterpreted to mean ‘dickhead’. :) (Although Glenn himself had always stressed that, since kundalini brings genital energies to the brain, it is actually just a ‘good way of being a dickhead’ — for men anyhow. ^_^) But it was nice to confirm that, subconsciously, energy and chakra work occurs all the time in healing, whether or not the person intends it. Terence, I’m sure, never sensed it directly, but I thought his third eye projection was seeking to join with the same chakra in his subject. Something worth experimenting with there. He’s very talented.
I had lots of energy that day. More than once, I noticed ch’i passing from my system into a hypnotic subject, especially when doing a so-called ‘thumb drop induction’, where there is a hand-to-hand contact. One charming lady, of no esoteric experience at all, described a bolt of energy moving up her arm (lung meridian). She looked at me and said, “I didn’t imagine that.” Such are the benefits of kundalini shakti. As with a woman being steered unconsciously away from junk food, it sometimes moves at its own whim and not yours. It is part of the deep thing too. What it did for her I don’t know.
Later, I took another spiritually-aware lady into trance. She got a big dose of energy and contacted me later to thank me for the boost. When she hypnotised me in turn and took me through a nice Terence Watts sequence, I visualized a warrior figure whom I can still access. “Is she wearing a headdress?” asked the lady afterwards. I could only smile — there really are no secrets! Later on she told me she now knew more about some recent struggles of mine than I’d wanted to reveal… luckily she was of a type to be trusted. :)
We all communicate on this level constantly, and trance and energy are ways to bring such things to awareness and use them — my lady Rachel and I have proved that to each other many times over the past decade, and I’ve achieved something similar with a tree I know, come to that! The entirety of reality on this planet is constantly swapping energies and images, and strong work with ch’i will also move you from a receiver to a broadcaster on wavelengths you may have to learn to get used to in a hurry. It will open you to what openness is, where there are no barriers to experience on non-physical levels.
But what I hadn’t really expected was that ‘pure clinical’ trance would be so energetically active too. It’s a lot more than a good cure for smoking addictions. It turns out, in a LeShan-style way (ie. feeling completely merged at times with the subject) that clinical trance is a perfect environment for all sorts of more esoteric stuff — healing and telepathy for example. And yet it has managed to win a real place in our mainstream culture, too. I think its potential is therefore enormous and I think Glenn would have approved of checking it out. Not everyone realises that he was a certified hypnotherapist himself, and before he died he told me he was very interested in using hypnosis for kundalini applications. Glenn is still around and might take an interest himself, if I pursue this…
Meanwhile, for those who want to have a try at this, I’ll be giving some more details next time.