If you believe in the power of hypnosis, please raise my hand. If you want to know how to quit smoking, lose weight, find a partner, make bucket loads of money, find inner peace or conquer any number of human challenges, please now lower my hand so that I can type…..with both hands.
Last week I was at a seminar that included a performance from a hypnotist (pic above). I joined the crowd of 20 or so people who eagerly went on stage hoping to be selected as subjects in his show. He did some breathing and relaxation exercises with us before asking us to raise our right arm high in the air. My mind was oscillating between willing my arm to go up because I truly wanted to surrender to the experience, and realizing that you can’t force yourself to surrender. I decided that if my arm wasn’t going up of its own accord, whatever that means, maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. Sure enough, I was not selected and sat back in my seat, disappointed and curious about what was to come. Hypnosis had always been at the back of my mind, like a slowly swinging watch, since I had weekly appointments with a hypnotherapist 20 years ago. I couldn’t tell if he was hypnotizing me or if I was falling sleep. Either way, it was relaxing but it was an expensive nap.
The real surprise at the hypnotist’s show took place when I got back to my seat. Someone showed me a video of what happened on stage- I saw my head hanging on my chest and, shock horror, my right arm reaching for the sky like a school kid during show and tell. It had worked. I over-rode my conscious mind, even while it continued to struggle, followed the hypnotist’s suggestion and did something I was not even aware I was doing.
With my new found confidence in hypnotism, I turned my attention to the limitless possibilities of the mind and the incredible power of suggestion. Imagine using these powers to raise your consciousness instead of just raising your arm, and unleashing your true voice instead of just unleashing your inner alien to shrieks of laughter from a liquored up crowd. The mind boggles at the mind’s boggling potential.
Hypnosis and The Stories We Tell
Milton Erickson was a famous psychologist and proponent of hypnotherapy. He also had his own inspirational story, contracting polio as a teenager. As he lay in bed, he overheard doctors telling his parents that he would be dead by morning. He visualized his muscles regaining their memory and strength and was able to self hypnotize to manage the pain. While he was still unable to walk, he canoed 1000 miles alone and when he returned he could walk with a cane.
Through his own struggles, Erickson created a form of conversational hypnotherapy to help others with their challenges. He introduced the idea that it’s better to make indirect suggestions to the unconscious, rather than direct and authoritarian commands. For example instead of saying “You will stop smoking” he might say “You can become a non smoker.” The point is not to set up a battle with your unconscious mind. There is often no point saying things that your unconscious mind is not yet able to believe. For example your self esteem may be so low that you are unable to accept that you are loved. An indirect suggestion would be “I wonder how aware you are of how many people love and admire you for who you are.”
Conversational hypnosis surprises the unconscious mind with twists and ambiguity, like a Zen koan or a playful Sufi story. In one case, Erickson took a man who was terrified of elevators up in an elevator with a female elevator operator who pretended to seduce the man while the elevator was moving. The man was horrified because he was married. The fear of being kissed was greater than his fear of the elevator and he was distracted long enough to forget his fear of elevators.
The point of hypnosis is to challenge reality and remind yourself that you control more of your reality than you usually believe. After all, what is real as opposed to an altered state of mind anyway? The ancient Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu believed in seeing the world with new eyes. He asked questions such as whether rain makes clouds or clouds make rains. He also raised the question of what is truly real by posing the scenario-
I had a dream of a butterfly. I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man.
What is real? Is the hypnotist putting you in a trance or is the hypnotist taking you out of the trance that you are in for most of your life and giving you a glimpse of a more fulfilling mindset? Maybe a hypnotic trance is the natural state of mind. Erickson said that we are all walking around in a trance all the time. The true work of hypnotherapy is to change the trance of disempowerment to a trance of personal empowerment.
Hypnosis, like meditation and moments in nature and so many other methods of shifting consciousness, offers 3 gifts
- The gift of recharging your batteries while you take a break from the voice of judgment.
- The gift of reframing ideas about the world that have you stuck in a disempowering reality.
- The gift of realigning your beliefs with your highest vision for life.
The Proof is in the Pudding
Are you still skeptical? Trust me. I understand. I have a healthy inner skeptic myself. But you can’t argue with results. There is an episode of the 90’s TV show Friends when Chandler listens to some hypnotic tapes to help him quit smoking. Ross is skeptical. He has this conversation with Rachel-
Ross: It’s just that hypnosis is beyond crap.
Rachel: Ross, I watched you get hypnotized in Atlantic City.
Ross: Hey, that guy did not hypnotize me! Okay?
Rachel: Oh right, ’cause you always pull your pants down at the count of three and play “Wipe Out” on your butt cheeks
You can’t argue with singing butt cheeks. You can’t argue with the video of a raised arm. And most importantly you can’t argue with a changed life, as Erickson said. The proof is most definitely in the pudding.
The trick is to trust the right suggestions, for the right reasons and at the right time. In that same episode of Friends, Chandler gets tripped up because his tapes were designed for a woman. His tape says,
You are falling fast asleep. Deeper. Deeper. Deeper. You are now completely asleep. You don’t need to smoke. Cigarettes don’t control you. You are a strong, confident woman who does not need to smoke. A strong, confident woman.
Rachel asks him how the tapes are working out. He says, “Good! I haven’t smoked yet today, I feel great, and, and, and confident… that is a stunning blouse.”
None of us want to be manipulated or have our minds controlled by others. If you leave the control of your mind to others, they will have you become who they want you to be instead of who you truly are. What you want is to be a free spirit with a clear line of communication with your intuition. You can train your own mind to question beliefs that aren’t serving you. Here are some examples-
I don’t need to smoke anymore because so many people love and need me.
I have power and choice in everything I do. Therefore I chose to eat a balanced diet.
I can easily relax by counting backwards from ten.
No habit is any match for the power of my mind.
My mind is becoming open to the idea of change.
Every day, in every way, I am getting stronger and wiser.
Your unconscious mind wants no harm for you. It just believes what you program it to believe, and if you tell if for long enough that you are not enough, incomplete and limited, then this is the message it will keep feeding you. Reprogram your mind to trust what serves you and then your choices will become obvious. Sometimes, as Erickson taught, this involves confusion, ambiguity and indirect suggestions.
There is a Sufi story about two close friends who were smokers. They lived in a religious community and both separately asked the head teacher if they could smoke while they were in the gardens. The next time they were in the garden doing a walking meditation, one of the friends took out a cigarette and started smoking. The other friend was shocked and said that the head teacher had NOT given permission to smoke. The first friend said he HAD been given permission to smoke. He said, “tell me. What did you ask the teacher?”
His friend said, “I asked whether I can smoke while doing walking meditation?”
The first friend said – “OK that explains it. I asked whether I can do walking meditation while smoking?”
Confused by the story? That’s ok. As Erickson once said, “Until you are willing to be confused about what you already know, what you know will never grow bigger, better, or more useful.”
Get first things first in your life- authenticity, self acceptance, balance and presence….and then your choices will become clear. Beliefs that serve you will begin guiding your choices and you will have all the power and potential that you ever wanted but couldn’t quite believe was possible. Everyone who believes in the limitless power of the mind, please raise your consciousness, and get in touch with your inner wisdom.