Monday, November 29, 2010

Into trance. . . or out of it

What if trance is so relaxing precisely because it is a state in which you have no concerns for anybody else? Then you could be in trance whenever you were completely self-absorbed.

It doesn't sound particularly nice. It doesn't sound particularly ecological. It doesn't sound like a mysterious gift from your unconscious mind. It sounds - self-absorbed.

I think about this paradox whenever we are running a hypnosis course. People love taking hypnosis - they float around with smiles on their faces, convinced that something wonderful is happening. Something wonderful is happening.

It's just that something wonderful - like many gifts - is not without an edge. While you are in trance, you are completely yourself and completely separate from your environment. No one goes into trance and worries about someone else's pain. There is no jealousy in trance, but there is no compassion there either.

This week, I am reading two books that speak to each other in interesting ways. One is a course workbook called Finding True Magic: Transpersonal Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy/NLP. The other is A Theory of Everything by Ken Wilber. In interesting ways, they both make the same presupposition: that most people live their lives through trances run by other people. They are what their culture, their families, their relationships and their limitations tell them that they are. This is not truth: this is trance.

The question is how do we awake from this trance into whatever version of reality we can bear (think of T. S. Eliot and be cautious: "Mankind cannot bear too much reality."). Do we want to wake up? Training in hypnosis is a way of recognizing trance and practicing waking up from it. But only if we are willing to leave the warm and comfy self absorption trance offers.

I am not convinced by Wilber's arguments that Boomers just need to be a little less full of themselves to reach enlightenment and save the universe. It sounds to me like the kind of arguments people make who have never lived through war or disaster and are convinced, therefore, that they would handle such things with grace and courage. It sounds to me like another trance.

Which circles us back to the choice posed by hypnosis courses. Are they about going into trances - about choosing our trances - or about learning to wake all the way up - now?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Finding your own frame

One of the dangers of spending a weekend working closely with the ways people perceive and influence is the need to be intentional about one's own framing. As we slide in and out of connections that interest us and warm us, we also slide into frames. If that term is new to you, think about a window frame and the way it draws your eye to certain parts of a landscape, moves other parts to the edges, and leaves some parts out of what you see. Where we look is, in part, determined by the size and shape of the opening through which we look. Changing the frame, changes what we see.

The same is true with metaphoric frames. When we answer a question or get caught up in someone else's passion or urgency, we look through the frame someone else has set. It's not necessarily a bad frame, and it may show us something we would otherwise miss. It's good to borrow different frames. It's good to remember that they are borrowed; we have frames of our own.

It can be hard to be sure which frame is which. Is this enthusiasm deep rooted, or does it belong to a connection or a particular circumstance? Is this restlessness mine? It becomes a question of sorting patiently through perceptions that may not be as natural or inevitable as they seem.

Patience, like intentional breathing, is not always uncomfortable but it is always a little unnatural. It's easier to go with the flow.

Easy isn't always the best. If we want to hold onto ourselves, we need to notice that some frames belong to us. We can own them, hold them, move around them and through them. We can either encourage other people to see the world through them. Sometimes, those people will share them with us and we own the frame collectively. Sometimes they will visit the world through our frame, and then move back to something that fits them better.

It can take some doing to sort through the edges and find the frame that fits.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Begin with the simplest explanation

This morning, my legs were already tense when I woke up. I wondered: why am I so stressed? My mind obediently began to marshal evidence that I did, indeed, have lots to be stressed about (and over and in and around).

Then I moved. And remembered - the gym yesterday. Oh yeah. It's not emotional stress. I just need to visit my friend the elliptical more often.

How often do you reach for the complicated emotional explanation - the one that circles through your life like DNA? Is it working for you?

Often, we can begin by noticing and then move more lightly through time and space, noticing that proximate causes are often useful to notice and that deep-rooted complicated causes are underground for a reason.

And yes - for the record - I am still stiff and it is making me feel just a little stressed.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A day to remember

I wonder what comes to your mind when I ask you about the days that you remember best. Are they the big benchmark moments: births and deaths and weddings and graduations? Are they the days of personal achievement, the days when you completed the big project (or started it) or won a promotion or started your own company? Or are they the days of absolute engagement, days when you went to the beach with little kids or let yourself flow into team performance?

Maybe the days you remember are darker. Maybe you remember best the days of struggle or grief, the days when the line between health and death was very thin.

Memory is tricky. We remember what has been important to us or what we need for what is important to us now. We remember strong emotions and we remember what was drilled into us through repetition. Memories change as we remember them, and as we remember remembering them.

On this day, Remembrance Day, we remember something that most of us have not experienced. That is the point, indeed: that people have experienced war so that most of us will not have to experience it. Our freedom and well-being depends on someone freely choosing to walk in dark places, risking life and identity and well-being. We remember because we know, and we remember because we have not had to know.

It's a strange concept, remembering because you have nothing to remember. It's not hard to understand that people let this day slide by without pause, that people who do not have to go to work plan errands and recreation more often than they plan trips to a cenotaph. It's not easy to remember that not remembering is a gift.

It is a gift. When you look at images of soldiers marching today, or of wreaths laid at memorial services, see an image that says: together we believe that not having to remember is a gift. Together we believe that violence is wrong, and destruction is wrong, and tyranny is wrong. That's what the marching means. We know that some people have experienced terrible things on our behalf. We remember that they do not have a choice about remembering. And we remember that we do.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

(could I please) Shut up and Listen

Have you ever really wished you could shut up and listen to someone who was trying to open up a new possibility to you? When we think of that phrase "shut up and listen," we usually imagine it being said by a frustrated speaker struggling to hold someone's attention. But taken a different way, it might be a plea to ourselves.

How insistent is that critical voice in your head that finds problems before they exist and continually interrupts your efforts to listen to something outside yourself? Some people carry a whole committee of conscientious critics in their minds; other people hear just one voice worrying away at them. Almost everyone, almost always, has a voice in their head that is running at the same time they are attempting to listen to someone else speak.

Many of us who have experienced hypnosis experience it as a reprieve from the noise in our heads. The voice or voices that continually label and debate get softer. We are free to let our attention follow a voice that is truly, blessedly, external to us. We do not shut up and obey or even shut up and follow. But we do shut up and listen.

Reading can do this for us, too. In order to make sense of the words in front of us, we let the voice in our heads get caught up in someone else's words. Reading is a kind of listening in which the critical voice in our heads reads someone else's words and allows them to become our thoughts. As long as we are reading, we hear only one thing at a time, and we allow our rhythms to synchronize with the words in front of us so that we make sense (through our senses) of the meanings the words carry.

When we get lost in a good book, the voice in our head makes way for the voice of the author. We shut up and listen. And it feels great. It feels like learning, and like growing stronger.

The voice in our head means well. It tries to keep us safe from mistakes and manipulation. But, like any other nagging voice, it wears us down and tires us out. It makes us long for the peace of quiet. Trance doesn't open us to someone else's control. It just lets us hear what is being said with our strongest and best selves.