When I was a university student, I participated in several paid psychological experiments. Because, well, they were paid… and also because I usually found them fun or interesting. One experiment had to do with hypnosis. The researchers were trying to identify which subjects could be easily induced into a hypnotic trance, and which ones couldn’t. They did further experiments with the subjects at either extreme. I know, because apparently I scored in the top 5% for hypnotic susceptibility, and was invited back for more testing.
My experience of hypnosis was very pleasant. Before the first experiment I was a little anxious about how I would feel when I was hypnotized, but it turns out that hypnosis doesn’t feel much different than my regular waking life. What I discovered through further experimentation – both with the researchers and then on my own – was that I already spent big chunks of my life in self-induced trances. I’m the kind of person who gets totally sucked into a book or a movie. I had a habit of spending much of my waking life daydreaming – often when I was busy with other activities such as playing, listening to music, walking, driving, or doing chores. Added to that, I was an artist, designer, musician and writer – spending extended periods of time practising my different art forms, or creating work. Over the years I’ve learned additional techniques, such as active imagination, that also take me into hypnotic or altered states.
All of this is just to say that I’m pretty comfortable shifting between different states of attention, perception or consciousness. Trance is where I tend to live, although to the casual observer, I wouldn’t seem spaced-out or wacky. Just quiet, serious, and focused. In fact, my biggest personal challenge with my ability to shift and focus attention so easily is that for most of my life I’ve tended to ignore the present moment in favour of reflections on the past, or daydreams about the future.
Trance is an important part of ritual. My own experience is that in order to gain access to transpersonal energy (whether you want to call it God, Source energy, creative energy or the creative muse, archetypal energy, or collective energy), I have to step aside from the viewpoint of the ego. Some people choose to use drugs to aid in this process. (This isn’t something I’ve personally chosen or experimented with, unless you count my food addiction.) The trick is maintaining enough awareness to bring the ego back at the end of the ritual, especially if you’re exploring ritual without a third-party mediator (such as a religious priest, a therapist, or spiritual teacher).
Are you familiar with trance? Is it something you’d like to explore in a more active way?
If you’re interested in exploring hypnosis on your own, I highly recommend this book, which I’ve used when creating relaxation recordings for myself and a loved one who’s battling life-threatening illness. It’s full of practical suggestions and scripts for a number of hypnotic techniques, including a variety of inductions for people with varying degrees of hypnotic susceptibility.
Art journal spread, July 2008. Wax crayon and coloured pencil on paper.