Consciously, everything is an altered state – isn’t it?

I met a new client who is a comedy writer and performer. This blog is what happened in Part 1 of my initial interview with her.

In the course of chatting with her I asked if she’d ever had hypnotherapy and if so how was the experience for her.

“Only a couple of times. First time I just got a fit of the giggles. I work in comedy and listening to the therapist’s voice going deeper I just saw the funny side and couldn’t stop laughing. I don’t think it was a very effective session because of that. The second one I was pretty tired so I didn’t ‘resist’ as much and that may have been more useful.”

An interesting perspective! And on a number of levels.

The preconception among many is that hypnosis requires a trance state, however they define that to be (perhaps involving their being something rather akin to sleep), and so if that isn’t happening, or they feel ‘conscious’ or ‘wide awake’, then it’s not working. The nominalisation, whether hypnosis or ‘IT’, implies that a spell is cast or you put something on and it changes you (as in the films The Mask, or The Tuxedo). In each of these examples the conscious is ‘shut down’, memory fades and ceases, and we become under the control or influence of the hypnotist. This preconception bolsters the fearful, the resistant, and those predisposed to expose. “Maintain consciousness – stimulate the critical faculty – and this stuff won’t work!”

Now we’re back to the story about the pickpocket in a room full of saints – all he sees is their pockets. But what if the pickpocket is also a saint – do the other saints see him as a pickpocket or as one of their own? What if it is a room full of pickpockets dressed as saints. What if it is a room of ordinary people at a Come As a Saint party? Do all saints have pockets? Do pickpockets have pockets?

Why am I rambling here? The point is about perspectives, preconceptions and understandings. I’ve mentioned in the past about asking people at a gathering, session or meeting “How many ways can I get out of this room?” They look around, count the exits (doors, windows etc) and then each come up with an array of answers. I then show them the different ways of getting through just one door by walking forwards, backwards, sideways, crawling, hopping etc – until they realise there are thousands of ways of getting out of the room. Some say “Ha, trick question” to which I reply “No, just perspectives, preconceptions and understandings. I merely asked how many ways can I get out of this room. The rest of it YOU made up.” Here they disappear into quiet thoughtfulness.

However – back to my client.
If you start from the perspective or understanding or preconception that hypnosis, trance – call it what you will – comes from the manipulation of changing states of mind then everything starts to open up. Every moment of every day we are in some particular state or other. There is a chunk of the 24 hours when we are asleep, or in a state of unconsciousness. Things are still going on in the body – we are still breathing, heart is beating, numerous other autonomic functions are chugging away in the background. When awake we move through the day in a continuous variety of states that are altering all the time. Amongst these altering states there are some contemplative, some reverie, some of total focus – and others with an almost infinite mixture of conscious and cognitive levels. Each change involves us moving to another state. Altering our state – our state is ALTERED. And if we view hypnosis as being “in an altered state of consciousness” then it is easy to see that something hypnotic can happen to us all at ANY time.

And so it is, if you think about comedy and our reactions. Laughter is symptomatic of an altered state. And as I told my client at this point, “When you make your audiences laugh, you induce in them an altered state. You are actually a hypnotist – and the better the comedian is, the better a hypnotist they are.” She understood perfectly what I meant, as she went through a range of internal references to prove or disprove this statement. “So what was happening when you got the giggles in that first hypnotherapy session? Laughter (and a fit of giggles is almost unconscious laughter) which is an altered state. The hypnotic guide will use this to good purpose even in a therapy session. On stage, if a member of the audience is having a fit of the giggles, what do you do?” She replied immediately, “Exploit it. Laughter is infectious. That fit of giggles will spread through the audience, without me having to say very much more except heighten the moment.”

It is interesting here that she used the word ‘heighten’, because another perspective of heighten is ‘deepen’ and this is also part of the hypnotic process.

I pointed out to her that rapport is also very important in the hypnotic process, as rapport opens up channels for dialogue on all 3 levels: Conscious-conscious, conscious-unconscious and unconscious-unconscious. Once it is realised that this is going on, the possibilities for influence expand dramatically. I asked her about rapport for comedians – “On stage you are looking to get rapport with your audience as soon as possible? What happens when you’ve got it?” She replied, “Everything goes great. It flows. It’s an all round wonderful experience.” “And when you haven’t got it, what happens then?” “You bomb,” she said.

“Exactly my point,” I said. I could see she was beginning to treat this meeting as something of an education, quite forgetting why she had come to see me in the first place.

Distraction and absorption, leading to temporary amnesia and probable time distortion; my initial interviews and chats do tend to go down this network of roads. I’ve even had a colleague tell me that the consequence of reading my online postings is that he spends hours buried in a thesaurus.
However, the point is that states metamorphose like shifting sands, and by noticing and understanding these shifts, by cultivating rapport, pacing and leading we become artfully persuasive and influential. We are all doing this – all the time – to a greater or lesser degree. And some of us wear our tuxedos all the time!

(Part 2 of the interview will follow shortly)