“You use hypnosis not as a cure but as a means of establishing a favorable climate in which to learn.”
― Milton Erickson
Lincoln Stoller, PhD, 2019. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) www.mindstrengthbalance.com
Surveying the Landscape
I find myself reconstructing people using mental bricks and mortar. The bricks are the memories, feelings, and sensations my clients offer as descriptions of their world. The mortar is their relationship to these, of which I’m mostly unaware. As these structures arise from someone else’s reasoning, I cannot really understand them. One cannot understand another person’s reasoning where emotions are concerned.
These bricks are emotional building blocks, erector sets of memories. A client brings me an issue, we explore it. We mine elements from their psyche, collecting things. Leading me on, the client identifies these bricks, like shiny pebbles, and we put them in a cart I tow along.
I, as the donkey pulling this cart, provide the muscle that carries us through the landscape of my client’s imagination, searching for deeper connections, collecting things: sometimes a place, time, or image. Sometimes we find a story, and work to draw it out, to unearth it.
“But Sancho, not troubling himself with trifles, went on with his story: ‘And he also used to predict whether a year was going to be fruitful or hysterical.’
‘You mean sterile, my friend,’ said Don Quixote.
‘Sterile or hysterical,’ replied Sancho, ‘it all boils down to the same thing…’ “
― Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
Everyone’s story is a cover they think compelling. A blueprint for making sense. I never believe it. As they tell it, I stare with donkey eyes, ears rotating, listening for what’s in the distance. The story asserts sense, but never makes it. On the other hand, it is also not false. There is no Real Truth beneath this fable. It’s just stories all the way down.
If I sense a theme, a connection between the stories, I rearrange the blocks. Rearranging memories means creating new lines in old stories. Where old blocks repeat like habit, I suggest a different script, using the same actors with
different lines, or different feelings, objectives, and outcomes. I take the strongest characters from each story, not the nicest or the best.
Looking For Nothing
I take my client back into their stories, with motives amplified and characters displayed. New stories hint at unusual intentions, to endings maybe wanted, feared, or lost. Deeper stories of habitual thinking, life trends, and ancestral patterns. I record these stories as audio files, and my clients listen to them, going back into their hypnotic state. The task is to take these to heart, move them forward, and open new chapters.
I do this for everyone, pulling the cart, collecting bricks… or blocks, loaded with broken pieces of the past. We’re looking for the deeper story, one that’s older, or more fundamental. Like old rocks, these stories are not the most visible. They’ve been worked over, worn down, and are no longer clear in form.
A deeper story makes less sense, or no sense. It lacks conclusion. Like the paint on old rocks, the color is gone, if ever it was there. Sometimes, it seems, the drama in today’s story was added after the fact. Memories are projections into the future, disguised as moments from the past. This is how we navigate time.
If nothing is achieved, then we have discovered an emptiness, an unknown. Nothing is “a thing,” it makes space, a more potent story. The scariest bits are what you cannot see. At the bottom, the story is almost empty, dark with a glowing center. Everyone gets to thinking nothing at some point, and it’s a watershed.
In contrast to other versions of hypnosis, which rely on suggestion, free hypnosis (a term I’m inventing) is open-ended, and may have no aim. The client can take control to shape the experience. What comes up in trance is a reflection of whatever is in the client’s mind and body. It’s a stream-of-consciousness experience.
I offer help when needed. I offer suggestions, but they are more encouragements than expectations. We’re getting past something now, not resolving the future. We want to exit the fabrication where the old need resided. Suggestions are new memories: you are this, you saw that.
As in artistic, literary, dramatic, religious, or psychedelic realms, stream of consciousness is creative expression, opening new channels of reflection. A trip with no structure and, as the client, it is no one’s but your own. As a facilitator―in spite of whatever insights I might have―my experience is not my client’s. My experience of their experience is a misconception of it, maybe not wrong, but not true either.
In allopathic medicine there is a measure of health, a symptom of illness, and a diagnosis of disease. The doctor is skilled in the craft. An expert marksman aiming for the bull’s eye. Much of psychology attempts this objectivity as well, but it’s a charade; a kind of Hollywood stage set where the “arrow” of logic is carried on strings to a paper maché target; another story that pretends to make sense. A wave pretending to be a particle.
Free hypnosis is different. Subjectivity is both the medium and the message. Everything is a dispensable story. In most cases even the problem is a story; symptoms quickly give way to other symptoms. New issues coalesce from the remnants of old ones.
Everything is in the appearance, and the appearance is always changing. The potential for change lies in the inconsistency, those places where “the story” fails to hold. It’s what’s unexpected that we remember.
It’s a search for power objects. When emotion comes up, or is unnaturally absent, I know there is power, and I steer toward it. I follow my sense of direction but, as a facilitator, I’m closest to “the truth” when I have the least preconception of where it’s going.
” ‘Now look, your grace,’ said Sancho, ‘what you see over there aren’t giants, but windmills, and what seems to be arms are just their sails, that go around in the wind and turn the millstone.’
‘Obviously,’ replied Don Quixote, ‘you don’t know much about adventures.’ ” ― Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
Along with those who pretend objectivity comes separation. The doctor is immune to the dysfunction, the psychologist to the dysconception. In free hypnosis there is a sharing. That is the point. By combining rapport, empathy, pathos, and mythos, I am entering your story with an open heart. I am careful not to be the soldier, parent, or lover. I am not entangled, but I am at risk.
I am the sherpa, I am the donkey. You are Don Quixote, I am Sancho Panza. We may agree your world is crazy, but it becomes my world, too. Unlike
everyone else around you, I emotionally join you in your world as impartial ally. Unlike you, I record my way in, and remember my way out.
“When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies?
“Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams — this may be madness.
“Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!” ― Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
What I lack in insight and preconception, I provide in shared experience and participation. In this I must be more guarded, grounded, and vigilant. My grounded emotions are my protection, not my personal boundaries, my resistance to transference, or my T-cells.
I am the JumpMaster strapped to your back with my parachute, falling into your world. You can dissolve, disintegrate, to give your full attention to your innermost feelings, laid out like objects on an altar, for your inner guide below. You can be vulnerable, amazed, terrified, or astounded.
The ground is rushing up. You might cry out, or you might fall asleep. Let it happen. My job is to pull the ripcord when you’re choked up or checked out, and then steer us back to “reality.”
I do not reject objectivity, I just don’t believe it, because there is no need to.
My work strives to move beyond whatever is your last story, and back down the rabbit hole
Images by Paul Klee, Pablo Picasso, and Janna Shulrufer.