“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”
― Daniel Goleman
|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)
First, you are a state of mind that has perception. Once you have perception and a state of mind you have a presence in the world. You are more than an object. But to have an active presence you must be responsive. What you’re responsive to and how responsive you are will determine the measure of your personal and human success. Without this combination, you are lost.
This post is about our essential ability to change state and perception. At its root, this is what hypnosis is. Many would argue that hypnosis is a state or a process and there is support for those definitions but I feel they are short-sighted. I argue hypnosis is the exercise of your ability to change state and perception. It is the combination of change, state, and perception in much the same way that phototaxis, the bodily movement of a motile organism in response to light, represents reception, conception, and locomotion. Hypnosis is the phototaxis of consciousness.
It’s been a trying week as I’ve dealt with the loss of my wallet and the lesson that this was conveyed to me to focus more narrowly. This at a time when I have a dozen irons in the fire, and they’re all on the front burner. I must be brief.
In a sense, the lesson of hypnosis relates to the issue of focus. It has been my lack of focus that has made doing multiple things simultaneously possible. I now see and want to consider, the downside. I will use the notion of frequency.
In human terms, frequency is attention. A brain dominated by high-frequency collective oscillations is focused on, engages with, and becomes bound to details. The high-frequency brain is also susceptible to hypervigilance, rumination, obsessional thinking, exaggeration, and paranoia. For those who care, I’m talking about what is called beta-level frequencies, not gamma-level which are much higher and of uncertain effect. High frequencies are great for problem-solving and focusing on details. They are weak in taking in the whole picture.
You’re reflexes operate at frequencies that are compatible with the task at hand and these are generally higher frequencies relative to the lower frequencies of cognition. Because of this, your brain will maintain certain higher frequencies to ensure physical safety and function. If you lose these basic frequencies you are at risk of failing to respond to your environment and you will fail to notice and respond to essential events. If you lose these, then you speak, think, and respond sluggishly. You stumble in everything.
I would not be surprised, but I do not know if this correlates with Parkinsonism, which can be ameliorated by stimulating certain frequencies in your brainstem. My friend George Plotkin has pioneered this, but I do not know what those frequencies are and, because it pertains to the brainstem and not the cerebral cortex, the effect of those frequencies would be unfamiliar to me.
Low frequencies correlate with breadth of focus. It’s low frequencies that enable you to multitask because they enable you to retain focus across a changing environment. I feel that as I become more involved with more projects simultaneously I move into lower frequencies. This talk of frequencies as attention may seem odd to you, but it can be made more transparent by reference to one’s emotions.
Low-frequency states are more emotionally dominated states. Emotions are our mechanism of retaining broad awareness. Emotions are not specific to time or place, they always carry over. We may say we are “infected” by a past emotional point of view when that point of view seems inappropriate for the present. What we are really experiencing is the persistence of an attitude, which also means that we are retaining our connection with a previous attitude. This is memory and it is generally a good thing. It’s good to have one’s memory, but one also wants to be able to lose it. It has become increasingly recognized in neuro and psychological circles that our ability to selectively forget is as important as our ability to remember.
Coming back to low frequencies, these low frequencies represent the carry-over or the persistence of our underlying state. This is what you need if you’re going to juggle many projects at once. There is no such thing as “true” human multitasking because we only have two eyes and two hands available at any one time, but there is what’s called “preemptive multitasking” which means that jobs can be kept active and quickly shuffled into attention. This is what we often do when cooking, as several things require continual maintenance.
In order to pre-emptively multi-task, you need to remember but you also need to set aside, temporarily, in order to switch focus. What you need, then, is the ability not to maintain focus as that would preclude changing focus but to remember other foci in order to quickly return to them. This is low-frequency work. It’s what makes an involved person seem “spaced out” which is because their mind is somewhere else.
What I find difficult, and what most others do, too, is to shift between high and low frequencies of attention. That is, to be both quickly present and distant, both attentive to the moment and absorbed in the larger picture. You might say that this requires some kind of contemplative state, and that may be true, but I have not found it.
You Have to Relax
Relaxation has nothing to do with comfort, it’s all about engagement. Relaxation is comfortable when it allows you to disengage with what is unimportant, and it’s healthful when it enables you to re-engage with what is important, like the basic functions of your body. This, I think, is why I lost my wallet.
As best I can determine, I lost the wallet due to the usual confluence of small deviations from what I expected. I expected that I put it somewhere safe, and I expected that all things were normal. In fact, I believe I miscalculated where I placed the thing, and then I rushed across the street with my hands, eyes, and ears focused on traffic. When that happened I did not hear the wallet fall out of its insecure location, and then I lost it. My mind was on the big things, not the details. I was running on reflex, not attention.
Relaxation is the ability to disconnect and reconnect. To respond either quickly or slowly. It means that you are not stuck in one frequency or another. To be successful as an athlete you must be both relaxed and quickly responsive, and this takes significant training. You need this even as a musician; you need it as an artist: attending to details and projecting the big picture. In fact, you probably need it to do anything well. For myself, I believe, I’ve gotten stuck in slow frequencies because of all the simultaneous projects I’m attending to. I want to learn to be more “athletic” in managing my projects.
This stuff sneaks up on you. For one thing, you make plans but then events have a life of their own and, while they may behave within limits on average, events deviate from average to varying degrees. I have the image of shepherding a flock of goats or cattle. You can assume a certain degree of uniformity—probably more with cows than goats—but there are exceptions and you really hope there will not be more than one exception at a time. An accident will sometimes happen when one thing is out of place, but accidents always happen when multiple exceptions occur at the same point in time. The exception to this rule is when you’ve practiced the exceptions but, in that case, they’re no longer exceptions.
In my case, I’ve got four books in various stages of completion each of which I publish in three or four different formats, three different course proposals I’m bringing to market—the dream course, the business course, and the research psychology course—a private therapy practice and ongoing research in the topic of emotion. On top of this, there is a tax audit my advisors cannot clarify, new construction at my apartment, the return of my 8-year old son whom I entertain, cook, and shuttle about, and the starting of his school year. And there’s the stock market which, surprisingly, is a great source of relaxation for me! While all this is happening, one forgets just how much it all depends on one’s credit cards until they’re gone!
I have been telling myself that I need to do some brainwave training on myself. I feel the need to add some higher frequencies to my attention.
A few weeks ago I had a therapeutic massage on faraway Malcolm Island and was told my energy was “sluggish.” I interpreted to be a reflection of my low-frequency focus. You can change your frequencies if you know what you’re doing and you make an effort, but this usually requires a change in habit to some degree.
It’s hard to change your habit unless you also change your obligations. On the other hand, through both hypnosis and neurofeedback, you can change your frequencies without changing your circumstances. Through these means, you change yourself first, and a change in your circumstances follow.
As we become older and more engaged we become more obliged and we become less labile, less flexible. This is one of my big objections to yoga as it’s practiced in the West: it’s superficial. I see many people practicing yoga for physical flexibility but I see little change in terms of mental flexibility. Western yoga, it seems, is more about settling into a comfortable pattern than it is about breaking out of one. It is palliative. I’ve written more about stress in this post called Three Forms of Stress.
I am backing off a bit. I am letting things move at their own pace. I recognize—because I am now taking the effort to recognize—that I am overlooking details. Of course, it’s almost impossible to notice what your not noticing. You have to be different than normal while still being normal to see the contrast between “normal” and what could be otherwise. In this regard, you need to see your failure in action, and this was brought to my attention by two one-hundred-dollar bills.
The first one hundred dollar bill went missing after I divided the contents of my now cash-based life. It turned out I had stashed that bill in a location I had reserved for a twenty. The second one hundred dollar bill slapped my reality when I paid what I thought was ten dollars and got ninety-five in change. The message was simply that I was taking shortcuts and missing some details: I’d set aside money and I’d paid my bill but I had grabbed the wrong note in both cases. This is not so much different from tucking in my wallet but not tucking it in right. What was missing in both cases was the attention to a smaller level of detail or, in my parlance, a higher frequency.
Today I’ll speak to some friends about passive aggression. I’m sorry to say that few people in this local seem to be interested in this issue, and this reflects the degree to which passive aggression is epidemic. People’s disinterest in the very issue that is causing the most grief in their lives reflects a general tendency of people to be wedded to their dysfunction.
Passive aggression is a serious disability to manage change. It feels similar to an autistic person’s inability to cope with stress. I do feel that passive aggression is pathological and, like most pathologies, it has grown to epidemic proportions because it is accepted and rewarded. The issue of recognizing and correcting inappropriate behavior is critical to personal and species survival. This inability to adapt explains why we have wars and environmental destruction. The wars and environmental destruction are the results of our collective inability to recognize and respond in a more timely manner.
We need hypnosis because we need to get out of our habitual mental states. If we don’t, we’re all going to lose our wallets, metaphorically speaking.
I believe that social change starts with individual change. That’s not to say that one triggers the other, but that one follows the other, but a certain amount of triggering does happen. I don’t believe that one should do the right thing just to set an example, though setting an example is essential in effecting change. I believe that one does the right thing because one is obliged to for one’s own reasons and needs.
If you want to change, heal, improve, and adapt without being forced to, then you must be proactive. You must explore altered states to see the world from those states, and to reflect back on your normal state—to remember your normal state—in order to correct or enhance it. For some people, this means taking a vacation, for others travel, and for others still, it means illness.
If you can’t afford travel or illness, then let me suggest hypnosis. It’s more focused than LSD, cheaper than ayahuasca, and safer than domestic violence whether that be passive or aggressive. Hypnosis is more than mindfulness or mindlessness, but mindfulness is a start. Mindfulness, empty mind, or mindful reflection, is like mental acid reflux: you get a task of your own digestive process. I don’t think much of mindfulness as an end in itself but it’s a start. The next step is the exploration of a different mind. It’s not enough to stop, you must gain the facility to change.
I would be interested to hear what readers think is the kind of change they need. If I hear something clear and strong then I’ll write and record a hypnotic induction that pertains to it. Let me know what comes to mind!
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
― C. G. Jung
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