Basics

Personal Development: Part 10

Imagination

Our journey of personal development has reached its end-point. Thus far, the journey has been incremental, each step building upon prior progress. In a broad sense, we can see that in the first three stages (survival, sex and exchange) the goal is to explore opportunities for personal expression. The second three stages (healing/trust, truth and creativity) shift to collaboration and social responsibility.

Hewing to the priorities of the hypnotherapist, our focus has been on changes in behavior. That growth may bring conflict with the self or others. Each segment has surveyed the tools hypnotherapists may offer to support those struggling with a transition.

Psychiatry offers some detailed insights. The brain also changes as we mature. When learning to survive, the brain is designed to capture as much experience as possible. Neurons form dense webs of interconnection. During adolescence and early adulthood (sex and exchange), the brain sheds many of those connections, focusing its energy toward identifying and amplifying social advantages.

Along with those gross changes, the brain develops new structures. Reason and relationships are our highest cognitive functions, and as we learn neurons are recruited to their service. Each new node requires the services of its predecessors. The highest relationship function – altruism – often develops only in our mid-twenties (in the region called the posterior superior temporal sulcus).

From these insights, however, we have no reason to expect that the basic model of behavior development might begin to break down. Remember how this goes: due to the complexity of social existence, around eight years of age the brain divides into the conscious and subconscious, with exchange mediated by the critical mind. Could it be possible that as we age, the more powerful subconscious might come to trust our abilities to survive in society, and come back into the light?

Such a change is not incremental. It completely upends our concept of self.

This is the nature of the final stage of personal development, the stage of imagination.

The dissolution of the critical mind begins in dreaming. Dreams are the forum in which the subconscious invents new behaviors, free from the prejudices of the conscious mind. But the process is inefficient at best and often obscure. Many remembered dreams are vague if not incoherent. But if through dream analysis we cultivate a dialog, the subconscious learns to be more precise. And when that dialog is pursued gently and respectfully, it eventually begins to call upon the conscious mind during sleep, allowing it to help resolve choices. This is called lucid dreaming.

Dream researchers and enthusiasts have developed methods to cultivate lucid dreaming. The first wanted accurate descriptions of the content of dreams and later discovered that it could be used to overcome trauma. The second enjoyed the thrill of the dream. It is important to remember, however, that unstructured dreaming is a critical part of behavior development. My recommendation is to allow the subconscious to open the door naturally, according to its own understanding of the benefits of greater conscious participation.

Beyond lucid dreaming, however, comes lucid waking. Trust works both ways, and when the conscious mind respects the creative powers of the subconscious, it can facilitate their activation without falling asleep. This is the natural state of many artists: they switch rapidly between abstract analysis and physical sensation as they work. Hypnotherapists call this mental pattern “somnambulism,” and discovered that many neuroses are related to “hypersuggestibility”: the tendency for the subconscious to reinforce negative thought patterns. But when the conscious mind is disciplined to cultivate positive thoughts, when a new opportunity presents itself it can drop into a meditative state to ask the subconscious “Where does this lead?” A rich set of possibility are presented immediately.

As the critical mind continues to dissolve, eventually a new brain state emerges: the gamma state. Observed in dedicated meditators and religious devotees, the gamma state appears to be the most highly energized of the known brain states, operating almost 50% higher than the beta state that we entered when alarmed.

These experiences all lead to increased imaginative capacity. But there is far more open to us in the space of imagination.

To understand the richness of that experience, I must challenge the psychiatric model of thought. Observing that damage to the brain causes loss of cognitive function, psychiatrists believe that all thinking occurs in the brain. Another possibility, however, is that the brain is an interface to the soul. Damage to an interface also causes loss of function.

My experience of the space of imagination led me to that second model: the brain is a kind of multi-channel receiver that tunes into a realm of ideas. In that space, injection of noise is the worst disaster. It disrupts the coherence of ideas. To gain full access, therefore, we must learn to sublimate our concern for the physical self, guarding against the impulses of greed, anger, fear, envy, lust, etc. In fact, failure to do so activates powerful intellectual antibodies that hurt our brains.

Psychologists might recognize my “space of ideas” as Jung’s “collective unconscious.”

Now ideas obviously strive for expression, and with our complex brains, human beings are a wonderous partner in the evolution of ideas. Unfortunately, we are still in transition from the long era of biological evolution (running back almost three billion years) that was driven by competition, conflict and pain – sources of noise that degrade the coherence of ideas. Intellectual evolution took root in us only when we learned to moderate our primitive impulses. That evolution, unfortunately, is a known threat to our evolutionary predecessors – including people that were not raised into intellectual opportunity. To avoid extinction, they are suspicious of intellectual change.

Our religious avatars explore the path through this thicket of mistrust. Buddha offered the concept of “compassion for all sentient beings.” Christ went further, promising “unconditional love.” In both cases, the avatar achieved intellectual authority only by resolving to witness sorrow as an intermediary for ideas that accumulate power from the gratitude of those that receive healing. Buddha tortured himself to achieve that status; Christ surrendered himself to death at the hands of those he loved.

The ongoing work done by our avatars is a transformation of the spiritual ecology in the space of ideas. Unconditional love seeks virtue in all things, transforming eventually even our vices. Anger becomes passion; destruction becomes creative transformation. Of course, the primitive impulses resist that transformation. Their program of repression, however, is frustrated by the sacred martyr, who endures physical wounds as a method of infecting the motivating ideas with love’s virtue.

Trapped in the world of material exchange, such acts seem insane. What history teaches us, however, is that material exchange is a dead end. It creates nothing that endures. Despite all the promotion and wailing of the 20th century, the most enduring personalities in our cultures are our religious avatars. When I was a child in the 1960’s, we still hated Hitler. Now only a few remember him, and increasingly they are ridiculed as anachronisms.

The future lies in acceptance and celebration of our differences – differences that permutate in the space of ideas to build ever richer possibilities for the expression of love.

Which brings us back to sex. Sex has a biological expression in male and female forms. That expression has a parallel in the space of ideas, in principles that I call “masculine” and “feminine.” The masculine principle facilitates change and must achieve temporal and spatial isolation to accomplish that end. The feminine principle sustains continuity through temporal and spatial diffusion. Even in our age, few appreciate the transformative power of their integration: transformation under the guidance of prescient intuition. The possibilities are literally magical.

But I have drifted into speculation, and the reader, following experience, must be wondering what hypnotherapy has to offer in this process. The answer, unfortunately, is “nothing.” Hypnotherapy is necessary only to divided minds. Those operating in the space of imagination no longer suffer from that limitation.

Of course, a hypnotherapist operating in the realm of imagination is an incredibly powerful aid to personal development. John Kappas and Milton Erickson are recent examples. I am suspicious, reading the reports of his faith healings, that Jesus also deserved the title.

Basics

Personal Development: Part 9

Creativity

For a loving couple, the womb is a sacred vessel in which spirit is joined to flesh. In the instant of germination, the sperm and ova merge the intentions of parents. The spirit of the growing fetus guides the seeking of cells as tissues and organs emerge. Mother, with patience and forbearance, attends, filters and provides all that is necessary for growth. Father protects the sacred process, affirming the emerging virtue and clearing away psychic weeds.

We don’t usually talk about pregnancy with the focus on spiritual process. We talk about eating, exercising, working, stroking and growing. But each of those physical acts has a corresponding spiritual consequence. It is in the service of creativity that those correspondences become clear to us.

No participant wholly determines the way a child enters the world. Any one can corrupt the outcome, creating wounds that may take a lifetime to heal. But pregnancy unfolds according to its own timing, each serving in their own way, and only with birth is the outcome known.

Truth empowers us to create change. In creating a child, parents manifest that fact at the cellular level. After birth, the susceptibility of a child continues to expose our strengths and weakness. We cannot impose adult expectations upon our children; character emerges in stages. We must respond to children as they are, rather than as we imagine they should be, while still seeking to support them as they become what we hope they can be.

A parent’s surrender of control seems obvious – we cannot see what is going on in the womb, nor would we hope to control our child’s every act. Why should we? We have lives of our own.

This long introduction is offered to prepare us for the change in perspective involved when we enter the realm of creative collaboration. Living in truth, as loyal partners we learn that commitment remains as we emerge from the psychological chrysalis. To change is allowed us; our partners adapt with us.

Given that privilege, we naturally ask “Who do I want to be?”

This seems to return us to the second step on the path to maturity (Sex). The difference is that we aren’t driven by untamed urges. We have years of experience managing personal and professional relationships. In working with our partners, we identify skills, attitudes and behaviors that we’d like to add to our personality.

The introverted accountant might wish to project the personal warmth of the sales representative. The pragmatic housewife could learn to paint. The jet-setting athlete may yearn increasingly to remain with family.

What controls those choices is the weight of our involvement in the realization of goals pursued by our community. That community might be a household with school-age children, a high-tech corporation, or a society confronting a drug epidemic. Under the right circumstances, a single person might be committed to serving each of those communities.

But under no condition is anybody able to focus exclusively on a single community. We all serve in multiple roles. The housewife will be asked to authorize pediatric vaccinations and sex education. Consent implies informed trust in the medical system and school board. Objection might require home schooling of her children, and compliance with complex educational standards.

Again, this seems to reiterate the considerations of an earlier stage of development – exchange. We must weigh costs and benefits to each action and seek to maximize the return to our community. The difference is that during exchange the community’s commitment to our survival is contingent upon the value we generate. When we are creative, we instead find our security in spiritual immersion.

As we inspire and adapt, the barriers between self and other begin to melt. Our intellectual, physical and emotional strength is dependent upon theirs. We discover gratitude for the gifts that we receive from them. Life isn’t about measuring and counting – it’s about being in harmony.

The greatest challenge in expressing creativity is the dislocation experienced by those still in earlier development stages. Those persons are not fully immersed in the creative process. Change is continually forced upon them, undermining the behaviors they use to survive. If they fall back into fear and anger, the creative gestalt can be wounded.

A sophisticated hypnotherapist helps to manage those boundaries and heal those wounds.

Within the community, an old self-centered behavior pattern may not be triggered except in specific circumstances. When those arise, a session or two with a therapist can release the pattern so that the creative effort can be resumed.

Other situations are less malleable: relocations, marriages, divorces, births and deaths focus the need to change. Group imagery sessions can help communities visualize change and prepare for a smooth reorganization. When dislocation comes as a sudden shock, individual or group grief process can be facilitated by hypnotherapeutic imagery.

Individuals also benefit when hypnotherapy is used to focus attention and energy for key events: corporate board meetings, final exams and a sports competition are all examples. Hypnotherapeutic imagery is again a powerful tool in ensuring effective outcome in contexts certain to include distractions and disruptions.

Part 1 || Part 8 | Part 10

Basics

Personal Development: Part 8

Truth

I grew up in a thoughtful environment, surrounded by people that engaged the world with confidence. As I filled the gas tank after high school one day, I couldn’t believe my eyes as a woman in a Cadillac slowly backed her car up toward the tanker hoses, glancing expectantly over her shoulder for assistance. The bumper was over the valve when I put my hand up and commanded, “Stop!”

I’ve had my own moments: taking a bike down a steep incline to a dirt path. My step-son kept telling me that I wasn’t going to make it. After flipping over the handlebars at the bottom, I dusted the dirt from my t-shirt and shrugged. “See! No harm done.”

At least the lady in the Cadillac knew she needed advice.

For most of us, our self-talk was impressed upon us in childhood, when we were too naïve to defend ourselves. The judgments were delivered by parents who had little experience and often limited understanding of child development. But at least parents must take care of us after they make a mistake – something to give them caution.

Siblings and peers don’t have to clean up the mess they make in us. That allows them to be cruel.

Perhaps thus we have the wisdom from grandma, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” To those that can’t hold their tongue, it follows that you always say something nice. “You look great” to the size-ten woman wearing a size-six mini-skirt.

That doesn’t make sense either. We’re going around in circles.

Here’s how I smooth over arguments that go around in circles, each party quoting their own facts:

What is true is not nearly as important as what is possible.

We all make mistakes. The wise don’t pass judgment over mistakes, they learn from them and do better next time. If what you’ve been told about yourself isn’t working, see a hypnotherapist and come up with an alternative that does work.

Learning from a mistake is a two-part process. First, we need to know what happened. Then we look for elements that we could add to the experience to get a better outcome. In problem solving, we usually focus on the second step. But the first step is harder. If we don’t have witnesses, we have little chance of reconstructing our experience – simply because we can’t see ourselves in the situation.

If we do have witnesses, are they going to tell us what they saw, or what they think about what happened? The second is “You’re a dork.” The first is “well, when the front tire hit the path, your weight was forward of the axle, so you flipped over.” The second means “There’s something wrong with you,” the first means “You did something wrong.”

After we learn to heal and trust, we tend to say the first thing. We have empathy for the struggle to do right. We want to see others succeed, for in their success we gain strength as well. We establish a friend that wants us to succeed, and so will offer us trustworthy counsel.

We do confront a new challenge, however: with all this help being given and received, we develop new behaviors more rapidly. That’s a good thing, in general, but it has a consequence. Our dreams, goals and needs change. The people that brought us to those opportunities may not be able to carry us forward.

This is the plight of the housewife with the jet-setting husband, the commercial real-estate executive that can’t master social media, and the coach that loses the Super Bowl two years running. They live in anxiety that they’ll be left behind.

Couple having serious conversation in bed

It is in negotiating these anxieties that truth turns – literally – inside out. The jet-setter becomes psychologically ungrounded; social media only opens the door, it doesn’t close a deal. To appreciate the actual value of an existing relationship, the full lived experience needs to be revealed to each partner. Each party needs to submit to their partner’s witness. That means hiding nothing and never lying. It means living with integrity and in truth.

Why is this hard? Because we enter into partnerships for what we hope for, not for what we are now. We wanted to raise two happy children; we wanted to be number one in our rental placements. To live in truth and integrity, we must put our hopes on the shelf and allow the incomplete self to be revealed. (Our children aren’t yet grown up; we’re still number three.)

That’s a vulnerable thing to do. We reveal our limitations and weakness. It can only be done together.

But it must be done if we are going to continue to grow. Lying and hiding takes work, distracts attention, and degrades the commitment of our partner to our shared goals.

Hypnotherapy supports this process by evening out emotional turbulence. Anxiety often originates in experiences of violated trust early on the path to maturity. Euphoria felt among others can cause us to renege on our commitments – something seen as weakness by partners old and new.

More potently, however, in hypnosis guided imagery journeys of discovery can help us to understand how much power is liberated when we chose to live in truth. Living in truth allows our whole mind to unify behind the accomplishment of our goals.

It allows us to grasp possibilities that our conscious mind could never imagine.

Part 1 || Part 7 | Part 9

Basics

Personal Development: Part 7

Healing and Trust

The doorway to adulthood opens in that moment when we realize that we don’t know how to be an adult. The years from infancy to independence only teach us how to express ourselves. They don’t teach us how to be a responsible member of society.

By the end of a successful adolescence, we have found a competitive niche. We have found strengths that command support from our peers. But behind those strengths lie unresolved deficits. The masterful video gamer can’t sustain a romantic relationship. The social butterfly overspends her credit card. The project planner at work doesn’t allow time for play at his 5-year-old’s birthday party.

I have found this definition to be helpful:

An adult understands power and love and has the wisdom and experience to know when to express them.

Clearly this is an aspiration.

But the first three steps on our pathway to maturity focus on power. In survival the guiding concern is “How am I?” With sex we focus on “What is my identity?” During exchange we shift to “What is my value?” At every step, however, the self is first. We assume that everyone else will be taken care of. They have parents, after all.

When separation from the home is complete, however, we confront directly a fact that we always took for granted: whatever benefits (even if scanty and begrudged) we received from our parents, we received due to their love. With that support removed, how are we to survive?

The strong choose the path of force – they impose their will on the world. This is the method of the Second Amendment absolutist in America. Not trusting in love, the armed zealot wants to carry a concealed weapon everywhere. The problem with this strategy is that intimidation works though fear, and people don’t like being afraid. It’s both psychologically and physically draining. They resist, which builds fear in both parties.

The second option is to reassess our strategies for living and rebuild our personality with love as a conscious choice.

In the competitive modern world, that second choice is not easy. The Christian psychotherapist F. Scott Peck recognized this in the title of his landmark book “The Road Less Traveled.” Learning to love involves owning up to your flaws, taking responsibility for past wrongs, and making a commitment to healing not only for ourselves but for others.

The primary venue for this work is the sanctuaries of the major world religions. For those seeking to undertake serious internal work, the challenge is identifying and scheduling time with a mature spiritual guide.

The magic begins in healing. We realize that what didn’t kill us made us stronger. When we begin, it feels as though our heart is going to break. But the heart is a muscle, and the more it is exercised, the stronger and more sensitive it becomes. We learn to trust in its strength, and that allows us to be more trusting of others.

The principal role of the therapist is to provide encouragement and support. In bearing witness to our internal work, our therapist helps us to recognize when we need to take a few steps back from the edge or pick up the pace so that we can jump the next hurdle. Sessions are also an opportunity to feel how we are doing in a process that almost always brings up resistance from friends, family and employers.

Hypnotherapy offers powerful practices to facilitate this stage of development. Journaling allows us to clarify our goals and priorities. The Kappasinian Mental Bank allows us to enlist the subconscious as we broaden our concerns. Guided imagery journeys can identify hidden resources that we can integrate into our lives and allow us to visualize the results of behavior change. Spiritual guide work bypasses the doubting conscious mind to connect us through ancestors and ethereal beings to the universal source of love that sustains us in our growth to maturity.

But none of this is meaningful without the change that occurs between sessions. We learn how to integrate concern for others into our lives, and to balance concern for self and others. We build deeper and more satisfying relationships. We surrender control of the process of exchange, confident in the knowledge that when we have need others will rally to our aid.

Part 1 || Part 6 | Part 8

Basics

Hypnotherapy vs. Psychotherapy

If we have a behavior that causes us grief – whether biting our nails or watching too much TV – we may arrive at the conclusion that we can’t make change by ourselves. In that case, we have many options for finding help.

Most of those choices boil down to finding a friend. Life coaches, religions, meetups and intramural sports: these are all methods for meeting new people that we hope will give us encouragement and direction for change.

But what if that still doesn’t work? What if there’s something wrong with our minds?

Now we know that same fear as it relates to our bodies. When I started having pain in my back, I worried that I had an injury – perhaps a slipped disc – that would require surgery. To my relief, I discovered that the pain went away through yoga. I stretched my back and strengthened the muscles of my abdomen. Problem solved!

As regards the mind, the same basic options are open to us. Psychiatrists and psychotherapists have a special license to treat wounded minds – minds that are abnormal because they are missing parts or are overly sensitive to certain kinds of stimulus. They are the surgeons of mental health. Hypnotherapists – as encoded in California’s Business and Professional Practices Code Section 2908 – are allowed to support clients seeking “vocational and avocational self-improvement.” We are the yoga instructors of mental health. We help you change yourselves.

This is a critical insight. If I hadn’t taken my yoga practice seriously, I might eventually have needed surgery to correct misalignment in my spine. So also with behavior change: if we don’t deal with our TV addiction, we might get divorced and lose our job and then, sure enough, we have sufficient cause to be depressed and go on medication.

But the question still remains: why hypnotherapy as opposed to paying someone to be our friend? Irving Yalom in “The Gift of Therapy” describes psychotherapy as relationship modeling that builds relationship skills. If psychotherapy is another form of friendship, is hypnotherapy also just another way of finding a friend?

The answer is “no” because hypnosis is not a technique, it is a behavior that enables the client to learn with maximum effectiveness. When in hypnosis, the subconscious receives suggestions and immediately translates them into changes in our deepest behavioral programs. Those changes are made by reconfiguring the connections between our neurons, but also by modifying the flow of blood in the brain. This happens more efficiently in hypnosis because the conscious mind – while monitoring what goes on – is relaxed and comfortable and doesn’t chime in “well, we tried that before and it’s not going to work!”

In effect, when in hypnosis you learn like you did in elementary school, before you started to question authority. Or doubt yourself.

Let’s compare this to psychiatry, which uses drugs to modify the way the brain works. Our basic emotions are controlled by two chemical systems: the dopamine system that creates euphoria and the norepinephrine system that creates fear. The two are kept in balance by the reasoning part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex. Several psychiatric disorders involve imbalances between euphoria and fear.

Where a hypnotherapist would use techniques and suggestions to strengthen reason and reallocate energy between euphoria and fear, the psychiatrist prescribes drugs that amplify the weaker signal. In physical terms, it’s like giving someone with a strong right side a brace to straighten their spine. Of course, the other option would be to strengthen the left side.

Just as in maintaining our bodies, it’s important to adjust the operation of our minds to prevent serious breakdowns. Hypnotherapists help you make those minor adjustments before they become major issues. Because hypnosis is only a learning process, if the changes don’t work, you can always over-ride them later on.

It is for this reason that I promote hypnotherapy as “mental hygiene.” Just as with dental hygiene, we should not be ashamed to come in to get our behaviors cleaned up every once in a while. In fact, it’s the best way to avoid more serious problems later on.

The root of many psychological and physical problems is unreleased anxiety. Even if you don’t have a specific behavioral challenge, every hypnotist will help you to remember what it feels like to be relaxed. So if you haven’t, contact a hypnotherapist today!

And Bring Your Whole Self to Life!