Active Aging

Hypnotherapy in Later Life: Part 3

Spiritual Deepening

The conscious mind serves to protect our personality from accepting harmful judgments. Sometimes those judgments are positive, such as when a caregiver is told “but you’re doing a great job” when a request for help is refused. Sometimes judgments are opportunistic, such as up-selling by a car dealer. But mostly they are negative. “Children should be seen and not heard,” “You’re not pretty,” or “Nobody will ever love you like I do.”

While the protection of the conscious mind is admirable, it comes with consequences. The most potent negative messages program our body to ignore its needs. Whether we’re overweight or simply robust, “you’re fat” implies that we should eat less. To avoid weakening of the organism, the subconscious must suppress the influence of the conscious mind on the body. We become divorced from ourselves.

The power of hypnotherapy is in re-establishing those lost connections. That is possible only upon a grant of trust by the client that allows the hypnotherapist to bear witness to their subconscious landscape.

The figure presents the main features of that landscape. The conscious, reasoning mind explores the world, systematically building experience. When transitioning through sleep or during dangerous situations, that information is passed through to the subconscious mind that is concerned with doing and being. “Doing” is expressed through the body; “being” is the province of the soul.

While I introduced the conscious mind as the gateway to the world, that does not mean that it is the most direct route to the subconscious. This is evident when confronted with a trauma. While some among us will try to analyze the situation, others will act immediately to control the physical environment, or we may turn first to a higher spiritual source for strength and guidance.

These tendencies account for the richness of the wellness industry. Therapists and life coaches cater to those that analyze; doctors and chiropractors cater to those that seek a physical control; faith healers and reiki masters cater to the spiritual. Working in the gaps between these disciplines we find acupuncture (body and soul), psychiatry (mind and body) and organized religion (mind and soul). But as the figure illustrates, the subconscious mind links all aspects of the self, and so a multidisciplinary approach may be most effective.

For emphasis: in the modern era the virtue of the analytical disciplines is in creating a bulwark against harmful messages from society. Comparing hypnotherapy and psychotherapy, psychotherapy has the cachet of science. For those seeking spiritual depth, however, that comes with a prejudice against spiritual experience. Modern physics has no model for the soul (a problem that I have tried to solve elsewhere). This is a 20th century insanity driven largely by the terror of industrialized warfare. With psychology resistant to direct engagement, hypnotherapy is the best discipline for those seeking to deepen their spirituality. Hypnotherapy is also accommodating of religious orientation: It doesn’t seek to guide, but only to bear witness as the client seeks harmony.

Given that the modern world drives us to analyze and do, how do we know when we have reached the soul, the fundament of being? A survey of the great theologies reveals these precepts: a receding of concern with concrete outcomes and a growing seeking after harmony between the mind and body; a sense of the world entering into us rather than the projection of the self into the world; and a growing confidence that limitless love is the foundation of reality.

These principles have a long track record in supporting people seeking healing. Spiritual deepening facilitates life review.

In our modern society the greatest obstacle is overcoming materialism that encourages most of us to ignore spirituality – even if “scientific thinking” does not cause us to reject it outright. The strategies for overcoming such resistance are subtle, beginning with a survey of moments of inexplicably deep connection to the self and others. To protect against identity confusion, those experiences must be anchored with love. Love preserves and amplifies virtues in us witnessed by others and protects us from corruption. In Cheryl O’Neil’s Therapeutic Imagery, those truths are established as a foundation before undertaking any hypnotic work.

But the end goal of spiritual deepening? That is informed by a simple precept: spirituality is the negotiation of the boundaries between “I” and “we.” It is a process that can occur only in community, ideally among those seeking similar aims. When that condition is lacking, conflict arises. As a core principle, then, spiritual deepening requires inner peace, our next topic.

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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.

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Specializations

War of the Psyche – 6 of 6

Victory Over Death

In the era of Alexander the Great, conquest was used to propagate culture. In the terrifying era of battlefield massacre, wars were fought to preserve the nation-state. With the development of nuclear weaponry, finally civilized nations realized that military readiness must serve only one purpose: preservation of the peace.

Peace is not easy, for tensions exist in every relationship. Nations with different languages and customs cannot just dissolve their borders – their citizens would argue and fight. To ensure that tensions do not boil over, treaties and pacts must be negotiated.

The parallels with death are critical. Death is also a form of separation. We would like it to be gradual and gentle, but often it is not.

A sudden violent death can confuse a spirit. A Japanese doctor who was trysting outside of Nagasaki reported encountering a victim of the blast, charred skin crusted from head to toe, walking away from the city. The victim dropped dead upon seeing the horror in the doctor’s eyes.

Warriors can get lost in their mastery of death, seeking only killing for its own sake. Warriors that fight to protect peace are therefore right to feel virtuous. When they were nurtured within the confines of a peaceful society, love was offered freely to them by adults and peers. Given those gifts, many PTSD victims consider themselves to be “weak.” I see the matter more sympathetically.

The only way a warrior can go into the modern battlefield is to suspend understanding of the dangers they face. Those that remain effective in combat are those that ignore the realities unfolding around them. It is those that take it in – that see the death and destruction, that allow their souls to bear witness to it – that fall into despair.

Upon returning home, warriors may be numb because modern war is inhumanely destructive. Souls torn from broken bodies travel with the returning veteran. Those souls hang on to the veteran’s sympathy, either hoping to escape death’s merciless grip or hoping to receive confirmation that their sacrifice was of value.

The only alternative to this kinship with the departed is to avoid the trauma of loss. In “War,” Junger remarks that fresh troops arriving in Afghanistan were immediately sorted by veterans. Those that are not taken in are those that fall first – not infrequently when marching to their position. The veterans somehow know to avoid them, and thereby escape the grief of their loss. The hapless rookies are consigned to death.

But that is knowledge gained from experience, and so comes too late. In “Combat Stress Reaction,” Zahava Solomon offers the opinion that almost every warrior comes back with trauma – it is just that most of them don’t report it. Where the PTSD casualty is “weak,” the functional veteran is hardened.

In either case, the veteran is a wound in the heart of a peaceful society. They struggle with violent outbursts, unreliable productivity, and substance abuse. Culturally, they become death’s viruses.

So where is healing in this picture? To find it we must return to the insight offered at the beginning of the last section: the mind is a time-travel device. In combat, the well-trained corps functions as a single gestalt, drawing upon shared tactical concepts to think their way through a successful engagement. But at a deeper level, the entire field of combat is tied together in a struggle against death. That fear is universal. Enemy combatants are equally victims of circumstance and deserve equally to be liberated from fear.

Coming back into a peaceful society, the warrior enters that greatest and most valiant struggle. Where love was once received from parents without reflection, the PTSD casualty now must choose to receive love and guard its benefits. When that choice is made, the surrender reveals an infinite source of unimaginable power. Whether it is called God, Source, the Universe or The Good, it steps into the warrior’s mind to reveal that death is only a temporary separation that is pierced by love.

This is the individual warrior’s road to peace. When that hope is projected universally, the goal of every wise warrior is brought into reach: the insanity of modern warfare is apprehended equally in all cultures, and a durable peace becomes possible.

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