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.

Specializations

War of the Psyche – 2 of 6

A Hypnotherapist’s View: Combat Stress

The mind is born with two responses to a threat: fight and flight, marshaled by the survival instinct in the primitive part of the brain. Fight and flight are meant to be temporary. In nature, the mind-body quickly returns to rest to heal, grow, and learn.

The experiences that we survive without harm are accepted by the mind-body – it is the unknown that is uncomfortable.

The early mind has two basic emotions: euphoria and fear. These emotions cause us to see experiences as “good” or “bad.” Both reactions have survival benefit: euphoria builds social bonding while fear guides our self-preservation. The newborn learns from their parents how to balance the two. This control comes from the thinking part of our brain, which learns to intervene in the activation of the fight/flight response.

Around eight years of age, as we venture out into the world alone, unknowns threaten to overwhelm us. To control the exposure of the mind-body to new experiences, the brain develops a barrier called the critical mind. Atop the barrier is the conscious mind that uses logic, reason, and analysis to test information. Below the barrier is the subconscious mind that adapts the body to meet the demands placed upon it. While our ego (or self) lives in the conscious mind, the subconscious does seven times as much work for us. When there is a conflict between our conscious goals and subconscious motivations, the subconscious generally wins.

Military training develops mechanisms in the conscious mind to control the fight/flight response. An important element of training is to sustain readiness to fight while waiting for orders from superiors. This creates anxiety in the mind while maintaining heightened readiness in the body. The professional warrior is capable of this self-control. It is a point of pride.

In deployment, that skill is confronted with the ugly reality of combat. The years of moral guidance and training weaken. The primitive mind takes over and those that survive receive deep validation of their reliance upon violence. Each experience chips away at the control of the conscious, until a particularly intense experience reverses the tide. The conscious and subconscious may join in forcing the warrior into a nearly permanent state of fight and flight. When death seems inevitable, however, an even more primitive solution arises: the psychic casualty freezes in place, conserving energy in the hope that an escape will present itself.

Part 1 | Part 3