The focus for this blog is the use of hypnosis for pain control – the use of a state of trance to create a pain free experience. We will look at the nature of hypnotic trance and the mechanisms for relieving pain. Hypnosis has always been misunderstood, mostly because it is difficult to understand. Because of this, people are often skeptical and/or fearful of it. The biggest fear is loss of control. Many are afraid that if they go into a hypnotic trance they will be under someone else’s control and might be made to do things they would rather not. We can lay this myth aside. Trance is not about control. In fact, no one can put you into a trance without you allowing it.
You may have seen stage hypnotists pick people at random from a large audience and proceed to hypnotize them and have them run around like a chicken or some such silliness. The selection of these people is far from random. Trance is a naturally occurring phenomenon. You know the experience… a daydream…driving a car to a familiar place and not recalling the trip once you arrive…getting absorbed into a movie, a book or a task so deeply that the rest of the world seems to disappear. These are everyday occurrences of trance. Some people are more prone to them than others. Children, for instance, are particularly good at it. When a stage hypnotist launches into his rap he is carefully watching his audience for signs of trance. By the time he selects his subjects he knows they are ready to go into a deep trance. They want to go into a trance.
So in this way all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. You can resist or facilitate going into your own trance. Having said that, some people are able to go into a deeper trance than others, but everyone can create some sort of trance. But what is trance anyway? Essentially, trance is when your attention becomes deeply absorbed in something, so deep that attention doesn’t wander and the focus of attention becomes your complete experience.
We create our experience with our attention. Whatever we focus on becomes our reality. Normally our attention jumps constantly from one thing to another and attention can vary in how deeply absorbed it becomes. We can develop more control over attention through the practice of meditation or the practice of self-hypnosis. The intense focus of trance allows a single image or series of images become a complete reality.
The images used while in trance are carefully selected to create an experience that is therapeutic. Of course, the meaning of therapeutic varies with the needs of each person, just as what is entrancing depends on one’s degree of interest. But if the image becomes real enough, many ideas can soothe pain or remove it from awareness. For example, imagine being able to immerse a pained part of you in ice water. First there is the shock of the icy cold, but in fairly short order the near freezing cold becomes numbing. All feeling in the numbed part, including pain, goes away.
Usually the practice of hypnotherapy uses relaxation to assist a person into a trance. In that situation, the therapist guides a relaxed and passive person into a trance and through therapeutic images . However, being relaxed and passive are not absolutely essential for trance. Anyone who has become enthralled in a suspense filled novel is familiar with the trance that the act of reading can create. Reading requires some effort but has the ability to engage the mind powerfully.
So even as you read this, see how you might make yourself a little more comfortable. Paying attention to how you are sitting. Can you let go of any tension?
Observing the flow of your breath in and out can start the process of easing into comfort. Imagine each breath is filled with a glowing, relaxed energy that washes through your body and rinses away muscle tension… worry… discomfort…
As you continue to follow the words with your eyes, keep part of your awareness on the constant, gentle action of your own breathing. Each exhale blowing more tension away from your body.
Sometimes entering a state of deep comfort can remind us of another time when you felt completely at ease. Each memory has a powerful ability to bring us back to another reality. Can you remember a time you felt relaxed and safe?
Remember how it feels to be as relaxed as a baby.
Memory is a funny thing and forgetting can be a blessing. The Russian scientist Luria wrote of a man who made his living as a mnemonist, or memory artist. He had such a phenomenal memory he would stand on stage and look at a list of one hundred words he had never seen, study them for a minute or two, and then recite them perfectly without looking at the list. He would do this night after night without fail.
Luria was curious about this unique talent and set out to find out how he did it. The man, it seems, was of average intelligence in all other ways but his colossal memory. Even with his skill he did use a trick. He would conjure up a familiar street in his mind and as he imagined walking down it, he would place each item from the list he was learning somewhere on the street. To recall it, he simple walked back down the street in his mind and observed the things he had placed there.
Even with this trick it seems an extraordinary feat. How did he keep his streets straight? What if he put two lists on the same street? Forgetting can be a blessing.
Imagine for a moment a street you have been down, not everyday or even frequently, just one you know well enough to walk down now in your mind. As you walk, bring an awareness to the discomforts you are carrying. Imagine you can remove these and place them along the way. Stashing a pain here…. another symptom there… walking and placing…walking….placing…
Releasing as many symptoms as feels comfortable and laying them along this road. You begin to notice how much lighter and better you feel. You also notice that the street is no longer recognizable. You’ve never been here before. On the right is a cottage with a small woman standing in the fenced yard. She is strangely dressed, like a gypsy, yet looking neat and clean. When she looks at you, her face is kind and somehow familiar. Her eyes seem to look right into you, as if she can see the real you.
You become aware that you are staring at her wrinkled face and hands, and are about to turn away when she smiles and begins to speak to you. She can see, she says, from the things you have left on the street that you are feeling better. But all of the discomfort is not gone. She asks you to close your eyes and focus on any remaining discomfort. Her manner makes it seem the most natural thing to do.
As your eyes close she instructs you to take three easy breathes and release your remaining problems into the street. Breathing in you feel the air going directly to the areas of trouble, a wash of energy flows through and you feel the exhaled breath carrying off a heavy load of discomfort into the street around you. Each breath does the same only deeper…and deeper…
Opening your eyes, the woman’s smile seems to reflect your feelings of relief. She gestures for you to come in to her house. She explains that she is a doctor, a healer. The inside of her cottage leaps off the pages of a Harry Potter book and bears little resemblance to a doctor’s office. Jars of healing potions, crystal balls, a large grey bird perched in the corner all catch your eye as you comply with her gesture to sit in an over stuffed chair. The chair is comfortable.
So comfortable you can feel the stress and tension being pulled out of you body and into the chair. The woman explains the chair is a stress sponge.
“Snap out of it,” pipes the bird. “Now, Now.”
The trick, the woman explains, is creating a foundation within yourself that is soft and flexible. Being comfortable with who you are at each moment gives no hard edges for symptoms to take hold.
You still feel the tension draining from your body into the chair, like water flowing down a drain.
“No time like the present.” squawks the bird, “Be well, now.”
The woman chuckles and asks for your hands and promptly spreads different salves on each as you present them. The left hand becomes very cool while the right begins to exude heat. Placing your hands on your body will direct the flow of energy from warm to cool, she explains. You put your left hand on you knee and feel the calming coolness transfer to there. Your right hand is radiating healing heat to the areas near it. She instructs you to put your right hand on your stomach and your left on your head. Breathing gently through this, you feel the energy enter your head, seeming to flow right out the top. It make you feel a little dizzy to feel the rush of energy.
Then she suggests you reverse the hands, close your eyes and breathe. The heat seems to come from somewhere above your right hand into your head and through the body. A river of soothing energy flows through you. The energy could be coming from far out in space. Flowing through you, soothing, healing…
Close your eyes and try it for three breaths…
When your eyes open you are sitting in front of your computer feeling relaxed and comfortable. Things are just as you left them. Sitting as you were but more relaxed now. The screen in front of you keeps spilling out words, even as you realize a new curiosity and perspective about your pain. You are ready to go about your day without even worrying about where you might have left it.