There’s a great failure to recognize that hypnosis is one of the most flexible states of consciousness known. The subject is extremely sensitive to what you expect from him. So if you have a theory of hypnosis, you can pretty well prove it on your subjects because they’ll pick it up and do the right thing. If you’re a psychoanalyst, you can always find “regression in the service of the ego” and “primary drives” coming out in hypnosis. If you don’t believe in that, you may never see that sort of thing in your laboratory. So, it’s too easy to prove particular theories without realizing that basically you have a very flexible kind of state of consciousness. And although there’s a lot of lip service to a more permissive kind of approach—you know, “I’m here to help you with experiences” and so forth—the old authoritarian game is still there fairly heavily because basically “I’m the professor and you’re the student. And you don’t know what you’re doing, kid, so now we’ll do the experiment my way” and so forth.
Charles T. Tart
There are emerging trends in hypnosis, though, which I think are going to make the whole thing a more humanistic sort of experience and a more transcendental kind of experience.
What I want to do to illustrate this is show a single slide of some research I’ve been doing that shows how hypnosis can move into a kind of transcendental area. This results from some very intensive work with a single subject that I’ve been working with for over a year. I might add that this is a particularly gifted subject; you can’t expect this from just anyone.
The kind of climate I create in my laboratory for hypnosis is basically, “Look, I do know more than you, but I’m not an authority in the sense that I can program your every bit of behavior. I’m more a guide when it comes to hypnosis. I know how to do certain things that are going to change the state of your mind, but unless you constantly tell me where you’re at I’m in the dark; I’m just pushing my line of things.” So this is a subject who’s quite verbal in telling me what’s going on and making suggestions as to how to continue to go about things and so forth, and who’s been able to reach some extremely profound states of hypnosis. This guy has also done some meditation on his own and had some psychedelic drug trips in the past, so he has a vocabulary for talking about the sorts of things that happen. I should also explain that hypnosis has a dimension you might call depth or profundity. Subjects in my lab have been taught in this kind of permissive relationship to scale the depth of their hypnotic state and do it kind of intuitively.1 You don’t say, “Now think about all of the things you’re experiencing and come up with some complex intellectual concept to describe it,” but rather, “Some part of your mind kind of knows where you’re at at every moment. Give me an intuitive answer.” I won’t go into that in detail, but this sort of turns out to be a beautiful kind of way of figuring out where people are at in hypnosis; it relates to all sorts of other things they do.
Now, this is a subject who goes extremely deep, and I’m just briefly going to describe some of the sorts of things he experiences to show you, I think, where hypnosis can go and how it can lead into this area that I think could best be described as sort of a transcendental level of hypnosis.
Ordinary hypnosis on this kind of scale would be the region of zero to about 25 on the horizontal axis; as you go down to 30 or 40 on the depth scale, that would be called deep hypnosis. When you get down to about 50, that’s usually been called extremely profound hypnosis, and, by and large, you don’t get any reports from people of what goes on there, which I think is largely a function of the fact that Westerners don’t have the vocabulary to talk about what’s going on. This fellow has an exceptionally good vocabulary.
I would ask him about his many experiences in hypnosis in various projects in my laboratory (plotted with triangles on the chart) and also run him into some very deep hypnosis (plotted with circle). I’d tell him to go deeper and tell me what was going on and ask him about these various things, like “Do you have more or less of that last thing you were experiencing? What’s happening with it?” This is an attempt to plot the inner relationships of all these various sorts of things that were going on.
The first thing plotted at the bottom of the chart is physical relaxation. You can see that this steadily gets higher, except that by the time you get to about 20 on this scale his body feels absolutely relaxed, and after that he says “No, I can’t tell you how relaxed I am because my body has reached its limit. It’s absolutely relaxed.” And in point of fact, by the time you get down to the level of about 50 notice it’s not “my body” but “This body is just a thing that’s not really of any importance. How can I tell you how relaxed it is? It’s not that important.” I ask him what he’s seeing. At the very beginning he sees a little light and it starts getting blacker. As he goes deeper he sees more and more blackness until he reaches a point very early where it’s absolutely black—his eyes are closed, of course. Then it continues to get blacker as he goes deeper and deeper into hypnosis but it’s a funny kind of blackness.
It’s a blackness that’s “filled,” which sounds like a paradoxical statement but I think some of you who have had psychedelics will realize the kind of thing he’s talking about. There are no definite shapes, but it’s a blackness that seems full somehow. This kind of plateaus off at around 60 on this scale so that this blackness is simply totally filled but it’s absolutely black.
The third line plots feeling of peacefulness. He doesn’t feel terribly peaceful when he first starts out in hypnosis, but this fairly rapidly goes up and by the time he gets to around 70 once again peacefulness is no longer a meaningful concept.
As you’ll see later his whole sense of identity is changed. You know, “I can talk about me being peaceful, but if I don’t feel me any more how can I talk about whether me is peaceful or not peaceful,” or something like that.
His awareness of what’s going on around him, the environment, starts out at a normal level; he hears the noises in the hall outside and so forth. It fairly rapidly decreases and, once again, around 50 it reaches a low. As far as he’s concerned he might be in the world’s best sensory deprivation chamber.
There is no physical world environment. He can hear my voice but there’s absolutely nothing going on otherwise.
I asked him about his sense of identity at various points.
“Who are you?” “What’s your identity?” That sort of thing.
He starts out as himself, ego, and then his sense of identity tends to become less distributed through his body and more just his head; just sort of a thinking part.
“Transpersonal Potentialities of Deep Hypnosis” by charles T. Tart is an extract from The Highest State of Consciousness edited by John W. White, published by White Crow Books and available from Amazon and other bookstores.
www.whitecrowbooks.com/the highest state of consciousness