The first time I was hypnotized I did not know what to expect. I looked deep into the piercing eyes of Gil Boyne, his azure pupils compelling me to respond. A command to “Sleep!”, a snap of the fingers, and a jolt from behind brought me collapsing onto Mr. Boyne’s shoulder. I felt my breathing instantly drop into a slow, effortless pattern. My legs became weightless below me and I floated on the persistent counting and swaying that Mr. Boyne used to deepen my trance. I don’t know what I was expecting, really, perhaps some vanishing point black-out, or awakening to a psychedelic world of twisted physics like in the movies. I recognized my experience instantly. It was a trance, just like trances I had experienced in theater and yoga training. I recognized that distant, yet present feeling, floating, aware, yet dis-concerned.
It was my first week in training with Mr. Boyne and he was demonstrating his famous “standing rapid induction” for the rest of the class. While most clinical inductions are much more passive, the dramatic instantaneous technique yielded immediate results. The sense of surrender, the inundation of well-being, and the keen attachment to instruction, would all become familiar hallmarks of hypnotic trance. Oddly, I felt in control during the entire demonstration, though I responded with rapidity to every suggestion I was given. When I was told after opening my eyes that they would close upon command, I awaited that command and quietly bade my operator to re-induce me into the realm of bliss. In earlier lessons we were given instruction to “behave as though we were giving an Oscar-winning performance of a person being hypnotized.” Somewhere, in my dreaming mind, a golden statue adorns a shelf of remembrances.
I would later learn this ecstatic experience was not just a delusion. Through trance I was producing changes throughout my nervous system that caused corresponding chemical changes within my body. Since that day I have been privileged to observe the same responses with hundreds of individuals. I have studied and helped produce the biological changes that occur, from the muscular level, to cardiovascular, to the very behavior of cells, and DNA. In this state of surrendered focus, formation of ideas in the brain send a cascade of chemistry throughout the body, normalizing function, then initiating behavioral and healing responses. That sense of paying attention and not paying attention helps to selectively trigger cellular and tissue changes, a phenomena now referred to as plasticity.
Sages and scientists have contemplated this enigma for centuries. Only in modern times, with precise instruments, can we now measure reactions in brain and body to understand what is happening when a person is hypnotized. As the beloved science writer Lewis Thomas pondered decades ago, “Something happens when a wart is hypnotized away…if we could understand this mechanism, it would be worth establishing a National Institute of Warts.” His comments were not simply about warts, but to the physical changes that take place as a result of this psycho-neuro-immunological conditioning.
Whether to resolve emotional conditions such as anxiety, fear, or grief, to enhance academic, creative, or athletic performance, or to boost recovery from injury, surgery, or illness, the breadth of this ability with hypnosis is as immeasurable as the human imagination. Indeed, the true mystery of hypnosis is not in the method or state, but in the revelation and demonstration of the potential of human consciousness. Possibilities are empowered by the mysterious nature of the mind itself. This mystery invites us. Einstein stated that the most beautiful experience we could have is the mysterious. It brings us to a place of discovery, from which view, mind and body experience growth in change. There are many methods to evoke similar outcomes; one has even been called “hypnosis without the trance”. As for me, I still prefer to take my paradigm shifts with the ecstasies of hypnotic trance.
Timothy L. Trujillo