By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.
The dominant cultural reality in the West does not have a model for this type of experience outside a few narrowly-defined religious experiences. Therefore, some people are willing to give away responsibility for the power of their sometimes-accidental personal encounter with the sacred reality of themselves. This allows them to keep from losing their moorings in the culturally-accepted definitions of conscious-mind reality. The religious institutions which accept this responsibility find that they can survive by explaining and defining what seems to be undefinable and unexplainable.
This fear of losing an understanding of "what is going on" and the fear of the loss of context into which we can plug that understanding is exactly what makes us agree to hand over our power to any institution. Generally speaking, we tend to hand over that power to the institutions of the society in which we live. In return, we are granted the safety and security of being told that our encounter with the unknown can be managed for us. This is, in fact, the basis of all acculturation. It can also be the beginning of the obstruction of the path toward the Self. This is particularly true if the culture in which this occurs does not have the preservation of the individual's connection with the sacred as one of its primary goals.
When hypnosis is used to create a vehicle to bring us into connection with the sacred, it has the capacity to bring us to a different perspective of society and its institutions. It allows us the direct experience of our own inner life processes. It allows us a glimpse of the sacred which lies beyond the mediation of any institution in defining the nature of our relationship with ourselves. The need for a secular sacrament, devoid of the hidden agenda of any political, economic or religious establishment becomes evident if the West is to maintain any pathway at all to that reality which many traditional cultures recognize as the domain of the sacred. This is also, of course, the domain of the soul.
Because of our need for safety from the chaos of the unexplainable, our need for a way to contact ourselves at a soul level can seem like a dangerous concept. This is because that journey can take us into parts of ourselves which are not easily known or explained. This is a perceived danger for the institutions of many modern cultures as well as for those of us who live in those cultures. The danger in knowing who we are beyond the confines of the roles we choose or are forced to play by the society in which we live is clear. It is dangerous to societal institutions because it is very likely that at least some of us will not choose to remain yoked to the dominant cultural reality. When we perceive that our experience of life need not be veiled by the intervention of society or its institutions, we may decide to withdraw our support from them. It is dangerous to us individually because the path to the experience of ourselves at a soul level can pass by the gates of what Jung calls the shadow: that part of ourselves which contains all of our fears of what awful thing we might be.
Karl Jung who provides many valuable insights into the topography of the unconscious, identifies the shadow as one of the more salient features of the mind. The shadow is the part of our mind where we relegate that which is unacceptable to the image of ourselves we wish to project into the world. For instance, if we wish to be seen as a generous person, we may relegate our tendencies toward greed and avarice to the shadow. In doing so, we lose conscious knowledge of our greed. This is convenient because we can then pretend that we are only generous, and never have to admit our greed to ourselves. Unfortunately, when we cut off communication between parts of ourselves which we perceive to be unacceptable from the larger self, they cannot be integrated into our sense of self. This is intolerable to the self which is functioning at a soul level because it longs to be whole. The self longs to embrace and understand even that which our idealized image of ourselves would reject. In my practice, I have noticed that whatever we have relegated to the shadow is actually "running the show" in creating our conscious-mind reality. This is because it wants to be seen and integrated into the larger self.
An example of how the shadow functions can be found in a young man named Fred. Fred was born into a family void of emotional warmth. He was sent off to boarding school at an early age, and the abandonment he felt being cast out of the family made him feel fearful and powerless. But, because he had to survive in a complex and daunting world with very little support, he could not function from a place of fear or powerlessness. Or, at least, he could not let himself know he was functioning from a place of powerlessness and fear. So he relegated powerless and fear to the shadow and created an idealized image of himself which was powerful and fearless. He became very aggressive and domineering. This demonstrated itself first at school: he became an A+ student and a star athlete. But he was moved to a new school where he could not compete at his former level. He then did all he could to re-establish himself in a powerful position in relationship to his family by agreeing to support them financially. But they never offered him the respect he craved in taking this obligation on; he was ultimately abandoned by them again because they only wanted his money. And finally, in relationships with women he established himself as a Don Juan which he felt gave him the upper hand. But, finally he was betrayed by a woman who would not play by the rules and left him rather than remain dependent on his sexual prowess. Each time, he was returned to a state of powerless and fear which was unacceptable, and each time he would redouble his efforts at creating an idealized image based on power and courage. By the time he came to me, he was exhausted and defeated by cycle after cycle of moving away from powerlessness and fear. Through our work together he learned to embrace the powerlessness and fear he had once rejected and he was able to create a life which was much more stable and which brought him much more satisfaction because it was not based on this movement away from what he had relegated to the shadow. As the contents of the shadow became integrated into his larger sense of self, he became much more powerful than he had ever been in trying to run from them.
But most of us do not use the opportunity provided by what we may perceive as 'bad luck' or failure to integrate what we have relegated to the shadow. By disconnecting the contents of the shadow from our larger self, we feed the disconnection with ourselves at a soul level. The dominant conscious-mind reality wittingly or unwittingly encourages this because its main agenda is to perpetuate the idealized image. This idealized image is generally caught up in measuring itself against the standards and morals of the dominant-mind reality. We lose our ability to communicate with ourselves at a soul level by agreeing to perpetuate the idealized image of ourselves which participates in the structures of the dominant-mind reality. We lose contact with whatever does not fit into our idealized image when we relegate qualities which we perceive to be unacceptable to the shadow. Then, we begin to fear what we no longer know.
When we decide to undertake the journey to begin to rediscover what we have refused to see, we need maps which help us recognize where we are. Hypnotherapy, when applied correctly, provides this context as our connection with the soul level reality of ourselves is allowed to unfold. This happens through our encounter with all the dimensions of our being which the altered state of the hypnotic trance opens to us. The hypnotic trance also helps to gently remove the interference of the defenses to this experience of ourselves at this level. These are the defenses which have been generated and cultivated by our interaction with the dominant, conscious-mind cultural reality through our need to perpetuate an idealized self-image. The process of letting this idealized self-image dissolve into true self-knowing ultimately allows us to experience that sense of personal power the encounter with the soul outside the cultural context provides.
To be sure, the unethical use of hypnosis can lead to serious invasions of the individual's psychic space when used irresponsibly. Later in the book, I give an example of the effect the unethical use of hypnosis can have within the psyche of an abuse survivor. In no way do I support the use of hypnosis in this way, yet it is interesting to note how different organs within the dominant culture have howled against such incursions when they, themselves indulge in a type of appropriation of the individual's internal psychic space.
An example of this kind of incursion is easily seen by examining the way television is used by the institutions of dominant-mind reality. To be fair, all forms of culture participate in this kind of mind control to varying extents, but few other cultures have had such an ideal homogenizer of individual experience as television. Television meets so many requirements as the perfect tool for external control that it is used by almost all the organs of society, including the religious, political and economic establishments to help them mold the individual's experience of reality.
Television provides a comfort zone of virtual experience for those for whom direct experience of the dominant reality, (much less the experience of ourselves at a soul level) has become too dangerous. It certainly has the ability to "fix" us in time and space, and thus keep the demons of chaos and uncertainty at bay. Within the context of modern societies, there are few other methods which are so effective in numbing the chaos the avoidance of the direct experience of ourselves creates.
Even our nagging sense of the presence of the shadow, that part of ourselves which encompasses all that we fear, is medicated by the television. It is precisely because we allow the dominant culture and its devices such as television to mediate our relationship with this part of ourselves that we find it so hard to open to the shadow honestly through the tools provided by hypnotherapy. Instead, we numb ourselves through the titillation of the viewing of violence and horror we fear may be lurking within ourselves on the screen of the television. This vicarious experience of horror is externalized and objectified in a virtual reality which does not require us to enter into any kind of meaningful dialogue with the shadow side of ourselves. Such a dialogue would break the television trance and allow us to enter into the direct experience of ourselves at a soul level. This is exactly what hypnotherapy does when it is used as an interactive meditation. It establishes contact with the shadow, which is part of what we are yearning to do both in viewing violence on television and exploring in our desire to establish contact with ourselves at a soul level.
But because we agree to support the requirements of the dominant-mind reality to fix ourselves in time and space and reduce the sense of chaos we often find ourselves in when left to our own devices, we can lose sight of our needs and requirements. Without the ability to draw from our deepest knowing of our needs, we are only left with our interaction with the external reality. Because there are so few avenues to the honest encounter with the ways we have become separated from our deeper levels of experience within the dominant conscious-mind reality, hypnotherapy is invaluable. It provides a path to the sacred encounter with ourselves that few other tools can. It helps locate the source of imbalance and helps us discover within ourselves the tools required to return to balance.
Without the assistance of a hypnotherapist or counselor who is comfortable with the honest encounter with at least some of the realities of the soul, we may become disoriented. Uninformed contact with our shadow selves can lead to us into a state of disorientation. Again, this is why we often willingly agree to remain within the confines of such realities as those defined by televised acculturation. This avoidance of the unknown suits society's institutions because when we are lulled into a false sense of comfort by something like television, we are unlikely to upset the status quo. And the continuation of the status quo perpetuates those establishments. If enough members of society decide to take that step outside of the dominant, conscious-mind cultural reality's trance, this could create a threat to the structure of society's establishments. Ergo, the dire warnings by religious authorities, political figures, legal arbitrators and even psychotherapy professionals against the dangers of hypnosis.
Hypnotherapy does open the doors to the shadow where we have carefully sealed away all that is unacceptable in ourselves or our experience. The shadow has the potential to open the doors to the reality of the sacredness of our experience of ourselves at a soul level. It also has the ability to create chaos and destruction within the fabric of our experience of the dominant culture's institutions. This reality does remain a factor which these institutions and those who live within them must consider. Hypnosis as a secular sacrament has demonstrated itself to be dangerous enough in the process of releasing (and when used properly, transforming) the shadow so that the legal establishment in the U.S. has seen fit to refer the matter to the courts in the context of recovered memory cases. The arbiters of morality have even gone so far as to rule that our memory can never be the same once we have been hypnotized. For this reason, they assume testimony given in court by a person who has been hypnotized is less reliable than that of someone who has not been hypnotized.
It may be true that a person who has been hypnotized has a different sense of reality and memory than a person who has not been hypnotized, but why would a judge find the hypnotized person's memory to be less reliable rather than more reliable? Why wouldn't it be more reliable? Rather than recognizing that our access to past events through the honest encounter of ourselves at a soul level is enhanced once the veil of cultural conditioning is lifted, the court must find it less reliable because it has a stake in maintaining the integrity of that cultural conditioning. When we have had unimpeded contact with our own reality of ourselves at a soul level, unvarnished by the demands of the dominant conscious-mind cultural reality, we may be perceived as a threat to the maintenance of the status quo of that cultural reality. The legal system is charged with arbitrating dominant cultural reality and it, like other societal institutions, cannot afford to admit the possibility that there is another reality which could undermine its authority and influence.
One of the main arguments against the validity of the testimony of a hypnotized person is that the individual may have been hypnotized by someone who has his own agenda. This person may offer suggestions in accordance with that agenda which become part of the individual's experience, but which may not have actually happened. This type of abuse can and does happen. But it is hardly integral to every hypnosis session. Indeed, it is quite the exception. It is possible to use hypnotic patter to alter a person's actual experience. This can be helpful when the patter is used to help shift the individual's relationship to events in a positive way, with the individual's permission and knowledge. But it can cause damage when it is used to shift the individual's relationship to events in a way which is not in harmony with his desires or needs in understanding events . But the damage which arises in these latter events is a function of the dissonance between what actually happened and what the hypnotic patter says happened. The dissonance remains because the subconscious cannot reconcile an inauthentic version of reality introduced by the hypnotic patter with the actual experience of reality. This is especially true when the patter is designed to interfere with the consonance which the self always seeks at all levels of its being.
When such situations within the psyche are approached in hypnosis much is revealed. In my clinical experience, the authentic experience of reality is almost always recognized as such. Hypnotic suggestions used to screen actual experience are almost always revealed to be what they are. This is particularly true when these experiences are approached in the same type of altered state they were first laid down in. Irene Hickman, in her book, Mind Probe Hypnosis, reports on numerous tests which show that individuals do not deeply accept anything into their unconscious mind which does not ring true at a very deep level.
My own personal experience with suggestion in hypnosis confirms this. Several reconstructed dialogues taken from age regression sessions demonstrate how the hypnotized subject will not simply go along with a line of questioning if it does not fit with his experience of reality.
Hypnotherapist:Where are you?
Client:I am in the back seat of a car.
Hypnotherapist:Is it daylight or night?
Client:It is daylight.
Hypnotherapist:What can you see?
Client:Hmmm......I don't know.
Hypnotherapist:What can you see when you look past the back of the front seat and look through the windshield?
Client:I can't see past the back of the front seat. I can only see out the side window.
If the client's mind had been so open to suggestion that I could form his memories through my questions, he would not have contradicted my assumption that someone sitting in the back seat of a car could see out through the windshield. Or, with another:
Client:It is very cold.
Hypnotherapist:What are you wearing?
Client:I don't know.
Hypnotherapist:Look at your feet. What kind of shoes are you wearing?
Client:I'm not wearing any shoes.
Again, the client did not go along with my assumption that she must have been wearing shoes if she was outside in cold weather.
Even a stage hypnotist who wants to hypnotize someone and make them quack like a duck on stage must carefully select a volunteer from the audience. This person must unconsciously or consciously desire the release from normal social constraints in order to get up on the stage and quack like a duck. All the display involved in the "hypnotizability" tests are really just forays into the person's unconscious by the hypnotist to see what the person is willing to do. Their function is not necessarily to determine what the person is willing to let the hypnotist to do him. In some situations, the person may be actually willing to turn over his will to the hypnotist. But he has to be willing to do this. The hypnotist cannot simply snatch his will and make him do things he does not want to do. But any situation where there is an agreement for one person to take over the will of another is a serious transgression for both parties. This is true whether such an agreement is made between hypnotist and subject, husband and wife, or mother and child. The ethical hypnotherapist simply aligns his will with that of the client to help effect deep and permanent change to bring the client into closer contact with himself at a soul level.
Any process of opening to the sacred encounter with ourselves at a soul level involves aligning our energies with those of our deepest needs and desires. This involves quieting the conscious mind which is dominated by the surrounding culture. To open to the experience of the sacred, one must be as free as possible from the pervasive effect of any cultural system which would interfere with the direct encounter with the self and its natural longing for wholeness and integration. This includes freedom from any family or relationship structure which requires the individual to forgo his own needs for the satisfaction of the other's needs on a permanent basis. This includes freedom from any religious culture which insists that its followers allow church authority to mediate an encounter with the self so it may exert its own hegemony. It also includes freedom from economic and political institutions which draw us away from a relationship with the sacred so that we may indulge in activities which maintain their status quo.
Unlike the Q'ero culture which organizes itself around the mysteries of the sacred self, Western culture tends to separate its members from the experience of the self. In this environment, hypnosis, when used as a secular sacrament, is sorely needed if the members of the western cultures are to emerge from the abyss of a cultural mindset which insists that its members lose touch with the unadulterated experience of their inner lives. The hypnotherapist who works with transformation of the self as his goal, offers the secular sacrament. In doing so, he helps cast open the doors to that world beyond the reach of the dominant culture - to the realm of the sacred and the soul.