A close associate of mine recently underwent hypnosis for an addiction problem. I have been fascinated with hypnosis since the spring of 1972 when I witnessed – up close – a hypnotist at an assembly at Highland Park (NJ) High School, my employer at the time, as well as my alma mater. My friend told me about his visit which differed from what I’d seen occur on our stage.
In the assembly the hypnotist asked for volunteers from the audience (student body). With the innocence and curiosity that accompanies youth, i.e. before they learn from adults to obey authority and do what they’re told, several youngsters began waving their hands. One of the students selected was a freshman football player, who everyone called “Chippy,” a chubby little guy with a very engaging personality.
The part of the performance our footballer was involved in had the hypnotist hold up a shiny object which our young guy was instructed to stare at while the hypnotist spoke in a low, soothing voice about how sleepy the rookie was getting. Sure enough, soon his eyes were drooping until his head dropped and he was in “sleep mode.” Standing up. While our boy was in this condition, the hypnotist began explaining to the audience – and to Chippy – that his (the hypnotist’s) right index finger was a red hot poker and under no circumstance should anyone come near him because, if they were to be touched by that finger, they’d surely be burned. At that point, he turned to Chippy and “brought him back,” saying he’d awaken in “3, 2, 1, and . . . ” Snap.
Chippy’s eyes opened, he saw where he was and when the hypnotist began speaking – and gesturing with his hand, index finger waving back and forth, everyone could see how Chippy would jump away anytime the finger came in his general vicinity. Finally, the hypnotist thanked is volunteer and said he could leave. Just before Chippy left the stage, he was asked to stick out his hand. Being a trustworthy sort of fellow (as most 15 year-olds are – they haven’t yet been duped by society), Chippy held out his hand. As he did, the hypnotist poked him on top of it. Chippy squealed, began blowing on his hand and licking the wound. Rather than cross in front of the hypnotist, i.e. the same way he’d entered the stage, Chippy exited stage left, holding his “burned” hand.
Later that day, I saw the young star and told him what a wonderful – and brave – gesture he made. He held out his hand and, I can remember this as though it happened yesterday (and, believe me, those moments are dwindling) – there was a blister where the hypnotist poked him! I recalled having read that the mind can’t separate a vividly imagined event from a real one, which is why when you dream about, for example, falling off a cliff, when you awaken, your heart is pounding and you’re sweating. The blister on Chippy’s finger told me all I needed to know about hypnosis.
Back to my associate and his experience. He said that, at no time, was he not completely aware of his surroundings – and that he was told that would be the case before they started the session. The hypnotist did speak in a soft, soothing voice, telling him to imagine himself descending in a glass elevator, all the while seeing a beautiful blue sky interspersed with fluffy clouds that looked like they were made out of cotton, putting him in a relaxed, happy frame of mind. Then, when the elevator doors opened there would be an escalator, heading down further, into complete tranquility with gorgeous scenery all around. Yet, he never lost consciousness.
My experience with hypnosis (30-35 years ago, unsuccessfully) was similar to his. I was completely awake during my session. However, the difference between our two incidents was that his hypnotist told him that our mind is composed of two parts: one side has a complete understanding of right and wrong, a fully mature outlook on life. The other side is like a spoiled 5 year-old, the kind of kid who begs and whines until he or she (since I have no reason to believe this phenomena is limited to males only) gets his or her way. That thought resonated throughout my entire mind and soul – like a eureka! moment. This explained why people make bad decisions. Not so fast, my friend. My guy told me that the hypnotist said that was not the point of hypnosis, that it was about the calm, peaceful feeling of the descent and that, as his body felt completely relaxed, that he should touch his thumb and index finger together. Then, whenever his craving came along, just put the fingers together and that peaceful feeling will keep him from giving into his addiction.
Bummer! What I took out of it, however, works as well. My belief is that when I am about to make a decision, e.g. ordering dessert on a day the scale said, “Too much.” What occurs, because I love most desserts, is my 5 year-old mind saying, “Who cares? I want that dessert. I want it, I want it, I want it!” Then comes along the rationalizing why I deserve it, all the great things I had done that day, how just one dessert wouldn’t be so detrimental, and even how “you promised!” So many parents, guardians, nannies, babysitters just feel, “It’s not worth the battle. You’ve worn me down. Go ahead and get it.” In the case of the individual, it does give immediate satisfaction, so what’s so bad? What’s so bad is what follows – consequences.
This philosophy can be expanded to, pretty much, any bad, wrong, illegal or immoral decision we make. I’m not referring to life-long criminals because, the ones who understand right from wrong, choose wrong for different reasons, e.g. they get off on the thrill of trying to get away with something. For a moment, reflect on some negative act you committed. Deep down, you knew you shouldn’t have done it, but you talked yourself into it anyway – maybe it wasn’t that terrible a choice (like dessert for many people). The 5 year-old won.
Consider the three Arkansas football players who recently got caught using counterfeit money. Certainly they knew it was wrong but chances are their 5 year-old mind was telling them how athletes don’t get enough money, how the school and the coaches make so much money and how they were getting screwed by the system. Or the athletes who are “juicing.” I mean, “everybody else is doing it.” That was supposedly the pushed, allegedly, Barry Bonds to use steroids. He was the best baseball player in the world but the media – and women (“Chicks dig the long ball” commercials) – were going gaga over Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Or the rash of domestic violence in the news. The “provocation defense” just won’t hold up. Besides, does anybody, especially high profile people, think hitting their spouse is the “right” thing to do?
We could claim the immature (although somewhat older than 5) mind even made its way into the Oval Office. Don’t think for a second Bill Clinton didn’t know what Monica Lewinsky was up to, rather down to, was a bad idea. That the thought, “You’re the President of the United States, for crying out loud! Do you really think this is appropriate?” didn’t enter his head. You can almost hear what the immature side of the mind was saying. Unless he just enjoyed the risk, the danger of getting caught was monumental. The average guy, maybe. But Clinton is brilliant and, whatever the reason was at the time, I’d make a substantial wager he regrets now what took place.
In any case, I’m using that argument to keep me from “losing.” It doesn’t mean I’ll never have dessert again. If the scale had a “pleasant message” or I had a great workout, I might indulge myself. It’s worked thus far. I can actually say I can hear that little, whiny, obnoxious kid anytime I’m not doing what I ought to be doing, like instead of watching TV, I should be getting on the exercise bike – and watching TV. Maybe it’s an unpleasant call I’ve been putting off but realize the situation won’t get resolved until I do. It’s called your conscience – and the more often you let it decide your course of action, the more fulfilling a life you’ll lead.
As Gandhi preached:
“There is a higher court than courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supercedes all other courts.”