As I said in my blog post about my first hypnosis session with Emily Cahal of Salem Hypnosis Solutions, we had to make a decision about which way to proceed.
She told me that there were two basic ways we could go with hypnosis. Basically, one way would focus on my particular presenting problem, so to speak. The other way would be more general, delving into my habitual way of dealing with life's problems.
Interestingly, as we chatted before beginning the second session, Cahal indicated that though we went the more general way last week, she favored going the more specific way this time. Which was just how I'd been feeling.
It wasn't that I didn't find value in delving into some childhood memories of how I deal with stress. I simply wanted to experience a session or two where we focused specifically on my bladder problem, and my worries associated with dealing with it.
So last Monday Cahal started off like the last time, getting me loose and relaxed with eyes closed through what was a lot like a guided meditation. Body part by body part, head to toe, we got rid of physical tension I was carrying.
Then I got small. Psychologically. Cahal had me imagine a Small Brian who could go anywhere in my body, sort of like Fantastic Voyage without the submarine. Small Brian journeyed to my bladder, where he reported on how things felt down there.
Then I got to imagine teeny tiny massage therapists doing their thing on tight muscles in my bladder area. That was even more fun. As an added benefit, Cahal suggested that I envision some soothing lotion being applied to the muscles also, to get them even more relaxed.
I must have been more into a hypnosis zone this time, because I don't recall as much from the second session. But I do remember being guided into an examination of my Book of Life.
The book basically contained a record of all my experiences.
Cahal had me zero in on some noteworthy negative experiences, those that carried some powerful emotional residue. She explained that the pages of my Book of Life were encased in acrylic, or some such material, so that when I touched them, I wouldn't feel the hurt they embodied.
I didn't reveal what the pages consisted of. I just recollected various experiences one by one. Cahal then said that we were going to take out that page, crumple it up, and throw it away. Bingo! Bad experience discarded.
To add some extra oomph to the exercise, with my eyes closed I could hear Cahal ripping a piece of paper from a notebook, crumpling it up, then tossing it away. As I recall, after we'd discarded a bunch of unwanted pages from my Book of Life, they were incinerated into ashes, then the ashes were thrown to the winds.
Can't get more gone than that. In my imagination, at least. It remains to be seen how really gone those negative experiences are from my psyche. I can only hope...
What gives me extra hope is some scientific findings contained in an article in the April 2 issue of The New Yorker, "Are We Already Living In Virtual Reality?." I'd brought a copy of the article to give to Cahal, since some portions of the piece about Thomas Metzinger, a philosophically-minded neuroscientist, seemed highly relevant to hypnosis.
As you can read in the excerpt below, Metzinger speaks about our inability to recognize the unconscious mental models that determine how we experience reality. In his book, The Ego Tunnel, which I've read and enjoyed, Metzinger speaks of the walls of the tunnel as being transparent to us.
Further, he says in the book, "Although our brains create the Ego Tunnel, no one lives in this tunnel. We live with it and through it, but there is no little man running things inside our head. The Ego and the Tunnel are evolved representational phenomena, a result of dynamical self-organization on many levels."
Here's the excerpt from The New Yorker article:
In a Frankfurt cake shop—“They say this is where Adorno took the women he seduced; many historical conversations happened here!”—Metzinger teased out the implications of this view of existence. “Do you know what an ‘illusion of control’ is?” he asked, mischievously. “If people are asked to throw dice, and their task is to throw a high number, they throw the dice harder!” He believes that many experiences of being in control are similarly illusory, including experiences in which we seem to control our own minds. Brain imaging, for example, shows that our thoughts begin before we’re aware of having them.
But, Metzinger said, “if a thought crosses the boundary from unconsciousness to consciousness, we feel, ‘I caused this thought.’ ” The sensation of causing our own thoughts is also just another feature of the self-model—a phantom sensation conjured when a readout, labelled “thinking,” switches from “off” to “on.” If you suffer from schizophrenia, this readout may be deactivated inappropriately, and you may feel that someone else is causing your thoughts. “The mind has to explain to itself how it works,” he said, spreading his hands.
Lately, Metzinger has been thinking about his own experience as a meditator. At the center of the meditative experience is the exercise and cultivation of mental autonomy: when the meditator’s mind wanders, he notices and arrests that process, gently returning his mental focus to his breath. “The mind says, ‘I am now re-directing the flashlight of my attention to this,’ ” Metzinger said. “But the thought ‘I am redirecting my mind-wandering’ might itself be another inner story.” He leaned back in his chair and laughed. “It might be that the spiritual endeavor for liberation or detachment can lead to new illusions.”
He looked at me reassuringly. “This doesn’t mean that nothing is real,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that this is the Matrix—the simulation is running on some hardware. But it does mean that you are not the model. You are the whole system—the physical, biological organism in which the self-model is rendered, including its body, its social relationships, and its brain. The model is just a part of that system.” The “I” we experience is smaller than, and different from, the totality of who and what we are.
It turns out that we do, in this sense, possess subtle bodies; we also inhabit subtle selves. While a person exists, he feels that he knows the world and himself directly. In fact, he experiences a model of the world and inhabits a model of himself. These models are maintained by the mind in such a way that their constructed nature is invisible. But it can sometimes be made visible, and then—to a degree—the models can be changed.
Something about this discovery is deflating: it turns out that we are less substantial than we thought. Yet it can also be invigorating to understand the constructed, provisional nature of experience. Our perceptions of the world and the self feel real—how could they feel otherwise?—but we can come to understand our own role in the creation of their apparent realness. “The compensation of growing old,” Virginia Woolf writes, in “Mrs. Dalloway,” is that, while “the passions remain as strong as ever,” we gain “the power which adds the supreme flavour to existence,—the power of taking hold of experience, of turning it around, slowly, in the light.”