Meditation and Hypnosis : All in the Mind
by Kavita Harlalka
There are many and varied explanations about the nature and purpose of both meditation and hypnosis. From time immemorial the activity of directing awareness and focusing attention in the pursuit of understanding and healing has been practiced by all races and in all cultures. In fact normal waking awareness itself is a kind of trance state. After all, a considerable degree of focused awareness or filtering is required to engage in the most mundane activities.
Imagine standing on a crowded train platform with the noise and images of thousands of passengers, billboards and buskers; a literal avalanche of millions of discreet bits of information. Now imagine trying to carry on a conversation with a friend or simply buy a magazine or read a train schedule without the innate ability to filter out the vast majority of sensory input. The ability of individuals to focus awareness is natural and necessary.
Meditation and hypnosis have in common that they both build on innate human abilities to unconsciously filter extraneous stimuli while consciously directing and focusing attention. In meditation, as it is commonly understood, the purpose may be simple relaxation, the altering of awareness or the pursuit of inner wisdom and enlightenment by the direct experience of moment to moment reality. Hypnosis, and more specifically the practice of hypnotherapy, recognizes and exploits the therapeutic value of consciously directing awareness and focusing attention.
In some respects the crowded train platform with all its images and noise may be an apt analogy for the common condition of the mind when it is not specifically engaged or focused on some task – whether playing bingo or designing a nuclear reactor. There is a Buddhist phrase that describes the condition of the unfocussed or in Buddhist terms, the untrained mind, as monkey mind. Desires, judgments, concerns and worries incessantly arise and disappear of their own accord. Rene Descartes is said to have famously declared, “I think therefore I am” – just as correctly, he might have said, “I am therefore I think”. It appears that we are thought producing organisms.
Unfortunately, for many the thinking that arises consists of fears and worries often stemming from factors beyond personal control and is commonly frustratingly repetitive and self critical. Over time many create an identity out of this kind of thinking. They literally become their problems. Clearly this kind of habitual mind environment contributes to a greatly diminished experience in the quality of life and can be a major contributing factor in all kinds of troubling issues; from lack of confidence and social anxiety to depression and other psychological conditions, including coping behaviors like substance abuse and addictions of all kinds. Here is where hypnosis and meditation can each help in their own way Hypnosis, while extremely beneficial for general relaxation and stress release, is more often considered a therapeutic intervention dealing with specific issues over a definite period of time. Meditation is more often thought of as an ongoing endeavor that contributes in a general way to health and sense of well being. For many, meditation is an enduring life long practice.
It is commonly believed that the purpose or function of meditation is to stop thinking; to experience an empty mind. Nothing could be farther from the truth, or more difficult to attain. Among other things meditation is a way to realize – to make real by direct experience, that we are not our thoughts and that there is a more permanent, more stable self or awareness beneath the level of thinking. As this realization deepens over time it contributes tremendously to life satisfaction on many different levels; mental, physical and spiritual.
The practice of meditation simply requires an object to focus on; whether an image, a phrase or, as an example here, simply the breath. Awareness is focused on the breath to the best of one’s ability and when it is noticed that a thought has arisen; regardless of the content of the thought awareness is simply returned to the breath. This process is carefully attended to and continued for a predetermined length of time. There is no other absolute requirement for meditation. Eyes may be open or closed; the back should be relatively straight and the body relaxed. Over time the length of the meditation or sitting may be lengthened from a daily 5 or 10 minutes to 20 or 30 minutes. With minimal training this kind of open awareness of the present can easily be experienced during almost any activity. This kind of practical meditation transfers the benefits of formal seated meditation to the day to day experience of life.
The practice of hypnosis requires little more than a subject willing to relax, pay attention and simply follow instructions. One of the great misconceptions about hypnosis is that it involves a loss of consciousness. Hypnosis is an altered state of awareness or perception in which the body is highly relaxed and the mind is sharply focused and receptive to therapeutic suggestion. With the guidance of a hypnotherapist the subject gradually enters into a very aware, deeply relaxed state. When deeply relaxed and sharply focused the mind is able to support suggested changes in mood thought and behavior.
One of the shared goals of Hypnosis and meditation is to help individuals to develop their innate ability to focus and direct conscious attention. Considering the degree to which thought contributes to state: the felt sense of well being, satisfaction and happiness, it is hard to conceive of any other single human endeavor more valuable than cultivating the ability to focus attention and direct awareness.