Monday, December 20, 2010

Winter Solstice: Going into darkness / coming into light

Now at Winter Solstice darkness will last for more than 14 hours in Rochester, NY. Although it will get colder before warmth returns, the days immediately begin to have more and more light. The writings below echo various facets of our experience of going into darkness in order to emerge into the light.

…because then something new can start
When we are on the way to going deeper,
deeper than we have been going, we meet many obstacles.
Many of us let the obstacles defeat our going deeper.
We lose interest. We get discouraged.
The experience of awakening is not always agreeable.
When one feels more, one feels more in all ways.
One cannot choose what one feels.

So that could be that we become much more conscious
of certain things that we have till now
simply swallowed, or shut off.
For such recognition we should be very grateful,
because then something new can start. 

    — Charlotte Selver, from “Every Moment is a Moment”

Believe what you understand
With a strong sense of self there is great insecurity…. I was never really shaped by parents that taught me certain things. I didn’t know the rules. I think in a sense that helped me. I didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to do certain things or say certain things.

So, if you feel like there’s something you understand, you have to have the confidence to believe that—and say it, act upon it—whatever it is, do it: make that film when people say you can’t. Or who’s going to be interested in that? You feel it, you see it, you can understand it, you say it, you make it happen.

You know, I really believe imagination and perception create reality. The outside mirrors what is within you.
        — Barbra Streisand, from “Inside the Actor’s Studio”

Surrounded by tigers: I’d stop pretending
Some year ago a young friend of mine, six years old at the time, walked up to me and said the following: “Pretend you are surrounded by a thousand hungry tigers. What would you do?”

I gave it some thought, imagining the scary scenario and feeling more and more tense. Would I pray? Probably not. Would I run? One doesn’t outrun tigers. Anxiety began to take hold as I saw in my mind’s eye the tigers closing in. I said to my young friend, “Wow, I don’t know what I would do. What would you do?”

And he replied, “I’d stop pretending.”

Catherine Ingram. “Passionate Presence”
This is the joke-and-punch-line version of becoming aware that you’ve been holding—and habitually functioning from within—an old context (or belief) that has out lived its usefulness. It has become obsolete. When our awareness of it is acute enough, the old learnings just fall apart and drop away… and we’re no longer constrained by them—we “stop pretending.”

There is Only This
When the great Chinese Zen master Ta-mei was dying, his students asked him for a final helpful word. “When it comes, don't try to avoid it; when it goes, don't run after it,” he said. Just then, a squirrel chattered on the roof. “There is only this, there is nothing else,” said Ta-mei, and then he died.

Can we conceive of what this is? Can this be enough for us? Is there another reality more real or more wonderful than this?”
        — Francis Dojun Cook, from “How to Raise an Ox”

It always comes as a relief—my shoulders drop an inch, breathing becomes more at ease, facial and scalp muscles let go a little—when I get to “There is no possible escape from here and now. None. This is it.” Acceptance just happens. Of course I, again, get caught up with what I want less of, or what I want more of. And still it—“a squirrel chattering on the roof”—always comes as a relief.

Going and Coming
Go to a funeral
as to a wedding:
marry the loss.
Go to a coming
as to a going:
          — Marie Ponsat, from “Easy Poems”

Cook, Francis Dojun (2002), “How to Raise an Ox: Zen Practice as Taught in Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo”, Wisdom Publications, Boston.

Ingram, Catherine (2003). “Passionate Presence: Experiencing the Seven Qualities of Awakened Awareness.” p127. Gotham Books, a division of Penguin Group, Inc.

Ponsat, Marie (2009). “Easy Poems.” Alfred A. Knopf.

Selver, Charlotte (2004). “Every Moment is a Moment.” Sensory Awareness Foundation.

Streisand, Barbra (2009), from a video interview, “Inside the Actors Studio, 2006.” Actors Studio, Inc.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Context is the matrix of meaning

Thread:       Context
context n. 1. The part of a written or spoken statement in which a word or passage at issue occurs; that which leads up to and follows and often specifies the meaning of a particular expression. 2. The circumstances in which a particular event occurs; a situation.  
         The American Heritage Dictionary, 1981, p. 288

Water: “Water is water.” Zen master Dogen might respond, “Not quite right….” To the fish, it is home. It is what drowns, or quenches thirst, or nourishes the garden. It is what cleans and washes; it spills, it wets, it floods; it creates drought by omission. It depends on the context.
            from S. Suzuki (2002), "Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen" p. 95

The relationship between context, the meaning we make, and how we respond is the foundation that supports my work as a therapist. For me, this is an ideaand is itself a context—that I find useful in making meaning of how we experience what we experience; how we respond/behave the way we do; and how we come to change ourselves (and how I might support change in another).

To be clear, here and throughout this blog: It is not my intention to present some truth about how we function, but rather to offer a way of thinking that broadens our sense of options for enlivening change.

Let’s define “context” so it is more relevant to thinking about the way we function—taken from Gregory Bateson (1972), “Steps to an Ecology of Mind.” This involves first defining an “event”: 
What is an event? From among all the various signal changes an organism’s senses bring to it, “events” are the patterns that the organism recognizes in those signals. 

What is context? Context consists of all the events that tell the organism from which set of response-alternatives he or she must choose.
 In other words, the meaning we make arises from within a context… and then we choose a response according to the meaning we make. My mentors, Paul Lounsbury and Nancy Winston, introduced me to this idea in 1997 when they told me
“Context is the matrix of meaning.”
Let me illustrate. The diagrammed example below portrays the verbal message “Take your clothes off” occurring in four different contexts.

The meaning we make of the message “Take off your clothes” is different in each of the four contexts. Within earshot of the stranger shouting in a mall, it’s weird and maybe a little scary; best to steer clear of that person (unless your job is mall security). With a lover, one might respond with enjoyable anticipation. As a lead in to a physical exam, another set of responses arise. So to with the child facing bath time (factoring in the particular child’s take on whether bath time is a Good Thing or a Bad Thing right now). Again, the context provides the ground on which we make meaning; and the meaning we make determines the possibilities for our responses.

Just like our breathing, our heartbeat, our blood flow, our thinking, our actions… we are the contexts out of which we make meaning and respond. We are the contexts out of which we selectively notice what we notice, while not noticing what we don’t. We are the context out of which we provide ourselves experience and through which we make meaning and understand our experience.

Consider: When our context changes, the meaning we make—and the actions we take—change. When the contexts out of which we habitually and unawarely make meaning and 
take actions change, then what has been habitual about us—and what had functioned without conscious awareness—changes.

When we change any part of the contexts out of which we live, we change who we are: how we experience, how we make meaning, and how we act.
How we can come to such change is one of the significant threads in this blog.

Bateson, Gregory (1987). Steps to an ecology of mind. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc.

Suzuki Shunryu (2002). Not always so: Practicing the true spirit of Zen, p. 95.  New York, NY: Harper Collins.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, New College Edition. (1981). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Friday, December 3, 2010

What is hypnosis?

Every few years, an entire issue of The American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis is dedicated to papers by academics and clinicians responding to the question “What is hypnosis?” and “What is hypnotherapy?” The views expressed are often conflicting… and all express some facet of the experience of hypnosis and hypnotherapy. Rather than picking one perspective, here are some views expressed by my clients and colleagues along with some of my own. The words "hypnosis" and "trance" are used interchangeably, below.

“It’s sort of like conversational biofeedback. It stimulates the unconscious to do what it can do.”
        — client explaining hypnosis to a friend
“Hypnosis is art and science masquerading as conversation.”
        — Jim Warrenke

“Using verbal means to evoke non-verbal processes.”
        — JT

“I could try and figure something out all day long but then if I just allow myself this kind of time and space (in a hypnotic trance), I get this deeper understanding that changes things.”
        — client, exploring being confident about his own thinking and emotional responses

To a curious 6 year old: “My job is to help people learn to use who they are in ways they like better.”
        — JT

“It's interesting to track the development of Milton Erickson’s thinking from the 30's on. It seems that he moved rather quickly in the early days from a 'trance as implantation of suggestion’ mode (authoritarian) to 'trance as evocation of subjective experience and potentialities’ mode. Unfortunately, I think the public's perception of hypnosis is very much stuck in the former.”
        — Andrew Roffman, faculty, NYU Med Center

“Hypnosis is the permissive facilitation of intensified concentration and imagination for the purpose of psychophysiological change.”
        — Laurence Sugarman, M.D., behavioral pediatrician

“Don’t kid yourself. This hypnosis stuff is a ritual. It’s a ritual that creates the expectancy of change. And from that comes change.”
        — Al Levitan, M.D., oncologist

“He was an Ericksonian hypnotherapist. They’re different. He told me stories that seemed to get inside me and mean something.”
        — client, describing her previous experience with hypnotherapy

“Hypnosis is the creating of a bounded space that contains what is relevant to the learning at hand.”
        — Paul Lounsbury & Nancy Winston

“Hypnosis is nothing more or less than the transmission of a message in a minimum noise environment.” 
        — William S. Kroger

 “Hypnosis is about coordinating your conscious and unconscious aspects, and coordinating your unconscious with the client’s unconscious and moving forward. It is not about control.” 
        — Nancy Winston

“What hypnotherapists typically call hypnotic phenomena—amnesia, arm levitation, catatonia, age regression, anesthesia and analgesic effects—are all natural abilities that arise when we need them. There is a broader way of working in which the therapist does not create states (hypnotic phenomena) but is curious about what states people have that are useful. In this way of working, the states that are most useful are not formal hypnotic phenomena, but rather states that people have that they don’t know they have. If you understand formal hypnosis, then you have a model with which to understand a therapy that engages not just standard hypnotic phenomena, but all the states people occupy.”
        — JT

About this blog

This blog is for students of enlivening change: therapists, teachers, coaches, nurses, physicians, chiropractors, seekers, meditators, yoga instructors… and all the rest of us, whom, for reasons that may extend beyond our ability to capture in words, are drawn to life-affirming change and clarity.

Part of my learning process has been to write: note taking, copying what others have said or written, and analyzing and synthesizing by writing. The blog entries which follow are all taken from my writings of the past 13 years, as I’ve learned to become a competent, effective hypnotherapist.

Over time I've been taught by several therapist/mentors to look at how people "work" and change in a way that is different from what most of us learned growing up. I don't know how to communicate all this to you in a nice set of orderly chunks. If you don't get something, skip it; as you read more entries I think your sense of what I'm pointing at will grow and come into focus in a way that that is natural to you.

Entries will vary. Some will be anecdotal or theoretical, dense or light; they might be quotes and sentences that I think evocative; and they will include stories inspired by my clients’ coming to change, as well as my own experiences. (Note: details and names will be altered to protect client anonymity.)

All are offered in support of people making enlivening change in their own lives and in support of those of us who, in turn, support others opening to more options in being alive and vital. And all are offered in gratitude to my clients, teachers, and mentors who taught me that our capacity for intelligent and life-affirming responsivity and change exceeds conscious imagining.

Comments are welcome.