Hypnosis and Meditation

September 20th, 2011

There is clearly some link between meditation and hypnosis, but this overlap is rarely discussed by those involved with either practice. Most hypnotherapists know little about the practice of meditation. Some are dismissive of meditation because they see it as essentially aimless – not directed at any specific goal nor aimed at the solution of any specific problem. But over the years I have come to realize that meditation and hypnosis are intimately related. To understand one is to understand the other.

Having said that, I have to confess that my own experience of meditation is somewhat limited. I took up meditation in my late teens / early 20s and I did so with a specific aim in mind – to improve my concentration.

I left school with no qualifications to speak of. After the collapse of my glorious plumbing career I realized that I would have to address this issue or go through life doing the sort of poor-quality work which doesn’t require any academic qualification. Not an enticing prospect! So I bought a couple of “O Level” correspondence courses. But I found that my main problem wasn’t the content of the courses themselves, but the fact that I just couldn’t settle down and concentrate on them. I would faff around, organizing my desk, sharpening pencils, moving stuff around, making cups of tea – doing anything, in fact, rather than actually getting down to work on my newly-purchased courses. Fortunately I had enough commonsense to realize that I had a problem and to start looking for a solution.

I became aware of how this concentration problem was affecting other areas of my life. I always enjoyed reading, but I found it very difficult to read in the evenings when my energy levels were lower. My mind would wander. I have been an opera-lover ever since I could remember but I found listening to the wretched things quite a strain – not because I didn’t like the music but because I had difficulty focussing. Again, my mind would wander.

I tried to mend some of the many errors of my youthful ways. I stopped smoking and cut right down on alcohol (at least for a time!). And I became interested in yoga. This was a passing phase. My body is just not built for the Bow or the Locust or most of the other yogic postures. Most of my information about yoga came from a little book by James Hewitt. In this book, Hewitt not only described some of the more common yogic postures, he also described some yogic meditation exercises. One technique interested me greatly.

This was a technique called “pratyahara”, or “sense-withdrawal”. You go somewhere quiet, where you will not be disturbed. You make yourself comfortable. You close your eyes and observed how the thoughts rush through your head like some random stream of consciousness. You observe your thoughts. Thus far, no problem. I could do that. So could anyone. But then came the catch. You reduce your thoughts. You slow them down. You lessen their number. Your mind becomes empty…. Well, I tried! And I was frankly shocked at how little control I had over the stream of thoughts running through my head. As to reducing, or stopping, the flow of thoughts – I simply couldn’t do it. But I was intrigued rather than discouraged.

Shortly after this, I was introduced to Transcendental Meditation (or TM as it is usually known) through a meeting in our local town hall. The people who ran this meeting were keen to play down the “mystical” or spiritual elements of TM. No mention of seven states of consciousness or “yogic flying”, just lots of bar and pie charts, references to “scientific” studies and an overwhelming emphasis upon the practical benefits of meditation. I was young and open-minded so I took the plunge.

Initially I was taken aback by the sheer simplicity of the technique. You do two 15-minute sessions a day. You get comfortable, close your eyes and mentally repeat a word, or “mantra”. And that’s it. No conscious attempt at mind or through control. No putting the mind to a blank. Just the simply repetition of a mantra. I kept this up for a year. The effects were positively startling.

My concentration started to improve almost from day one. My mind became calmer and clearer. After a few weeks I was able to study for hours on end with no feelings of fatigue or strain. And at this point in my life I was doing a lot of studying. I was learning ancient Greek and studying Nietzsche, Kant and Schopenhauer with a view to studying classics and philosophy at university level. I was able to concentrate with virtually no effort and to retain information without sweat or strain.

A period of shift-work put an end to the regular practice of TM. Then I went to university and was unable to get back into the swing of it. But the effects of that year of TM have lasted from that day to this.

So – the effects of meditation are highly beneficial. But there is one big problem. Meditation techniques, including TM, usually form part of some mystical, religious or spiritual system. The purpose of meditation is presented as some kind of path towards self-actualisation or a journey towards some permanently higher state of consciousness. And I have to say that this does not reflect my own experience. For me, the benefits of meditation were practical, not “spiritual”.

How does this compare with hypnosis? We can divide hypnosis into two kinds: self-hypnosis and hetero-hypnosis (i.e. hypnosis by another person). Both types of hypnosis involve the deliberate employment of direct or indirect suggestion whereas meditation (on the face of it at any rate) uses neither. But I firmly believe that the practical benefits of meditation (calmness of mind, clarity of thought, enhanced concentration etc) can be achieved, quickly and simply, by the use of hypnosis. By using hypnosis you can enjoy some if not all the benefits of meditation without having to buy into any underlying mystical theories or doctrines.

I know that practitioners of meditation insist that suggestion, whether direct or indirect, plays no part in their practice. But doubts remain. Surely suggestions are imparted by the underlying theories of meditation? If you undertake the practice of yogic pratyahara then you have probably formulated some kind of notion as to what the experience of self-actualisation, or samadhi, or whatever, is actually like? And I would argue that that preconception can function in pretty much the same way as direct or indirect hypnotic suggestion. Maybe meditation and hypnosis are far more closely interrelated than we realize? Maybe they are, ultimately, one and the same thing?

Another interesting question is this: can hypnosis be used to assist and further the practice of meditation? Meditation is essentially a means of progressing from one state to another. Maybe hypnosis can speed this process up, or make it easier? Maybe it can provide a short-cut to samadhi? Or would that be cheating? Clearly this is an area in which there is a lot more work to be done…

Hewitt, J., (1960) Yoga Hodder and Stoughton Ltd.

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