April 23rd, 2012
This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England…
(Richard II, Act 2 Scene 1, lines 40 – 50)
Before saying anything about the lines above I suppose I ought to begin by defending the application of the term “great” to a writer such as Shakespeare. It is no longer considered to be politically correct to say that writers such as Shakespeare are “great”. It is elitist. It will lay you open to the terrifying charge of “intellectual snobbery”.
This applies not only to English Literature in general, and Shakespeare in particular, but also to all other branches of the arts. I teach Classical Studies at the Open University. The courses I have taught over the years have contained some of the greatest works of art ever to have been produced by the human brain. But the course materials never once mention this. The present-day “official” attitude towards the art of the past is to regard it as an invaluable repository of information about earlier historical periods, not as something which has a certain special intrinsic value. An Open University Classics course will tell you a huge amount about, say, the plays of Sophocles. What it will not do is even discuss whether the plays in question have any purely artistic merit. Such matters are now regarded simply as matters of individual taste.
I do not and cannot accept this. But I do acknowledge that if we’re going to speak of “greatness” in art we need to be clear about what we actually mean. Here, then, is my criterion for greatness in art:
A work of art is “great” if, and only if, it is rich enough to allow the reader or listener or viewer to discover new things within it, or derive new experiences from it, every time they experience it. This doesn’t mean that a work of art must be lengthy or complex. The tiny songs of Hugo Wolf, the lyrics of Sappho, Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience – they all fall into the category of great art because, small though they are, they never cease to surprise us, or to offer us new experiences every time we read or hear them.
If my criterion of greatness holds, then every single Shakespeare play falls into that category. And not one episode of any soap opera does. An episode of a soap opera is designed to be seen once and once only. Even diehard soap fans find it difficult to see any episode, no matter how enjoyable first time round, more than twice. But you can see, hear or read King Lear, As You Like It, or Richard II as many times as you want – you will never exhaust them.
The lines quoted about are, or were, some of the best-known lines in Shakespeare. Schoolchildren used to learn them by heart – not an exercise I would necessarily encourage. The phrase “this sceptred isle”, like Blake’s phrase “dark Satanic mills”, has found its way into common usage. As usual, those who use the phrase have little idea of the context.
This is perhaps not entirely surprising. Richard II is a truly great play. It is (I think) the only one of the plays to be written entirely in verse. If you see a really good performance of this play, or if you spend some time with the text, you will not forget the experience in a hurry. But it has never been very popular. I believe that it has only been shown once on British television. A quick visit to Amazon shows me that there are only two versions of the play on DVD. One of them, fortunately, is the BBC Television Shakespeare version with Derek Jacobi in the title role. If you’re interested, you needn’t hesitate.
The lack of popularity arises from the fact that the motivations of some of the characters, especially the central character, are hard for modern audiences to understand, let alone empathize with. Why does Richard turn on Bollingbrook? Why does he abdicate when he doesn’t have to? This is a historical play. Shakespeare can take some liberties but he cannot entirely re-write history. The play doesn’t provide conclusive answers to these and other questions. What the play does is to bring the characters and episodes to life in a unique and wonderful way and leave the viewers or readers to judge them for themselves.
The lines quoted above are from a speech by John of Gaunt. They are spoken in praise of England. These lines might be judged as having some contemporary relevance in the Diamond Jubilee year of Richard’s distant descendant Queen Elizabeth II. Events such as Royal Jubilees or Royal Weddings often evoke a certain emotional patriotism which Gaunt’s lines seem to express so eloquently. But quotations from Gaunt’s famous speech, like mine above, fail to present the whole picture. Gaunt’s speech is not a paean of praise but a lament for an England which is passing. Note how the speech ends:
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation throughout the world,
Is now leased out – I die pronouncing it –
Like to a tenement or pelting farm.
England, bound in with the triumphant sea,
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound with shame,
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds.
That England that was wont to conquer others,
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
(Act 2, Scene 1, lines 57 – 66).
An England which is up for grabs, available to the highest bidder, an England in which money is all that really matters, a vain, selfish, self-serving leadership, influenced by corrupt counsel and acting in short-term self-interest, a leader who is so out-of-touch with reality that he might as well be physically blind…
Couldn’t happen these days, could it?
April 19th, 2012
i. A short stick or rod about seven or eight inches long – a pencil will do nicely.
ii. A thread – cotton, thin string, or something similar – about eight inches long.
iii. A small weight – a key, a ring, or some other small object which can easily be attached to the end of the thread.
Tie the thread to the end of the small stick or pencil. Attach the small weight to the other end of the thread. Now you have something which looks like some sort of miniature fishing rod. But it has a rather impressive name. What you’re holding now is Chevreul’s Pendulum.
Now – take a sheet of paper. Draw a bold, clear line on it, about six inches in length. Now you’re all set and ready to go!
1. Sit comfortably at a desk or a table with the sheet of paper in front of you. Make sure that your elbows are unsupported and not leaning on the table or on any chair arms. Hold the end of the stick or pencil – the opposite end to which the thread is attached – between your finger and thumb. Hold the pendulum so that the small weight is suspended about an inch above the line you have drawn on the paper. Gaze at the line. Concentrate on the line. Allow your attention to travel along the line, backwards and forwards. After a short while, without any voluntary effort on your part, the pendulum will start to move backwards and forwards along the length of the line.
2. While the pendulum is still swaying, rotate the paper a few degrees so that the line is at a different angle. Again, gaze at the line. Concentrate on the line. Allow your attention to travel along the line, backwards and forwards. After a short while, without any voluntary effort on your part, the pendulum will start to move backwards and forwards along the length of the line.
3. Draw a second line on the paper, at right angles to the first, to form a clear, bold cross on the paper. Suspend the weight over the centre point of the cross, where the two lines intersect. Concentrate on one line or the other. The pendulum will travel along whichever line you gaze and focus your attention on.
4. Draw a circle on the paper. Suspend the weight over roughly the centre of the circle. Gaze at the circle. Concentrate on the circle. Allow your concentration to travel along the circumference of the circle. The pendulum will soon start to move in a circular motion, clockwise or anticlockwise, depending on the direction of your attention.
Who devised this experiment, and what was it for? What does it prove?
The inventor of Chevreul’s Pendulum was the eminent French chemist Michel Eugène Chevreul. His birth and death dates are pretty impressive: 1786 – 1889. Chevreul’s research into the properties of fatty acids lead to developments in the production of soap. But the invention of the Pendulum had nothing to do with his main scientific researches and everything to do with his intense antipathy to spiritualism and what he regarded as psychic charlatanism.
Spiritualism – a craze for séance, necromancy and other means of communication with the dead – became wildly popular in the 19th century and spread like wildfire throughout Europe. Pendulums, such as the one described above, were sometimes used by spiritualists and necromancers to “communicate” with dead spirits by swaying towards certain letters on a table or by tapping out “messages” on upturned wineglasses.
All Chevreul did was to take the pendulum out of the spiritualist context and demonstrate that pendulum movement happens anyway, without any help from poor, deceased Uncle Bartholomew! Chevreul’s work also shows that those 19th century spiritualists and séance leaders were acting in perfectly good faith precisely because the pendulum movement is non-voluntary.
Let us be absolutely clear about this – the pendulum moves because we move it. There are no mysterious forces at play here. But the movement is non-voluntary and therefore the pendulum seems to be moving on its own accord.
What does it all mean? To put it quite simply: Chevreul’s Pendulum is a test of suggestibility.
Suggestibility is a powerful and profound concept. Further research is desperately required. Suggestibility is the very essence of hypnosis and hypnotherapy. People often think that hypnosis is all about trances, but “trance”, however we define it, is induced by suggestion. And it is induced by hypnotherapists for the purpose of imparting suggestions.
We are all suggestible – every single one of us. It is our innate suggestibility which leads us to prefer the sight of a bluebell-covered forest to an inner-city multi-storey car park. It is the reason why we can be driven wild with excitement or moved to tears by music rather than simply registering it as vibrations in the air perceived through the ears. Non-voluntary body movements happen constantly. We are usually completely unaware of the expressions on our faces and what that says about us and our states of mind. Knee-jerk and reflex actions are familiar to all of us. “Body language” is simply the interpretation of non-voluntary bodily movements and posture.
But Chevreul’s Pendulum doesn’t work for everyone. Why not?
Chevreul’s Pendulum works for most people, and most people know full well that there is no “force” moving the pendulum other than the force coming from their own bodies. By letting imagination have free rein and by forgetting the body the pendulum seems to move as if by magic. I think that the people for whom Chevreul’s Pendulum doesn’t work have a problem with the whole idea of non-voluntary movement. Non-voluntary movement occurs independently of the human will and therefore outside of its direct control. For some, such a lack of control is indicative of weakness and should therefore be resisted. The resistance may be unconscious, but it is there nevertheless.
Or maybe those for whom Chevreul’s Pendulum won’t move are worried in case an illusion should take the place of reality. The pendulum seems to be moving on its own accord. This cannot be the case, therefore it is an illusion, something unreal. To believe in something unreal cannot be good – can it?
Yet the experience itself is as real as 2 + 2 = 4. Suggestibility is not weakness or gullibility. It is the ability to look beyond the “real” towards the ideal. Suggestion is the key to surpassing one’s perceived limitations, drawing upon unperceived and unmeasured potentiality and turning the seemingly impossible into a new reality.
And the good news is that suggestibility is something which can be developed. So – if at first you don’t succeed…
The key is within your grasp.
April 19th, 2012
I wrote a bit about this in an earlier article. It is a piece of road which I’ve used all my life and which has been used by the people of Horsham for centuries. From now on, alas, we are barred. And I’m very sad about it.
But I suppose there are two sides to every coin. The Denne Park property owners insist that the purpose of the gates is to deter teenagers with stolen trolleys full of alcohol from throwing drunken parties and dangerous barbecues in the area. Well, I walk around Denne Hill frequently and I hardly ever see anyone. But that’s not to say that such a problem doesn’t exist. When I was young, teenagers from around the ages of 16 to 18 were widely tolerated in pubs, provided that they behaved themselves. And in my day most people of that age were working full time. If they work like adults why shouldn’t they play like adults?
Nowadays things are different. If 16 – 17 year olds want to socialize over a drink they have to resort to the park, or Denne Hill. That raises problems of litter, fire safety and danger to livestock. Also in the property owners’ favour is the fact that the Old Coach Road has never been officially marked as a footpath – probably because no one ever saw the need.
I would further acknowledge that some effort has been made to make the bottom of Denne Road as attractive as possible. Presumably this was done as the expense of the landowners rather than the Council – I certainly hope so! It is also fair to point out that there is plenty of alternative access to Denne Hill – there are two official footpaths in the immediate vicinity of Denne Park Lodge.
And yet, when all’s said and done, a feeling of sadness remains. The contested gates will hardly be effective in deterring determined teenage drinkers precisely because there is so much alternative access. The only way to keep them out altogether would completely to ring-fence the area, and that would place the landlords on some very thin ice from a legal point of view. The landowners have gained their petty little victory and the real losers are those of us who used to walk along the route for pleasure.
Norman Raby was absolutely right to attempt to regain public access to the Old Coach Road, which residents of Horsham had always enjoyed. I supported his campaign. The failure of the campaign is bad news. The good news is that there are still so many footpaths around Horsham, Crawley and the rest of West Sussex which walkers can use in safety and without fear of harassment.
But these footpaths need to be used. As I wend my weekend way through the network of footpaths through West Sussex I may occasionally see the odd dog walker or cyclist. Apart from that, I have these wonderful routes all to myself. But I wish more people would use them, not only because I want to share the pleasure but also because the more they are used the more established they become. And the harder it then becomes for landowners to claim them as their own.
West Sussex footpaths are routes into some of the most beautiful parts of the entire planet! Use them. Enjoy!
April 18th, 2012
When the book was written, the author was a practicing hypnotherapist based in the West End of London. It offers basic instruction in hypnotic induction and trance deepening and also offers ideas and suggestions regarding the therapeutic applications of hypnosis. The book is rather like a highly condensed course in hypnotherapy – or, maybe, a condensed outline of a course. The book gives no instruction as to the treatment of specific issues, but neither do many “official” training courses in hypnotherapy. A huge amount of ground is covered in a mere 95 pages. Inevitably a huge amount is excluded.
This was the first book on hypnosis I had ever read. I was in my late teens when I came across this book, and its equally slim companion volume on self-hypnosis, quite by chance, while browsing through second-hand bookshops in Charing Cross Road. At the time, I had no thoughts whatsoever of becoming a hypnotherapist. The books were cheap and they excited my curiosity so I bought the pair of them.
Hypnosis is surely an interesting phenomenon, whatever one’s views of the subject may be. At that time, my interest in hypnosis had been aroused by a novel I had read. As a teenager I used to enjoy the novels of Dennis Wheatley (a taste which I quickly outgrew, I hasten to add). In one of these novels – I think it was The Haunting of Toby Jugg – the disabled hero was being held captive by a Satanist and he managed to escape by teaching himself hypnosis out of a book, hypnotizing a servant, and getting the servant to push him and his wheelchair to safety. I never regarded the occult elements in Wheatley’s fiction as being anything other than amusing “Hammer Horror” style entertainment. But the hypnosis element intrigued me. Was it really possible to use such techniques to gain such a level of control over another human being? Maybe Ousby’s book would contain the answer?
Ousby’s self-hypnosis book did prove to be of some practical value. I may write about that book later so I’ll leave the details for now. But I found The Theory and Practice of Hypnotism simply bewildering. It was too simple, too straightforward, maybe even too banal. There simply had to be more to it than that!
Well – there is more to the theory and practice of hypnotism than is contained in Ousby’s tiny book. But before discussing it further, I will give an overview of the book and its contents.
The book was devised as a practical course of instruction and was originally circulated privately – presumably issued to therapists and health-care professionals of one sort or another. It is not a book about hypnosis. The book says virtually nothing about how hypnosis actually works. It is essentially an instruction manual. Do what it says on the tin and you will become a competent hypnotist. Whether such an aim is actually achievable will be discussed later.
The first chapter of the book outlines some of the practical and therapeutic uses of hypnotism. Hypnosis can help with habit problems, confidence issues, pain control, and the usual issues which a practicing hypnotherapist will deal with. But Ousby also touches on some wider applications. Hypnosis can enhance performance and therefore can be of use in the professional sphere. Hypnosis can also be used in a domestic context, helping children with school or study issues, and so on. I fully agree with this. Hypnosis has so many uses. Possible applications in schools, universities, workplaces etc are almost limitless. Mention is also briefly made of the potential of hypnosis as a research tool.
Chapters two and three get down to the practicalities. These chapters are devoted to suggestibility tests – the swinging pendulum test which one can perform oneself, and tests such as “posture sway” test in which the body of a standing subject will be made to sway involuntarily by means of verbal suggestion alone. The purpose of these tests is two-fold: to give the fledgling hypnotist practice and experience in the offering of suggestions and to help to “condition” the subject to respond positively to suggestions offered by the hypnotist.
Chapter four deals with the preparation of the subject for hypnosis. The subject will probably have preconceptions or misconceptions about the whole process. A few works of advice are offered about the environment in which hypnotism is to take place. Even fewer words are offered about contra-indicators to hypnosis. Ousby’s advice is not to hypnotize people who are epileptic or hysterical.
Chapters five to seven outline – very briefly – some basic induction methods. Chapter five deals with eye-closure methods, chapter six discusses other methods such as arm levitation and limb catalepsy. Chapter seven touches on methods which no professional would ever use, such as “instant somnambulism” through physical disorientation, induction of trance-like states through drugs or pressure on nerves or veins.
Chapters eight and nine deal with trance deepeners. Ousby suggests that trance depth can be both “assessed” and enhanced by direct challenges – suggesting to the subject that they cannot open their eyes or that they cannot lower their arm. Chapter nine offers a script for a purely verbal deepener.
Chapter ten offers some very brief comments about demonstration and stage hypnosis. Chapter eleven contains instructions for formal trance termination and chapter twelve deals with the question of post-hypnotic suggestion, concentrating mainly on the sorts of suggestions to avoid.
Chapters thirteen and fourteen offer some comments on the subject of self-hypnosis. There is little here that is of practical value to the student and this subject is dealt with in greater depth by the author in the companion volume to this book.
The book ends with a brief chapter which returns to the issues of the therapeutic applications of hypnosis.
So – will this book turn you into a competent hypnotist? In theory, yes – in practice, highly unlikely. The suggestibility tests and most of the induction methods in this book are only suitable for people who have a fairly high level of suggestibility and who are able to respond positively to non-hypnotic suggestions. OK – suppose you, the fledgling hypnotist, manage to find such a person. You then have the problem of what you say to your subject and how you say it. The book contains very little by way of script to give you a helping hand. People learning hypnosis get tongue-tied, they forget what to say, their mind goes blank. Or they get the tone and the pace all wrong. They may speak too fast – a very common problem for student hypnotists. They may speak too softly, and the subject may not hear them. Or they may speak too loudly and come across as bossy and controlling. Nerves, uncertainty and lack of confidence come across very strongly in the voice of someone learning to hypnotize. I know – I’ve been there!
This is the main stumbling block. Hypnosis is all about practice and experience. An experienced hypnotist or hypnotherapist can use just about any induction method because they know what to say and how and when to say it. It is more like an art than a science or a technique. Different approaches are required for different subjects, and one really only finds this out by trial and error.
The techniques contained in this book also contain many dangers for the inexperienced hypnotist. With posture-sway or somnambulism the subject might lose balance or become disorientated. Nothing is said about abreaction. The advice on contra-indicators is woefully inadequate.
A book for the dustbin, then? Not at all. Although the whole approach as outlined in this book seems, to the modern practitioner, very outmoded and authoritarian, yet often many a baby is thrown out with the bathwater. Suggestibility tests are little used these days but re-reading this book makes me wonder whether this whole aspect of hypnotic induction requires a serious re-think. After all, suggestibility is the very essence of hypnosis. The suggestibility tests included in this book are rather crude and blunt, but surely more powerful and refined ones could be devised?
An experienced practitioner will find many stimulating ideas in this book. It was written with good intent and in the certainty that hypnosis is potentially a powerful force for good in the world. Shorter inductions, suggestibility tests, greater use of the post-hypnotic cue and self-hypnosis are all versatile tools – easy, practical and, for the most part, quite safe to use.
This is an interesting and (potentially) useful book for those with enough experience to derive use from it and to avoid so many unmentioned pitfalls. A do-it-yourself comprehensive course in hypnotherapy it is most emphatically not!
Ousby, W. J. (1977) The Theory and Practice of Hypnotism, Thorsons Publishers.
April 11th, 2012
It’s funny, isn’t it, how sometimes a line of poetry will penetrate the national consciousness. People will know a line of poetry but will very often have little or no idea as to what it means or implies.
Here’s one such famous line: O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? Most people know who wrote that line and where it comes from. Most people also think that the character who speaks that line is asking where Romeo is. But what Juliet is really asking is not where Romeo is but why he is who he is. She is saying: why does the stranger I have fallen in love with have to be Romeo Montague, a scion of the enemy household?
The line April is the cruellest month is perhaps slightly less well known. Its source and author are not common knowledge, but every year it pops up like a bad penny. This year, according to various media commentators, April is the cruellest month because of the drought, or the economic climate, or the fact that the weather over Easter 2012 was so bad while the weather leading up to Easter was so good. Five minutes on Google is enough to inform me that this year April is the cruellest month for certain couples who are no longer eligible for tax credit, for the people of Mumbai because of rising food prices and for the users of Windows Vista because they will cease to receive security updates from Microsoft as from April 2012! But why does this line stick in peoples’ minds and why do they reach for it every year with depressing regularity? And is April really the cruellest month and, if so, why?
The line in question is the opening line of T S Eliot’s long poem The Waste Land. Let’s take a look at it in context:
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
April is the cruellest month because it brings things back to life, it destroys the safe and protecting oblivion of winter. In The Waste Land this is seen as something dangerous and undesirable. But in The Waste Land, Eliot creates a dark and chaotic universe in which values are turned on their heads and nothing is as it seems. The opening of this poem presents stark contrasts and contradictions. Until Eliot wrote The Waste Land, April was not generally regarded as cruel. The idea of April as being “cruel” is intended to shock. Likewise, winter is usually regarded as a cold season rather than a source of warmth, and “dead land” does not usually bring forth lilacs. To a modern reader, this opening might invoke ominous forebodings of climate change and global warming. But the point is that the opening of The Waste Land is a gateway into a frightening and abnormal universe. It goes without saying that the first line of this poem was never intended to serve as a banal cultural cliché.
But outside of the context of The Waste Land, is there a sense in which April is indeed a cruel month? April is certainly different from the months which precede it. As I wend my way through the maze of West Sussex footpaths the air is suddenly rich with perfume from bluebells and wild garlic. The tiny crocuses and pale daffodils have had their season and the rhododendrons are showing forth their stronger colours. Change is in the air. And, yes, there is a sense in which Eliot is quite right. There is something comforting about the grey quietness of January and February which is torn away by April. It is time to stop hiding and start living again.
As a hypnotherapist I often think about the appropriate time for change. I will often tell my clients that maybe just before Christmas is not the best time to try to quit smoking or that just before a major family celebration is perhaps not the best time to begin a strict diet. The traditional time for change and the formulation of resolutions is New Year. But maybe April is a better time, because it is a time of transition between winter and summer, a time of awakening and renewal, a time of colour, energy and optimism.
April is not the cruellest month. April is April. It is whatever you want it to be.