Music can put you in hypnosis, at least in my experience. When I listen to certain pieces I experience all the phenomena of light hypnotic trance, such as inner absorption, lower awareness of my surroundings and unawareness of the passage of time.

Of course, this only happens when I listen properly. If I happen to hear one of the pieces in question when I’m busy doing other things then I don’t suddenly go into hypnosis, anymore than I would if I happened to hear someone reading a hypnotic induction script out loud. One must be in the mood!

Does this have any therapeutic value? Can one use music as a session of hypnotherapy? Yes and no. Yes, because if music (or some pieces of music) induces hypnosis then all you need to do is to administer (or self-administer) positive therapeutic suggestions and you have a session of hypnotherapy. No, because music tends to carry its own associations with it. This can be due to the “meaning” of the piece of music itself or due to personal associations. The piece might bring back memories or remind you of things which have nothing to do with therapeutic suggestions. And if you start listening to a piece of music and drift off into hypnosis and then start giving yourself suggestions the chances are that the spell of the music will quickly be broken and you will quickly return to full waking consciousness.

I’m sure that it must be possible to harness the hypnotic power of music to good therapeutic ends. But I haven’t figured out the best way to do it yet! In the meantime, here is a piece which never fails to put me in hypnosis. It is by George Gershwin, of all people.

Although I have loved all sorts of music throughout my life, the popular music of the early 20th century was always a bit of a blind spot. However, when I was at university I fell in love with Gershwin’s music. It happened by accident. I listened to the second movement of the Piano Concerto, and that was that – I was hooked! When I was a student, Gershwin wasn’t very hip and trendy but I didn’t care. Gershwin was held in high regard by people such as Ravel and Stravinsky. If he’s good enough for them, he’s good enough for me!

The hypnotic piece by Gershwin is his Lullaby, written in 1919. Unbelievably, this work (in its original form) was written as an academic exercise. It doesn’t sound like it! Try it and see for yourself…

The name of Jihadi John, aka Mohammed Emwazi, has been added to the roll-call of national hate-figures. There he stands, alongside Myra Hindley, Ian Brady, Ian Huntley, Harold Shipman, Jimmy Saville, and one or two others, condemned quite rightly for acts of subhuman barbarism.

What turns a person into a monster? This is one of the great unanswered questions about human nature. But answers to this question inevitably fall into two categories, the first stating that such people are born bad and are innately bad, the second that they are driven to the bad by external forces, powers and influences.

Mohammed Emwazi doesn’t appear to fall into the first category. Reports suggest that while he may have been a quiet and somewhat withdrawn young man he showed no early signs of sadistic or sociopathic behaviour. But if he was drawn towards evil, did hypnosis somehow play a part?

If we’re talking about formal hypnosis then I would suggest that the answer is a resounding NO, tempting though it may be to imagine Emwazi transfixed by the mad, fanatical gaze of a hate preacher. You cannot hypnotize someone to do something which they do not wish to do. If hypnosis was involved then it would have been at a more mundane level, the sort of hypnoidal state we are in and out of all of the time, rendering us more susceptible to suggestion than we would be if our full cognitive / analytical faculties were fully engaged.

Aristotle once said that everything we do is directed towards some good. If Emwazi was not a depraved monster from birth, and I’m prepared to believe that he wasn’t, then the “good” at which his actions were aiming at would have been a vision of an alternative way of life. In Emwazi’s case, and in the case of many like him, this positive suggestion gets reinforced to a level at which it overrides normal, commonsense, human morality. If the path to Utopia requires a few beheadings then so be it.

However abhorrent we find their ideology, however sickened we are by their brutality and callousness, we can, perhaps, understand why Emwazi and his ilk seek a wholly different way of living. Read the rest of this entry »

Hypnosis – and Karate!

March 3rd, 2015

british wadokaiKarate and hypnosis – they have more in common than you might think.

One thing they have in common is that they are widely misunderstood. Hypnosis is all about swinging watches, heavy eyelids, mystery, magic, and the sorts of stage antics favoured by celebrity performers who may remain nameless. Karate is all about chopping through bricks with only your bare hand, spectacular flying kicks, and superhuman physical powers.

The reality, of course, is rather different. Hypnosis is a natural state which we pop in and out of all the time. There is no magic and no mystery in the state itself. The power lies in the results it can achieve. And karate is not about breaking things and beating people up. It is a slow and careful process of learning various techniques and gradually improving flexibility, speed and stamina.

Some people who take up karate experience some initial disappointment at the calm, regular, controlled and, sometimes, repetitive nature of karate training. They expect thrills and spills, danger and damage. But what they get instead is attention to stance and posture, and the practice of techniques which seem simple – until you actually try to do them.

My first karate instructor, Sensei Bill Bishop always used to say that, in karate, the most important part of the body is the brain. This might seem a rather strange thing to say. After all, karate is all about kicking, punching and blocking. It isn’t an intellectual pursuit like chess or playing the piano! Surely all you need for karate are strong muscles, fitness and stamina? But to excel in karate a strong, healthy body is not enough. Strength, stamina and suppleness are developed with regular training. But to progress successfully through the many grades of achievement, something else is required. That something else is a state of mind which is open and calm, receptive but controlled.

Sometimes a karate training session will begin with a short session of mokuso. This is actually a form of meditation which consists of freeing the mind from intrusive thoughts and sensations and simply focussing calmly upon the present moment. In my experience this is very similar to light hypnotic trance states but the difference is that hypnotic states tend to be induced for the purpose of imparting suggestions to the unconscious mind. In karate, the purpose of mokuso is simply to prepare the mind for training.

Although I’m no longer young I still train once or twice a week. Training sessions last two hours. When I’m training I enter a state of mind which is unlike that which I experience for the rest of the week. I’m not just preoccupied with mental or intellectual activity, as I am when I’m marking essays or writing. Nor am I focussed mainly on my body, as I am when I’m jogging, riding my bike, cooking or eating. Attention is divided between mind and body and, without any conscious effort, I can simply put all other thoughts to one side and focus upon, and enjoy, the experience of training. I am convinced that it makes me healthier in both mind and body.

Another attractive feature of karate as a sport is that it is incredibly cheap! Yes, you have to buy the suit, or “gi”, and you have to apply for a license, which costs around £30 per year. But the cost of training in both of the clubs I attend is a mere £5 for two hours. For this trifling fee you can get tuition from people who are experts in the field. The chief instructor of my Horsham club is sensei Gordon Hoare, 6th Dan. Without the encouragement and support of sensei Gordon I would probably have given up karate years ago. I certainly would never have proceeded so far through the grades. This is the link to the club website:

The most senior instructor in the country is sensei Gary Swift, 8th Dan. Here he is, teaching some pairwork to a class of karate students. Opposite him is sensei Robbie Baldock, 2nd Dan:

The above video clip is very typical of karate training: calm, controlled and orderly. If that sort of training atmosphere appeals to you, or if you’re looking for a sport that is good for both mind and body, then why not give Wado Ryu Karate a go?

I turned the television on at around 6 o clock this morning. The first thing I saw was a video clip of Madonna falling over at the Brit awards. The TV has been on for two hours now. I have been busy doing other things but I have now seen that clip no fewer than nine times. This is on national television so this incident is obviously of national importance – isn’t it?

I began to study hypnosis seriously in 1995 (shortly after Madonna released Bedtime Stories) and I quickly realized that during every day of our lives we enter hypnosis-like states. The name usually given to these states is “hypnoidal”. In the broadest sense, a state of hypnosis is a state in which our normal critical or analytic faculties are bypassed. We become more open to suggestion. But the problem is that we don’t realize when or how this is happening.

The repeated showing of the Madonna clip reminded me of this. A pop singer falls over, and this event is deemed not only newsworthy but so important that the incident has to be shown over and over again. It has made the front page of at least one national newspaper. And we accept this without question. It doesn’t even seem absurd to us. Yes, this occurred at a major public event, the Brit Awards, and therefore was unlikely to pass unnoticed. But the singer was totally unharmed and simply carried on as normal. She no doubt suffered some embarrassment but, as I gather, this particular performer has a notoriously thick skin. She probably welcomed the mass publicity.

What suggestion is likely to bypass our critical faculties and lodge itself in our unconscious minds? The suggestion that Madonna is a figure of supreme importance and that everything which happens to her matters to all of us.

Is that really the case?

Madonna is a versatile dancer and singer of pop repertory. There is much to admire in her. You don’t get to be the biggest selling female artist of all time without having some drive and ambition. Her early work presented a very different kind of female performer to the world, not a docile singer of love ballads but a feisty, kick-ass “material girl” who was not afraid to look anyone slap-bang in the eye. I can’t comment on her work as a dancer because I don’t know anything about dance. But Madonna is a little older than me and is considerably more supple, so I am quite happy to give her the benefit of the doubt on this one and assume that her work in contemporary popular dance is first rate.

As a singer, her recorded voice has the advantage of every kind of electronic enhancement known to mankind. Her voice is light and thin, with a pinched, nasal quality which young, female karaoke performers are able to imitate with ease. The range of the voice is clearly very restricted.

But – and here is the real problem – how are we to assess her value as a songwriter, and therefore as a creative artist? I’m not talking about the actual quality of the songs themselves. They are not to my taste but they clearly give great pleasure to millions of consumers so I will leave it to others to evaluate them. What is certain is that Madonna’s songs are not solely written by her. In an interview in Song Talk (Summer 1989, vol 2 no. 11), Madonna actually admits that both melodic lines and harmonic chord structures are provided by one Pat Leonard. It is, I gather, common practice for popular artists to claim writing credits from otherwise unknown songwriters. This is seen as two-way beneficial. The pop star gets his or her hit song and the unknown songwriter gets his or her work performed and, hopefully, earns a lot of money out of it. But this does put a very large question mark over Madonna’s role as a creative artist. A creator of what, exactly?

With the exception of Evita, Madonna’s forays into film have been panned by the critics. Her various book publications likewise. And, whoever she may get to write her songs, it surely cannot be doubted that Madonna’s best work is way behind her. As you will have gathered, I am not a Madonna fan, but I’m prepared to accept that there may be many aspects of her work which I do not perceive. Nevertheless, for me, Madonna is hardly a creative artist at all. She is an executive artist – a performer. A staggering successful one, may be, but still just a performer.

A great creative artist may perhaps deserve adulation. But a performer is just a performer, a medium for the creative genius of someone else. If a performer happens to trip over, it is not an event of major importance.

Madonna is for kids. It is time we grew up. Or woke up.


Christmas is hard work.

I’ve always been a great fan of New Year and January – not least because it marks the end of the so-called Festive Season. Everything goes back to normal. You suddenly stop eating too much, drinking too much and spending too much. Everything slows down and goes quiet. Calm returns.

Christmas: why do we do it? No doubt, we would all give somewhat different reasons. We do it for “the kids” or for “the parents” or for “the family”. We do it because it is “fun”. We do it because we used to enjoy Christmas as children and therefore we owe our participation in it to society as a whole. We do it because to withdraw from it would be unthinkable. It would be curmudgeonly. We would turn into Ebenezer Scrooge – Bah Humbug etc.

But do we actually enjoy Christmas? I wonder…

Take consumption, for example. If you eat and drink more than you usually do over a given period then the chances are that you’ll feel less well than you normally do. I’m not talking about getting drunk every night, or stuffing yourself to the limit. But a bit more alcohol, especially if taken every day, and a bit more food will take its toll, especially as we get older. Blood pressure goes up. Heart rate increases, especially at night, when the alcohol starts to wear off. Indigestion is more frequent, as are feelings of bloatedness and mild nausea. Our mood becomes lower. We feel lethargic and lacking in energy. That is, until the chimes start to ring in the New Year, and then things get back to normal.

Or take spending. Is it really money well spent? Those of us who can negotiate Christmas without significantly increased personal borrowing are lucky. Thousands, if not millions, of people turn to high interest personal loans of one sort or another just to get through the Festive Season. They suffer the consequences for months to come. Who benefits? Mainly on-line retailers – and lenders.

Or take socializing. Parties may be fine when you are young and can let your hair down, and recover from hangovers more quickly. But when you get a little older, all that parties, social gatherings and the like actually achieve is to present you with one of the great truths about humans as social beings. I may be friends with Person A, Person B, Person C and Person D. I may really like these people. Does it follow that Persons A, B, C and D will therefore like each other? No, it does not. And this is why you find yourself, at parties, trying to make small-talk with people you neither know nor particularly want to get to know. But, hey, it’s Christmas! The season of Good Will towards All Men.

I honestly believe that almost all of us would either prefer to do Christmas very differently or opt out of it altogether. And that raises a troubling question: how is it that all of us, who have freedom of will and freedom of choice, are somehow persuaded and coerced into doing something which we would really prefer not to do? And why does this happen year on year?

Something similar has happened with Halloween. This non-festival has now taken over October. It has one redeeming feature: it keeps Christmas at bay until the start of November.

The run-up to Christmas seemed to be pretty low-key when I was a kid, growing up in the ‘60s. Then we started to get reminders of how many shopping days were left until Christmas. Now, this trend has reached a truly absurd, almost obscene, level. Suddenly, we have something called “Black Friday”, in which otherwise normal and sane people suddenly start behaving like starving scavengers of the rampage, storming through shops in search of “bargains”. And there are other such delightful seasonal highlights, such as “Panic Saturday”. What next? “Utter Despair Monday”? “Reach For The Cyanide Tuesday”?

Then, suddenly, it is December 25th – and it all stops. Christmas is supposed to be a twelve-day festival. But do you ever hear Christmas carols after Boxing Day – or even after Christmas day? No. Because the whole point of Christmas is the run-up. Do your spending, get Christmas day over with, and then get things back to normal as soon as possible.

So – how is it that we’re seemingly coerced into doing something every year which, if we think about it dispassionately, we would sooner not do. And why is it so difficult, if not impossible, simply to opt out?

The one-word answer is: advertising. From November onwards, nearly every advertised product is presented as somehow “Christmassy” or “Festive” or essential to this, the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Christmas itself, a non-product, is thus advertised cumulatively, on the back of so many diverse products, such as food, drink, luxury items, toys, sports and fitness items, I T hardware and software, cosmetics, medicines, and so on. Advertising is used to sell individual products successfully. If advertising didn’t amount to more profits for business then there wouldn’t be any. So – what works for one item must therefore exert an almost irresistible force when joined to so many items for so long a period. No wonder that Christmas has got us enslaved.

Advertising and hypnosis are linked. An advert doesn’t operate at the level of fully conscious rational analysis. It doesn’t present us with evidence which we can rationally evaluate. It works by suggestion, just like hypnosis. True, there is no formal hypnotic induction involved. But there is none needed. We do not attend to adverts. They impinge upon us. They slip under the barrier of fully rational consciousness. How else did the supermarket chain Sainsbury’s manage to avoid an appalled backlash when it released an advert which attempted to relate its commercial activity and products with the famous football match played between the Allied and German combatants during the Xmas truce of the 1st World War? Such appalling, barrel-scraping cynicism passed almost without comment because the receivers of that advert simply accepted three “nice” things (Sainsbury’s products, Christmas, and the 1914 truce) presented together and didn’t question it any further. Well – you don’t actually think about adverts, do you?

It goes beyond formal advertising on television, in magazines, or other such media. From late November onwards, my local supermarket (Sainsbury’s, as it happens) insists upon broadcasting the most irritating Christmas muzak over the PA system in store. I’m sure I’m not the only shopper who loathes and detests this, but I’m equally sure that most shoppers are hardly even aware of it at a conscious level. But music, when associated with a specific time of year, or some other external association, is almost irresistibly suggestive. Just try listening to a few bars of Hark the Herald Angels Sing in late spring and you’ll see what I mean. In my case, the infuriating piped muzak has the opposite effect. I recognize, resent and resist such a crude attempt to manipulate my behaviour. It makes be avoid buying Christmas products.

This is an example of what I mean when I talk about the influence of hypnosis in everyday life. In the case of Christmas it has turned us into helpless herd animals. Is there really no other way in which Christmas could be celebrated? Is this hideous and animal-like overspending and over-consuming absolutely unavoidable? Surely not. But how do we escape from the pernicious spell which is cast over us year after year? With difficulty. Maybe it really is impossible. And yet, I cling to the hope that the more conscious we are about what we are doing, the less easy it is to manipulate us by advertising or some other means. We need to count to six and wake up!

Only 345 more shopping days until Christmas 2015! Start panicking now!

Thank God it’s January…

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