I know I said I wouldn’t be writing, but couldn’t help myself. I gave my blog a face lift “present” and decided to write to all of you.
We are all walking around in a trance, induced by our culture, our upbringing, the media, and those of importance surrounding us.
I’ve been curious about why I’ve been so angry at the news reports, of late, telling us that we’ve been suffering ‘great economic trouble’ for the last year or more. I thought it had to do with my outrage at the lies the mainstream media’s been telling us, but I’ve come to think of it as something different. Something much more profound. Something that can keep us all a bit saner as we watch this cultural transformation slide into nasty places.
I was angry about these current articles, because, despite my intellectual conviction about the state of our economy, and where it was headed, I was still impacted by the “consensus trance.” Emotionally, I could not entirely embrace my convictions, because it would have set me too far at a distance from those around me. These events, outlined by the “heretics” years ago, were labeled as “absurd,” “paranoid” or “crazy thinking.” Now, they are accepted as givens, an “obvious” conclusion to a “clearly destructive” set of events that “anyone could see coming.”
Charley Tart called it the “consensus trance,” and you can read a concise article about it here.
To him, the idea of “normal consciousness” is the kind of convenient fiction illustrated by the famous folktale of “the emperor’s new clothes.” Together, human groups agree on which of their perceptions should be admitted to awareness (hence, consensus), then they train each other to see the world in that way and only in that way (hence trance).
As a young clinician, I was drawn to hynotherapy and to studying the works of the all-time master of the art, Milton Erickson. According to Tart’s work, himself a psychologist:
“Then I began to talk to the subject. Researchers give the style of talking the special name of ‘hypnotic induction procedure,’ but basically it was just talking. The subject was given no drugs, was not in a special environment, had nothing external done to his brain — and yet in twenty minutes I could drastically change the universe he lived in. With a few words, the subject could not lift his arm. With a few more he heard voices talking when no one was there. A few more words and he could open his eyes and see something that no one else could see, or, with the right suggestion, a real object in plain sight in the room would be invisible to him.”
One of Dr. Erickson’s experiments was to hypnotize some subjects, while asking others to “pretend” to be hypnotized. He then set up a walkway, where a chair was placed, and asked both to “see no obstacles in their path.” Those who were actually hypnotized, simply walked around the chair, and later, when questioned, denied that they had avoided anything, insisting instead that they had walked straight ahead. Those “pretending,” “tripped” over the chair.
Erickson later experimented by having subjects do things to themselves which were against their own self-interest, and then having them forget the experience. What he learned was that, although these subjects could not articulate the reason, they all appeared to avoid the “opportunity” to be hypnotized once again by Erickson. From this, Erickson concluded that while hypnosis can have a temporary negative effect, ultimately, people avoid repeating these unpleasant experiences, if they can avoid them.
I recognized, as I read about the consensus trance, that my anger actually arose from my own susceptibility to this powerful cultural force. While hypnotherapists are limited in time and ethical considerations, cultural conditioning occurs 24/7. Parents, then later teachers, preachers, peers and media programs all reinforce a steady stream of induction, that can allow reasonable people to believe unreasonable things. These beliefs are shaped by powerful political forces, and benefit people with real names and addresses, while creating hardship for a much larger segment of the world’s population. Rather than trust our own internal compass, we are “hypnotized” into believing whatever is being fed to us. The fear of social ostracism is so great, we become alienated from ourselves to keep our sense of “belonging.” Yet, throughout it all, (just as with Erickson’s self-inflicting subjects) the pervasive levels of stress, depression, anxiety, worry, insomnia, or free-floating rage, remind us that something’s wrong.
We become conditioned to accept some elements of life as “real” and some as “illusion.” Our mental models of the world, the structural cognitive scaffolding, if you will, allow, like a round hole, to allow some elements of experience to penetrate, while keeping other ones out. The effects, for most of us, is an automatized daze. It causes some in the Peak Oil community to refer to others as “sheeple.”
“It is a fundamental mistake of man’s to think that he is alive, when he has merely fallen asleep in life’s waiting room.” Indries Shah
A whole host of what psychologists call “defense mechanisms” help maintain this trance, by warding off alternative views. And, as quickly as these ideas were once rejected, this alternative view becomes the accepted reality, as if it was “forever thus.”
Notions of forever expanding economic growth, or the impossibility of planetary destruction are now considered “crazy thinking,” and the push toward consensus trance is so strong, that even respected scientists will lay out the terrifying facts, but end their articles with “the happy chapter,” which they, themselves, will admit, in person, is phantasmagorical. So great is the demand for magical thinking among us, that we, like great cultures that have gone before us, will destroy the very elements of our survival, while framing the behavior as “sane” and “desirable.”
How can anybody distinguish, then, between dream, hypnotic trance, and reality? Dehypnotization, the procedure of breaking out of the normal human state of awareness, according to both mystics and hypnotists, is a matter of direct mental experience. The method can be learned, and that’s the nutshell description of the esoteric wisdom of the ages.
“The answer, Tart has concluded, could come in the form of “mindfulness training ” — a variety of exercises for elevating awareness by deliberately paying closer-than-usual attention to the mundane details of everyday life. Gurdjieff called it “self-remembering,” and many flavors of psychotherapist, East and West, use it. Mindfulness is a skill that can be honed by the right approach to what is happening right in front of you: “Be here now” as internal gymnastics. Working, eating, waiting for a traffic light to change can furnish opportunities for mindfulness. Observe what you are feeling, thinking, perceiving, don’t get hung up on judging it, just pay attention. Tart thinks this kind of self-observation — noticing the automatization — is the first step toward waking up.”
I was speaking of this exact phenomenon to a friend a few days ago. Ordinary life is composed of a set of behaviors that we repeat each day, over and over. We awake from a sleep state, and we have awareness of ourselves. We leave the bed in a certain way, put our feet into slippers, walk to the bathroom to carry out our ablutions, enter our kitchens to eat the first meal of the day. These tasks of daily living appear as a “given” and are seldom paid attention to as they deserve. For some of us, each action provides enormous pleasure, while for others, they are painful and bothersome. What’s curious is that, beyond a certain level of survival needs, the physical details of how we carry out these tasks appear irrelevant to the satisfaction they deliver. In fact, too much “stuff” brings a complexity to one’s life that often detracts from true satisfaction. What appears to be more essential is the consciousness we bring to these tasks.
Does Tart believe there is a way out of this unconsciousness?
- “Yes, I do,” he replied. “We are indoctrinated to believe that intellect is what makes humans great, and emotions are primitive leftovers from our jungle ancestors that interfere with our marvelous logical minds. It is possible to train people to base decisions on the appropriate mixture of emotional, intellectual and body-instinctive intelligence. Compassion and empathy are emotions, and I agree with the Buddhists that these emotions are highly evolved, not primitive. With enough training in self-observation, we can develop a new kind of intelligence to bear on the world. Everyday life is quite an interesting place if you pay attention to it.”
Putting attention to your emotional world and bodily reality is particularly important when surrounded by one’s family-of-origin. In the consensus trance, we tend to forget that we are adults with agency, and can fall back into destructive patterns from childhood. Families often have rigid roles such as the “star son,” the “scatterbrain daughter” or the “family mascot.” These roles continue long after they fit the individuals assigned to them (if they ever did…)
Our emotions and bodily sensations can give us a “wake up call” that all is not right, and with consciousness, we can do something about it. We can redirect, or refuse to engage in unpleasant conversation, or alternatively, robustly argue our point. We can slow down our eating and drinking. We can call bullies out, when they are being verbally abusive, or simply walk out of the room. We can exit an upsetting environment, even if dessert has not been served. In other words, we can awake from our trance and begin to live a more genuine, adult life.
And, as I’ve done, we can take a look at our emotional reactions, and consider them clues to something we might not intellectually grasp. So many of us are being abused in our consensus trance daily lives, and we sense it down to our very being. In an attempt to distance ourselves from what we know, instinctively, emotionally, is right, desirable, sane, we self-medicate or act out. These signs of stress can tell us it is time for a shift in our consciousness, and perhaps a wake-up call from the illusion we call “reality.”
Happy Holidays all.