Awakening through hypnosis?
Hypnosis and Mahamudra / Dzog Chen.
I say this from two perspectives :
The first perspective is that of a participant in a Mahamudra meditation retreat of the Pointing out the Great Way organization. There, I experienced a mystic state after 5 days into the retreat. It was most likely also induced through the hypnotic quality of the meditation instructions.
The second perspective is that of a proud owner of an INLPTA hypnosis certificate, who recognises hypnotic states.
Our reality perception is constructed
The magic of hypnosis is much older than the 200 years normally attributed to it in the West.
Tibetan and Zen meditation teachers 1200 years ago already had a pretty good idea of how to shift students into trance states for insight. Some examples follow.
Japanese Zen Koans owe their effectiveness to an effect similar to that of hypnotic rapid induction techniques, eg the confusion technique (such as the handshake induction) that was much liked by Richard Bandler.
Tibetan Mahamudra / Dzogchen teachers lead students through pointing out instructions into views (perspectives, vantage points, basis of [mental] operation) that allowed insights into the constructed nature of the experience of reality. In Buddhism the constructed aspect of our experience is also called "emptiness".
I believe that professional hypnotic trance induction techniques used by the Mahamudra/ Dzogchen teacher Daniel P Brown in my very first meditation retreat in 2021 played a huge role for how my experience unfolded for me in the space of a short 8 days. In classical Tibetan literature, the state I experienced is often metaphorically described as "Lion's View". This is a metaphor for mind recognising itself, for reflexive awareness (Tashi Namgyal). Listen to it here.
An experience of a self-induced hypnotic state through language 30+ years ago
However, I should not have been totally surprised.
Ca 1995/96 I had a self-induced physical/mental whole-body extraordinary bliss state. I had navigated myself into it through memorising and speaking to myself multiple times a hypnotic script from the book "Hypnotherapy for Health, Harmony and Peak Performance".
That script is intended to create a mystical state. Its title is "The Prince's Journey. A metaphorical search for cosmic awareness". The Prince is - of course - the Buddha, although at the time I did not know that. Neither was this knowledge required for the script to have an effect. I had no idea of Buddhism or meditation at the time.
The script belongs to the set of scripts
"designed to evoke approximations of intense alterations in consciousness referred to variously as peak experience, satory, enlightenment and cosmic consciousness" (p.155)
Read it again: Hypnosis is here presented as a tool as to reach enlightenment!
And it worked, although it didn´t get me to enlightenment but "only" to a wonderful mental / physical bliss state.
The experience of self-induced full-body bliss through self-administered hypnotic language alone left me stunned. I never succeeded in repeating it, even as I tried it multiple times. But, hey like awakening - if you chase it, you won´t get it!
Much later in 2021, my online Mahamudra meditation retreat confirmed the 1990's experience of precise languaging leading into an altered state.
The author and teacher of that retreat, the deceased Daniel P Brown, has co-edited a book on hypnosis, and has taught courses in peak performance at Harvard University. He has publicly stated, that he learned from hypnosis, how important absolutely precise languaging is to achieve specific effects.
Having applied absolute rigour and testing to his languaging of pointing out instructions, he even considers the exact formulations used in the retreats as his intellectual property, to be protected from any use outside of the buyer's personal meditation through heavy fines.
Dzog Chen and hypnosis
Shortly after beginning to draft this post, I came across a work by Wickramasekera on the overlap of hypnosis and DzogChen. The article summarises:
"Dzogchen meditation has been practiced by Bonpo and Buddhist yogis for at least 1,200 years. Dzogchen uses methods of meditation and yoga exercises that are said to help fully awaken from self-illusion and self-reality that cause suffering in the world. The philosophy and experiential practice of Dzogchen are very similar to hypnosis. Dzogchen techniques use hypnosis-like practices of selective attention, visualization, and posthypnotic suggestion to help yogis experience advanced insights into the nature of mind. The experience of Dzogchen can be compared to the experience of hypnosis in terms of its phenomenological and psychophysiological eﬀects. Finally, there are also many theoretical similarities between aspects of ego state therapy, neo-dissociation, sociocognitive and Ericksonian theories of hypnosis and the tradition of Dzogchen meditation.
(Source: Wickramasekera, German summary).
Below, find his Venn Diagram depicting the overlaps:
Applicability of hypnotic elements to meditation teaching styles
What follows in reference to meditation, seems of most relevance to the Mahamudra / Dzogchen style of pointing-out as I experienced it in Daniel P Brown's retreat.
I see less relevance and applicability for hypnotic languaging for styles of teaching that are more rhapsodic and comparatively unstructured.
For example, I like James Low as Dzogchen philosophy teacher. He is amusing and wise.
But his recorded retreats, in comparison to the structured retreats of Daniel P Brown, come across to me now as meandering tales. The Daniel P Brown's retreat style, in contrast, is precision-guided mind surgery at deep levels.
Hypnosis and meditation as attention management
Meditation and hypnosis are forms of attention management or attention training. Both approaches require, and train the mind, to selectively and intentionally focus attention on a particular object, to the exclusion of other objects; to shrink and expand focus, and to learn about the role of meta-cognitive awareness (or, as Culadasa sais, meta-cognitive introspective awareness).
Daniel P Brown quotes neuroscience when he mentions the role of the Anterior Cingular Cortex. He calls it "Selective mind/body (non-drug) activation with
Hypnosis—Hypnosis as condition of heightened attentiveness to a single target and dysattention to everything else.
Meditation—Concentration meditation as ACC training." (unpublished seminar documentation).
Consequently, Dan Brown and others see meditation as a highly useful tool to train children's and adolescents' minds in the fundamental skill of attention management.
Susceptibility to meditation and to hypnosis - parallels
The role of susceptibility of subjects to induced alterations of their state of mind is well known in hypnosis and meditation.
In both areas, the use of instruction techniques must be varied to suit the student.
Susceptibility in hypnosis
Milton Erickson, the father of the currently most used style of hypnosis, used to say that everyone can be hypnotised. However, with some clients he needed 20 sessions or more, whereas with other clients the first session would suffice. Newer research starts from the assumption that "only about 10 percent of the population is generally categorized as “highly hypnotizable,” while others are less able to enter the trancelike state of hypnosis".
(Source: Stanford Study)
Stage hypnotists always go through a pre-stage routine of screening subjects for high susceptibility candidates, so that their stage success (eg in impersonating a broom stick) will not be impeded.
Susceptibility in meditation for direct realisation
In the classical Tibetan works on meditation, students are typically grouped into three categories
Those with the highest capacity (the fast path students)
Those with middling capacity
Those with lowest capacity
Tashi Namgyal uses the term instantaneous type for those with a high degree of intuitive perception. It is opposed to those of lesser intelligence who need long procedural practice and conceptual explanation.
The significance of these classifications may be explicable by the fact, that, as in hypnosis, some students may be more "pre-wired" to directly transit into a specific view (=altered state of perceptual ) than others. The students may be less constrained conceptually. Or, certain brain areas may make them more or less susceptible.
Btw: my personal recommendation for the left-behinds of middling and lower capacity is: cheat by attending an Ayahuasca ceremony! Or magic mushrooms in a proper ceremony. Use Francoise Bourzat's guidance in "Conscious Medicine".
Meditative "views" as altered states of consciousness / trance
A word of caution ahead: the equation of a meditation view with a trance may be a bit far fetched. There are significant differences. The most significant:
Meditative views, if executed correctly, require the presence of meta-cognitive awareness ("being aware of the current existence and characteristics of awareness and attention") . This is generally not the case for hypnotic trances where meta-cognitive awareness is switched of. To illustrate: there is no consciousness of "I am currently in a trance of depth 8".
In Mahamudra meditation, a view is a perceptual position that the student / meditator enters into to gain deeper insight.
These meditative views to adopt perceptual stances are not in the repertoire of everyday life. In particular, these views reduce or eliminate the perceptual position from the first-person ego, the Self or Time. They reduce or eliminate the everyday duality of subject and object of experience.
Learning to adopt such a view and maintaining it initially requires effort. I experienced being in it as a kind of altered state, not entirely different from a hypnotic state.
Obviously, it is not an altered state comparable to a psychedelic trip (although this possibility exists, as I have experienced).
It is an altered state in that
one can get into it through a kind of induction technique, where the used tools may be similar.
the normal operation of the brain changes. In EEG studies, it has been shown that, for example, the "Ocean and Wave" view or the "Lion´s View" leads to activation of specific brain areas, and to high degrees gamma wave synchronisation over the entire brain.
Experientially speaking: while I have no scientific proof, I have the subjective experience, that a particular experience during the retreat was perceivable by me as alteration of the normal functioning of the brain. Whether this is true, I do not know. But I have previous experience, through an Ayahuasca experience, of noticing my mind/brain interaction in somewhat unusual way.
Overt and Covert trance inductions in hypnosis and meditation
Covert trance inductions
Meditation can use the closed-eyes or the open-eyes approach. Depending on the tradition, one or the other may be preferred. For example, Tashi Namgyal identifies open-eyed meditation as the "vajra view".
From a teaching point of view, this can be used. In one seminar I experienced a "fractionisation induction" using repeated eye closure in order to receive an entire lesson in a kind of deep trance.
Using hypnotic techniques in meditation teaching - summary
As a result of my quick study, I have come to the following conclusions.
Many of the generic skills of a professional hypnotist are useful for all parts of meditation teaching. First and foremost these are languaging and delivery skills
Formal trance induction techniques are useful only in a limited way.
Generally useful languaging and delivery techniques
Metaphors (first and foremost)
Precision language to exactly steer the required mental operations step by step
Voice modulation to "point out" significance of terms
Tempo of speech and pauses to allow processing time
Speaking on the outbreath
Specific hypnoptic "bind" formulations: e.g. "the more you X, the more you Y"
Body language (of course only when there is physical or even electronic presence of the teacher).
And of course,
The absolute conviction of the teacher, that this works. In fact, this single precondition may compensate for many other "imperfect" delivery techniques. For example, Daniel P Brown in the mentioned retreat spoke extremely rapidly and with an undifferentiated voice (due to his physical impediment) very untypical of an ideal hypnotist. This, in my experience, did not strongly impact his teaching. It came from a depth of 40 years of experience, without hesitation or doubt.
Selectively useful techniques
Trance induction and utilisation. Tibetan meditation is nothing less than dull sleepiness. It requires total presence of mind. In particular, this presence is required for metacognitive introspective awareness. The mind has to know at any moment what it is doing, and how. A classical hypnotic trance is something where that ability is typically switched off. Useful for stage hypnotists to make people behave like chicken. Not so useful for awakening. However, maybe there is a role for deep learning trances in the generation type of meditation, as opposed to concentration and insight types.
Wickramasekera, I. (n.d.). Hypnotic-like aspects of the Tibetan Tradition of Dzog Chen Meditation. Researchgate. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/340289098_Hypnotic-like_Aspects_of_the_Tibetan_Tradition_of_Dzogchen_Meditation/link/5f1b99ca92851cd5fa44e4e8/download
Interestingly, Wickramasekera has personal experience in professional hypnosis, Dzog Chen , and Ayahuasca. He is also familiar with the work of Dr Daniel P Brown and knew him personally.
Daniel P Brown
Retreat Training Material (Presentation Slides) , unpublished
Daniel P Brown, Erica Fromm
Brown, D. P., & Fromm, E. (1987). Hypnosis and Behavioral Medicine. Taylor & Francis Inc.
Daniel P Brown , Jae Pasari, and Michelle Bissanti
Bissanti, M., Brown, D. P., & Pasari, J. (2022). The Elephant Path: Attention Development and Training in Children and Adolescents (2. ed.). Mustang Bon Foundation.
Hawkins, J., & Dawkins, R. (2021). A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence. Basic Books.
Feldman-Barrett, L. (2018). How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain (Main Market ed.) [E-book]. Pan.
https://g.co/kgs/Pk5r5j (Google overview)
https://youtu.be/0rbyC5m557I (Youtube lecture)
Hoffman, D. (2020). The Case Against Reality: How Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes. Penguin.
https://g.co/kgs/okgDMX (Google overview)
Namgyal, T. D., & Callahan, E. (2019). Moonbeams of Mahamudra (Tsadra) (Translation ed.). Snow Lion.
"The Treasury of the Basic Space of Phenomena #2"
If even metaphors are not things, how can the underlying .... Min 5
https://youtu.be/OUEn5ElZFJ8 (Youtube reading by Jaiyasara Samaneri)
Catherine Walters and Ronald A Havens
Walters, C., & Havens, R. A. (1993). Hypnotherapy for Health, Harmony, and Peak Performance: Expanding the Goals of Psychotherapy/Helping Clients Discover the Pleasures of Trance (Har/Cas ed.). Brunner-Mazel Inc.
Lion's View Teaching, read beautifully by Samaneri Jaiyasara (first few minutes only)
Stanford Medicine Brain Study on hypnosis
Stanford University. (2017, June 24). Study identifies brain areas altered during hypnotic trances. Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute. https://neuroscience.stanford.edu/news/study-identifies-brain-areas-altered-during-hypnotic-trances