Saturday, March 17, 2012

St. Patrick and the art of talking to God

This post is based on my faith as a Christian and a storyteller. If faith offends you, don't read this post. Or read it in the spirit it is offered, as full disclosure of some of the "me" that sits behind the rest of what I write and teach.

I love the story of St. Patrick, and the prayer attributed to him.  Do you know the story of St. Patrick? He was taken from his home in Britain, enslaved, and sent into the hills of Ireland as a shepherd, with only a flock of sheep as companions.  He talked to his sheep. He talked to himself. And then he talked to God. 

One day, God replied.  And Patrick followed his instructions and walked to a beach where a ship was waiting. He made his way back to home and safety (several miracles later). But he had been changed forever by his days in the hills with sheep and God. He went back to Ireland, and drove away the snakes, and explained the Holy Trinity using a shamrock. Or so they say.

There are two Patricks: the one alone in the hills and the one who wrote in the Breastplate of a life where God was all around him, all the time. They are the same Patrick. I know this in my own life too. The self that is so very alone is also the self surrounded by God.

I know this other thing too: I know the Jesus who looked at Peter and three times told him "Feed my sheep."  Of all of scripture (and I have read the whole of the bible and much of it more than once), these three words give me hope and direction.  There is much I do not understand and much more I cannot hope to do. There are two things that I can do: I can keep talking to God through all the days and nights when it seems like nonsense to talk at all. And I can feed sheep.

Like Patrick, I live in an uncertain world where this small certainty is a comfort and a comfort that others try to shake in me. Sometimes, it takes all of my art, all the practices I teach for state management and goal setting and resourcefulness, just to hold onto this small certainty that I can keep talking to God and keep feeding sheep.

Maybe you're not sure what I mean by feeding sheep. That's okay. I'm not always sure either.

I am sure that doesn't let me off the hook. I am sure that the fact that sheep are silly, wayward creatures who have not an ounce of thankfulness in them is also not the point. Jesus didn't say "feed my sheep as long as you're getting something out of it." He just said "feed my sheep."

I do it because when I find myself alone in the hills and I run out of things to say to the sheep and myself, I can talk to God.  And I can listen. And when I listen, what I hear is "feed my sheep."

Monday, March 12, 2012

Hypnosis, trance and great suggestions

I have been exploring the difference between naturally occurring light trances, trances that occur naturally and then are deepened intentionally, and hypnosis. Sometimes I explore the differences by watching or experiencing hypnosis, sometimes by reading the experts, and sometimes I just notice what happens when I am focused and pulling the people around me into that focus.

Most people are curious about what "real" trance is and how it works and even whether or not it is "real." Scientists don't seem to have a solid position on the question, although the general consensus seems to be that there is no conclusive evidence that trance is a distinct and replicable state. If I were a hypnotist, perhaps that would be important to me. But I am not a hypnotist. I am a teacher and a coach.

What matters to me is twofold: that people have more choice about where they pay attention and that I be good at recognizing when people are ready to hear suggestions. When I take someone into a trance, they teach themselves that attention is a choice. Distractions (from sirens to sharp pains) can be within their experience without disturbing their experience. They learn to have that choice. And I learn how I can support that state of relaxed focus in them so that they are able to hear positive suggestions.

I do not want to tell other people how to solve their problems, much less how to live their lives. I have no desire to control their thoughts or behaviours. I do want to see evidence that they are being influenced by me. I want to see them recognize and shape new choices. To me, it doesn't matter whether I call the state in which that happens "trance." It matters that the state can be developed reliably and that it works.

This week, I read an article that said that most of the phenomena associated with trance are produced by the expectation that they will be part of the experience. I know from my own work that talking about trance while in rapport with one or more people will begin to create a trance. It's useful in that people relax (which allows the oxygen to circulate freely through their bodies) and connect and consider new ideas with less friction and more optimism.

Hypnotists will say that trance is a healthy state, even if all that happens within trance is that awareness of pulling out of conflict and incongruence and settling into focus. Beyond that, the quality of the results may be determined by the quality of suggestions that are offered to the mind in trance. I am not sure I believe this.

I am sure that the quality of respectful connection supports and deepens trance and, in turn, that trance allows the development of a deep and respectful connection. Within that connection, suggestions may be made and accepted or modified in useful ways. There is no evidence trail in unconscious process. There is only the evidence of changes in expression or thought or action. If I make suggestions that someone find the answers they need to move ahead comfortably and ecologically, I am satisfied when they report back that they are moving ahead comfortably and ecologically.

What I like best about hypnosis is the covert suggestion it makes that effective communication depends on agreement. Anything that disturbs agreement will disrupt a trance. Hypnosis is the discipline of guiding in and through agreement. Conflict would be a friction that disturbs the work and weakens the results. All hypnosis rests on a state of relaxed, respectful connection between the hypnotist and the subject. It's not one person acting on another: it's two people collaborating in an agreement so peaceful that it looks like sleep.

Think for a moment about someone who loves you. Think of the good things that person wishes for you, things that you cannot always imagine by yourself and for yourself. Notice how it feels to hear that voice wishing those things for you. . . and you'll know more about how hypnosis really works.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Body thoughts

I went to yoga this week on the evening of the full moon. The teacher said that the Virgo full moon would promote health and balance.  I am in favour of health and balance.

Last night, I had trouble sleeping. I blamed all sorts of complicated thoughts.  And then I spent twenty minutes in a few of my favorite yoga postures and fell peacefully to sleep. Was I awake because of tension in my mind or tension in my body? I am not sure it would be useful to know the difference.

Imagine what would change if you acted as though the condition of your body would determine the quality and resourcefulness of your thoughts. What would you have to change to put your body into a state that would support your best thinking?

Neuroscience is producing lots of evidence that thought is not what we think it is: our words and reason are woven into complicated webs that include many different sensations and impressions. What we feel in our bodies is woven into what we develop as sophisticated theory. We are all of one piece.

Yesterday, I pretended to be younger than I am and ate pizza for dinner while watching a movie. I went for a drive instead of a walk, and I didn't fit meditation or yoga into my day.  It wasn't a bad day: it was a day when I was stepping away from work to relax and gain perspective. I wanted a break from thinking.

Late last night, I knew that my break from thinking was a break from balance.  It showed up in my body and set my mind whirling.  The stuff at the back of my mind didn't move to the front but it began to bounce up against the edges. I lost my balance.

Getting it back could have happened if I had found the right pattern of thoughts. But it wasn't happening until I put my legs up against the wall, turned my ipod to my favourite yoga music and began to breathe.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Fools, tricksters and other high achievers

You probably know Jack because of the beanstalk story. I know Jack from dozens of stories. What they all have in common, from the Jack who killed six with one blow to the Jack with the dancing cockroach to Ti-Jean who had three unusual piglets is that Jack always gets what he wants. Always.

The unusual and delightful part of this is that Jack never, ever does the appropriate thing and any plans he makes are completely irrational and beside the point. It doesn't matter. Jack has energy and optimism and a clear sense that everything will end well and so it does.

I loved telling Jack stories to small children. I was never a fan of teaching kids to be small adults who work with discipline and logic towards their goals. Under the guise of a storyteller, I got to encourage them to dream, to engage with all the wonder around them, and to work with what they had to be happy.

Later I met Herschel and Hodje and other wise fools who, like Jack, survived poverty with good humour and a quirky sense of how to think sideways.  They seem to be cousins to the outright tricksters: genies and coyote and some of the more interesting fairies.  The secret of the trickster is not that they work around the rules: the secret of the trickster is that they do not see rules at all. Like the fools, they use whatever is at hand to move towards their goals. Sometimes it works and sometimes it goes comically wrong, but tricksters always survive to play more tricks.

It's possible that our stories of tricksters and fools delight us because they represent the qualities that make us successful even when we do not get exactly what we planned. They are often described as creative, but I think it is even more important that they are both optimistic and engaged. There's a trick to that, to seeing the world out of the corner of your eye when looking at it straight on would stop you in your tracks. There's a trick to knowing what you want when everyone is either running away or telling you why you cannot possibly get it. There's a trick to being happy first and successful as an afterthought.

It's the weekend. Here's to the fools and the tricksters.