Meditation and Hypnosis
Have you ever found yourself focused on something and wondered where the last two hours went? Have you ever found yourself staring at something and just gone inside of yourself? If you are a meditator, the answer to these questions is probably yes. If not, perhaps you have spontaneously experienced any of these experiences. In either case, you have experienced the gift of the mind that is hypnosis.
What's the difference between the two
Hypnosis and meditation are part of our everyday life. You experience hypnosis whenever you daydream, get lost in thought or become involved in what you are doing. Any time you read a good book or get absorbed in a movie, any time you wonder - wow, did two hours pass already?, you have experienced the hypno-meditative state of consciousness.
Hypnosis is merely the selective focus on something, along with the willingness to momentarily suspend disbelief. It is a simple process, and yet it allows the mind to access many of its own deep resources for growth and healing.
The Meditative State
What's going on within the mind when you go into hypnosis or meditation? The answer to that is simple, yet it is as profound and complex as the mind, itself. We live with our minds in one of four states of consciousness: Waking, dreaming, sleeping and hypnosis/meditation. Waking state occurs when you are focused on something, aware and tracking with everything that goes on around you - analytical and in control. This is your normal state of waking consciousness, while the sleep and dream states are those within the sleep cycle that occur during the night.
The hypno-meditative state is the state you experience when your thoughts momentarily zero in on that object of focus. You tune out the background, suspending disbelief and that analytical skepticism for a short time. You allow yourself to go into that 'zone.' That's the hypnotic or meditative state.
So, what is hypnosis and what is meditation. Are they the same? Are they different? The answer is yes to both questions. They are essentially the same state of consciousness. They both involve selective focus - allowing yourself to go-with/experience the flow of thought.
Yet, while the mechanism and the state of consciousness are the same, the intent of hypnosis and meditation are different. Hypnosis is purposeful, while meditation exists in its own right. It is a restful, peaceful discipline that teaches the mind to control its own self. In the words of Swami Veda of the Himalayan Tradition, meditation is simply a continuous flow of thought, existing for its own sake.
Like exercise - you don't work out to accomplish something right now. You aren't going to suddenly earn a million dollars or build your deck by going running today. You exercise to improve your body over the longer term. Each time you work out, it becomes a little easier, your physical condition is just a little bit better, you achieve a longer-term goal - that of simply being in better shape.
Similarly, we don't meditate to do something right now. You probably are not going to quit smoking or remember where you misplaced that twenty dollar bill five years ago - at least not today. Rather, like exercising to improve your body, you meditate to strengthen the mind and soul. Over time, the benefits accumulate but they are not instantaneous. Each time you meditate, it gets a little easier. Each time, you build up a little more control over your thoughts.
While the philosophy behind meditation is consistent, there are several different types of meditation. Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on the present moment - what are you actually experiencing at this instant? What does your body and mind experience right now? Mindfulness teaches the mind to control its own thoughts, grounding yourself in reality.
Somewhat different from mindfulness is mantra-based meditation. This involves focusing on a key thought - a phrase, a tone or object that allows you to go deep into your own inner space. Like mindfulness, it teaches you to control your thoughts, but in a different way. Instead of orienting the mid toward the absolute present, it teaches the mind to focus on that key thought and thereby build discipline and focus.
Somewhere beyond mantra meditation, guided meditation is a more deliberate experience. In this process, the meditator follows instructions and imagery, most often the voice of another person. The guiding voice brings them into that same internal focus, bringing about that same deep inner awareness.
Extending the process of guided meditation another step along that same continuum we find that along with selective focus and suspension of disbelief (most often from relaxation) we can include suggestions, deliberate imagery and other forms of constructive work. We can use our time in this inner focused state to do deliberate healing work. The process remains the same, almost identical to how we go into meditation, but now the intent has now become purposeful. When doing intentional work while in the meditative state, we call the process, hypnosis.
Like meditation: hypnosis involves allowing yourself to go with the flow - zeroing in on the object of focus. Guided imagery/meditation is one of the most basic forms of self-hypnosis: simply focusing on a voice and allowing it to guide you into hypnotic/meditative state. And along with imagery, we can also include some form of suggestions, comparisons or other means of guiding the subconscious toward a goal. Hypnosis allows the mind to focus inward, accessing those parts within itself where change may be needed, and effecting change in some deliberate way.
Self-hypnosis typically does not include dialog. Most often, information only goes one way, from a recording (a self-hypnosis CD or MP3) to the mind. The listener allows the recorded voice of the hypnotist to guide his/her into state of focused thinking based upon instructions. He/she simply focuses and goes inward, perhaps allowing recorded suggestions or other subconsciou change to occur.
In a way, all hypnosis is self-hypnosis: The hypnotist can give instructions, but the client needs to be willing to follow those instructions. The client simply focuses on selective thoughts, and follows them them as a guide. In all cases, whether on one's own in meditation or self-hypnosis, or with a hypnotist providing cues in real time, the listener makes the journey of the mind. The listener does the work of the mind - the self-hypnosis.
In hetero hypnosis, what we think of as a hypnosis or hypnotherapy session within my studio - I simply invite you to follow my instructions, allowing my voice to guide your mind into a deep state of inward focus. In 1:1 session, I may ask you to respond to my questions - and part of you may be right in my studio, feeling as if you could observe your own thoughts. Yet the rest of your awareness will be focused on that space deep within, that place of trance. You may experience this in a way similar to a waking dream, a daydream, or simply as waking consciousness. In any case, you will most likely find you can experience thoughts and imagery from your subconscious that you had not previously expected.
While on the surface, hypnosis and meditation may seem very different, they are, in many ways, the same thing - mantra or mindfulness, guided imagery, self-hypnosis, hypnotherapy - each is a different manifestation of the same process, accessing that fourth state of consciousness. Each allows us to go into the subconscious for reasons specific to themselves. We can learn, we can strengthen our thoughts, or we can effect deliberate change.
Whatever reason we choose, we find we can access these two gifts of consciousness - separate and distinct, yet one and the same. They are the fourth state of consciousness - the state we call meditation and hypnosis.