The hypnotist had been chanting in a soothing and irregular rhythm to the young woman, who had kept sinking ever deeper into that inner world we call trance. “When you...become..aware of your surroundings...you will notice...or rather not notice...perhaps we might even say ‘unnotice,’ the chair...upon which...you are now seated. When you awaken...you will stand...and you will fail to see the chair you have been sitting in. It will...for you...not exist.” A few minutes later, the young lady, now fully alert and smiling, was talking normally with the hypnotist. He asked her how she felt.
“I feel great. I’m sorry I couldn’t be hypnotized. It just doesn’t work on me.”
“That’s fine,” the hypnotist replied, “it happens. Why don’t you sit here and let’s talk about it for a moment?”
The woman looked in the direction in which the man was pointing. Puzzled, she asked “where? There is the only one seat on the stage and you are sitting in it!”
“No, sit in the chair right there,” the hypnotist replied, pointing once again to the chair in which she had been sitting five minutes before.
She laughed at first, but after the hypnotist kept insisting that she should sit in the chair and she continued to insist that there was no chair there to sit in, her replies became noticeably more agitated. When he explained that she was responding to a post-hypnotic suggestion, she became angry. She said he was trying to cover up his incompetence as a performer and was resorting to just making things up.
The people in the audience watching all of this were delighted. They could clearly see that the chair was exactly where the hypnotist claimed.
The question for us though is “where did that chair go?” Of course, it went nowhere at all, objectively speaking. What I mean is, where did it go for her?
The answer is that the chair went into alacuna.
Alacunais a mental space in which we store things we believe we are not supposed to notice. Everyone has them. They are personal blind spots in our will, imagination, cognition and emotion. When an idea, emotion, object or situation moves into that blind spot, it ceases to exist for us.
Consider another trick our minds play on us.
The hypnotist could have told the woman there was a snake in the far corner of the room. He could have claimed that the snake would not come near her if she would remain in her chair. That is what we call an implanted hallucination. Had he done that, the awakened woman would have continued to look nervously over at the corner of the room. She would have refused to get out of her chair no matter how much the hypnotist insisted. Had the hypnotist asked her what she was seeing in the corner, she might have said something like, “there is nothing there. I just can’t stop looking in that direction.” If pressed, she might have added, “I just don’t have a good feeling about that part of the room.”
Our minds, continually interpreting the world in the light of what we have been taught and what we have already experienced, often refuses to see anything that does not conform to what we wish were true. That is why we continually invent reasons for retaining our accustomed beliefs, even in the presence of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
I took two courses in medical hypnosis while in graduate school. I learned that we continually drop into states of naturally occurring periods of trance for short periods throughout the day. In our trance, we recall messages spoken to us when we were learning to make sense of the world and do reruns in our imagination of things we have experienced or expect to experience. When we do, the objective, “real” world, disappears or diminishes for us.
It is is rather easy to lead people into trance because they are so accustomed to putting themselves into one. A good stage hypnotist can induce trance rather quickly. Advertisers do it less dramatically but more effectively. Politicians do it with slanted statistics and other official sounding props. Storytellers do it. Musicians do it. Parents do it. Everyone does it.
The difficult thing then, is not to lead people into trance. The difficult thing is to awaken people from the trances in which they have been living most of their lives.
To awaken people out of trance, one must locate theirlacuna.
That is impossible to do unless a person wants to locate it, which is difficult. After all, alacunais a blind spot we do not realize is there.
If you want to locate alacunathat hides stuff from you, ask yourself the following questions.
What are the subjects you cannot easily discuss?
What are the emotions you refuse to feel?
Does this blog make you feel uneasy for reasons you cannot clearly articulate?
Can you listen respectfully to a person of another religion explain his or her beliefs? Can you listen to a person explain political beliefs that are different than yours without interrupting them or becoming angry? When in situations like that, do you pretend to listen as you become inwardly agitated? Do you tune the speaker out and began ruminating on ways to refute him?
Can you tolerate a conversation in which a friend explains his reasons for doing things or thinking things you do not like? Can you ask open-ended questions, such as “tell me what you mean by that word you keep using?” Or, “Would you mind taking a few minutes to tell me how you formed those opinions?”
When the friend finishes speaking, are you able to give a summery of what he said without sarcasm or cynicism? Or, do the words of a person with whom you disagree fall into alacuna?
When we find ourselves becoming unreasonably uncomfortable with words or some spiritual practice or data in some report, we may be trying to avoid acknowledging something we have been forbidden to see. Fossils of sea creatures on a mountaintop; petrified tree trunks in a coal mine; DNA sequences that show graduating differences between species of plants and animals – a surprising number of Christians find such things alarming. They rush to explain and, hopefully, to explain away without wanting to learn more.
However, our Lord said, “you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
It is the pursuit of truth – not a stubborn loyalty to what we wish was true – that points the way toward spiritual maturity.
When the hypnotized woman stares at the chair and passionately insists that it does not exist, her sincerity and passion do not alter reality, except in her private world. Unfortunately, too much private reality is another word for mental illness.
She could have asked the hypnotist why he believed in the existence of the chair. She could have asked members of the audience their opinion. She could have walked over to the place the hypnotist claimed contained a chair and felt around for it. Had she decided to take that approach, she probably would have begun to remember the words the hypnotist had spoken to her while she had been under trance. In that case, the chair would have come back into focus.
Despite claims to the contrary, all hypnotism is actually self-hypnosis. The hypnotist is merely a trained coach. A hypnotized subject actually wishes to perform as he or she does but may feel too shy or inhibited to do so under normal conditions. The opportunity to “blame” a hypnotist for one’s actions is probably what creates the conditions in which stage hypnosis performs.
In other words, hypnotists are people who specialize in coaching people to do what they do to themselves everyday, at least in some area of their lives.
“Don’t believe that!” someone says as we read an article they don’t like.
“I don’t have to have a reason; I just don’t like it!” someone else insists.
“I don’t want to hear the reasons you made that choice, I don’t believe in it!”
“My saintly grandmother believed this; that’s good enough for me.”
“I don’t need reasons, I felt in my heart this was the right thing to do.”
And so forth.
A little child hears an angry parent scream: “YOU WILL NEVER AMOUNT TO ANYHTHING.” He accepts the marching orders for his life and will recall those words every time he will be presented with an opportunity. Success is in hislacuna; he is not allowed to see it.
After hearing a respected person say, “you can never trust a Jones. Every Jones I know has stabbed me in the back,” the child knows what the Jones are like.
It is useless to talk to anyone about the irrationality of their opinions about the Joneses, or their conviction that they will never do well in life, or their anger over the religious or political opinions of others. We are wasting our time unless they are mature enough, or love us enough, to actually listen and consider our opinions. We cannot speak louder than the voices in their heads. Sometimes, neither can they. Theirlacuna was formed long ago. The context in which it was formed is long forgotten and even the pathway to its location is lost. There is only one way to confront alacunaand that is humility.
We must become aware that we all have them, which ought to be easy because all of us do. Realizing that, we simply learn to remain mindful that our automatic reaction could be wrong when some new idea or practice makes us unusually uncomfortable.
At any rate, the only way to discover if we are creating a private reality is to remain inquisitive, respectful of others, and push our self to probe deeper into the matter beyond allowing our automatic response to guide us into our blind spot.
Lent is coming. This is a time for repentance, another word for humbly evaluating our lives and thoughts, and perhaps, for making visible a few lacunas that hide the truth about life and the world from us.