I briefly touched on this in my recent 20 things I learned from RWNZ 2013 post, but I’ve been meaning to write about this topic in more detail. So here goes:
(Warning: This post has nothing to do with writing or books or the publishing industry, but I hope it’s of interest.)
Two days before I was due to fly to Wellington for our annual Romance Writers of New Zealand conference I had to attend a hypnotist’s performance at my kids’ high school. I say *had to attend* because it was a fundraising event for my daughter’s 1st XI hockey tournament, and to be quite frank I wasn’t really looking forward to it. Figured it’d be a bit naff.
Boy, was I mistaken. And after watching one of DD’s teammates and another teammate’s mum up on stage doing all manner of bizarre things, I was sold: this was the real deal. These were people I knew personally. They weren’t faking. And for me, in the audience, the show was a fascinating experience.
Some of the participants seemed to be really, truly, asleep until they were asked to do various things–so much so that when they were told to “sleep” they relaxed so much they kinda oozed off their chairs and ended up on the floor! While others seemed to be not as deeply “under”, for want of a better word. And it made me curious about how “conscious” some people were for the duration of their time on stage — which was about 90 minutes. Were they aware, but unable to stop themselves? Or did they truly “lose time” and not realize 90 minutes had passed when they were fully awoken at the end of the show?
Here’s a vid I took (permission to share granted by the hypnotist, Dave Upfold) showing a young guy being told to dance like Michael Jackson. And okay, maybe you could fake it. But if you keep watching, you’ll see that he’s then told to be fully aware he’s dancing like Michael Jackson and he’ll want to stop but won’t be able to. That was quite a revelation.
As was the guy who couldn’t speak his own name no matter how hard he tried. Hilarious. And ever-so-slightly disturbing. Here’s another vid where DD’s teammate is stretched out between two chairs as though she’s a plank — a position that would be very difficult to maintain for as long as she did… even if she didn’t have someone standing on her stomach!
Another thing that struck me was the “safety” factor. I don’t believe any of the hypnotized participants would have done anything up on stage if they’d felt uncomfortable doing it. For example, toward the end of the show, all participants were told to go among the audience and encourage them to clap. Whenever a certain piece of music played, they were to sit in the lap of the nearest person in the audience, stroke their hair, and say how much they appreciated that audience member coming to the show and help fund-raise. I noticed one of the girls chose only female audience members, even when the nearest person was male. And I believe at some unconscious level she was too uncomfortable about the prospect of sitting in a strange male’s lap to “choose” a male from the audience. She was hardly a shy wallflower, however. Here she is using a mop as an “air guitar” *g*
After that show I talked to my friend who’d been on stage the entire time, and asked what it was like for her. She said she was conscious the whole time of being on stage, but wasn’t able to stop herself from doing whatever was asked of her. And that description fit what I observed whenever she was put “under” — she didn’t appear to be completely out of it like some of the others on stage.
Okay, so you get that I thought this was fascinating. And so did DS. So much so that he wanted to go the next night and see if he could be hypnotized. Because he started to get a bit nervous about the prospect, I decided what the hell; I’d give it a go, too. Writers are always interested in human behavior, and what could be more interesting than being hypnotized? But a part of me kinda figured I would be too self-aware, far too self-conscious, and all too willing to analyze it to death for the hypnotism to “take”. Yep, I thought I’d be one of the people asked to resume their seat in the audience, and I’d get to video DS up on stage.
Wrong. DS ended up back in his seat, videoing the whole thing. I ended up staying on stage for the duration.
At the end of the show, some of the participants were shocked as heck to realize that 90 minutes had passed and they were actually up on stage and had “missed” the show — most noticeably the girl who’d stuck plasters (Band-Aids) all over her face and was sitting there quite happily until the hypnotist gave her a mirror *g* Me? I was fully aware of time passing and that we were all doing ridiculous things. But I couldn’t stop myself from doing any of them. Or reacting as if what I’d been we were seeing, and I was definitely not seeing, was real. Like building sandcastles and then, when the music stopped, crying for my mum. Or being told that the hypnotist was naked and flashing us. Or being told that we were naked; I remember leaping from my chair and grabbing one of the girls and hiding behind her. And then there was being contacted (via the hypnotist acting as a medium) by a deceased childhood pet. I mean, I knew he’d asked me questions prior to that part of the act, and I knew it wasn’t really my cat contacting me from kitty heaven, but I couldn’t stop my jaw from dropping, and my eyes going owl-like, and saying repeatedly things like “Omigod, how can you know that?”
I wasn’t embarrassed in the slightest to be doing those ridiculous things. I wasn’t self-conscious… and believe me, the last thing I’d ever be comfortable doing is getting up on stage in front of a hall full of adults and kids and teachers and acting out for their entertainment. But there was no aching face from maintaining that tense half-smile I don like armor whenever I’m uncomfortable in a social or public situation. I was perfectly relaxed throughout. I didn’t give a rat’s ass what anyone thought of me. I didn’t blush. I didn’t get an epic case of somersaulting stomach, or feel like I needed to pee every five minutes (the usual scenario when I’m really nervous). And it didn’t concern me in the slightest that I was somehow being manipulated to react appropriately (for me) to the situations I was put in, and that I couldn’t stop myself from reacting. Normally that awareness of not being in control of myself would scare the bejesus out of me.
I do wonder whether my experience of not going completely “under” and maintaining a degree of self-awareness throughout was in part because I mapped across my friend’s descriptions of what it had felt like for her — in other words set up an unconscious “expectation” that my experience would mirror hers. I also wonder whether perhaps I wouldn’t have been hypnotized at all if my husband had been in the audience. Perhaps I would have felt too self-conscious and I’d have ended up back in the audience watching the show. And I wonder whether my experience was affected by having seen the show the night before, and because some of the scenarios were repetitions. See? I’m still analyzing *g*
Lasting effects? There were some. I slept better that night than I had in months. I awoke feeling better than I had in years — no sore back, no shoulder and neck pain, no aches and pains. I was so laid back about everything my DH was starting to freak out. Normally I would have been a mess of nerves at the prospect of flying down to Wellington by myself, having to meet a bunch of new people, and giving a workshop at the conference. No nerves. Totally relaxed about everything. I was hypnotized on Wednesday night, flew out Thursday afternoon, and the effects didn’t start to wear off until after my workshop on Saturday afternoon. Brilliant!
So there you go — my personal experience of being hypnotized.
Would I do it again?
Yep. In a heartbeat! Though I’d make sure it was done by a professional without an agenda (like Dave Upfold). I don’t believe I would have been at all susceptible if I hadn’t felt completely safe and in good hands.