It is a standard move in hypnosis and imagery work to use an “induction phase” to start things off. Hypnotists and image workers ease people into closing their eyes and heading down stairs or to a nature setting for a walk.
Why is this necessary? These opening images and suggestions are needed by most of us to shift inward, relax, and be open to what the imaginal world contains. Typically, it takes a bit of time to move from our everyday concerns towards a place that is quite dreamy and less goal-oriented.
But we can get masterful enough that long induction times are not needed. We can have powerful images without closing our eyes and descinding a staircase. In fact I freely get people to resist closing their eyes as I lead them through a standard induction to prove this point.
Spot Imagery Popping Up Everywhere in Your Daily Life
A big obstacle to having imagery upon command is realizing just how much imagery we engage in during the typical day. We don’t just think and feel using words. Images rapidly fire up and die away as we: imagine some worry; figure out what we want for lunch; as we describe some event to a friend; have a gut feel about someone we like or don’t like; as we look at photos, diagrams, and movies online; and give instructions to someone who has lost their way on the road.
Start now to notice just how much imagery is in your life. Catch it everywhere you can. This will show just how fast imagery can fire in your mind under conditions not resembling a long imagery induction.
Get Simple, Drop Imagery Blocking Thoughts and Feelings
Inductions were developed to get us to move away from blocking thoughts, feelings, and tensions we too often carry with us everywhere we go. For rapid imagery, get good at learning how to drop that stuff, at least for a few minutes. This usually requires a change of life philosophy. Regular life philosophy has us on alert carrying concerns about any unfinished business or worry a bit or a lot about what is coming up next. When we are not doing that, we are analyzing and planning. We need to drop that stuff to enter deeply into imagery. We need to become simple. Simple in the sense that we are going to bring our focus to the moment (goodbye worries and guilt) and do what we have to do. In the case of imagery, we have to tune inward and get dreamy. The more stuff we leave behind and be our simple selves, the quicker and deeper we can go.
Find the Feeling
Adding to this practice is the practice of regular imagery practice. If a person has consistently practiced getting into an altered state, in time, this state can be evoked. The practitioner knows they are there through a combination of a physical sense of a shift in their body towards quiet and ease and a mental shift towards imagery, dreaminess, or at a minimum, a deep quiet receptivity.
But getting there takes some time. Here’s the practice steps:
-consistently practice with moderate or long sessions so you create the opportunity to experience the full range of shifting that happens
-consistently observe in these sessions what it feels like for you to go deeper into imagery. Pay attention to your body: look for shifts in breathing, changes in muscle tone, expanding ease and even disconnection from your body; and pay attention how you loose your grip on inner chatter and the external world.
-when you are comfortable that you have done enough of the above, try shorter sessions of 5 minutes or so and see how deep you can go. Make comparisons: how does the short experience compare to the longer sessions; what is the same between sessions; what can you accomplish in the longer sessions that you can’t and can in the short sessions with no lengthy period of easing into deep imagery.
Start in the Same Place
Our overall goal is to get to where we can: shift to inward focus, move into a space which feels poetic in the sense that imagery has a feeling tone that draws us in by way of our curiosity and desire to know more, and a space that calls us to be open to abstractions, surprising combinations, mystery, and discovery of what is important for us to know at the time of our looking.
To get in that place faster, start off all of your sessions with the same place. Find an inner spot that is special to you and stick with it. Develop it over time by getting to know its details. This depth of knowledge, picking a spot that is special to you, and regular practice will start up an automatic association in your unconscious. Bring up the spot in imagery and your body, thinking, feeling, and unconscious will start to move quickly into the routine patterns of being that you have created in your past sessions.
An inside strategy would involve turning inward to a large, small or moderate degree, and then doing something there. It could be doing visualization of a calming place, person, object, pet, song, etc. It could involve watching our breathing, or doing a body scan to see how we are feeling emotionally and bodily (and both). Frequently, this is the strategy we use when something is concerning “out there”. Sometimes a meeting is not going well, or we are in the dentist’s chair, or we need to withdraw from the bustle around us.
There are times, however, going inside is not the best strategy. For instance, if we are trapped in repetitive negative thoughts such as worry and anger, going inside where those thoughts/feelings are flying about, and introducing a counter to that can be too challenging. Going outside, can be the direction to go.
Going outside can distance ourselves from our mental/heart chatter. Simple attention to our surroundings can help. Listening to the soundscape, for instance, pulls us from our troubles within. Look deeply at colors, differences in sizes of objects, light and shadow; feeling the wind, the movement of your feet; anything can keep us outside of your inner rumblings. Activity, especially activity with some challenge to it, will engage a great deal of our brain and reduce at least some of the energy going to our inner landscape. Of course, there are the well developed practices: mindfulness, Tai Chi, and Open Focus.
Next Steps: Aim to master a set of inner and outer target methods; experiment with them a great deal to make them your own; do a quick practice session every day. Use as needed. If one direction doesn’t help, switch directions.
We naturally split ourselves whenever we practice some guided practice such as guided imagery or self-suggestion (aka self-hypnosis). We give part of our attention to the guider, some attention what we are experiencing, and there is a quiet observer that takes on the task of watching the process. Three hats at the same time are on top of our heads and we thought we were in deep relaxation.
Erika Fromm, in her research on self-suggestion, called this multi-hat process ego division, where our self-awareness gets allocated to three concerns. She even threw in a fourth, the doubter. Ah yes, there is the doubter. Our inner critic that has serious questions about the process, whether important things can be experienced, and whether we are the right person for the job. One more hat, please. Fromm did find that, at least in hypnosis, some people could do somethings better when guided than when they guided themselves. But she also found that some experiences were better in self-guided processes than when there was guider.
Find Out for Yourself – Guided or Self-Guided, Which Works Best for You?
First, get some guided imagery recording that you like and are very comfortable with (you don’t need the doubter rambling on about the guider, his/her voice, word choice, etc.) and work with it four or five times. Note what happens, what works and what doesn’t.
Next, use the same script, as best as you can recall or and/or take notes to self-guide. Use that approach four or five times.
Compare: How do the processes differ in terms of: getting deeper; getting more vivid imagery; getting involved in the action; effectiveness post guided imagery session.
From this work you can really sharpen your practice by knowing how you wear many hats and still get quality experiences and focusing on the most effective process for your interests/needs.
Self-Hypnosis: The Chicago Paradigm – Erika Fromm and Stephen Kahn
I spent a lot of my time making imagination work hard to get to the point where I discovered it is simple. Keep things simple. Realize that we are surrounded by imagination at work, 24/7. When a friend tells you a story, when you go to the movies, or when you come up with an analogy to explain something, you are letting your imagination powers run more free than usual. Doing imagination work captures your inherent abilities to go within and imagine and makes them available for inner explorations.
In all of my workshops, during individual training, and in groups, I start with asking people call up some place in their mind’s eye that they know very, very well. It doesn’t have to be some place special. The exercise is to make the inner experience of the space increasingly vivid to the point it feels roughly like being there. To accomplish this, our imagination senses are engaged; when we walk about the space the space feels like reality. When we touch or pick up something, that too gives has the sensation of weight and space.
Getting to Your Memory Place – Steps:
1. Pick a place you know well in the real world.
2. Close your eyes and settle in. Relax downward until you start to get dreamy-like.
3. Bring to mind the memory of your selected space.
4. Be in the space by really paying attention to details such as the lighting and sounds.
5. When you are ready, walk over to some object and pick it up or at least touch it.
6. Take your time and explore your memory place. If there is something about this experience you want to remember in detail, reinforce your memory by noticing a few more times what you want to remember while holding the intention in mind: “This is important to me and I want to remember it well.”
7. When you are ready to wrap up your inner explorations, reverse the process: start to become aware of your body, then the room, where you are, and the day of the week. Come on back fully.
Of course, repeat many times to: master the above steps, the experience, and what you need to do to go deeper next time. Happy travelling.
From the new book, Caves and the Ancient Mind, we learn of the importance to Greek philosophers, proto-scientists, poetics, and mystics of the supreme darkness of caves and underground chambers. Prolonged looking into the darkness lit minds that shaped Western thought for centuries.
Leonardo da Vinci advised in his notebook, Treatise on Painting, to look closely at a random stain until it becomes alive:
“This is the case if you cast your glance on any walls dirty with such stains or walls made up of rock formations of different types. If you have to invent some scenes, you will be able to discover them there in diverse forms, in diverse landscapes, adorned with mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, extensive plains, valleys, and hills. You can even see different battle scenes and movements made up of unusual figures, faces with strange expressions, and myriad things which you can transform into a complete and proper form constituting part of similar walls and rocks.
Don’t underestimate this idea of mine, which calls to mind that it would not be too much of an effort to pause sometimes to look into these stains on walls, the ashes from the fire, the clouds, the mud, or other similar places. If these are well contemplated, you will find fantastic inventions that awaken the genius of the painter to new inventions, such as compositions of battles, and men, as well as diverse composition of landscapes, and monstrous things, as devils and the like. These will do you well because they will awaken genius with this jumble of things.”
John Dee, an English mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, occultist, navigator, and consultant to Queen Elizabeth I in the 16th century, would stare into an obsidian stone from Mexico. Dee was following the long tradition of mirror scyring (also known as mirror gazing) to obtain visions of the future and of universal ideas.
Raymond Moody, the famous collector of near-death experiences and author, uses a similar process today for people to see and converse with departed loved ones. He places the person in a darken room that he calls The Psychomantuem, seated in a recliner and they stare at a mirror that is tilted towards dark curtains, providing a blank canvas for their imagination to roam (see book).
Hermann Hesse revealed another form of staring, fire watching, in his book Demian. When his naive major character meets with a mysterious new friend, he is shown how to stare into a fireplace: “With rigid eyes I stared at the fire as I sank into dreams and stillness, recognized figures in the smoke and pictures in the ashes. Once I was startled. My companion threw a piece of resin into the embers: a slim flame shoot up and I recognized the bird with the yellow sparrow hawk’s head. In the dying embers, red and gold threads ran together into nets, letters of the alphabet appeared, memories of faces, animals, plants, worms, and snakes.” (Demian, Harper & Row, 1965, p. 106).
More recently, in the 1960s and 1970s, sensory deprivation was studied for its ability to open access to the imagination. John Lilly, plumbed the depths of flotation chambers that were closed off to light, sound, and changes in air. Water in the chamber was heated to match normal body temperature which caused awareness of the body to drop away (the body seemed to merge with the water). What was left was a mind free to fly off into detailed imagery.
A more modest approach to sensory deprivation is the Ganzfeld effect (article). Special eye pieces can be made from one ping pong ball by cutting it in half. These are placed over the eyes as a person reclines. Staring into this blank field along with wearing sound blocking headphones, will cause the mind to zone out and eventually images of all sorts will start to pour forth for the person who has properly practiced this technique.
Why it works
The mind hates a vacumn. Staring into darkness, an unchanging dark mirror, the white fog of ping pong ball eyelids, or the play of color/light/shadow, the mind gets impatient and seeks to pick up the pace. To do so, it pours out imagistic commentary on what it thinks it is seeing as well. It strives to find patterns. Along with these images come unique imagery from the mind. This imagery is probably the content of the day that churns below the surface reacting to what is going on in our lives at the moment and working on problems we are having or will have around the corner.
How to Do It
Pick an approach that appeals to you from the examples above (there are gazing mirrors available and the ping pong ball Ganzfeld setup just takes minutes to make). Expect this to be a slow process so don’t rush it. Also, it is likely you will have to make this a dedicated practice to release its full potential. Try 10 to 15 minutes every day for awhile. As you stare, relax your body, and keep checking in to find any tension that may have popped up. Relax again. Wait. Let your focus become fuzzy and give that approach a try. Switch back to a sharper focus if you find that more productive. Go with any hints of imagery that comes up before your eyes, in your thoughts, feelings in your heart, or sensations in your body.
Stare, let go, wait, and imagine…dreaming with eyes-wide-open.