You are feeling completely relaxed and yet very alert…Your eyelids are so buoyant you couldn’t shut them if you tried…You will read what follows as if it held the key to eternal happiness…
The human mind is an awesome—sometimes frightening—thing. Exploring it is like sticking your head into a dark cave. You want to see what’s in there, but you realize that, whatever it is, it may not want to see you. Nonetheless, those of us who are incurably curious, who never want to stop learning and growing, can’t help ourselves; we continue sticking our heads in that cave.
If you’re curious about Nature, you have to be curious about your own mind. You want to know how it works, how it gives rise to your feelings and actions, why it changes, and where its blind spots are. By the same token, if you’re too busy, too self-obsessed, too encumbered by stress to notice what’s going on around you, you’ll almost surely fail to notice and appreciate what’s going on in you.
One of the most compelling glimpses into the mind I’ve ever seen seemed, on its surface, just a frivolous prank. I was at Fort Devens in north-central Massachusetts, training to be an army communications security analyst. I learned that Jim, one of my barracks mates and a fellow student in Morse code class, was a recreational hypnotist.
The human mind is like a dark cave. You want to see what’s in there, but whatever it is, it may not want to see you.
Jim had been asking around our unit for guys who’d be willing to let him put them out—not just willing subjects, he admitted, but good, easy, gullible ones. He didn’t have to look far. Jack Smith, a regular Army private from Detroit, eagerly volunteered. Jack was a nice young man, tall and, though somewhat doughy, reasonably trim. I suspected he hadn’t had access to much education.
Jim hypnotized Jack several times, putting him through hilarious routines, some of which went so well that I suspected, at first, they’d been rehearsed. He created imaginary "force fields" around things that would make Jack unable to touch them, no matter how hard he tried. He'd make Jack shiver and sweat simply by telling him the room was getting colder or hotter.
Seeing Jack’s actions completely taken over by someone he hardly knew was simultaneously hilarious and chilling. Perhaps the most amazing demonstration was Jim’s planting a knockout “trigger” word in Jack’s mind. Just before we went on Christmas leave, Jim hypnotized Jack and told him that, even after he was out of his trance, whenever he heard Jim say the word biflop, he’d immediately fall into a deep sleep and do whatever Jim told him to do.
Jim had Jack wrapping his arms around himself and shivering, and then, a minute later, he was turning red and sweating.
MONSTERS AT THE MARGINS
When we returned from leave, Jim got everyone together, ostensibly to share stories of our trips home. He made sure Jack was sitting down on a bunk with guys on either side of him.
Jim started talking about his Christmas with his family, and then decided to tease poor, gullible Jack. He needed a word that sounded like it was going to be biflop, but wasn’t. We all had a corner of our eyes on Jack. “So,” Jim continued, “I was anxious to get back ‘cause I couldn’t wait to go out on… biv-v-v-ouac.”
As that very deliberate, emphasized first syllable passed Jim’s lips, Jack’s eyelids fluttered and his chin started to slump. Quickly recovering from the false start, Jack couldn’t figure out why everyone was in stitches.
Jim continued his monologue for another half minute and then dropped the bomb right in the middle of another innocent-sounding sentence. “…It was an amazing dinner: turkey, dressing, squash, you know, all the biflop…” Jack collapsed, saved from falling to the floor only by the men sitting next to him.
I never let Jim hypnotize me. First of all, I was pretty sure it wouldn’t work. I wasn’t suggestible enough, not to mention trusting enough. Secondly, I’ve never much liked being embarrassed.
Finally, I must admit to fearing such a profound loss of control, and the possibility of being exposed—especially without the presence of a professional psychologist—to whatever monsters might unwittingly have been provoked from the margins of my consciousness.
How about you? Ever been hypnotized? How has it helped—or hurt—you? Has it helped you be more aware? More curious? Are we, in some ways, hypnotized unconsciously by our daily routines, our schedules, our gadgets, the media? How might this affect our children and grandchildren as they inherit stewardship of this amazing, fragile planet?