Ever since I was little, I have been fascinated by Hypnosis. As a teenager, I sent away for several mail order books on the subject, read them cover-to-cover, then impressed my friends with ill-advised exhibitions of suggestion. Hands were inexplicably locked together, pendulums were swung, maidens swooned… it was fun.
So when I got the opportunity to be ‘stage hypnotised’, I was excited and jumped at the chance.
Before we get too far into it, I was a little reluctant to write this post because Dear Debbie as Wisdom Hypnosis is a good friend-in blogging and I worried a bit that I might be belittling the profession at which she excels by prattling on about my stupid stage-hypnosis experiences. Then, last week, Debbie posted positively (she always posts positively) about her own recent experiences on stage as a subject so I felt silly for worrying – I should have known better…
During my second year of college in Dublin – I was seventeen - a well-renowned Stage hypnotist began a run in the famous Olympia Theatre. Being dead poor, we couldn’t afford to go but everyone who got hypnotised on stage got free tickets to come back and see the show another night so we acquired some of these free tickets on a promise that we would do our level best to get ourselves entranced, score some further free tickets and then give them back.
My pal Feargal and I were committed to volunteering ourselves while Damian and Bernard were intent on watching the show. Bernard was a worry because he needed some ammunition on me and anything stupid I did would doubtless be thrown back at me in multiples in the weeks to come.
Fergal and I managed to get ourselves on stage with a bunch of other audience members. We both must have done well in the suggestibility tests because we somehow stayed on while other less apt pupils were sent back to their seats. Finally there was fifteen of us left. We were provided with low lights, atmospheric music and gentle suggestions until finally we were deemed ‘ready to play’.
The hypnotist (I won’t name him – he’s passed away since but he was really very good) had lots of fun with us. He made us act out being chickens, I was encouraged to milk a cow (and it didn’t look like any cow-milking the audience had ever seen, I am told), I was also told I was a secret agent and that I would be shot and, when I died, the hypnotised ladies would run to my side and minister to my dying needs – which, at seventeen, would have remained strikingly similar to my not-dying-needs. Unfortunately, I took far too long to die and, by the time I finally hit the floor, all the ladies had gone to minister to the good looking bloke over at stage right… so I died alone.
The little knowledge I had of hypnosis meant that I went into this experience with great comfort – I believed that I could not be made to do anything I was not comfortable doing and this was proved for me when the hypnotist suggested at one point that we take all our clothes off. The stage was quite cold and I hadn’t a notion of standing around in my ‘smalls’ for ten minutes while Bernard took mental pictures. As a result, I had only managed to get my sweater off by the time Feargal and most of the others was gleefully down to little more than their socks.
The funniest moment was when we were all told to be ‘fearsome monsters’. Feargal and I pranced around being generally terrifying and we were in full swing when the order came to ‘Freeze’. I froze facing Feargal and could clearly see that he had stalled in a most unfortunate position. His mouth was fully agape and his head was tilted forward, a spotlight gleaming on his terrifying face. The hypnotist set off on some kind of history of mesmerism while we remained frozen. Slowly, terrifyingly, a long string of drool started to roll its way from Feargal’s fearsome jaws down to the stage. He knew it, I certainly knew it and the audience came to know it. I found it hard not to laugh but I was, after all, frozen.
All through my evening on stage I was asked to do things I wouldn’t normally do and I did them and I enjoyed it. But was I hypnotised? Well, yes, I believe I was. Yet the majority of people who left the stage that night were sure that they had not been hypnotised, not even a little bit. They felt that they had simply ‘gone along with the show’ for the fun of it. I think this signals a key misunderstanding about hypnotism. Old movies and stories would have us believe that a hypnotist can have their subject in thrall to such an extent that every command is an imperative which simply must be obeyed. This is not the case. I see hypnotism as more of an ‘enabling’ process than a ‘commanding’ process. That’s how it worked for me that night anyway. Whenever I was asked to do something, it wasn’t like ‘I_MUST_OBEY…’ it was much more like, “Hey, that sounds like fun!”.
But, you might well ask, if that’s the case, what makes me feel that I was hypnotised at all? All I really managed to do was milk an invisible cow and remove my jumper seductively.
Well, no, not quite… I did two things that night that I don’t believe I could ever do under normal circumstances.
The first simply related to the stance which the hypnotist required us to take when we were told to ‘relax’. He would touch our heads and we would tip at the waist, head down, legs straight with our arms almost touching the ground – and we would fall into this position with great ease whenever required. Here’s the thing; when the interval came, we were put into this ‘relax’ position and - get this - we were left there on stage for the duration of the interval. I couldn’t hold that position for more than a minute in normal circumstances but it was no problem to me that night.
The second was my big moment of the night. I have no doubt that the hypnotist set me up for this because he saw me for what I was – a positive ‘open’ subject. He called a little girl onto the stage and told her she would be the hypnotist for the next few minutes. She would go around all fifteen of us in turn, touch the back of our heads and tell us to relax and we would ‘relax’ into that flopped-over position.
I was the last of the fifteen. I watched the little girl move along the back of the line, watched each subject tilt over as she touched them, saw the delight on her face… and I said to myself, ‘there is no way I am not going to relax when she tells me, no way in the world…”
There was only three of us left. The hypnotist said to the little girl, ‘let’s do the last three really quickly relax relax relax.” And so she did, relax, relax… and that’s all I know. Apparently, when she touched my head, I fell forward and collapsed full-length, face-first onto the stage. I was left there for a while and then brought up again, safe and sound. I honestly have never had any memory of the period between just before she touched me and the time I was woken up.
I think this illustrates a point. The more open to positive suggestion you are, the more they can touch you and move you and reach you. That’s what I took away from it anyway.
Finally we were left with the mandatory post hypnotic suggestion. What good stage hypnotist will not leave his willing subject with a key word or action which will trigger some amusing reaction in them after the show seems to be over? We were told to go back to our seats and know nothing of what was to come but when he clapped his hands a little green man (a Leprechaun, I hesitate to say) will jump up from under our seats, we will chase him, capture him and bring him home with us to stay.
I was sitting beside Bernard and I could tell that this ‘Leprechaun’ would be his crowning moment. If I did this, I would never win a verbal battle again. Waves of poorly-suppressed glee were rising off him like steam off a racehorse.
The command was given and I chased my little green man, caught him and then took the opportunity to show him to some of the more attractive members of the audience. After that, I took him over to meet Bernard.
“Wanna see my little green man?”
I extended my palm.
“There he is.”
“Isn’t he? Tickle him under the chin.”
“Tickle him, under the chin, he likes that.
Bernard extended his finger and tickled the air six inches above my palm.
I put my other palm out – 12 inches above the first one.
“No Bernard, he’s ‘that’ tall.”
Then Bernard knew that there was no little green man in my hand – and that I, and the rest of my subjects knew that there was no little green men in our hands.
And then Bernard went away.