Is a Religious Experience a Hypnotic Experience?
I came across an interesting question today. Another hypnotherapist in the UK posed the question, asking if anybody else noticed the startling similarity between the techniques used in hypnosis to those used in religion. Another hypnotherapist chimed in that it wasn’t just religion, it was also military, and politicians!
I made a similar observation when I first formally started studying hypnosis. But it wasn’t just organized religion. It was ALL spiritual practices! Regardless of whether they are Western (e.g. Christianity, Judaism, Islam) or Eastern (Hinduism, Buddhism) or Native American (shamanism), or New Age, or Wiccan, or other Spiritualist practices, they are all only effective to the extent that they facilitate the person entering into a trance state!
The implication, especially to the mind of the UK hypnotherapist that originally posed the question, is that a religious experience is not a real, legitimate experience. That when you think you see God, you are really just experiencing a figment of your over-active imagination. Sure, you are really experiencing something, but it has no legitimacy outside of yourself. And I am sure that he is not the only person who feels that way.
I, however, have a different viewpoint. Yes, I acknowledge, that in some cases when a person experiences a “spiritual” experience, or a “religious” experience, that it may only be in their own head. That it is just a product of their past experiences, their expectations, and their own biology and state of mind. In other words, yes, sometimes it really is just a figment of someone’s over-active imagination. But not always.
You see, I’ve had way too many experiences to fall into the trap of believing that what we experience inside ourselves never has any external origin. I won’t recount any of them here, but suffice it to say that I know for a fact that when we are in a highly susceptible state of mind, then the subtle influences that normally go unnoticed can get amplified to such a degree that we can become conscious of them.
So, to the person who has never experienced and been able to objectively (or subjectively) validate a “spiritual” experience, that connection between hypnosis and religious experience tends to invalidate religion in their minds. To me, it has the opposite result. The realization that there is a connection helped me to understand religious people, religious teachings and methods, and actually legitimized religion in my mind. I had fallen into the trap of thinking that what religious people say could be taken literally. And I’m sure many religious people do take it literally. But if you take it symbolically, interpret it symbolically, a pattern emerges. And that pattern points squarely at only one rational conclusion:
When used correctly, religion enables change, personal transformation, that takes place from the inside out. When abused, yes, it can easily become the “opiate of the masses.” Yes, it can become a means of controlling people, and making them meek and submissive. But applied with wisdom and benign intent, it can help to connect people, in a very real way, to something that is very real, if not very tangible, that exists outside themselves.
Which is why, when I first connected the dots between hypnosis and spirituality, I got the idea that I should use hypnosis to help people have spiritual experiences! I mean, after all, a spiritual practice is really just a traditional method of inducing trance, and what to do with it once there. But not every tradition works for everybody. Whereas, as a hypnotherapist, I’m trained in how to understand the person, and work within their unique strengths and tendencies, to move them towards trance. So, while any particular spiritual practice may only be effective with some percentage of the people, I can get results with practically anybody. It just seems like a natural fit! Some day, I hope to do exactly that…