On the difference between meditation and hypnosis

(Epistemic status:  Anecdote, states of consciousness, generally feel like I’m onto something and would like more testing)

Hypnosis and meditation are both relaxed states that are shrouded in a bit of mystique for the average person.  Good hypnosis in particular is less accessible than meditation because of how reliant hypnosis is on finding another person capable of using it that is also very aware of how you express your mental states through nonverbal communication.  Having finally gotten to experience both and prompted by a conversation I had after meditating last, I feel like there are key differences between these quiet states, both experientially and in terms of goal direction.

So, I’ve been doing secular meditation on Tuesdays for the past couple weeks.  It’s been a really delightful experience and I’ve felt novel things afterwards.  The first time I meditated, I actually felt something akin to TRANSCENDANT JOY afterward.  There was this feeling of connectedness with everyone and everything.  The next time, I briefly experienced that connectedness through the sense of sound, which was likely because the meditation was an ambient sound meditation.  Generally, the feeling when my meditative state breaks (and it is much more fragile, I presume due to less practice), is just wanting to try it again and resetting from the start.  It’s gentle, I suppose.  Overall, meditation tends to feel like a very connected, lowered self membrane experience.

I have been doing hypnosis, both receiving and giving for a much longer time.  It is also a delightful experience and my suggestibility afterwards is a very intense, enjoyable experience.  The part I find most notable about the hypnotic state is I am complicit in every step.  It’s not as if I am unaware or unconscious, I just have this feeling that if I break the state, I will have a strong feeling of loss.  If my hypnotic state does break without an awakener despite this, my emotional state is usually upset.  This is a bit confounded by hypnosis being adjacent to my subspace mental state, so it’s entirely possible it’s more subdrop than intrinsic to a feeling of failed hypnosis.  It’s difficult to get me back under, regardless.  Hypnosis overall has a feeling of force, strong guidance, feeling more bound by the self membrane.

There are, I think, three fundamental differences between the conscious experience of hypnosis and of meditation.  The first is one that I’ve explicitly stated; the self membrane is weakened under meditation and strengthened under hypnosis.  To explore this a bit more, it’s an interesting paradox because meditation can be (and usually benefits from) being a solitary experience.  Hypnosis, on the other hand, is an experience for two, a strong thread binding you to someone else…yet it feels fundamentally isolating, confining you to within your head, so to speak.  The hypnotizer is a jailer, in a way.  Meditation…my thoughts are free to wander.  I’m focused on various stimuli but I am fundamentally connecting with the world outside my head because those are the stimuli I am focusing on.  My breathing, the noise around me, how my body feels in a space, it’s a relaxed yet alert state.  With hypnosis, my thoughts are being slowly wrapped around a singular concept.  With meditation, I don’t cycle on a thought, I only have to rein myself in sometimes to not lose focus on the state.  It’s quiet, slow, my mind feels more expansive.  With hypnosis, my mind is repeating.  It’s rapid, any words it is throwing are the words given me by the hypnotist.  I’m relaxed, but there’s a quiet franticness in terms of making sure that the only thoughts I have are the thoughts I am allowed to have.  So, that is why I feel the self/other barrier is stronger in hypnosis and weaker in meditation.

The second thing is that meditation is an agency increasing state, and hypnosis is an agency decreasing state.  With meditation, you are firmly placing your locus of control within yourself.  While your state is open acceptance of the stimuli around you or of the things your body naturally does or even thought processes, there’s a sense of also deciding how you want to feel about it.  It’s an active open acceptance, not a passive open acceptance.  You are making the choice to accept what is, rather than let your mind autopilot to the narrative level.  Hypnosis is an agency decreasing state, which is a bit paradoxical because of how complicit you are in your own chance.  You are, however, fundamentally surrendering power.  You are openly accepting only what you are told to accept.  Your locus of control is external.  In a way, that’s the entire point.  “It’s ok to act this way because I’ve been told it’s ok.”  You are not accepting responsibility for the suggestions you accept, you are accepting the power of the other person’s words over you; even that acceptance is somewhat coerced.  Ericksonian hypnosis in particular uses misdirection and confusion a lot to maintain compliance and trance.  From start to finish, you are putting yourself in a place where you do not have agency.  Both of these are very, very valuable tools to have.  Agency often seems like the most important thing to exercise and create, but I personally feel it is important to balance between agency and lack of agency, to accept how both these things feel and the tension is not “I do not have agency when I want it” but “The wisdom of yielding agency and taking agency.”  I’ll explore this more in a future post because I  don’t think I can do the concept credit as an aside.

The third fundamental difference I notice is that meditation is a reality based state and hypnosis is a fantasy based state.  I will freely admit my assessment of the latter as fantasy based is partially related to the fact that my experiences have been mostly with Ericksonian hypnosis as well as using hypnosis in an erotic context.  Regardless of that caveat, even inductions are fantastical though, for me.  Hypnotizing me is about engaging my senses and making me visualize within my head.  Taking me down into places that aren’t real.  Telling me a story that isn’t real, but influences my behavior.  Taking me into a ritual space where it is ok to behave a certain way…but not a space that corresponds to my perception of reality.  It’s an extremely high imagination exercise, focused entirely on mind and framing.  Meditation is about connecting with the world around me, examining extant phenomena and reframing what is there in a focused, new light.  The state of open acceptance of what is.  I feel connected because I’ve decided to be mindful of where my body and senses are in relation to the world around me.

The way I’ve been casting things makes meditation seem like a superior state but that is not at all the intent of this essay.  The point is more to focus on what you are trying to do.  Connection is incredibly important but so is the ability to fantasize and curate your mental spaces.  Meditation is a good way to open your filter, to unfocus and appreciate the things that exist around you and possibly even lower your hedonic threshold so you don’t overdo the hedonic treadmill.  It makes novel experience much easier to attain and it frees you from the imprisonment selfness imposes on you sometimes.  It allows you to be a different way and overall, most importantly, to connect.  I have said connection a lot in this post without really exploring what that means; unfortunately, it’s difficult to capture the enormity and importance of being connected and in the world.  Briefly, a lot of bad emotional states tend to really set in through cycling.  It’s not just “I am sad right now,” it’s “I am sad right now, and I am sad because of this, this, and this, so now I’m sadder, now I want to do less things, I guess I better sit here and stare into space.  Ok, now I’m even sadder, I wish I weren’t such a sad, pathetic person.  I can’t possibly be with people like this, or even go out.  I’m just too sad.  I’m sadder now because I don’t DO anything.”  It continues like that.  Perhaps I am typical minding, but connection is the key to breaking that cycle.  Once you start isolating, your perception twists and self reinforces. 

Hypnosis binding you within your self is not intrinsically bad though.  I think part of the check on it is the fact you are very, very tightly bound to another person for at time, so you have a “spotter,” so to speak.  I think it’s also very helpful for making a mind more habitable.  Sometimes it isn’t possible to connect with others, so the hypnotic state allows you to create and landscape your mind.  You can clear out some of the clutter, create new routines and exist in safer places where cycling isn’t permitted.  Hypnosis allows you to execute new automatic subroutines when you don’t have the energy or emotional state to bring yourself into the world.  It’s a reset state, as opposed to an outreach state.  This is also very important.

In the end, both hypnosis and meditation have important roles in mental development and interaction with the world.  I don’t know how other people experience these states and would be really happy if people shared their experiences with meditation, hypnosis, or both so I have a check on my intuitive flight and more information to work with while exploring these concepts.

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