By John Urban
Hypnosis has interested me for a long time, and I acquired a good paperback on the subject. It is now yellowed, the cover’s come off, spine broken, with several loose, and a few missing pages; but it is one of two pivotal books that had a great effect on my life, leading me in directions and down pathways that I’d never otherwise have travelled. And even if I got a brand-new copy, I’d still keep my tattered original in my library for sentimental reasons, as this book had a much greater effect on a woman I knew for only about an hour, in 1971. Her name is Helen. I don’t know her last name, and I never saw her again.
At that time, I was living in the top two floors of a three-story greystone building owned by the Grey Nuns, beside their walled-in orchard at the corner of Duluth and Esplanade, in Montreal. From the back deck we could see down into their Garden of Eden. I shared this 10-room, $90 a month home with a number of friends, and my bedroom was on the top floor, with a nice view of the park across the street.
One evening, my friend Bob called to ask if he and his wife could visit, and bring a friend. Sure, I said, and after dark, they arrived, and came upstairs to my room. They brought a friend of Bob’s wife, and her name is Helen. We light a pipe, pass it around, and sip on some fresh-brewed tea.
Bob and his wife asked me what’s new, what’s happening, and I said that lately I’d been reading this very interesting book on hypnotism, which I showed to them. I’ve always wanted to be able to remember my dreams, which usually disappear with a flash and a puff of smoke as soon as I’m awake, and I wish I knew someone who could hypnotize me, to help me to remember my dreams. But I don’t know anyone who can do this, and besides explaining how to hypnotize another person, this book explains how to perform self-hypnosis, which I’d been attempting, but hadn’t yet achieved.
Helen piped up, “Oh, I’d love to be hypnotized too! Do you think you could hypnotize me?” I said, “Well, I majored in psychology at McGill and once I was almost hypnotized by a doctor, but I’ve never hypnotized someone. You would be my first.” “Oh, that’s great!” she said.
“Before we start, though, Helen, I think we need to have a goal, a purpose, something for me to aim towards. Why would you want me to hypnotize you?”
She says, “Well, I have a problem. For many years, I have been afraid of birds. And I mean, really afraid. I become almost hysterical if a bird comes near. I don’t understand why, and it’s caused me a lot of embarrassment. My mother has paid for a psychiatrist for years, but I still have this unreasonable fear, and I don’t understand why.”
“That’s an excellent goal, Helen, and I’d be happy to give it a try, to see if we can’t find out why you have this great fear of birds.” So, I ask her to lie down on my bed, and make herself comfortable, and relax. I locate a candle, put it in a candle-holder, light it, and shut the lights off in the room.
I asked her to keep her eyes focused on the flame as I started passing the lit candle slowly in front of her from side to side, while I painted a verbal picture of a very relaxing scene. The reason for using the bright flame of a candle before the eyes in a dark room is to tire the eyes and add weight to my suggestion that her eyelids are getting heavy. I had her imagine she’s lying on a bed of soft clover under the warm sun, that she feels a wave of relaxation slowly moving down from the top of her head, across her face, relaxing those muscles as it moves along, spreading all the way down her body and out to her fingertips and toes. Her heavy eyelids close, and I suggest the relaxation is making her feel lighter, and lighter, almost weightless, and that the lightest part is her right arm, and that she can feel it becoming lighter than air, beginning to float, and rise slowly up. And, lo, and behold, her arm starts to rise! This is a test; she has passed, and she is now hypnotized!
I decided that I should take her back in time, to before she developed a fear of birds, and then slowly move her forward, until we find it. I figure her 5th birthday might be a good place to start, and so I tell her she is going back, all the way back, to when she was a little girl, only 5 years old, and that today is her 5th birthday. I tell her to describe where she is, and what is happening and going on around her.
She says she is with her mother, in their apartment on Atwater. They have a balcony overlooking the street, and there are pigeons flying around outside, and some have landed on the balcony railing. Her mother is getting ready to go to work, and they leave the apartment together, and go out onto the sidewalk, holding hands, heading for a daycare where her mother will leave her until she returns from work. They have to cross a park, and there are a lot of pigeons in the park, and poor, sad men on the park benches. Some men haven’t a home, and they live in the park, and sleep on the benches, and they look very unhappy. There are many of these sad men, and many pigeons in the park as they walk through it. Her own father has just died, recently, and birds and sad men seem to be everywhere in the park, and she starts crying, here on my bed. Her crying deepens, she is really sobbing.
Just then, the doorbell rings, and someone downstairs pulls the cord that opens the front door. We can hear the sound of heavy boots with metal cleats on them coming up the bare wooden stairs. My friends look at each other, and say, “We told her boyfriend Jake where we were going, and maybe those are his motorcycle boots. He’s a biker, a pretty tough guy, and he’s not going to like seeing Helen crying like this!” Oh, great. So, I’d better bring her out of this trance as quickly as I can.
The proper way to do this is gradually, slowly counting down from 100, telling her that with each successive number she is moving away from that scene and coming forward towards this room, where she is lying on this comfortable bed, with her friends beside her, where she is safe, and warm, etc. It needs time to make the adjustment, just as a diver needs to slowly decompress as he rises from the depths to the surface of the ocean. But if those bootsteps steadily clumping up the stairs and getting louder as they approach the top floor belong to her heavy biker boyfriend, there isn’t enough time to do a proper dehypnotizing.
Clomp, clomp, we can hear the bootsteps gradually getting louder, as the visitor starts marching up the first flight of stairs. Clomp Helen has started crying louder, and I have to raise my voice as I, like a worried air traffic controller Clomp , try to quickly bring this baby in for a safe landing, ahead of an approaching Clomp hurricane.
“Ooookaaay, Helen; I am going to Clomp start counting down from 100 to zero. Clomp Each time I say a number, you are going to move a little bit away from the day of your 5th birthday, and as you Clomp leave it, you see it start to fade, and you see it getting smaller in the distance. 100, 99, 98, Clomp 97. The park, the poor, sad men on the benches, and the pigeons, like clouds in the sky, they are fading away, you can see them evaporating, thinning out, 96, 95, 94, and now you are beginning to see through them, 93, 92, 91, 90, they have faded away so much now 89, 88, 87, 86, they are getting transparent, like a puff of smoke disappears into the air, 85, 84, 83, 82, fading away, and getting smaller, smaller, and as you leave them further behind, you are coming back to your adult life and this comfortable bed you are lying on, with your good friends around you, and you are happy to be coming back here where you are comfortable, and happy to be with your friends!”
I really should be pausing, letting my words sink in between each number, continuing my verbal brushstrokes of the picture I am painting of her leaving childhood and returning to her adult self, but there is no time for this, so I’m doing what I have to do, adding more soothing words maybe only every ten numbers now, and hoping for the best.
Clomp Clomp Clomp Clomp CLOMP CLOMP CLOMP
“45, 44, 43, 42, 41…..Now you can feel yourself returning to your adult self here on this comfortable bed. You are happy to be back here”…..CLOMP CLOMP
Like the pendulum of doom, those footsteps are getting louder as they approach. I am just flying now, down through the number count, hardly pausing any more for soothing words, and I’m at CLOMP “10, 9, 8, CLOMP 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0. You are now CLOMP awake and back here with your friends, Helen, and the past is no longer with you, and you feel refreshed and glad to be back here!”
Helen’s eyes are open and she is wailing loudly, as we move towards her and Bob and his wife hug her, telling her everything is OK, we’re with you, nothing’s going to hurt you Helen. CLOMP!The visitor’s last stair step is completed, and he is almost at the open door of our dark room, as I rise and flip on the light switch. Helen stops her sobbing intermittently to take some deep breaths, and she blurts out, “That was horrible!”
The visitor peeks into the room, and it’s not her heavy biker boyfriend, but Ference, a friend who has a temporary job in demolition/construction; hence the boots. I am greatly relieved, but although Helen has her eyes open and seems conscious, she is still partly hypnotized due to the undue speed of bringing her back to consciousness. Her friends are still sitting on my bed, hugging her, and soothing her, and soon she is fully conscious, and no longer crying, just panting, breathing hard.
Again, she says, “That was horrible! It really was…… But you know, it was also good….In all the time I’ve been getting psychotherapy, those connections with birds were never discovered…. It’s not the whole story, though. I’m sure there is more to it; but that experience was so unpleasant, I wouldn’t want to go through that ever again!”
We could have gone further, if it wasn’t for the false alarm.
Soon they all left, and I never saw, or heard of Helen again. She was primarily a friend of Bob’s wife, and when the two of them divorced, that link was broken. This was much better than getting some part of my body broken by her heavy biker boyfriend, Jake.