Monday, May 05, 2008

Trances People Live

My friend Joe Mitchell, who runs NVC practice groups, emailed me this week. He's reading Trances People Live by Stephen Wolinsky, and writes,

The question for me came up: why trances? What need do they serve in our life?

Trance, as I understand it, is a state where we're operating out of habit, or on autopilot. In trance, the conscious mind is narrowly focused and the other-than-conscious mind is running most of the show. Trance is an involuntary, spontaneous, and hardwired into our brains. It is not learned or chosen. It's like a heartbeat or breathing or blinking. It's just a given part of life. So what function does it serve?

The conscious mind can only hold seven (plus or minus two) bits of information per second. That's why phone numbers are seven digits. Our minds are limited in the amount of data it can consciously track at any given time. The other-than-conscious mind, however, can handle 2-4 billion BPS.

Some specific numbers are here.

If you imagine the Keller Auditorium, that's the capacity of the unconscious mind. Take a quarter out of your pocket and place it on the floor... that's the capacity of the conscious mind.

My understanding is that some specific trances, or trance states, are learned, deliberate, voluntary, or chosen: working, relaxing, paying bills, worship, writing, dancing, purchasing, lovemaking, etc.

I think other trance states are learned but typically involuntary or automatic: worrying and daydreaming, for example. Typically, we don't think to ourselves, "Oops! I'm late for my worry time," or, "I think I'll schedule my worry for 5:30 next Tuesday." We just slip into it involuntarily. Eating, lust, fear, and humor might be voluntary at times, involuntary at others.

If we can learn trances, I think we can unlearn them. NVC is one process for doing this; hypnosis is another. But in my view, we aren't eliminating trances -- we're just choosing a different trance, or replacing one kind of trance with another. As soon as a choice becomes habitual, or automatic, it becomes a trance.

What is the connection between a trance state we choose and our
actual needs (thought of in NVC terms: needs for respect, security,
connection, etc.)

I think trance states can meet needs for

* Efficiency. Trance saves time. Imagine how much time we'd lose on common tasks if we had to re-learn them from scratch every day. Paying bills. Driving. Opening a friggin' DOOR!

* Safety. Ever had the feeling of uneasiness with a person or place? Billions of data are available to the nonconscious mind that aren't picked up by the conscious mind. Just because we aren't aware of *why* we feel uneasy doesn't mean there's not a damned good reason for it. Some call it intuition. If you're a gazelle, sitting around and consciously trying to analyze whether there's *evidence* of a lion could get you dead. Humans aren't gazelles, but the principle is sound, I think.

* Affinity. Trance serves to meet needs for friendship, love, peace, bonding, companionship, etc. If people had to consciously decide each morning whether they were committed to their spouses/children/tribes, the emphasis on impermanence could result in increased social conflict. Long-term memory is the domain of the other-than-conscious mind, so all memory involves trance. Could we have families and friends without memory? Could we have love?

* Creativity. The conscious mind is the rational, logical, linear mind that is aware of present sensory input: Observation and Evaluation territory. Emotion, imagination, and symbolism are the languages of the other-than-conscious mind. All creativity involves trance states. I'm pretty sure that all problem-solving and learning involve trance states, too.

Since you're into hypnosis, I'm thinking that you induce trances -- is that right?

Yes. As a hypnotist, I lead people in and out of trance.

And am wondering if you see a connection between a persons needs, in NVC
terms, and trances that they choose or hypnosis chooses for them.

One of the reasons I love NVC is because it does induce trance. When a person "goes inside" to identify their feelings and needs, that involves a trance state.

Regarding hypnosis and choosing trances: Hypnosis is a way of *inducing* trance, but it doesn't "choose a trance for" someone. Typically, a client comes in because the trances they're choosing aren't working for them (the smoking trance, the food-as-comfort trance), and they want help installing a replacement trance (the smoke-free trance, the food-as-fuel trance).

Here endeth the opinion.

Thanks so much for the fascinating questions, Joe. I'd love to hear what other folks think!

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