Awakening And De-Hypnotizing From False Beliefs

“this world is one of hypnotisation,” says Swami Vivekenanda (1863-1902). “Whatever you tell yourself that you become. Almost the first words the great Buddha uttered were— “ What you think, that you are, what you will think, that you will be.'”

And, again, says Vivekenanda, “They [Hindus] say you are hypnotised already, and that you should get out of it and de-hypnotise yourself.”

Exactly the same sentiment was articulated by Émile Coué (1857-1926), the French pharmacist who first recognized that what we think affects our health and how quickly we will recover from a sickness (and who later recognized that the mind affects whether we reach our full potential and, ultimately, who we will become).

Coué (whose ideas and observations influenced the modern hypnotist profession) argued that we are constantly hypnotizing ourselves, often against our own desires or wishes. In his most famous example, Coué noted that no one has any problem walking along a plank when it is laying flat on the ground but even the thought of walking across it causes trepidation and fear to arise once it has been raised up high in the air, perhaps suspended between two ladders. Then, looking up at it, imagining falling and hurting ourselves, many — perhaps most — people will become too afraid to walk across it, even though it is physically no more difficult than if it was laying on the ground. 

Mass Hypnosis:

The same principle applies to many situations, desires, and obstacles in our lives. We convince ourselves that we can’t achieve or that we will never overcome some limitation, and give up before we have even tried. Or we develop our skill to the point where we can compete in the “big league” and then, intimidated, fall apart. (For this reason, many athletes turn to hypnotism and why sports teams now employ sports psychologists.)

Or, we chase after things that we think we should want but actually don’t. Once we get them, the luster soon wears off and we find more things to get excited about. And so on.  

In John Carpenter’s movie They Live, a drifter discovers a pair of glasses that enables him to see the hidden messages behind advertising. When he puts on the glasses, an ad for computer technology is reduced to a white sheet with the now iconic word “obey” in bold, black font running across it. A “close out sale” sign turns into “consume,” also printed in black on white. And the real message behind the pages of a magazine are revealed to be “stay asleep,” “buy,” and “do not question authority.”

Things aren’t quite that simple. As any copywriter will tell you, the message behind most adverts is that the product or service advertised can satisfy the consumer’s deep need or can solve a problem that they are experiencing. The real hidden message behind a computer technology ad may be closer to: save time at work so you can spend more time with your family

For the individual, however, constantly bombarded by media messages (many of which are really offering a quick fix or quick high — e.g., an ad for ice cream), there is the real possibility of turning our attention to what makes us feel good temporarily, instead of using our time in a way that reflects our true values (e.g., spending it with those we love or creatively using our mental and physical energy in pursuit of our goal). 

Hypnosis As De-Hypnotizing:

Coué was right: the practice of hypnotism is, to varying degrees, really a process of de-hypnotizing. Though there is more to it than this, the process itself often involves entering state of deep relaxation; in effect, letting go of all of the tension that has built up and that has become lodged in the muscles. But the hypnotist will also give their clients appropriate suggestions (which are believed to influence the subconscious) while they are in a state of hypnosis. 

Let’s think of smoking. There is no benefit to smoking. It causes serious health problems, including, of course, lung cancer. It is antisocial. And it is financially a burden for many smokers. But people start smoking because the media and friends effectively hypnotized the individual. And they continue to smoke because they hypnotize themselves (saying, for example, that it calms them down — in reality, tobacco has the opposite effect: spiking adrenaline (epinephrine) and increasing the heart rate)

The first cigarette probably made the smoker want to vomit. The next few tasted disgusting. But cigarette advertisements (when they were legal), celebrities smoking in movies, and the “cool kids” at school smoking all reinforced the idea that smoking will make someone more attractive (of course, in reality, it actually damages the skin and speeds up the aging process). Consequently, the individual was able to force himself through the feelings of nausea, to the persist to the point where he started justifying it, saying that he “needs” cigarettes (a suggestion that is totally false). 

If you’re a smoker and see a hypnotist, he or she will use hypnotism to help you stop smoking. The hypnotist isn’t imposing something onto you. His or her will isn’t being imposed on you. Rather, he or she is, in effect, de-hypnotiizing you, stripping away what is false, and helping you get back to your true self. 

Hypnotism Or Nothingness?

While Vivekenanda was right that we are constantly being hypnotized (e.g., by media, advertising, and political propaganda), and while Coué was correct that we also hypnotize ourselves with our own internal dialogue, the two radically depart in one aspect. 

Coué realized that we can use hypnosis to undo our own negative, defeatist self-talk (as well as the conditioning of advertising (e.g., for cigarettes), etc.), and to help us change for the better or work towards what we want in life. Far more mystical and, arguably, nihilistic, Vivekenanda claimed that being hypnotized could be defined as the belief that anything is real:

“We say that every other religion that preaches [that the things of the material cosmos, such as the sun, are] real is practising a form of hypnotism,” Vivekenenda goes on to say. “But the Advaitist says, throw away even [the sacred texts of] the Vedas, throw away even the Personal God, throw away even the universe, throw away even your own body and mind, and let nothing remain, in order to get rid of [mass] hypnotism perfectly.”

This appeal to throw everything away, and to abide in a kind of nothingness, may well have been a helpful practice in ancient India, where the caste systems were rigid and being born into poverty guaranteed living and dying in poverty. But, as Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) itself claims, there is a great cycle of time, and both society and the world change over time. What was right for society two or three thousand years ago might not be right for our own time. 

Today, we cannot become a wandering monk, living off of alms. And nor should we think that life is a choice between the extremes of poverty, begging, and spirituality on the one hand and plasma TVs, CEO salaries, and materialism on the other. 

We cannot, as Vivekenanda suggested, “let nothing remain, in order to get rid of [mass] hypnotism perfectly.” Instead, we must constantly navigate beliefs, ideas, the opinions of other people, propaganda, and our own self-talk, adjusting and continually reassessing what is true and what is not. 

We can undo the mass-directed hypnotism of media, advertising, politics, and our own internal, negative self talk through questioning, probing, through contemplation, meditation, individually-directed hypnosis, reading different points of view, learning about culture over the millennia, and so on. 

But, our struggle today is twofold: 

  • In our constantly changing world — a world of propaganda, half-truths, and constantly shifting narratives — we must endeavor to discover what is real.
  • And we must become awakened to who we really are — or should and can be — and act on that awareness. 

This task is not only an intellectual or material one but a spiritual one that calls us to look deep inside.  

Results may vary from person to person.