Some people believe God to be the first hypnotist: He put Adam to sleep and took out a rib to make Eve. It's a leap, but today hypnotism is used as an alternative to anesthesia — in dental work and even in serious surgeries. More and more, the medical establishment is accepting, even encouraging, alternative therapies. Law enforcement uses hypnotism — most commonly in helping people recall crimes they've witnessed. It's used as entertainment. Therapeutically, it's used to treat an array of conditions/addictions/phobias. Steve Piccus, whom we'll meet later, treats narcoleptics and somnambulists (I wish I'd asked him if he knew any narcoleptics who were also somnambulists), does suicide intervention, teaches pain-management techniques, and more — all using hypnosis.
Most people know the term "animal magnetism." Its connotations have little to do with its original meaning. When we use it today, it means, when applied to a person, usually male, that he holds a unique and inexplicable power, something that makes him particularly attractive to the opposite sex. Though it wasn't his coinage, the term came into being because of Franz Anton Mesmer, who was born in Austria in 1734. It's also from Mesmer that we get the word "mesmerized," which has the same connotations as "animal magnetism." To be mesmerized is to be fascinated by another to such a degree as to be under some mysterious power. Mesmer, a doctor, meant something else entirely. In a nutshell, Mesmer believed the sun, moon, and fixed stars affected each other and caused tides (just like oceanic tides) in a subtle fluid, an ether that he believed existed in the atmosphere and the body. These atmospheric tides, when thrown out of whack, were the cause of all disease, especially of the "nerves." Mesmer believed that interrupted or lost equilibrium could be corrected by moving magnets over the body. He called his theory animal magnetism. Later, he believed that his hands contained the same powers as steel magnets. He did not, however, give up magnets completely. One of his treatments involved a large oak tub filled with magnetized water and iron shavings. Many iron bars poked out of the tub, each one grasped by a different patient. Mesmer's treatments were popular (using the tub he could treat many patients simultaneously) and sometimes successful. He believed there was only one disease. And one cure: his.
Mesmer spent most of his adult life in France and enjoyed, for a time, the support of Marie Antoinette. Most other physicians considered him a quack. He made a fair amount of money, but by nearly all accounts he was sincere. He treated the poor for free. The medical establishment abhorred his theories and was determined to take him down. And it did, officially, with committees, experiments, and reports by eminent doctors who dismissed his claims. All but one, a Dr. Deslon, a respected court physician. Deslon believed in the phenomenon of animal magnetism but did not believe it had anything to do with magnets. Deslon believed it worked (sometimes) via the imagination of the patient, by what we would now call suggestion. Or hypnosis.
Mesmer was adamant that his treatments had nothing to do with the imagination and adopted a "thanks, but no thanks attitude" toward Deslon. Undeterred, Mesmer continued his work. The disdain of the medical establishment was water off the back of a double-greased duck. Mesmer moved out of Paris to the fashionable resort of Spa and continued his work. Most of the money he made he put back into promoting his theories. Eventually, 20 hospitals, called Societies of Harmony, were built in major cities all over France. This annoyed the medical establishment, but there was nothing they could do about it. The king of Prussia begged Mesmer to settle in Berlin. He declined, so the king sent a man to apprentice himself to Mesmer, and later the king appointed the man Professor of Mesmerism in the Academy of Berlin. (Do this professorship and the Academy of Berlin still exist?) A hospital, where Mesmerism was the only form of treatment, was built in Germany.
Mesmer's last years were peaceful. He owned a canary who lived in an open cage in his bedroom. Each morning the bird flew out and landed on Mesmer's head and then awoke him with a song, which would not end until Mesmer was up and dressed. He could put the canary to sleep with a light touch of the hand and wake it up again by stroking the feathers in the opposite direction. He played his harmonica and still treated poor people for free. He died at night in February 1815. When dawn broke, the canary did not fly to Mesmer's head. The bird, in fact, never sang or ate again and soon died.
Mesmer went the way of his canary still believing it was a kind of magnetic field that produced cures. Little did he know he would be considered one day the father of hypnotism. Actually, I prefer to think of him as the accidental grandfather and Dr. Deslon the father. The word "mesmerized" that has come down to us should be "deslonized."
I'd been interested in hypnotism for some time. Probably because I'm a born skeptic and I didn't quite believe it worked but had heard of its efficacy from enough people over the years to know there must be something to it. My daughter, for example, suffers from terrible headaches, just as I did at her age. She was taught some self-hypnosis techniques by a hypnotherapist, and it helped her a great deal. I, on the other hand, had to learn the fine art of puking in my lunch box while the school nurse drove me home with what was termed a "sick headache." I'd spoken to law enforcement people who use hypnosis forensically. I knew people who had tried it to quit smoking and to lose weight. I knew enough to know that the stereotypes -- the hypnotist swinging a watch in front of a subject's face and saying, "You're getting sle-e-e-e-e-e-epy," or the nightclub act where a shy librarian is made to jump up and down on one foot, flap her arms, and bark like a seal -- were just that: stereotypes. Still, I was skeptical. Could I be hypnotized?
I'd give it an honest shot. I'd get hypnotized up and down, inside and out. I went to see Erick Känd in Pacific Beach. (Note: Känd has recently relocated to Florida's east coast -- he likes the ocean and he likes warm weather.) He's a practicing hypnotherapist, certified, experienced, personable. I had a specific issue I wanted to address. What exactly that issue was is between a man and his hypnotherapist.
Känd is in his early 30s. He's trim, immaculate (he brushes his teeth between appointments), and passionate about his profession. We met at his small office about a mile from the beach. We went to lunch. He was the first hypnotist I talked to, and I had a lot of questions. I knew he had done hypnosis as entertainment. I needed to know how a hypnotist got people from an audience of strangers to come up onstage and do outrageous or silly things. Imitate a chicken. Or sing like a member of the Village People. Actually, it's not the hypnotist who makes this happen, it's the subject him/herself. First of all, someone under hypnosis never loses consciousness and won't do anything he or she wouldn't do otherwise. If you want to hypnotize a woman into going to bed with you, it won't work unless she wants to go to bed with you.
A stage show works like this: the hypnotist calls maybe 30 people onstage and attempts to drop them all into a trance. This is done mostly orally and rarely with either a watch or one of those twirly things. He sends back to their seats those who do not initially respond. It helps if the hypnotist is a student of human nature, has intuitive and empathetic powers.
The hypnotist looks for the most appropriate subjects, weeding out people who he thinks are faking or not sober enough, while at the same time trying to find the ones not afraid to have fun, the ones willing to be silly. The subjects must want to be hypnotized. They are in a state of deep relaxation and glad to be goofy. Känd told me that you'd prefer not to give a hypnotist show to a room full of accountants or lawyers. The best groups are junior high or high school or college students. People at a convention away from home. Less-inhibited crowds. The point is fun, laughs. The last people onstage are the most susceptible to hypnosis. Yes, they are conscious of what's going on. Yes, they are in a trance and open to suggestion. Hypnosis: a state of de-e-e-e-e-ep relaxation. The hypnotist gets you there by telling you to go there. It's not that some people can't be hypnotized; it's that some people don't want to be hypnotized.
The trance state (what it's called when one is hypnotized) is common. We are each in and out of trance states every day. Daydreaming and all its variations (lost in a book, lost in a movie, lost in sex) are trance states. Intense, highly detailed daydreams are a common form of trance. I'm not sure, for example, what an accountant daydreams about. Or an engineer. I teach at a university crawling with engineers of all kinds. A joke I've heard several tell on themselves: "Why do people become engineers? Because they don't have enough personality to be undertakers."
It makes sense that children are good subjects for stage hypnosis: they're all kings of daydreaming. I still remember in great detail an afternoon-long daydream that involved me firing a machine gun at Japanese Zeroes strafing my grammar school. No matter that I lived in inland Massachusetts and the war had been over nearly a decade. Needless to say, I shot them all down and was awarded a medal the next morning after we said the Pledge of Allegiance. And ditto needless to say, a girl I had a crush on smiled at me. She looked exactly like Annette Funicello. I asked Känd if he had many kids as hypnotherapy clients. He said no, "because they're already in a trance!"
Did Känd feel there was anything contradictory about doing stage shows and practicing hypnosis as a legitimate form of therapy? No, the stage show is fun, and it's a way of advertising his therapeutic side. It's "another line in the water." He meant this pragmatically (it's a business; it's how he earns his living), and he believes in the power and the possibilities of hypnosis to help people, to help heal people; and any way he can get the word out, he will. I asked Känd about the things people came to him for. He said first that hypnosis was often a last resort: "People have run through medical doctors, shrinks, voodoo doctors not in the Yellow Pages" before they come to a hypnotist. He also told me he rarely has more than three sessions with clients. Other hypnotists said this too. If they can't make at least a dent in a problem in three sessions, then they probably can't help. I wish the shrinks I've seen in my life had made the same claim! I'd have a lot more money in the bank now. Känd summed it up this way: "talking, talking, talking, and never moving." He also made it clear hypnotism's not a magic bullet. You don't get hypnotized and suddenly drop 50 pounds. Helping people quit smoking or lose weight is his bread and butter, but he also treats clients with social phobias, fear of flying (particularly since 9/11). After 9/11 he treated a client who had to commute weekly to Saudi Arabia. He said he helped the person not only to get over the fear of flying to that part of the world but also to enjoy the trip! He treats people who have a fear of public speaking. Research indicates that public speaking is the average person's second greatest fear, coming right after death.
Känd's office is dominated by a huge, soft leather chair. Sitting in it was like sitting in a large bowl of warm chocolate pudding. I came to call it the World's Most Comfortable Chair. Känd said he shopped carefully for it: it's one of the few pieces of equipment a hypnotist needs. I think I dropped into a quarter of a trance as soon as I sat down and before Känd even opened his mouth. The curtains were drawn. He played a new agey music -- barely audible. I prefer new age music inaudible.
I told him my issue. He said it was like "a pocket of poison that needed to be popped." Like popping a pimple, I thought, which we all know leaves a red welt, which is much better than an active pustule. He takes, and encourages his clients to take, an aggressive approach in confronting an issue: "Bring it on, don't avoid the issue, challenge it to see if it's real. Sometimes you have to throw a couch off a roof to see if it breaks." I think he was glad to hear I didn't need to quit smoking or lose weight. A few minutes later I was in a trance, and this is how he got me there.
As I said, just sitting in the chair was the beginning of my induction (another word for being hypnotized). The client sits about two-thirds reclined, a little more than in your Barcalounger to watch a movie on the TV. Your legs remain uncrossed.
He asked me to put my hand palm-down on his hand, which was held palm-up. He asked me to press hard on his hand. He did this two or three times. And then he said, almost dramatically, "Sleep!" I was interested in his voice as he dropped me into, and while I was in, a trance -- its rhythms and cadences, his inflections, pacing, etc. The voice: the hypnotist's most important tool. Känd, sometimes alternately, sometimes at the same time, sounded like a radio announcer, a soothing, soft-speaking counselor, a stern teacher, an ardent coach, a preacher, an intimate friend. The speed, pitch, level of loudness or softness varied greatly, and all were done with purpose and good timing, shifting from one tone to another, waxing a bit dramatic, then toning it down. There was room for variation if not for improvisation.
He asked me to squeeze my eyes shut. Then let go. Then squeeze them tighter, then relax, all without opening them and until I felt I couldn't open them. Then he told me to bring up my issue as an image and to try to make the feeling around the image rise up from inside me and travel down my legs and up my arms. Remember my saying I was a skeptic? I still am, but goddamn if I didn't feel and see the issue. He took me back before the most recent and painful manifestation of it. To an earlier manifestation. And then to one before that. Then to one I had no previous conscious memory of. He had me describe these scenes in the present tense, as if they were happening now. This was when he was stern: if I used the past tense he insisted I keep it in present tense. All of these but the last had come up in conventional shrinkage over many, many sessions, which always ended with my writing a check and saying: "See you next week." Känd had run me backward through this ugly knotted rat's tail in about 20 minutes. He asked me to step away from these memories and to speak as an adult to the child in the images. He told me to hug my child self. This was the only time I felt a twinge of the hokey. The whole "embracing the inner child" pop psychology fad came rushing back to me. Pop psychology always annoyed me. So instead of hugging my inner child, I nodded gravely at him. And my inner child returned the nod, as if he knew what he was in for. We were near the end of the session. Before Känd brought me out of the trance (by snapping his fingers!) he told me that when I left the office and saw the color red, I would be filled with a sense of peace and well-being. I remember thinking, "Uh-huh."
I left his office a few minutes later and looked to my left. There was a stoplight on red. It was the deepest, richest, creamiest, most evocative red I have ever seen, and it filled me with joy. I decided to walk to the literal beach of Pacific Beach -- I'd never been there before. I saw a red pickup truck go by: joy. I stopped to look at some bedraggled red flowers for several minutes, very happy. When I got to the beach I saw -- it jumped out at me! -- a very loud red and yellow shirt. Way too loud for me. I had to buy it and did and put it on on the beach and didn't take it off for three days (I swear, except to shower). I slept in it two nights. Later, when I told Känd what had happened, he smiled and said, "I know."
In the second and third sessions he took me back to the examples of this issue coursing through my body, but this time he had me put spigots at the tips of each finger and toe. I know that sounds weird, but there they were, vividly in my imagination, 20 little silver spigots at the ends of my extremities. Then he took me on a trip. He had me imagine that the negative issues in my body were like black gooey tar, something I needed to get out of my body. Then he had me imagine that a great light was entering my body from the top of my head. Then he told me to open the spigots. Next, that the light was moving through my body and pushing the tar and its toxicity out of the spigots. I was gradually filled with light as my fingers and toes oozed their goop. I could even smell it: like day-old vomit, like a vulture's bowels. Goddamned if I did not feel a tremendous sense of relief. I say, goddamned.
Next he switched to a repetitious litany that seemed to have a sense of structure, that emphasized forgiveness -- of others, of myself. Then he moved on to a similar riff on gratitude. These basic tenets are not new -- they're the foundation of many religions, many 12-step programs, hell, they're a part of the common sense we should all learn on our journeys, but this time not only did they make logical sense to me but I also felt them in my body. Emily Dickinson, arguably the greatest American poet ever, said that her test of a real poem was if, reading it, she felt as if the top of her head had been taken off. She was speaking hyperbolically, metaphorically (poets tend to do that!), but she meant that the best poems don't only enter us cerebrally, they affect us physiologically as well. A.E. Housman put the same feeling in a different manner: he said if he read an authentic line of poetry while he was shaving, he would cut himself. I was feeling something similar.
After Känd brought me out of the trance he explained that for the effects to last I had to do homework, I had to re-imagine my images, I had to continue to practice forgiveness and gratitude. He taught me a technique using acupressure points and the repetition of certain phrases I could use if the negative, obsessive thinking returned in spades. I wanted this issue to stop renting so much space in my head. Hypnosis helped tremendously. The issue did not disappear, but it was greatly diminished, and the techniques helped keep it away when it lifted its ugly head to take a bite out of my ass. It was also clear to me -- I could feel this in my body -- that the hypnosis did not just cover up or mask the issue, its pain was diminished, the pockets of poison were reduced to the proportions of pinpricks when before they had gone through me like swords first slathered with the saliva of a Komodo dragon.
Erick Känd told me about another San Diegoarea hypnotist named Eric Von Sydow, professionally known as Hypnotica. I did a little research on him and found out that he often worked with a hypnotist named Steve Piccus (he's coming). I heard them referred to as "the Penn and Teller of hypnotism" and, more interesting to me, "the bad boys of hypnotism."
I met with Von Sydow first. He's in his early 30s, about five ten, dark-haired, and massively built. I had heard him described as "stocky." Not true at all: he is ripped, clearly has tremendous upper-body strength. He lifts weights about five times a week and has the biggest biceps I've ever seen live. His physical strength comes in handy sometimes at his night job: he's head of security at a strip joint not far from the airport. He likes the work and refers to it as his personal laboratory to study human behavior and dynamics. What he employs more often than his strength on the job are his hypnosis skills. He uses them to deal with obstreperous patrons as well as with the psychological difficulties the dancers experience.
Von Sydow is a San Diego native who became obsessed with hypnosis and other healing arts in his teens. Like Känd, Von Sydow has done stage hypnotism. It's not easy. On his third show ever "I put nobody under. At least those people knew it's not fake." As a young man, he did some serious searching, studying massage, herbalism, metaphysics, storytelling, shamanism. He experimented with mind-altering substances. He ran naked through the hills. In the desert, he buried himself up to his neck. He participated in dadaist-like pranks. He was "training my senses to create a richer texture to consciousness." Now stepfather to two teenagers, he also told me, "I think I freaked my parents out during this time. My apartment looked like Willy Wonka's house."
In collaboration with the composer Denver Clay, Von Sydow (using his stage name, Hypnotica) recently produced a CD called The Sphinx of Imagination. It's a kind of sound odyssey into greater possibilities. They worked on it for 10,000 hours, over many years. It's part story, part music, part allegory, part sound effects, part hypnosis. Its intent is to "rewire and expand the listener's perceptions." I'm wary of these kinds of claims, but I listened to it three times in total and found it relaxing, moving and, well, mesmerizing. Von Sydow agreed to let me tag along with him one night at the strip club so I could observe him in action. Sometimes journalists have to make sacrifices for their work.
We went to the club together. The other security people and the dancers knew I was with him, knew I was writing an article, so I had more ready access and wasn't seen as a customer by the dancers. We arrived about eight, and it was quiet, only a few dancers working the stages and no one as yet indulging in lap dances. Von Sydow introduced me around and then went about his business, which essentially consisted of keeping an eye on everything, anticipating trouble. He told me if he has to kick someone out of the club, a not uncommon occurrence, he liked to do it in a way that the troublemaker felt compelled to give him a tip.
I sat down at a table with a Coke. This club, because it was not all nude, served alcohol. All nude is, technically, a technicality: the dancers almost always wear two pairs of panties when they begin a set. The top pair are scanty, and the pair beneath are G-strings, which consist of fabric that might add up to the size of a postage (Priority Mail) stamp.
One of the dancers, I'll call her A, sat down next to me. She had a story to tell, a gripe to air. She'd been dancing for about 10 years, was 28 years old, and had a small child, the father of whom was in jail, doing 20 to life. She told me most of the dancers were single mothers or students. At one point, five or six dancers filed past and she counted them off: "Single mother. Single mother. Student, student. Single mother..." She told me that her breasts were made with no other help than that of God. She was proud of this. If I had to estimate I'd say that about three-quarters of the breasts I saw that night were not made by God alone. She asked me if I knew how to tell if a woman's breasts were all natural or "augmented." I said, "Other than by touch, no." She said hold a flashlight beneath the breast in question. If the breast lights up with a kind of orange glow ("It looks like a jack-o'-lantern"), it's been helped. I don't recommend bringing a flashlight on first dates, however. Besides, what a woman does with her breasts is her business! It was only about ten o'clock, and she'd already had (she told me) five drinks: Red Bull Energy Drink and vodka. Her gripe had to do with the rules and regulations, something about the distance dancers must stay from patrons. When their tops are off, it must be at least six feet. The rule was cutting into the dancers' tips. I'm sure this is not a social injustice that will arouse sympathy in most people, but, hey, strippers need to pay the rent and feed their kids just like everyone else. I asked her if she knew Von Sydow was a hypnotist and she did not, though she said she always felt comfortable around him, trusted him. Unusual for her, she said.
A little later, another dancer, whom I'll call B, that night working as a cocktail waitress, sat down next to me. She told me she lived in Tijuana -- "I got kicked out of San Diego." B did know Von Sydow was a hypnotist and credited him with helping her through some hard times.
Most of the trouble with patrons at the club has to do with improper touching and disputes over money: a guy orders five lap dances and claims he got only four. With the dancers themselves the problems are more emotional/psychological. For example, feelings of rejection are common. Sure, the dancers are working the men, hoping they'll buy lap dances, buy drinks, give tips. Everybody, even occasionally a customer, seems to know the dancer's flirting and attention are not real. But the feeling of rejection that the dancers feel is real. I saw an illustration of this: A was dancing early in the evening, working a gay woman sitting at the edge of the stage. Von Sydow said almost half of the patrons were women, gay and straight; I would say about a third were women on the night I was there. At the moment, there was no one else watching A. She turned her back to the gazer for a few moments, in a move to shed clothing, and when she turned around, the woman was gone. I saw a look of pain on her face and a slight deflation of her posture. Happens all the time and it hurts. B said Von Sydow's help, his counseling (which is a combination of hypnosis, listening and empathetic skills, and positive reinforcement) "saved my life." B didn't have a gripe to air. She was quite chipper, in fact. She offered to buy me a lap dance, which I declined: "No thanks, ma'am. I'm on duty!"
I saw Von Sydow handle a ruckus later. He told me the first thing to do when up against a volatile situation is to envision a "positive outcome frame, an expectation of an outcome that it will be okay." In this case, a couple of guys walked in without paying and were refusing to do so or to leave. It was the first time I'd felt tension in the place. It was around midnight, crowded now, loud. Somehow, Von Sydow moved them toward the door without touching either. It was as if he had an invisible snowplow jutting a few feet in front of him. Once outside, his tone became more direct, he stood more erect, making it clear how massive his chest and arms were, still talking quietly, respectfully, but firmly. In another minute the two guys were standing alone outside looking at each other, blinking. Von Sydow was back inside, scanning the place for improprieties.
When I asked him about the situation, he said what he used combined bouncer and hypnotism skills. He told me that in 12 years, he'd had only eight physical altercations with patrons. He's trained nearly a third of the strip-club bouncers in San Diego. He'd used hand signals, what he called "spatial anchors," to help direct the guys outside. I don't think he got a tip from them, but he did defuse a situation that I felt was gonna blow -- one of the guys, in particular, was agitated and probably loaded on something in the ballpark of methamphetamine. My night at the strip club was edifying and (I'm not just saying this!) completely unerotic.
I met next the other bad boy, Steve Piccus. Piccus is in his late 40s. He and Von Sydow met about a decade ago in a San Diego bookstore and immediately bonded. They're good friends and often work together to streamline hypnotic-change protocols for clients. Piccus has shoulder-length graying hair, wears tinted glasses and a leather fedora. He could pass for Native American. He's of Italian and Scottish descent.
One of the things Piccus and Von Sydow do, rare but not invented by them, is called dual induction, i.e., they both hypnotize you at the same time. It's a technique practiced by shamans to induce a deep level of trance. I was scheduled for that in a few days. First, I wanted to know more about some of the things I'd heard Steve Piccus did with hypnosis. For example, in therapeutic sessions, he teaches women how to (1) orgasm on command, (2) orgasm over depression, (3) have better orgasms with their lovers. And when he said orgasm, he meant full-body orgasm: "Full-body orgasms move us into a state of mind called the parasympathetic nervous system, which releases endorphins." Endorphins: the body's favorite homemade drug. If anyone ever figures out how to synthesize endorphins and smoke them, the marijuana industry (not to mention the opiate industry) is done for. Piccus told me that all fear-based emotions involve adrenaline. Whatever emotions that are not fear-based involve endorphins. "I teach people how to achieve this endorphin state." These sessions are absolutely legit: there is never any physical contact between the therapist (Piccus) and client, no clothing is removed, etc. He told me some hypnotherapists disapprove. He remains undeterred. Later, he said, "Sex, by the way, isn't the only way to reach this state -- great laughter can do it too." It looked for a while as though a client would consent to my being present during one of her sessions, but it was not to be. Sometimes journalists don't get to make sacrifices for their inky trade.
Piccus talks rapid-fire, jumping from one hypno-related subject to another, one quote to another. He's animated, funny, bold. He's fond of locutions such as "Don't care what color the cat is as long as it catches the rat" and "shaking like a dog shitting peach seeds." I asked him what he called himself. He said, "A hypno-shamanistic healer." He got a call on his cell phone while we were in his car, and he gave a client an elaborate herbal recipe for making an unguent to treat eczema.
Both Piccus and, as I mentioned, Von Sydow have studied other related healing arts: herbalism, shamanism, neurolinguistic programming, metaphysics, storytelling, myth. Von Sydow lived in Panama for a few years as a child, and some of his most vivid memories center around his time with indigenous people there. I asked him what he'd like to be doing in five years, and he said he'd like to be in South America studying herbal healing and shamanistic techniques.
When Piccus fetched me to take me to Von Sydow's studio for my dual induction, he first needed to pick up a lacrosse stick for his son, a sophomore at Granite Hills High School. We did and went to the school's bustling main office. Someone called for Piccus's son over the intercom, and while we waited for him, Piccus chatted up the office secretaries, again doling out an herbal remedy for a complaint one of them had. Piccus has the gift of gab and some kind of weird charm: three or four times I saw him gently grasp a strange woman (a waitress, say) by the elbows, and tell her to look into his left eye, which he said was the gateway to the soul. None of them backed off or seemed a bit offended. His son showed up and was delighted with the stick and delighted to see his dad. There was a moment of genuine warmth between them (they'd last been together at breakfast!), and they hugged each other before the kid went back to class. I remembered a somewhat opposite experience I'd had with my daughter when she was about his age: she instructed me to park two blocks from the school where I was picking her and some pals up after a dance. She preferred I not be seen at all. She didn't want me to scare away any boys!
Eric Von Sydow lives near the top of Dictionary Hill, south of Spring Valley. He was waiting for us in his studio when we got there. On a table beside his computer was a set of long steel Freddy Kruegerlike claws. Von Sydow has a third career: he plays a comic book character, called Wolverine, at conventions. He'd recently returned from New York, where he'd portrayed the character in a movie. I noted that he is probably the only person on the planet who is a hypnotist, head of security at a strip joint, and Wolverine.
I'd told Piccus and Von Sydow my issue, and they'd prepared the appropriate metaphors, stories, for my dual induction. I liked that they used metaphor and allegory. They both talked about synesthesia, the mixing of the senses, an inherently poetic tool -- to think/imagine in two or three senses distills and enriches the experience. The immortal poet John Keats would refer to a certain painting as feeling literally warm. Von Sydow said Mozart, while composing, was often thinking synesthetically. Rhyme, to a degree, and onomatopoeia (words made from natural sounds, the sounds -- particularly vowels -- in certain words suggesting emotional or psychological states) were part of the process of making or choosing the metaphors, stories, allegories they were going to take me to, have me enter.
They put me under. Pretty much the same way Erick Känd had. I went willingly, happily. It's hard to explain what it feels like. It's familiar but strange. I get lost in daydreams, in books, all the time. This was similar but deeper. I was supposed to be daydreaming. I was lying back in a chair, and I had two experienced tour guides happy to show me the sights.
They led me into a story about a garden. I won't get more specific than that because (1) it might reveal my issue, and (2) even though another client of theirs would get his/her own story, my telling mine might spoil the fun. They told the story alternately, one speaking, then the other, one on each side of me. Usually Piccus spoke louder, with more intensity. Von Sydow's intonations were more soothing, quieter. Sometimes they spoke at the same time, but I could hear each of them distinctly, one in each ear. I asked them about this later. Did they deliberately do that? Most of the time, yes. Occasionally they step on each other's lines.
At one point, they switched sides without skipping a beat, the allegory getting deeper and more detailed as it went along. I consider myself a person with good imaginative abilities, but the movie I was seeing/experiencing in my head was lighted differently than even the most vivid daydream or night dream. Colors were intense. Edges were sharper. It was multisensory. I loved it. The metaphor/allegory itself was a bit hokey and its ulteriority obvious, but I had no problem putting aside my critical mind -- it just went! -- and followed the story/allegory happily. Did it make my issue disappear? No. Did it diminish it? Yes. To use a physical comparison: Say you had a heart operating at 50 percent of what you needed and there was a simple treatment to get it up to 89 percent capacity. Would you do that?
They brought me out of the trance at the end of the story, and after we talked about it a while, they put me under again, this time standing. The exercise included holograms. It had less of a natural feeling than the garden journey had. Each time I was hypnotized I emerged refreshed and with what felt like a goofy grin on my face. After the session with Piccus and Von Sydow, I also felt a faint and pleasant tingling throughout my body. I asked about this, and one of them said, "It's the feeling after letting something go, like a snake shedding its skin." They told me I'd likely feel tired for a few days, maybe experience light flu-like symptoms, vivid dreams. Yes, to all three. Psychic toxins leaving my body.
I repeat, I'm a skeptic. Hypnotism works, at least it did for me. Either that or I got taken by three good con men. If they were con men, I doubt they'd be wasting their talents on chump change like me. There's not even anything particularly mysterious about hypnosis and how it works. We know the mind can do miraculous things. The hypnotist (in the therapeutic sense) is a facilitator, a tour guide, a healer. Just like doctors and lawyers, some are better than others. I was hypnotized by men only (though Erick Känd estimated that 60 to 70 percent of hypnotherapists are women) and wish I'd also been hypnotized by a woman. Next time. If there needs to be a next time.