I’m almost to the end of the Principles of RSM series: after this, there are only two more! If anyone has an awesome suggestion for another series of things I could write about on a weekly basis, please contact me!
When I talk about altered states of consciousness, I imagine that many people think of something to do with drugs and mind-expanding experiments of the 1960s. But there are many kinds of altered states, many of which we unconsciously engage in on a daily basis. Sleep and dreaming, for example, are altered states of consciousness. That state between sleeping and waking, just before falling asleep and just after waking up, are altered states as well. When you’re driving to work, along a route you’ve driven countless times, you’re in a kind of altered state, unconsciously performing routine actions. When someone on your route cuts you off in traffic and you have to slam on the brakes, that shifts you into another mind-state – full awareness, fight-or-flight.
One word for a certain kind of altered state is “trance,” and in Rubenfeld Synergy, the definition of trance is rather broad. We can be said to be in a trance state when we daydream during a boring meeting – this is a dissociative trance. Another kind of trance occurs for athletes at peak moments, when everything slows down and a moment of perfect action occurs. Artists can enter these states as well at times, when everything else falls away and the painter paints, the actor acts, the singer sings in a perfect moment of presence.
Anyone who has tried meditation, ecstatic dance, or breathwork will also be familiar with altered states: we have tools to deliberately change our consciousness. (My favorite definition of magic, actually, is “the art of changing consciousness at will.”) Meditation can carry us away from ourselves, journeying through realms of imagination; it can also carry us into ourselves and the present moment, as with mindfulness meditation.
In the therapeutic world, we also talk about trances of habit, triggers that bring us into patterns of emotion and behavior. The “family trance,” for example, is the oldest trance we experience: think of the way your tone of voice and speech patterns change when you talk to your parents on the phone. I, for one, regain the markers of a Jersey Shore accent! Now imagine visiting your family for the holidays, and the ways all of the old buttons get pushed, even when we think we’ve gotten over our childhood pains. Of course the family trance can contain happy and comforting buttons, as well, and there is little more powerful than entering a beloved house with beloved smells, and seeing a loved one we recall many happy childhood hours with.
The therapeutic trance, though, is the trance we seek to make most use of in Rubenfeld Synergy Method. When a client lies down on the table, there is already a shift in consciousness, and as a session progresses, a client may close her eyes, relax, listen to her body, and enter into an inner dialogue that promotes intuition and connection. The Synergist’s touch also promotes this state of trance, and allows the client to feel a bubble of safety in which old, dysfunctional connections can begin to be dissolved, and new healthy connections can be made.
While talk therapy can be incredibly useful on its own, often it has the problem of keeping the client in his head. Talking out problems in words, intellectualizing, and analysis all have value, but they leave out the key piece of the body, and how it experiences things. Inducing a light meditative or trance state has a long history in therapy: Freud did it with free association, Erickson did it with hypnosis, and Synergists do it using touch. The result is that the client can access intuitive, sometimes non-verbal, emotional and kinesthetic experiences of his own story. And when a client can do that, he can potentially free himself from old narratives, and move forward from a new place.