Cover image for Trance zero : the psychology of maximum experience
Trance zero : the psychology of maximum experience
Crabtree, Adam.
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Physical Description:
xx, 263 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
General Note:
Originally published: Toronto : Somerville House Pub., c1997.
Format :


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BF311 .C72 1997 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Arguing that humans use trances to block out distractions in order to more fully experience work, play, and lovemaking, the author explores the positive and negative roles of such states in our lives.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

In rather a Zen-without-koans approach to living fully, psychotherapist Crabtree posits that we spend most of our lives in a trance, focused on one thought or object so intently that our awareness of the complexity of reality is dimmed. Some trances can be productive, such as creative trances, in which we fail to notice the hours that pass while we work. Some are pleasurable, like the trances of lovers centered on each other. Crabtree discerns various kinds of trances, including thought trances, in which we are so intent upon our inner world that we ignore the outer, and cultural trances (including those induced by the media), which exploit, often for commercial or political purposes, the acceptingness of the trance state. We can wake up from the enchantment of trances, Crabtree argues, and lead fuller lives, entering what he dubs "trance zero," when we are deeply conscious of each moment in which we live. Such deep awareness is essentially spiritual, a recognition of the immanent divinity that surrounds us. --Patricia Monaghan

Publisher's Weekly Review

Crabtree's thesisÄthat trances are an integral part of daily existenceÄis startling, yet his definition of a trance is so broad that his theory is unfocused. He posits that there are relational trances (i.e., being absorbed in one's feelings and thoughts about another person), situational trances (resulting from immersion in an activity) and inner-mind trances (meditation, daydreaming, hypnosis or simply being "lost in thought"). Finally, in group-mind trances, one is swept up in the emotions of one's family, workplace, church or other social group. Crabtree, a psychotherapist, is a former Roman Catholic priest and Benedictine monk who holds a graduate degree in philosophy. He also ran a therapeutic community in the 1960s and '70s. This eclectic experience makes for some fresh observations on the psychodynamics of cults, the benefits and potential pitfalls of recovering repressed memories and the damage families inflict on individual members. He does, however, come off as a latter-day Wilhelm Reich when he dismantles what he calls "The Little-People/Big-People Delusion," our tendency to worship authority or status figures. His claim that Western culture keeps us all in a trance-like, conformist state is reminiscent of Gurdjieff. His theory shades off into vague mysticism when he sets the individual's goal as "Trance Zero," a Zen-like state of contextually appropriate absorption that allows us to make contact with the "Ultimate Self," our inner pathway to the divine. However, his highly personal but somewhat derivative system of looking at ordinary experience may find a readership of adventurous spiritual seekers. Agent, Frances Hanna, Acacia House Publishing Services, Ltd. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

If you've ever driven a car and arrived at your destination without remembering the actual ride, if you've ever been so focused on the story in a book that you forgot where you really were, or if you've ever been so in love that your whole world took on a rosy hue, you've lived in a trance, according to psychotherapist Crabtree. Our lives, he suggests, are composed of a series of trances, which is not always a bad thing: trances help us to focus on tasks and relationships. But trances also cause us to lose the ability to experience life to the fullest, and so, he suggests, we should move toward "Trance Zero"Ätranscending cultural, relational, and work-related trances by using our intuitive abilities. Not a "quick fix" how-to guide with exercises, this book provides a thoughtful and highly credible discourse on influences on the mind. Crabtree's multileveled theorizing will appeal to an array of students of psychology. Highly recommended for academic libraries.ÄMarija Sanderling, Rochester P.L.., NH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One the trance Are you in a trance?     Most people would answer that question with: Of course not! I am in full possession of my faculties. I know who I am, where I am, what I am doing, and why I am doing it. I could not possibly be in a trance.     Nevertheless, I believe we all live our lives going in and out of trances; that trances are behind what is the very best and the very worst in human beings; and that it is possible to become aware of our trances and gain greater control of our lives.     To illustrate, let me ask you a question. At this moment are you "in full possession of your faculties"? If you are really concentrating on this question, you are probably already slipping into a trance. As you continue to read this page you become less aware of the sounds and sights around you. You generally lose touch with your environment. If you are really focused here, you lose track for the moment of the other roles or identities of your life, the fact that you are a "teacher," "salesman," "lover," "friend," "mother." If you began reading with a slight headache or some other minor discomfort, the pain may disappear as you concentrate. All in all, through the experience of reading and becoming immersed in what you are reading, you lose touch with who you are and where you are. You find it hard to gauge the passage of time. You don't notice your body. You lose track of your relationships and your surroundings. These are typical features of the state called "trance."     This reading trance is so commonplace that it escapes notice. Yet it can be a truly engulfing experience. As you become progressively more absorbed in reading, your trance could become so profound that you would fail to notice important things--such as the fact that you have reached your subway stop or that the pot is boiling over on the stove.     But if something suddenly shocks you back to "reality"--if the subway lurches unexpectedly or you spill coffee on your lap--you snap out of your trance. Your attention again broadens to include a wider spectrum of impressions. You are once more aware of the place, the time, your body, the environment. You awake from your reading trance.     This reading trance is just one example of a multitude of trances. Taken together, the trances of everyday life form the fabric of our human existence. Their effects are important. They can enhance our experiences, but they can also rob us of freedom and fulfilment.     Let's wake up now and turn the page. The Entranced Couple I noticed the couple as I entered the restaurant. They were engaged in a quiet but intense conversation as I passed their table. The suppressed passion of their dialogue continued to draw my attention as I looked over the menu. There was obviously some trouble between them, some disagreement, and their attempts to subdue the outward expression of what they were feeling paradoxically made them more obvious.     As I looked more closely, I realized there was something familiar about this situation. Each was totally focused on the other. They noticed nothing around them. A stack of dishes could have fallen off the counter a few feet away and they would have barely heard. For them time had no meaning. An hour was like a minute. Their usual involvement with the world was suspended. They were in a world of their own, one very different from that of their fellow diners, a place filled with powerful feelings and images, memories of the situations they were arguing about. Their reality was not the furniture, food, and people of this restaurant; it was the world of their emotional involvement and the images that accompanied it. Yet their reality was every bit as vivid to them as his meal was to the man beginning to eat at the next table. The couple's reality was their highly charged relationship, and they were immersed temporarily in one of the most common and most overpowering kinds of trance that human beings experience, the relational trance. What Is a Trance? Trance is as old as the human race. Even its most recently devised version, the hypnotic trance, has been with us for more than two hundred years. Although there has always been controversy about what trance is, you probably will not find a better definition than that given by Webster's dictionary: "a state of profound abstraction or absorption." With a slight modification, this definition is perfect. Let us call trance "a state of profound abstraction and absorption." When we define trance this way, we can see that all of the things that have been called trance over the ages are included. In the old days the ecstatic condition of the seer or sibyl was recognized as a trance. So was the profound absorption of the monk in meditation. Trance was identified in the comatose state of the mesmerized surgical patient, about to undergo a painless operation.     In everyday life, trance characterizes the fixed attention of fascination and the glazed-eye absence of the daydreamer. Stage magicians induce a suggestible state to entertain, and medical experimenters speak of their hypnotized subjects in trances. These and many more instances of trance can be grouped under the definition I am proposing. In fact, this simple description gives us a unified theory of trance for the first time. In what follows, I will spell out how trance, understood this way, can be found everywhere in life.     What about the couple in the restaurant? It is easy to see that they qualify. They were profoundly abstracted or cut off from what was going on around them, and just as profoundly absorbed in each other. Using this couple as a starting point, we can call trance a state in which a person is absorbed in one thing and oblivious to everything else.     Some striking features characterize trance. One is seeing things that are not there--positive hallucination. Another is not seeing things that are there--negative hallucination. Also a person in trance can have a distorted experience of time. Minutes can seem like hours. Or time can speed up so that hours seem like minutes. All of these things appeared to be happening to the couple in their trance. They were unable to see (or hear) things that were right in front of them. Their reality was the vivid impressions of situations and people at the basis of their disagreement, and no one around them could see those images. And I am quite certain that if someone were to ask them to judge the passage of time at the end of their argument, they would have failed miserably.     Other features go along with trance, and I will get to them later. For now I would like to say something about the expression "relational trance." I believe there are a number of different kinds of trance. One of them involves being absorbed in one's feelings and thoughts about another person. That kind of absorption, with its accompanying abstraction from everything else, is what I call relational trance. Other kinds of trance are equally common in our lives. Let me give an example. The Painter Dan is a painter. He always paints in the same place: a studio he has designed for the purpose. When he enters his studio and begins to prepare his painting materials, he becomes very meditative. He forgets about whatever he has been involved in before and his mind fills up with thoughts about the painting he is currently working on. Even before he puts brush to canvas, he is imagining himself mixing a colour, choosing a brush, applying the paint. With each step, he becomes more and more lost in the process of planning and doing the painting.     Like the couple in the restaurant, Dan does not hear extraneous sounds. Nothing seems to penetrate his senses except what has to do with the painting. As images fill his mind and he becomes more and more engrossed in the painting process, he loses all track of time. A whole afternoon can go by without his noticing. The only indication of time passing that registers with him is the change in the light as the day grows late--and he is aware of that only because of its effect on what he is doing.     Dan tells me that if he begins painting with a headache or if his bursitis is acting up, he loses awareness of the pain as he focuses on his work. He also speaks of another peculiarity--pertaining to memory. After he has finished for the day and is relaxing with a friend over a cup of coffee, he can remember very little of what he did while painting. If his friend inquires about the thought processes that led to this or that decision about his painting, or asks about the different alternatives he considered when choosing a paint, Dan cannot reconstruct them. In treatises on trance this is usually called amnesia. Yet when Dan resumes his work the next day, all his thoughts and decisions about painting return to him in vivid detail and he cannot imagine how he could have forgotten them.     Without realizing it, Dan is using a trance state when he paints. Each day, in the familiar, well-designed setting, he eases himself into a state of consciousness that allows him to work with an effective and creative concentration. Dan's painting trance immerses him in a well-defined project or situation, so I call it a situational trance .     Dan's situational trance shares a number of features identical to those associated with the restaurant couple's relational trance, and a few others besides. In addition to positive and negative hallucinations and time distortion, Dan also experiences another characteristic of trance--analgesia, the inability to feel pain. This is a quality that some dentists use when they hypnotize people to carry out painless dental work. Analgesia is a much more common feature of daily life than most of us realize. Inner-Mind Trance Trances do not always result from involvements outside ourselves. Sometimes a trance occurs when we turn inward and become completely absorbed in our own thoughts. This is what I call an inner-mind trance . Let me give you an example. One beautiful June day I had been working in my office and at lunchtime decided to walk the six blocks to a restaurant. I was delighted to get out into the sunny weather, and I fully intended to enjoy the beautiful landscape as I strolled.     But then I started thinking, "How am I going to begin this book on trances in daily life that I have been planning?" My mind began to delve into my ideas, turning them over like shovelfuls of earth in a spring garden. I walked, but I did not think about it and hardly knew where I was going. I saw nothing of the beauty around me. I barely heard the traffic rushing by me and other pedestrians made no impression on me at all.     Suddenly I realized that I had walked two blocks and had taken in nothing of my surroundings, so immersed was I in my inner environment. I mentally shook myself back to the present and reproached myself for losing the opportunity to enjoy the day. With new resolution, I moved on, feeling the breeze, seeing the sights. But in less than a minute it was all gone again. I was once more walking the inner landscape of my thoughts about the book, while my body, little more than a robot, trudged through the outer.     After another two blocks I stopped. I could hardly believe it--I had done it again. By now it was becoming amusing. Despite my best efforts I could not stop myself from sliding into my inner landscape. I recognized the irony in the situation. I was thinking about issues concerning trance in everyday life, and in the process was repeatedly and contrary to my wishes falling into just one of those trances. I was the helpless captive of my own inner-mind trance .     By now it had become clear to me that I would have to include this experience in the book, so when I arrived at the restaurant I began to write it all down. Also, the whole thing was becoming something of an experiment that I could both experience and at the same time observe. Sitting in the restaurant and writing, I noticed that the world around me dissolved and reconstituted itself as I turned my attention to writing and withdrew it again. This building, these people, faded in and out as my reality shifted from the outer to the inner world and back.     The experience I describe here is certainly not an unusual one. Most people will be able to think of similar occurrences in their own lives. But we do not usually identify the experience as a trance. Group-Mind Trance American psychologist Boris Sidis wrote of a striking instance of a trance that was not limited to one person, but affected a whole group. He cited the memoirs of a Russian writer and journalist, Ivan Ivanovich Panaev, describing the riots of military colonists in Russia in 1831. Panaev recounted that, in the course of some of the hardest fighting, he came across a corporal lying in the street, crying bitterly. When Panaev asked why he was crying, the young soldier said it was because a mob down the street was trying to kill his beloved commander, Sokolov. Panaev suggested that the corporal stop crying and go to his leader's aid. A little later, when Panaev himself brought soldiers to help Sokolov, he was astonished to see that the corporal had joined the mob and was beating Sokolov with a club himself. Panaev asked what on earth he was doing. The young man replied, "Everyone else is doing it. Why shouldn't I?"     Immersed in the energy of the mob, the corporal had totally given up his own individuality and control of his own mind. His normal perception of reality had disappeared, and he was locked into the thinking and reality of the mob. The mob possessed a corporate mind that overwhelmed the personal views of all who came under its sway. The "Group-Mind" of the rioters was so strong that even the soldier sincerely devoted to his commander could not resist it. He was plunged into a group-mind trance in which he was absorbed into the thought and emotion of the group and out of touch with reality as he normally knew it.     Group-mind trance does not occur only in highly charged temporary gatherings, such as riots or lynch mobs. Group-mind trance is a part of the everyday life of each one of us. We belong to various kinds of groups--families, work groups, churches, and other organizations. Each has its own group mind that entrances us, perhaps more subtly than a lynch mob, but every bit as effectively. And in the group-mind trance, we experience all the features of other trance states.     Group-mind trances give us a basis for understanding the macrotrance of culture. We can think of group-mind trances on a spectrum ranging from the family at one end to culture at the other. Culture is the group-mind trance of a whole people, and because it is so pervasive it remains largely invisible to those held in its sway.     The influence of group-mind trances cannot be overestimated. I will be talking about this in greater detail in a later chapter. In the meantime, let me summarize what I have been saying about trance. The Four Trances There are four main ways that we can become absorbed in something and oblivious to everything else--four main kinds of trance. We experience these four trances every day of our lives. For the sake of convenience, I have given the four trances a name and a number. TRANCE 1 In the relational trance one person is absorbed in another and oblivious to other matters. Trance I operates in everything from concern for a friend to sickening worry about a loved one, from annoyance with a co-worker to loathing for a sadistic abuser, from flirtation to lovemaking, from interest to obsession. TRANCE 2 Situational trance involves immersion in an activity, project, work, or enterprise to the exclusion of other interests. As a rule, the more engrossed you are in the situation, the better you do. People who are successful with their projects tend to be those capable of deep situational trance. Examples of situational trance are typing a letter, threading a needle, watching a play, addressing a staff meeting, performing a dance, and writing a book. TRANCE 3 Inner-mind trance occurs when your attention is withdrawn from the concerns of the external world and focused on images of your inner mind (the internal world). Hypnosis and meditation are examples of inner-mind trance, but they are not the ones most commonly experienced. Dreaming is an inner-mind trance that occurs every day, although we may not always remember that we have dreamed. In dreaming, the external world is totally blotted out and images of the inner mind dominate us completely. For that reason it is the most profound inner-mind trance that we can have. Other examples of common inner-mind trances include driving while preoccupied, being "lost in thought," and daydreaming. TRANCE 4 The trance that is least recognized but very significant in our lives is group-mind trance . Here the individual becomes a carrier of the values and drives that characterize the group as a whole. While immersed in the group mind, people may think and act in ways that are totally out of character with the ways they behave when separate. Group-mind trance can occur in connection with such groups as one's family, church, or club; at sports events, rock concerts, tenants' meetings, and political conventions; or when involved with the staff at work or friends at a gathering. Group-mind trance forms a bridge to cultural trance, which may be thought of as a group-mind trance on the level of a whole people. The Nuts and Bolts of Trance Trance involves focus on one thing and a corresponding withdrawal of attention from another. For that reason, trance admits of degrees. A person may focus so intently on something that he or she has virtually no awareness of anything else. That is a deep trance. On the other hand, someone may be occupied with one thing but maintain a moderate degree of awareness of other things. That is a light trance. Between these two extremes lie every possible degree of absorption/abstraction--every degree of trance. ABSORPTION Absorption, immersion, focusing, being preoccupied with--these are ways of describing how our attention can fix itself on something. Being able to concentrate intently is a gift, a natural ability that has many benefits. It allows us to take in a lecture or engage in deep conversation. We need it to be aware of an infant's subtle communication. Absorption is crucial when climbing a rock face. It allows an athlete to win a game of tennis. ABSTRACTION Abstraction, obliviousness, unawareness--these terms show the other side of the coin of trance. They describe a withdrawal of attention, a loosening of mental connection with something. The ability to be unaware is also a gift. If we were aware of everything in our experience or our environment all at once, life would become intolerable. If, as I walked down the street, I were aware of the meanings of the expressions on every face, paid attention to every sound, and examined every aspect of my body's movements, I would quickly reach overload. If I were to conjure up all my worries, ponder all my obligations, think about all my relationships, recall all of my memories, survey all my knowledge, and engage myself in all these awarenesses simultaneously, I would be overwhelmed and paralysed. It is important to be able to block out, to censor, to limit my awareness, to not think about things, and we do it all the time.     Both of these aspects of trance, absorption and abstraction, go together very nicely. The greater my absorption in one thing, the greater my abstraction from the rest. As my absorption/abstraction increases and my trance becomes more profound, some peculiar things happen, and these things deeply affect my experience. The Facets and Features of Trance Certain features often accompany trance states. These have been discussed at some length in books about hypnosis, and they apply to all types of trance. While they may not all be present in every trance we experience, they occur more frequently than we might expect. POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE HALLUCINATIONS One of the most striking aspects of trance is the creation of hallucinations. A hallucination is anything that is perceived by the entranced person and not by other people. If, for example, I see a dog lying in the middle of the living-room floor but nobody else in the room sees it, it is an hallucination.     Many hallucinations are not so obvious. That is because we have come to take the experience of hallucinations for granted in our everyday lives. For instance, if I am preoccupied with a particular person, I may mistakenly believe I see that person in a crowd as I walk down the street. Then when I "look closer," I see that I was "only imagining" that I saw her. This is a hallucination, but because it is such a common experience it does not upset me to have it.     There are two kinds of hallucinations, positive and negative. These labels have nothing to do with good and bad. A positive hallucination is the perception of something that is not there. A negative hallucination means not seeing something that is there.     Hallucinations can involve any of the senses. I can hallucinate that I am seeing something, hearing something, smelling something, feeling something, tasting something. These things happen to us all the time. If I smell smoke when there is none, that's a positive hallucination. The same is true if I hear an imaginary prowler in the house or feel a non-existent insect crawling down my arm. I am subject to a negative hallucination when I cannot see the jar of mustard right in front of me in the refrigerator, or when I do not hear my name called when I am engrossed in a book.     The last example clearly involves a trance, as I described it in the preamble to this book. The trances of everyday life include all kinds of hallucinations, positive and negative. The couple in the restaurant experienced both. They could not hear the conversations and noises around them (negative hallucinations) and they were engrossed in private mental images that were highly charged emotionally (positive hallucinations). Dan the painter could clearly envision his completed work (positive hallucination), but was oblivious to neighbourhood noises (negative hallucination).     Hallucinations can involve more than a simple sensation. They can include complexities of feeling and value judgments that influence the way a person experiences the hallucination. The psychotically obsessed fan perceives the movie star as madly in love with him. The guilty child sees reproach in his mother's face, although she does not yet realize he has broken the vase. The mother of the child subjected to incest does not see the telltale bruises and hopeless eyes of her daughter. The loyal parishioner does not see the staggering steps of his inebriated priest. Evidently, relational trances are particularly riddled with complex hallucinations. MEMORY When we leave a trance, afterwards we can experience amnesia for what occurred during the altered state. This loss of memory is quite common. The painter, Dan, remarked that when he was relaxing after a day of painting he often could not recall thoughts he'd had while painting. He also noted that when he returned to painting the next day, he could remember the previous day's thoughts very well. Why does trance amnesia occur? And why does it disappear when the person is entranced once again?     About thirty years ago, a fascinating discovery was made about how we remember: if you learn a piece of information while you're in a particular state of consciousness, you can best recall that information when you return to the same state of consciousness. This means, for example, that if someone gave you a telephone number while you were drinking at a party but you could not remember it the next day, you could likely recall the number if you again had a few drinks. Your memory of the number is keyed to the intoxicated state. This is called "state-related learning," producing "state-related memory."     But this applies to more than chemically altered states of consciousness. It applies equally well to the various states of consciousness we go through in our ordinary daily lives. Let me give another example.     I am a psychotherapist and I see clients in a quiet, comfortable office. In the course of my work with a person, he or she will give me a great deal of information. When sitting in a session with a client, I find I can easily recall details that the person mentioned six months, a year, or even several years before, The reason is that each time I begin a session I go into a particular state of consciousness--let's call it my psychotherapy state. That state is defined by the familiar, comfortable surroundings, my readiness to listen to the person I am with, my expectation that my responses will be therapeutically useful, and so forth. Each time I go into that state, I can recall quite easily things that a person told me when I was in that state before, even long before. That is because my remembering is "state-related."     Now suppose I saw a client, Jim, for a session in the morning and then, in the afternoon, met him by chance in a nearby coffee shop. And suppose he were to sit down at my table and ask me about something that occurred in the morning session--why I made a certain comment about a situation he described. The truth is that I am likely to be at a loss for an answer. I might find it impossible to recall the situation he had described or my comment about it, even though all this happened a scant few hours before. Now, this memory lapse is not owing to dying brain cells or simple stupidity. It occurs because in the coffee shop I am in a state of consciousness so different from my psychotherapy state that I cannot retrieve the information. My state-related learning will only return if I can get myself back into my psychotherapy state.     Maybe I can actually do that. Maybe I can somehow bring back my psychotherapy state on the spot and regain the information I need. I believe we often do exactly that. Without realizing what we are doing, we use subtle tricks to bring back the "mood" of the situation in which we first absorbed the information. In this case, I try to reconnect with my psychotherapy state of the morning by picturing where Jim was sitting in my office, recalling how I felt as he spoke, reconstructing his emotional state at the time. Then it comes back to me. The memory of the session reconstitutes itself, and I can respond to his question.     Difficulties with memory are often simply difficulties with returning to the state in which we receive the information. Students are sometimes stymied by this problem, concluding wrongly that their memories are no good. They usually do not need to learn new and improved methods of memorization but rather methods for regaining the appropriate state of consciousness.     It is now quite clear why trance amnesia occurs. Each trance constitutes a separate state of consciousness. When I leave a particular trance, I will have problems retrieving what happened during that trance. When I return to that trance, my retrieval problem disappears. Trance amnesia is simply a demonstration of state-related memory. TIME DISTORTION When Dan was painting, he would lose all track of time. Several hours could pass without his noticing. People engaged in intense conversations (e.g., the couple in the restaurant) experience a similar kind of "compressing" of time. This time compression is a common characteristic of trance. The opposite experience, time expansion, can also take place. A dream that takes less than a minute of real time can lead the dreamer through a complex series of experiences that seem to last several years. Those who use meditation for problem solving may explore the facets of a problem, consider various solutions, and arrive at a decision in a subjective time that seems like hours, whereas in fact it lasts only a few minutes.     Time compression and time expansion in trance states are simply special instances of the relativity of time in human life. An enjoyable party is over before you know it. On the other hand, parents on a car trip with small children know very well how long a few minutes can seem when they are trying to find a rest room for a desperate youngster. PHYSIOLOGICAL EFFECTS Trance can affect the body in many ways. Some have to do with sensation, particularly pain. Dan said if he began painting with some kind of pain (headache, bursitis) it would fade as he got more and more deeply absorbed in what he was doing. The reduction or removal of pain during a trance can be quite startling. A person can begin a session of lovemaking (one of the most powerful relational trances) with a rather severe pain, such as a headache or stomachache, and lose all awareness of that pain as the lovemaking proceeds, only to find it returns immediately and in full force after orgasm. With trance it is also possible to lose all feeling in the body temporarily or, on the other hand, to develop a heightened sensitivity to sensation. Strength too can be affected; entranced people have been known to lift weights far beyond their normal capacity. Trance can also affect basic functions, such as heart rate and blood pressure. There is even evidence that the immune system can be enhanced by trance. Meaningful Reality To make sense of the world we live in, we are constantly projecting a unity and meaning onto it. We pick and choose among the impressions reaching us, and we make our choices largely according to our past experience. This is particularly true of cultural trance. Our culture teaches us what to see and how to see it. Our culture at once focuses our attention and censors our perception. Other factors also affect how we perceive the world. These derive from group-mind influences in our lives and our unique experiences as individuals.     When we perceive the world in our limited ways, we create a reality for ourselves. This subjectively formed reality, for good or ill, gives cohesion to our experience. To avoid a useless debate about what is reality or what is "real," let me say that the trance always creates a "meaningful reality" for the person who is entranced. In the consciousness of this person, only certain things are charged with meaning. Everything else becomes insignificant and for all practical purposes fades from existence.     Meaningful reality is determined by the individual and the situation. It is easy to make the mistake of thinking we are all living in much the same meaningful reality. Two friends sitting side by side at a party can be living in two entirely different meaningful realities. Matt is happy, relaxed, optimistic. He has just come from work where he closed a deal that is going to net him a lot of prestige and a considerable amount of money. He views his friends at the party through an aura of good feeling. They are interesting, stimulating, a delight. He engages in chat with them enthusiastically and talks and jokes energetically with each one, as his excess of good humour carries him through the evening.     Next to him sits Peggy whose marriage is breaking up. She and her husband have just had another one of their "talks," full of bitterness about their past and pessimism about their future. To Peggy the world looks dull and grey. She talks with her friends lethargically. She doesn't see the humour in their jokes; she has no real interest in what they are saying. Each smiling face makes her feel oddly sad. Every happy couple reminds her of her own misery and increases her depression. Matt and Peggy do not inhabit the same meaningful reality at all. And for one of them to bridge this gap to the other's reality would be very difficult indeed. * * *     Extreme Measures Sometimes the psyche can play bizarre tricks on the outer mind and create a belief in a meaningful reality that contradicts all the known facts. This can occur when a person has an extreme emotional need to know something to be true. I have worked with clients who have insisted that certain people they knew were still alive, in the flesh, when they had already attended their funerals. One man who had been very attached to his now deceased mother went through periods in which he was certain she was alive and would be coming to visit him. I have also worked with a woman who was absolutely convinced for along time that her father had no genital organs. She was so sexually frightened of him that she could not bear to think he had the usual male equipment. In all these instances, these clients were otherwise completely sane. * * *     It is natural that our meaningful realities shift as our trances shift. Since trances are an integral part of ordinary living, we can expect a lot of reality shifting in the course of a day. Most of us have come to accept this and are not alarmed when it occurs, even though we may not be too happy about the states we have shifted to. It seems to me that having a flexible attitude about meaningful reality is a sign of mental health. Suggestibility It has long been known that human beings are suggestible creatures. A child is going to sleep in his bed. In the dark he sees a bogeyman across the room, looking at him, waiting to pounce. The rest of that child's world shrinks to nothing. He calls out in terror. When his mother arrives and turns on the light, he sees only a shirt draped over a chair. The meaningful reality that dominated his existence a few minutes earlier is suddenly gone.     We tend to think of suggestibility affecting children or attached to hypnosis; the truth is that it is an intrinsic part of daily human life. From birth we are told how the world is and how we should feel about it. Those suggestions become a part of our being. We cannot easily isolate them and see how we are being influenced, so we mistakenly believe that we have some objective view of the world, garnered from some unsullied perspective.     We live our lives in the context of a meaningful reality that is reality-as-we-see-it, not reality-as-it-is, or absolute reality. We have no way of knowing a world of absolute reality. We give our world its meanings, its value, its shapes, its colour, its life. If it is alive for us, as the shirt was alive for the boy in his bedroom, then for all practical purposes it is alive.     How do we determine what is real? It all depends on our point of view. When the mother turned on the light, the boy made a correction to his reality. But did he then end up with the absolutely "true" view of reality? Is there such a thing as an absolutely "true" view of reality? I don't think so. Matt's and Peggy's experiences at the party were strikingly different in their meaningful realities. Was one "true" and the other "false"? No, just different.     Every meaningful reality is conditioned by our individual experiences and the group and cultural influences that impinge on us. If, as in the case of Matt and Peggy, the differences can vary so greatly between people within the same culture, think how different the meaningful realities must be between people living in different ethnic contexts, who come from different cultural traditions, or who inhabit deeply contrasting socio-economic strata within the same society. Here the meaningful realities can be so divergent that individuals may not understand each other at all. I'll say more about this in the chapter on cultural trance. Consensus Reality Each group forms its own meaningful reality. Each family, for instance, has its own way of looking at things--with its perceptual clarity and its distortions--and its own sense of what is important. All of this contributes to a unique meaningful reality. The same is true of other groups. What is real will vary greatly from group to group according to the combination of experiential factors that have gone into the creation of that group.     The meaningful reality of the group comes out of the group-mind trance that focuses its members on a particular set of experiences, to the exclusion of others. One group's meaningful reality may seem very strange to the members of another group. This does not necessarily mean that one reality is right and the other wrong, although a person may be strongly tempted to see it that way.     The meaningful reality of a group maintains itself through the members continually reinforcing the group perception for one another. They encourage each other to think the same way and cement their solidarity in a variety of ways, conscious and unconscious. The result is consensus reality, an implicit agreement about what is real. A group's meaningful reality is consensus reality.     Consensus reality makes communication possible. We can only communicate to the extent that we share common images. We badly need consensus reality to create a serviceable common background against which the tension of diverse meaningful realities on individual realities can exist without creating chaos. We develop a comfortable feeling of inhabiting the same world with our fellow group members. We can take it for granted that we share with each other the same basic practical principles for daily living.     Consensus reality gives us a sense of security. We accomplish this at a certain cost. Claiming to have an exclusive proprietorship over what is real and true, the culture offers us little opportunity to explore what is unfamiliar. Those who introduce novel ideas into the culture tend to be pushed to the periphery. Therefore, the culture's consensus reality changes very slowly. The Pros and Cons of Trance Trances are central in our experience of everyday life. They help make our lives more effective in many ways. The problem is that trances can also impede our functioning or block our enjoyment of life. This is because trances involve both abstraction and absorption.     The absorption part of this duality of trance has many advantages. In situational trances, absorption allows the kind of focus that is needed to make things happen. The more baseball players concentrate on their game, the more effective they will be. Many pitchers, for instance, are at their very best when they are so focused on the catcher and the next pitch that nothing else intrudes on their attention. These pitchers go through a series of ritualized movements before each pitch (e.g., pulling down the brim of the cap, rubbing the glove on the right shoulder, or kicking the dirt with the left foot) to induce this profound situational trance. And it is evident in the fixed and semi-glazed look in their eyes and cataleptic (pliantly rigid) state of their muscles when they are about to pitch. If something interrupts that state (say the umpire calls time out just before the pitch), the trance is broken. The muscles loosen, the eyes once more look about at random, and the pitcher must again go through the ritual actions that will re-induce the trance when he resumes play.     Relational trances also profit from absorption. The mother's deep immersion in the care of her infant produces all kinds of benefits. An involved mother reads the meanings of different kinds of crying and responds appropriately. She can tell what each facial expression means and read the message in the different postures the child assumes. Her concentration helps her understand how to convey things to the child and allows her to grasp the child's own early attempts to communicate.     Absorption in thoughts or images of the inner world, the very essence of inner-mind trances, can be very valuable. A skilled therapist can help a hypnotized person recover powerful repressed memories. Totally uninvolved with the external world, the hypnotized person explores the emotions, images, and sensations of another time. In a deep hypnotic trance, his immersion in that inner reality can be so complete that everything else fades. The remembered event becomes so real that the person experiences the memory as though it were happening right now. All the original sensations and emotions return with full force. Memories recovery of this kind can have immense therapeutic benefit.     Other inner-mind trances occur spontaneously, without planning. A person may go into an abstracted or absent-minded state when there is some vexing problem that she has to solve. While in that state, her awareness of what is going on around her dims considerably. When she has solved the problem, she returns to normal awareness.     Group-mind trances can also have beneficial effects. Wrapped up in the group-mind trance of the spectators at a basketball game, the fan enjoys the elation of good play and the satisfaction of victory. A volunteer fund raiser for the Red Cross partakes of the prestige of that organization when speaking with prospective donors. With group-mind trances in general, the person participates in the character and energy of the group with which he or she is connected. When that character is positive and constructive, it confers that quality on the individual.     From this it is clear that, in all four trances, the entranced person can benefit from absorption. However, there is also a negative aspect of the absorption/abstraction duality of trance: a person may be so deeply absorbed in something that he or she loses touch with an important aspect of reality.     Someone who becomes obsessed with another person suffers from this kind of imbalance. The obsessed person's awareness narrows to the point that she cannot see the object of her obsession in the context of broader reality. She forfeits common sense completely and may behave bizarrely. She invests the object of her obsession with extreme qualities (extremely good or extremely bad), and no amount of persuasion can change her view. In a failed relationship, for example, a man who does not want to separate from his wife or partner may become obsessed with her, calling her and confronting her at every opportunity. All other considerations disappear and he spends every moment thinking about his former partner and planning ways to get her back. A dangerous relational trance of this kind may last for weeks, months, or even years. Families sometimes experience the dark side of situational trances. A father may become so involved in his work that he does not notice his children and their needs. Even when at home, he may remain in his work trance to such an extent that the children eventually give up expecting anything from him.     A manager may become so involved in financial worries that he cannot see the dissatisfaction developing among his staff. His excessive focus on the mechanics of the business blinds him to his crucial personnel problems.     An inner-mind trance, too, can pull a person away from involvement with other important aspects of life. A student who spends time daydreaming rather than studying sabotages her own educational goals. Her inner-mind trances entice her because she populates them with pleasant images of her own making, but in the trance she loses touch with her broader goals.     My book-plotting trance illustrates both advantages and disadvantages of inner-mind trances. It helped me in the process of putting the book together, while it took me away from what I really wanted to do at that moment: enjoy my walk.     The isolated and inward life of the cult is a good example of an unbalanced group-mind trance. The individual cult member is totally engaged in the thinking and concerns of the group and sees outside views as threatening. The more powerful the cult's group-mind trance, the more possible it becomes for the cult to abuse its members. Members surrender themselves to the thinking of the group without question and so retain little ability to resist abusive treatment. The Phenomena of Trance Traditionally, the phenomena of trance have been associated with a special state called "hypnosis." These include amnesia, analgesia, negative and positive hallucinations, control of autonomous bodily functions, time distortion, heightened recall, heightened sensitivity, catalepsy, effortless imagination, ideomotor responsiveness, and suggestibility. There is no basis for believing that these phenomena are limited to this special trance state. We all have the capacity to produce these phenomena, and we can experience any of them at any moment in our everyday existence. So, as it turns out, the phenomena of trance are simply the phenomena of life. Trance Is Everywhere Life is a web of trances, ranging from the light to the deep. Often they are layered or nested one within the other. The devotee in love with the cult leader loses himself in a powerful relational trance while enmeshed in the group-mind trance of the cult. The abused child is likewise caught in the family group mind while living in a relational trance of fear of her father and periodically escaping into the inner-mind trance of fantasy. The therapist is absorbed in the situational trance of the psychotherapy session, while at the same time he is in a relational trance with his client.     It is my contention that we are constantly going in and out of trances of various kinds, that human life itself is a tapestry of trances. In the course of one day, our concentration switches from this person to that project to this group situation to that inner preoccupation. These trances guarantee a certain narrowness of life for each of us. Our mental focus continually narrows and widens again as we move through these trances. In shifting from one focus to another, we dismiss what we have just seen in order to take in what is next. As a result, most of the time we are very limited in our mental perspectives.     We constantly experience the phenomena of trance--the amnesias, the hallucinations, the time distortions. We create our peculiar meaningful realities and then naively assume that we all live in the same world. All of this is built into ordinary experience. Precisely because these phenomena are so much a part of each of our lives, we cannot recognize them for what they are. Trance Zero When you get to know how trances work in our lives, one painful fact becomes clear: we live our lives piecemeal. At any moment we have only part of the story, the limited view of our own entranced minds. There doesn't seem to be any way around this, so it would be easy to come to a pessimistic conclusion about our ability to ever solve the important problems of life. Surely solutions to the great questions of our existence depend on being able to gain the widest possible perspective on things. But if we are so mired in our multitude of microtrances, and trapped in the blindness of our cultural macrotrance, how can that ever be achieved?     There is a way. It depends on our realizing that, in spite of our material involvements (a trance in itself), we are spiritual beings and there is a deeper mystery to life than we can grasp. This means that we can develop a way to be present and awake at each moment. This can happen through our attaining what I call Trance Zero. Trance Zero is a state of being in touch with our intuitive inner guidance. As do the other four trances, Trance Zero involves absorption and abstraction--with a difference. In Trance Zero we are absorbed--absorbed in what is most appropriate at the moment. In Trance Zero we are also abstracted--abstracted from everything else--but in such a way as to be able instantly to get in touch with any new concern, should that need arise. Trance Zero is an effortless movement from trance to trance through the guidance of a deep intuitive awareness that comes from our own depths.     It's clear that our ordinary trance states cannot yield the wisdom we need. Our fluctuating, limited awareness contains neither the information nor the perspective we need to achieve clarity of perception and thereby unify our lives. Because of abstraction, these states cut off our normal consciousness from the information essential to such unification. They result in feelings of fear and anxiety. No trance state can serve as an environment for dealing with the great issues.     To make this clearer, I would like to talk about our two minds, the outer mind and the inner mind. The outer mind was formed to deal with life in the world. Because its orientation is practical, the outer mind focuses on the present moment with its immediacy and urgency. It is aware almost exclusively of its own concerns and tends to consider itself the totality of the individual.     The inner mind concentrates on our inner world. It is aware of a whole range of inner experiences and feels at home with them. It can take us out of the moment and immerse us in the past or project us into the future. It can put us in contact with the inner processes of the body, the labyrinths of the psyche, and the world of dreams. It is our window on the transcendent. It can give us glimpses of other dimensions and other lives. It can put us in touch with esoteric knowledge, and it can provide a pathway to what I call the Ultimate Self.     In this life the outer mind holds a very important place. It is in charge when we look after the concerns of everyday living, for if we are to deal effectively with the affairs of this world we must be able to concentrate on the relevant matters at hand. If we were in touch with the global awareness available to the inner mind, we would be both distracted and overwhelmed. We could not carry on with the tasks, pursuits, and relationships that make up the fabric of life. The concerns of daily life must take a certain priority if we are to navigate successfully through the world.     But although the outer mind concerns itself with these matters, the awarenesses of the inner mind are crucial for achieving the full richness of human experience. We should consider that the task of our existence is to integrate the life of the outer mind with that of the inner. This integration must be gradual, for the outer mind must maintain its healthy functioning during the process.     The concept of Trance Zero assumes that we can be in touch with the world in ways other than through the conscious, thinking mind, the outer mind. Trance Zero derives from contact with the inner mind. It assumes a dynamic source of wisdom that goes beyond anything that the outer mind could accumulate. It presupposes the existence of an Ultimate Self whose perception and thought transcend our ordinary awareness. Because this Ultimate Self is always active, it can monitor our lives and guide us through our everyday trances in a most creative way and can successfully integrate our inner and outer lives.     I believe that by exploring trances and their place in human life, we will open a door leading to a more dynamic understanding and integration of those mysterious aspects of human existence that derive from living in two worlds. We can move toward a unifying Trance Zero by introducing certain awarenesses and practising certain techniques. Most important, we can progress toward Trance Zero by any step that we take to explore the mystery of what and who we are.     I suppose the ideal state of being would be to transcend trance completely--to be able to be absorbed in everything and abstracted from nothing, somehow to be immersed in reality in its totality. That is beyond what we can attain in this existence, for we live in a world that involves a division between the outer and the inner mind. Because we live and grow within this limitation, we need Trance Zero. The Ultimate Self Trance Zero presupposes a tremendous faith in a reliable inner source of wisdom. It involves taking what may appear to be a huge gamble. The gamble is whether I can discover that inner wisdom in myself. Can I really trust in this hidden faculty so completely that I can deliver my life and my future up to it? Can I allow it to guide me even when I cannot see where it is taking me?     Faith in this guidance from within is faith in something that I call the Ultimate Self. Here I am not talking about religious faith, but the acceptance of something within me that I cannot prove. This is the self that lies beyond all my changing states and all my limitations. It is an ultimate presence beyond direct access. We stumble across this presence every time we say "I." Our roles, our mental states, even our personalities change, yet in each of them we say "I." And each time we say "I," we acknowledge a continuity, an agent that persists through every change. This is the final doer of all our actions, the final subject of all our verbs, and the essence of who we are. This is the Ultimate Self.     The Ultimate Self is the point at which the divine manifests itself in the world. As a manifestation of the divine, each human being is in touch with an infinite wisdom which is the basis for believing in our inner guidance. If there is such a thing as a meaning for our lives, a sense of purpose that derives from within us, then the Ultimate Self is the author of that meaning and the origin of the planning necessary for realizing that purpose.     I will be saying more about the Ultimate Self later. For now, let us take a look at how the four trances work in our lives.