by Dr. David W. Genuit
Some may call it hypnosis, some a trance state, some a state of ecstasy, and some maybe even prayer. A common factor in all of these seems to be an altered state of consciousness. This altered state may allow us to concentrate on a task more fully, use physical or mental powers more completely, or even achieve a state of unnatural abilities.
I was trained as a scientist first trained to be skeptical unless I can physically and reproducibly demonstrate that something exists. I am a doctor, and doctors are trained to believe that a treatment is valid only if your teachers, your peers, and the government agree that it is effective. After nearly fifteen years as a scientist and a doctor I met a remarkable man who had been a research professor at a leading university. He had essentially been hired to prove that hypnosis, meditation and the like did not really work. As he researched more and more, 'however, he found that people who achieved an altered state of consciousness not only accomplished mild miracles, they could demonstrate profound mental and physical changes in themselves. He, over time gained his own ability to also accomplish the impossible. In 1987 I went to a seminar sponsored by this man, and he profoundly changed my life!
At the seminar he approached hypnosis in a very scientific manner. No religious overtones, no hocus pocus, just reproducible, scientific proof that it existed. At the end of each lecture series he would demonstrate himself that some profound changes could occur. First he poured lighter fluid onto his hand and lit it and let it burn - while an assistant held a lab thermometer on his palm and we watched the temperature creep up to past 400-F! Later in the day he stuck his arm into a Wolf sized spring trap with no visible bruising or cuts. He ran a large needle through his arm with no bleeding or visible cuts. He could cut himself and start and stop the bleeding. He could slow his pulse rate to near zero or accelerate it to heart attack levels. Finally on the last day he walked barefoot on dozens 0" broken beer bottles, with no visible cuts or bleeding.' This was not a trick- the man simply took a few deep breaths, closed his eyes and did these amazing feats. The surprising thing was that he claimed that ANYBODY could do these things, given enough practice and confidence.
Over several years I studied medical Hypnosis until I was quiet proficient. I am now a Board Certified hypnotist/Pain Practitioner with lots of certificates on my wall. At the same time I did quiet a bit of traveling and studied the methods used by Native Healers in Central and South America, American Indians in the U.S. Southwest, Tribal methods from Vancouver Island, Canada and several established religions. Curiously enough, I found that almost all used a similar state of altered consciousness to achieve a religious experience or a miraculous occurrence. This is not to in any way say that the religious or spiritual experience was invalid, but it is to say that we all use some method to arrive at a similar place!
In medical hypnosis, we often use a rhythmic light sequence (the old spinning watch trick) and a rhythmic sound or droning voice to help induction. An alteration in light color or intensity, a change in normal smells or odors or a change in temperature may all help induce a hypnotic state.
The realization that many religions may use an altered state first came to me when I visited a huge Catholic cathedral in Chichicastenango, Guatemala. On one side of the main square is the Catholic Cathedral. Inside there were hundreds of flickering votive candles. What little outside light there was filtered in through red and blue stained glass windows. Incense burned in urns near the altar. The women at prayer chanted softly as they fingered their rosary beads. Well, I thought, these ladies are in perfect trance state - complete with incense, chanting and colored lights.
I went across the main square to the Church on the other side- the Church that the non Catholic Native Indians went to. Guess what? - lots of candles, incense, flowers, and stained glass windows. Instead of little ladies in black chanting their rosary, however, the local Brujos and Brujas (a witch type of Mayan Healer) were crouched on the floors casting spells for people in the church. A slightly different approach, but a similar state!
In Australia, aborigines sat by the flickering fire. They played the digerido - a long hollow wooden tube which produces a peculiar drone note, and used wooden click sticks for rhythmic accompaniment. Playing the digerido, at least by my personal experience, requires a unique circular breathing method and causes a slight oxygen deprivation which causes lightheadedness and an altered sense of surroundings. Different method, similar results.
Most Native American tribes I studied seemed to use rhythmic drumming to alter states, along with long periods of dancing. Many ceremonies took place in a dark lodge or at night, with flickering smoky fires. Different method, similar results.
Siberian Shamans and some Northern Tribes seemed to use drumming, rhythmic movement and sleep deprivations to help induce altered states. Some American Indian Tribes used vision quests methods where food, sleep and water deprivation helped induce altered states.
The more I studied different religions and tribal customs, I realized that they all used locally available materials to change the sense of light and the sense of smell, as well as using rhythmic chanting, drumming or noisemakers to assist. Some tribes used psycho active drugs to help achieve the altered state, but surprisingly most did not have to use any drugs at all. Certainly some participants reached more dramatically altered states than others.
In Medical Hypnosis, most hypnotists recognize that almost anyone can reach a hypnotic state. Up to 400/o of clients are natural subjects in that they easily reach deep trance levels with little outside help. Some rare subjects can reach the deepest levels easily, and with some assistance, reach levels at which they can easily perform impressive physical and mental feats. Some subjects feel relaxed with a trance induction, but just don't easily reach a deep enough state to achieve these visible feats. Could it be that similar populations existed in their ritual groups?
Most researchers agree that they disagree on what hypnosis exactly is. Some believe that there is no such thing as a hypnotic state, others feel that we all may live our entire lives in an altered state of some kind or another.
Over the years I have seen great physical feats done in an altered state. I have felt great healing power among groups of participants in rituals. I have seen what I assume must be dramatic changes in healing rates of the body which cannot be explained by any other means. These changes were all achieved by prayer, by participation in healing ritual and by the application of medical hypnosis. Yet I find Doctors which accept my medical healings who refuse to believe that Shamanic ritual has any basis. I find Catholics who participate in ritual masses who dismiss other similar rituals as pagan, and I find great healers who have no particular background or training, but who have apparent great natural or spirit given powers which they use to help others.
I do not write this article to discredit any ritual or religion. I believe that the Great Spirit has given all of us the ability to access the power to go far beyond anything which is accepted as normal in some cultures. I believe now that all devout worship is sacred, and that worship has been adapted to local materials and conditions. I think that we should be more tolerant of others and not condemn their way as inferior to our way, but to accept that many paths may lead to the way of spirituality.
May the Great Spirit Bless Us All.
Copyright (c) 1994 by Dr
David W. Genuit all rights reserved. Dr. Genuit has been in practice as
a Podiatrist since 1975. He has always been interested in altered states
and studied under Dr. Charles Tart in the 1970's. Along with being a Podiatrist,
Dr. Genuit has a Counseling/Hypnotherapy practice, is a Board Certified
Surgeon, ABPS, a Board Certified Pain Practitioner, AAPM, and a Board Certified
Most of all, he says he thinks he is one who lives in awe of all that surrounds us, and believes that we all are one with the Great Spirit. He lives in a log house on a beaver pond about 20 miles from town, with lots of room for a tipi, sweat, and friends of great spirituality.
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