Is it a Trance? Or is it Meditation?

Meditation or Trance?

It makes a huge difference to your brain whether you are sitting there meditating, or whether you are just spinning your wheels in an aimless trance. Meditation enlarges your prefrontal cortex executive functions, boosts your hippocampal memory centers, grows your overall gray matter, and shrinks your anxiety-ridden amygdala. Most trances just waste your time — or worse.

[Hypnotic trance] is not sleep and does not require even a smidgen of relaxation. When hypnotized the subject’s attention narrows and becomes fixed around selected ideas or a single idea. Wider environmental stimuli are ignored.

From “Reality is Plastic” by Anthony Jacquin

Everyone “zones out” from time to time. But when it happens while a person thinks he is spending time productively in a restorative meditation, it becomes a problem. Instead of replenishing inner strength and building equanimity, the person may be making himself more vulnerable to everyday delusions and the madness of crowds.

No absolute dividing line exists between nonhypnotic and hypnotic alterations in consciousness. Altered, dissociated, or hypnotic-like experiences clearly occur in everyday life and provide a useful backdrop for understanding the hypnotic experience.

From “Trance and Treatment” by Herbert and David Spiegel, MDs

When the conscious mind is not engaged in a task, it will often scan the environment for relevant features or happenings. Inside the mind of a spy or a special operative, this conscious scanning takes place constantly. But when the mind slips into a trance, this scanning process stops, and the subconscious tends to fixate on a narrow range of thoughts. Over a lifetime of such slippage, the mind becomes unbelievably “compartmentalized,” making it more cumbersome to connect a person’s broad body of knowledge for problem-solving and creative thinking.

The subconscious mind is a vital part of our mental apparatus, we could not do without it. When we learn to perform skilled tasks, we are able to hand them over to the subconscious mind to perform, while our conscious mind turns to other things. When skilled tasks are learned by the conscious mind and handed over to the subconscious, that is called automaticity. Our conscious mind can then think about larger goals, and leave the many sub-tasks to the subconscious.

Subconscious vs Conscious Mind

A well-trained subconscious mind is crucial for a well-functioning, healthy life. When the subconscious is stuffed full of good habits and good thinking patterns, it pushes out the bad habits and destructive thinking patterns that waylay so many once-promising lives.

The problem with the subconscious mind is that it is willing to take over your life entirely, if you let it. But that part of your mind is not equipped to deal with new and unexpected challenges that you are likely to face. Under unexpected circumstances, the subconscious mind needs a “conductor and coordinator” to supply the timing, the impulse control, and the overall executive functions of acting, thinking, and learning that are supplied largely by different parts of the conscious mind.

Meditation tunes and builds up the parts of the brain that contribute to the “executive functions.” The prefrontal cortex, the hippocampus, your interconnected gray matter networks that function largely at gamma wave frequencies . . . such brain components are augmented and refined by regular meditative practice. At the same time, meditation shrinks the amygdala, reducing the levels of anxiety and fear which often inhibit a person’s initiative and decision making.

The contrast between the gradual refinement of higher order brain functions in meditation, vs. the “spinning of the wheels” of the subconscious mind when reverting to a trance state, should be clearer with a little reflection.

Hypnotic trance can be useful when dealing with bad habits or destructive thought patterns. But the results of hypnosis tend to be temporary, and side effects may pop up unexpectedly when taking a “pinpoint problem-solving” approach of personal transformation via trance-formation. The way of the trance is the way of non-conscious thought. Odd things can happen when you take that pathway.

If you choose to build consciousness instead — and over time build up a positive lifestyle and positive habits and thought patterns — most of the unexpected things that happen will be good.

A case study

A Warning About Some Meditation Sites

Many people who teach “meditation” use guided meditation narratives that are indistinguishable from a hypnotic induction for putting a person into a trance state. Some meditation websites are honest in admitting that they want to help readers achieve deep trance states as a crucial part of “meditating.”

Relaxation trances and self-esteem affirming trances are not damaging in themselves — and many people may benefit from them in the beginning stages of a life rehabilitation. Deep hypnotic trance can cause beneficial brain effects during the trance itself — but they are very temporary, unlike the lasting benefits from meditation. More

Hypnosis is used on a problem-by-problem basis, and the effects are typically short-lived.

Even Famous and Prestigious Meditation Authorities Can Get Confused

The attraction and allure of “altered states of consciousness” can prove irresistible for even the most experienced and accomplished meditation practitioners. As an example, there is a profound series of meditative states in Buddhist meditation known as the Jhanas, or Dhyanas. No one knows just how many Jhanas there are, or how deeply into the Jhanas a person can travel. It seems a bit like the “infinite mirror” phenomenon, recursive in the same way.

Infinity Mirror Experiment

Each level of Jhana feeds into the next level, as one goes deeper and deeper. Eventually the person loses all sense of time, place, and person, as he goes ever more deeply. Is this process meditation, or is it trance? I am not qualified to say, but I have my doubts. One thing that makes me uneasy is some of the same mental processes as are used to enter trance states, are used to enter Jhanas.

Why Do People Bother?

The first Jhana has been described as being hooked to a water hose full of pleasure that bursts through you and will not stop until you make it stop. So you can understand why many people may be attracted to the process — and then may feel curious as to where it all leads in the higher Jhanas.

Humans are wired for pleasure and reward, and if their minds have not been trained to get rewards from positive lifestyle and productive habits, they are wide open to any number of alternative approaches to pleasure and reward. That is why drug & alcohol rehab is such a lucrative racket, er, industry.

I am bringing this topic up because I will be referring to meditation frequently in the coming months. Without making the distinction between trance and meditation clear, it would be easy for readers to misunderstand the process that I am following — which is high-awareness meditation with a conscious minimizing of trance distraction.

Trances happen naturally, and the more aware we are of when and how they are likely to take us over, the better prepared we will be to rise above them in order to give our brains every benefit we can.

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