Troubled by a peur du jour? COVID is a trendy choice — particularly if, like me, you’re of the wrong age; the wrong sex; and were inexplicably absent on Immune System Installation Day back in the womb. Or maybe the economic collapse has you distraught over an inability to pay this month’s bills; or perhaps disquieted by a realization that, if you can pay this month’s bills, your life savings might be drained in the process. Maybe you’re casting a nervous eye toward the receding ice caps, the erosion of civil discourse, or an emboldened North Korea. If you’re lucky enough to live near my home in Vancouver, then you’re now at the epicentre of the North American Murder Hornet invasion.
Death by viral infection; death by exposure; death by nuclear fallout; death by hornet venom — so many fresh new demises that weren’t nearly as probable just a few months ago. If only there was a place we could go and hide for a little while — a kind of “safe place.”
I might just have a solution…
Several years ago I did something wildly out of character — I took a class in self-hypnosis. A few articles hinted at its potential benefit to migraine sufferers, and as a decades-long combatant, I thought I’d give it a shot. I’ve experimented with every medical, scientific, and pseudo-scientific “cure” known to man, and none has yet succeeded. Which make me an easy target for snake oil approaches. Enter “self-hypnosis” school.
I don’t much like taking classes. Classes contain people. And more often than not, all the people in a class are of a like mind with one-another, and of an unlike mind with me. Within the first hour of the first class, I discovered this experience would be no different.
On our maiden voyage into self hypnosis, we were told to clear our minds and recollect a distant, long-forgotten memory. I closed my eyes, shut off my brain, and immediately flashed back to an experience I had not thought about in decades. It was high school, and I was on stage in the school’s auditorium, performing in front of the entire student body and faculty. This was the era of prog rock, and my ‘band’ consisted of me on Rhodes electric piano, and Ralph on an enormous drum kit, which comprised about an octave of tuned toms, gongs, snares, and whatever else Neil Peart, Carl Palmer, or their ilk would have hammered on back in the day.
The performance was going well — and we easily navigated our way through numerous odd time signatures and key changes, until we reached my favourite part: the part where I stomp on the fuzz pedal, crank my Fender Deluxe Reverb to maximum volume, then slide it in front of the piano’s four 12″ speakers to create a feedback loop that screams like a dying banshee. Using all the strength available to my scrawny high school physique, I would then shove, angle and tilt the 88-key monstrosity around the stage. The changes in distance between the piano’s amp and the Deluxe Reverb amp would alter the pitch and timbre of the banshee howls, which allowed me to actually “play” a melody composed solely of feedback.
At least that’s how it normally worked. And indeed, that’s how it worked for about the first half of the feedback solo… but then, right at the climax when it sounded as if the banshee couldn’t possibly scream any more, she didn’t. She died. The wails fell silent. Suddenly, the only sound emanating from the stage was the flailing of Ralph’s 5/4 stick work and the thunder of his double kick drum. My contribution to the atmosphere was no longer auditory, but olfactory in nature — the distinct smell of burning electronics wafting from my Rhodes.
A wave of panic washed over me. I’d entered unknown territory — territory that could well define my very reputation and permanently impact my delicate high school psyche. The endorphins hit with the intensity of a car crash. I was going to have to improvise my way out of this. I looked back at Ralph. His eyes were wide as dinner plates. Knowing instantly that something had gone awry, he’d leapt into frantic drum soloing mode.
Time slowed to a nearly imperceptible pulse. Within the span of a single second, I somehow managed to conceive and consider several courses of action — ultimately deciding that the best path forward was to find a way to keep making some sort of sound. If I didn’t make a sound, and make it soon, the audience would likely figure out that my piano had blown up, and I’d be standing there like an idiot in front of the entire school.
So I reached out with one leg, and kicked over the Deluxe Reverb amp, which contains a spring reverb that, when jarred, creates an explosive crash. The enormity of this sound, when experienced at full volume, was reflected by the front row of the audience — all of whom winced in pain. Perfect! I kicked the amp again, sliding it into the base of the piano with an even greater crash. Then, with amp underfoot and wedged against the bottom of the Rhodes, I began to kick it repeatedly — in time with Ralph’s drumming — as I tore into the guts of the piano hoping to find and repair the issue; ripping off the top shell, and tossing it aside to a smattering of audience applause. White smoke spiralled upward off a circuit board, and glistened in the hot stage lighting.
Gazing down at the charred, melted electrical components, I knew for certain there would be no miraculous resurrection of the piano. But the audience had bought into the dismantling, kicking, and crashing sounds — believing them to be all part of the act. I looked back at the flurry that was Ralph — who, under the influence of his own adrenaline rush, had pushed the tempo to imminent embolism range.
With the piano now dismantled and the reverb springs still quivering within the inverted amp, I’d done all I could. I needed an exit. With both hands, I lifted the amp to my waist, then tossed it several feet across the stage. It landed with the most incredibly horrific noise ever heard, and as the sound of colliding springs echoed around the auditorium, I calmly walked off stage. Ralph played on for another thirty seconds — sticks and feet flying in a frantic effort to match the sonic intensity of the pummelled amp — before kicking over a few cymbals and calmly walking off himself. 75% of the audience sat in stunned silence, while the remaining 25% cheered loudly — pretty much the usual response to any performance I would give. I had snatched success from the jaws of defeat.
When my hypnosis classmates and I emerged from this first session, the instructor informed us that whatever memory we just experienced was our “safe place” — the place where we feel protected, comfortable and totally at ease. This, she said, was the place to which we could always return when we needed to feel balanced and secure. She mentioned that, while everyone’s “safe place” would obviously be different, most involve relaxing on the beach, or fishing, or maybe sharing a meal with friends or family. Everyone in the class confirmed that yes, these were exactly the memories they had.
When queried, I mentioned that my “safe place” is apparently a place of abject fear — where fate conspires against me at the most inopportune instant. A place where I’m forced — with no preparation and no time — to devise and improvise a solution. My safe place was the opposite of relaxing — it was an adrenaline fuelled panic rush of sheer exhilaration.
From that moment on, I was ostracized by my classmates. And for the rest of the semester every one of them would avoid making eye contact with me. To her credit, the instructor did continue to inquire about my self-hypnosis experiences for another class or two — until the time she had us visualize a shape and go ‘inside’ of it. Every single person in the class pictured the exact same shape — a box. When asked what shape I created, I said “I went inside a unipolar triangle wave that was being both modulated and folded by a pair of bipolar sine waves of different frequencies and I was enjoying watching and trying to predict the varying shapes that evolved around me.” That was the last time she asked me to share an experience.
But the funny thing is, I do now flash to that high school stage performance whenever I get stressed, and I always feel calmer as a result of doing so. So it apparently works, exactly as promised. Which means, perhaps, that each of you can employ this same technique to define your own “safe space.” Only, unlike my teacher and classmates, I won’t judge you negatively if your space is a tad bit eccentric.
And for those left wondering, the answer is “No. Self-hypnosis had no impact whatsoever on my migraines.” So my search for the ultimate cure continues. Maybe next time, I should just try actual snake oil.
©2020 grEGORy simpson
ABOUT THE PHOTOS: Sometimes it sucks to be your own sole source of stock photography — particularly if you, yourself, are not a stock photographer. Unlike most bloggers, who can select appropriate photos from an online pool of billions, I’m stuck thumbing through whatever meagre puddle of images I’ve shot myself. Fortunately, both my photography and my essays are derived from my own personality — and since the psychiatrists have all assured me that I am, indeed, only one person, there’s usually a wealth of synchronicity between my words and my images. But this was not the case here, where I chose to write about a topic well outside my usual sphere of being. So once again, I had to dive into the Lightroom catalog to see if any of this years’ photos could suggest ‘hypnosis’ in any way at all. I like to think, if you squint your eyes tightly enough and spin around until you’re dizzy, you might actually believe these photos all work to support the article. Then again, I am a trained practitioner in self-hypnosis…
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