How far would you go to write words with power? Would you consider hypnosis? I did and here’s my story. It starts off from a most unlikely beginning. While looking into kickboxing sparring techniques, I discovered the work, life, and philosophy of Cus D’Amato, the inventor of the peek-a-boo style of boxing. Mike Tyson is his most famous pupil, but he also trained two other world champions: Floyd Patterson (the heavyweight champ between Rocky Marciano and Ali) and José Torres, all hall of famers. Smaller fighters looking to close the distance with larger fighters with longer reach would do well to watch clips of Tyson executing the peek-a-boo style. At 5’10” Tyson was a small heavyweight. But, by working the angles, he had his way against much larger opponents.
At 5’7”, I’m cannon fodder for the bigger guys at the gym, which is pretty much everyone. Watching clips of Tyson improved my game, and, as I learned more about Tyson’s life, I discovered there was more to him than the “Iron Mike” persona of the 80s and 90s. For one, he’s extremely well read. He quote Plutarch and Nietzsche with ease, and from his quotes, it’s evident that he grasps his place in history in relation to those who fought before him, from the gladiators to his contemporaries. He credits much of his character inside and outside of the ring to his foster father and trainer Cus D’Amato.
D’Amato was an extremely driven individual whose sole purpose was to find and train heavyweight boxing champions. He sacrificed all for this end. Increasingly fascinated both by Tyson and D’Amato, I picked up Tyson’s biography of D’Amato: Iron Ambition: My Life with Cus D’Amato (2017). One of the enduring lessons Tyson learned from D’Amato was that character is everything. Inside the ring, the fighter with a stronger character will prevail over an equal or even stronger opponent with less character. To make his fighters strong in their minds, D’Amato would, on a regular basis, take his fighters to the hypnotist. But this was no ordinary hypnosis where you find balance, inner peace, or a better night’s sleep. He hypnotized his fighters to hit with bad intentions.
Some want money. Some want power. To others, family’s where it’s at. There are those who live for wine and a song. For me, the highest good of life is to be remembered and not to be forgotten. It terrifies me, not the thought of dying, but the thought that after I’m gone, the world will continue as though I had never been. To be remembered, I sought a topic that could stand the test of time. I found that in the theory of tragedy and I listened to the old masters talking their theory: Plato, Aristotle, Boethius, Hegel, Nietzsche, Kaufmann, Szondi, and the others. To join the ancient conversation, I wrote The Risk Theatre Model of Tragedy: Gambling, Drama, and the Unexpected. I founded the Risk Theatre Modern Tragedy Competition with Michael Armstrong, Michelle Buck, and Keith Digby at Langham Court Theatre (https://risktheatre.com/). I started writing these blogs, started conferencing. All so that one day in the future, I might enjoy posthumous fame. Time will tell.
For me to reach this level–to enter the canon–however, is a shot in the dark. I lack the depth of these other writers. In terms of intelligence, I would say I’m slightly above average. But I am persistent. And stubborn. The odds of entering the canon are a million to one against. I’ll take these odds. But I’ll also take every advantage that comes my way. That’s when I started thinking about hypnosis. After all, Mike Tyson was a long shot and he entered the canon.
I looked for a hypnotist and I found one: Harmony Shaw. When I first saw the name, I blinked. Wasn’t she the labour foreman for Lark Construction when we did Selkirk Place, a 230 bed care facility back in 2007? There was a photo of her on her website. Indeed, it was her. I guess in thirteen years, you can pick up one or two new skills! I gave her a call, she remembered me as well and we caught up on old times. It was meant to be. She explained how it works. We do a meet and greet session, no hypnosis. In the first session, about an hour long, clients tell her what they’re after, and she takes notes. Later, she’ll use these notes to plant subconscious cues during the actual hypnotherapy sessions.
Harmony also went through what to expect during the actual hypnotherapy session. The client reclines in a day bed and relaxes. Her job is to keep the client in between a state of sleep and waking. It’s sort of like the moments you’re drifting off to sleep or the moments in the morning where you’re conscious you’re dreaming but not quite awake. While the client is in this in-between state, she charges up the client’s subconscious with suggestions. So far so good.
But I was curious. How would this work? I asked colleagues at work. A surprising number of them had gone through or seen hypnotists in action. Apparently, schools used to hire hypnotists to entertain students during grad ceremonies. The consensus on these shows is that it appears to work on some people. But it didn’t work on the people I chatted with, who were skeptical. To them, hypnotism was some sort of scandalous parlour trick. A thing of ill-repute.
The day came for my hypnotherapy session with Harmony. Friday after work. It had been a busy Friday afternoon, so I wasn’t sure if I’d even be able to get into that half-asleep half-awake state, I was so wound up. We met up, I got into the daybed and closed my eyes. The session began with her telling me: “Focus on the sound of my voice.” Then she started talking about the sound of the clock as it checked off the seconds. She told me to concentrate on the sound of her colleague in the next room, who was cleaning up. Before you knew it, I was in that half-asleep, half-awake state. Harmony asked me to signal by moving a finger that I was still awake. I did this and she got out her notes from the previous session.
It was at this point the hypnotherapy session proper started. I heard her say the things we had talked about. “You will write with bad intentions,” she said. “You will write words with power,” she said. “Your words will outlast the pyramids,” she said. The first thing I noticed was that it was sort of shocking, no, shocking isn’t the write word, it was sort of enticing and discomfiting to hear someone say your words back to you. These are all phrases I’ve thought about to myself. It was different to hear them told back to me in another person’s voice. The second thing I noticed was that it was odd to have someone talking to you in this half-asleep half-awake state. The mind is sort of floating in this in-between state. It can notice it is being talked to. It understands the meaning of the words that it hears, though some higher functions appear to be shut down. It is open to suggestion.
We’ve all been spoken to in this in-between state. The difference with hypnotherapy is that the hypnotherapist keeps you in this state. Normally, if someone’s talking to you as you’re dozing off or waking up, you’d either doze off or wake up. The difference is that the skilled hypnotherapist keeps you there. Our first session was just over an hour long. During the session, I had no sense of time. I still could feel meaning, but at a rudimentary level. Some of the higher brain functions do not appear to have been engaged. As the hour wrapped up, Harmony counted down from five and told me that I would wake up feeling refreshed. When I got up and looked at the clock, I was surprised that just over an hour had passed. It had seemed like ten minutes.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but after experiencing my first session, it was just as she had described. It’s like you’re having a nap with someone talking to you. There was no magic about it, which to me, is a positive thing. The hypnotist stage acts on YouTube seem contrived, not entirely believable. This sort of hypnotherapy Harmony practised on me made sense. I could see how, if this is that Tyson experienced, it would have helped him. I think if anyone is attempting anything that challenges physical or mental limits, hypnotherapy would be something to try. Hard work and effort would get you 99% of the results. Hypnotherapy would be that boost that gets you that 1% extra.
Since the session with Harmony I’ve been writing some presentations and some new blogs. I’ve found myself writing in a more direct and concise tone. I’ll be writing, and there’ll be a voice in the back of my mind: “Write with power, write with intention, don’t do any tricks with words when the direct approach suffices.” I don’t know if this is due to the hypnotherapy or simply that I know that I’ve done the hypnotherapy. But in the end, it doesn’t matter. I know I’ve done it, and I feel that it’s given me a mandate. And that’s good enough to take my writing to a higher level. If you’re wondering whether to try it, definitely go for it. There’s no magic to it. There’s no mind-blowing results. But it will take you that 1% higher. And for it to have that effect is pretty amazing.
I’ve been telling my friends about my hypnotism experience. Most of them have been surprised that I got hypnotized to “write with bad intentions.” “That’s wrong,” they say to me. “Writing isn’t a contest,” they say. “It’s not like boxing,” they say. But isn’t it? You’re locked in the cage with all the other writers saying the same thing. And in the end, it is a contest: only a handful will be remembered. And if you’re the one who’s remembered, you have to deliver the knockout blow to your worthy adversary. Isn’t writing and fame a heavyweight bout for the ages where every advantage counts? Am I missing something here or is it my contemporaries who are missing something?
We only live once. Keep your mind open to new ideas, especially new ideas where there is little to lose but much to gain. We owe it to ourselves to be the best we can be in each thing that we do.
Until next time, I’m Edwin Wong, and I’m doing Melpomene’s work.
Hypnotherapy and biofeedback–I tried them both, years ago. Not sure if they had any great effect, but you make me curious to give hypnotherapy, at least, another try.
On another note, reading the business section of the Globe the other day, I came across the term “Black Swan effect,” when something out of the blue rattles the stock market and causes the collapse of an asset. “Risk theatre,” I thought to myself.
Hi Ann, So cool–let me know how your hypnotherapy session goes! Yah, I think the effect is quite subtle. What I ate earlier in the day probably has more effect on my writing than hypnotherapy. But it was fun to try it and will definitely go again. Yes, it seems like “risk theatre” is gaining traction, like you say it’s part of the fabric of modernity. There was a great movie on finance that came out a little while back on the Great Recession with Demi Moore, Jeremy Irons, and some other guy whose name can no longer be spoken, called “Margin Call.” It really showed off how dramatic the black swan effect can be.