Do you have a creative project that transports you away from yourself in a state of flow? Playing music, creating art, writing words? Have you ever tried to put yourself into a state of trance in order to feverishly create? We recently welcomed hypnotherapist Daniel Ryan to The Assemblage NoMad to lead a trance writing workshop, which draws on hypnotherapy, past-life regression and meditation to spark creativity that can be carried into daily life. The learning? It’s as much magic as it is practical.
Ryan first guided attendees through a meditation, inviting them to envision a source of stuckness — find it in your body, explore what it looks like — and in the mind’s eye, transform it into something new. What would it feel like to be free? And then, start free writing. By releasing that which no longer serves us, the idea is to continue on with writing projects unburdened. In some ways, tossing aside one’s notions of plot or character or voice and instead delving into the subconscious through cues of visualization seems obvious, as the best writing is never forced or formulaic. According to Ryan, writers’ block can be considered just “a different name for procrastination and overwhelm.” Trance writing presents solutions for shaking that, breaking out of the trance of our daily existence, and reclaiming our own minds.
We sat down with Ryan before his event to discuss the core of his practice, how he began teaching it, and ways we can bring such experiences into our lives.
The Assemblage: Trance writing is a unique practice — can you tell us more about the concept?
Daniel Ryan: Trance writing itself is about subtracting what’s not serving the writer in their own process and approaching the idea of writing and structure in a completely different way. It’s embracing the absurdity of the unconscious mind.
It’s about temporarily throwing away the three-act structure, throwing away everything we know about best practices, and letting it get silly, letting it get absurd, and looking at the process from some kind of new and different perspective — if for no other reason, just to be refreshed.
TA: What calls you to trance writing?
DR: Not the presence of my writing, but the absence. Every assumption you can make based upon that response is probably true. The real impetus of this for me is not because I’m a writer, but because I want to write more and I want to talk to writers.
TA: Do you apply the process of trance writing to yourself? Do you do it on your own?
DR: Yes, definitely. I’ll either listen to recordings of my own voice or just include the exercises in my own meditation. I also like to play around a lot with my practices. It’s a very different thing, guiding oneself through an experience versus being guided. I wish somebody would come to my house and lead me through meditation every morning.
TA: What are the benefits associated with trance writing?
DR: In my practice, I’ve seen people experience anxiety relief more than anything else. That’s because hypnotherapy has a great deal in common with meditation, and relaxation is a built-in part of the experience. A relaxed brain does everything better.
How we manage stress we have in our daily lives is having an effect neurologically. The chronic management of stress really inhibits and handicaps cognitive ability, which is why reaching a state of relaxation is genuinely significant.
Somebody I’ve worked with for years through regression therapy has overcome both her anxiety and the grieving process of an infant son she lost a decade ago. But she did not come to me to work on grief. She didn’t really want to go near that. It just came through organically, and as we discussed it, she grew curious in doing past-life regression work around the trauma. Today, the memory of her infant son shows up in our sessions and acts as a guide. Some people may say that’s not really her son or judge some aspect of the process. As a person who was in the room, I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that what comes through is absolutely beautiful.
TA: Do you have any books you can recommend for people to educate themselves about hypnotherapy and trance?
DR: Foremost, the books of my friend and mentor, Melissa Tiers. She has a couple of books, all of which I highly recommend, foremost Keeping the Brain in Mind.
There’s another book, Monsters and Magical Sticks: There’s No Such Thing As Hypnosis? It might be interesting to know that within the field of hypnosis, there’s this inside joke that there’s no such thing as hypnosis, that it’s transcending definition, and the reason nobody feels like they understand it is because it doesn’t exist.
And there’s a great book with a goofy cover from the Seventies called Trance-Formations that’s about mostly neuro-linguistic psychology. That’s an excellent one as well.
TA: What about solo trance? Are there ways that people can use some of these tools on their own?
DR: The core principle of hypnosis is that all hypnosis is self-hypnosis. While it’s true that external sources of stimulation are always vying for our attention, the story in our heads and the story we’re telling ourselves at any given time will be the most powerful hypnotist. Even in the case of a stage show, the hypnotist is working with and choosing people based on nonverbal cues that he or she is looking for, and is going to then do what we might consider a cold read or a mind read of some sort. They become, in essence, the voice inside that person’s head.
In terms of things people can take on and do for themselves, education is inoculation. Educate yourself around hypnosis. If we live in a highly hypnotized age, learning about trance and learning about how we go in and out of those states is the first and best thing we can do to help ourselves out of them if they’re not serving us.
Another thing that’s very useful is the idea of the feedback loop, or the ouroboros, which is the snake eating its own tail. I know no better model for attention or trance. Any time I’m hypnotized by something — I’m looking into my phone, and the phone is stimulating my attention, and my attention is going into the phone, and the phone is stimulating my attention — there’s a dialogue happening.
Even if I’m in a dialogue with somebody in my own mind, there’s still a call-and-response happening. In order for trance to occur, there needs to be looping feedback. Understanding that as a model for attention, as a model for patterns of behavior, as a model for various other things that we do all the time is another thing that I suggest everybody take on. Play with it. Take what’s useful and leave the rest.