Be vigilant with your thoughts

We were off to see Derren Brown. I’ve been a fan of his for a while. I know him mostly through his television shows and his book, Tricks Of The Mind. This would be my first time seeing him live. The place – The New Alexandra Theatre, commonly known as the Alex. As always with hypnosis related entertainment, you kind of go in either dreading being called up on stage and made to do funny things in front of an audience or you go with the intent of trying your hardest to be the volunteer from the crowd. You generally want to know two things – is it real and can you personally be hypnotised. I fall into the ‘can I be properly hypnotised’ camp, and by that I mean can I be induced to do weird things.

I’ve trained as a hypnotist. I understand the mechanics. In training we were told that everybody can be hypnotised. Some people go into trance deeper than others. We were also told that nobody can be made to do anything that they wouldn’t be inclined to do. Even the people you see doing weird stuff under hypnosis have psychological willingness to do those things. I’ve been in mild trance states, but have never experienced deep trance state. Although, in our training, we were also told that most people are in a trance 90% of the time. Most of us are in a waking dream induced by our thoughts.

Derren did ask the audience not to tell people about the details of the show so I will respect that. I do want to talk about a couple of things and these are things I’ve written about in the past. At the start of the show Derren talks about time and our relationship to time. We spend the majority of our time thinking about the past and how we perceive it to define who we are or we are fixated on the future and what we aspire be, have or do. Very little of our thought time is focused on the here and the now. The thing is, the past and the future are both stories that we tell ourselves. Both of these instances of time are made up. Yes, even our past is made up. You can look at what we remember about our past as being “based on a true story” but what we remember won’t be exactly what happened. The lesson here is you can change your past and your future by changing the story you tell yourself in the present.

Derren also talked about Epictetus and the key concept of Stoicism which is that there are things we can control and things we cannot control. Forget about the things you can’t control and focus on what you can control and you’ll increase your level of happiness, tranquility, and inner peace. This is one of those concepts that is simple, but in its simplicity can be hard to put into practice consistently. I guess it’s hard because we feel compelled to control everything. If we don’t have control, we feel helpless. And most people are frightened of being helpless. We want to be masters of our own fate. And that’s the illusion that we buy into, that we can be masters of our own fate. But as Epictetus, Seneca, and other stoics have pointed out, the only thing we can control is our own thoughts. Yet, it amazes me how many of us abdicate the one thing we have absolute control over.

Be vigilant with your thoughts.

Freud said “words have power.” He wasn’t just talking about the words we say or the words we read and hear, but also the words we think in those silent conversations we have inside our heads.

Attending one of Derren Brown’s shows is like a mass therapy session, which is understandable considering he started his career with the idea of being a hypnotherapist.