I’m attending an NLP Life Training course – the Secrets of Hypnosis with Dr Richard Bandler and Paul McKenna – tomorrow.

When I first read about Dr Bandler and, in particular, the stories of him curing Charlie the Schizophrenic and crucifying Jesus-es, I thought: ‘Now there’s a creative genius and dangerous maniac I’d like to meet’. So I’m stoked to learn from the man – the legend – who shall heretofore be known on this blog as Daddy Bandler.

But it wasn’t until I mentioned the course to my brother and he exclaimed, “Oh, I used to love Paul McKenna!” that I really thought about McKenna’s influence on me.

Until recently, I mostly associated McKenna with the self-help movement and his ‘I Can Make You…’ products. But personal growth and human potential were – also until a few years ago – at odds with my belief system. Growing up, I didn’t get the memo that people could change – appearances, behaviours, superficialities could be improved, but only via denial, misery and self-hate. If I’d even heard the term ‘neuro-linguistic programming’ during my 20s, I certainly dismissed it as a scam.

Hazier still are my memories of ‘The Hypnotic World of Paul McKenna’, McKenna’s ITV show broadcast from 1993-97, where 10 audience members are hypnotised into performing a comedic clash of pretexts and activities for our viewing pleasure.

I was 13 years old when that show first aired. Obviously I watched it because my brother did. But I don’t particularly remember it. It seems that the influence McKenna had on my perceptions of hypnosis is far more circuitous…

Like all 13-year-olds, I spent a lot of time hanging about in my local park with a gang of correspondingly dreadful peers. One day, instead of stealing Cornettos, smoking pot and snogging each other, one boy – Lee F – whipped out a book by Paul McKenna on how to hypnotise people.

Now, if you could please take a moment to watch this intro to the show, you’ll see that how to hypnotise people was always a closely guarded secret. I figure that show successfully instilled in me a reverence and fear of the hypnotic process: it was a secret simply too potent and dreadful to share with the general public. I didn’t really know Lee, so I just shyly and slyly watched his hypnotic experiments from afar and thus couldn’t ascertain the secrets to his success.

And oddly, while I have a vague notion that he dabbled in hypnosis a few times, I only remember one experiment – and vividly so. I’m sitting in my best mate El’s bedroom and she, my boyfriend Cliff and a bunch of other kids are… fishing? Yep, fishing. Cliff is perched on the floor, in what I reckon would otherwise be an uncomfortable squat to hold for this long, fishing with his imaginary rod.

I recall being mesmerised – and a tad unsettled – by how absorbed he seems in this task. All Lee’s subjects are busily fishing – still, silent, peaceful; none of the silliness that I’d expect of teens ‘playing along’. Which, of course, they all claim to have been doing later. I carefully quiz El, who is my source of all wisdom and knowledge on most matters, and she assures me it’s all a hoax.

And so that is my verdict on hypnosis for many years to come.

But it is curious watching McKenna’s show after all these years. If I could wave my magic wand over this currently reality model, I’d essentially create just this kind of comedic clash of hypnotic suggestions on a mass scale – but without the studio, the cameras… or anyone knowing who’s behind this insanity.

Thank you, Uncle Paul! I’m sure you’re proud to have influenced me so! :-)

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