ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND?

Learning I could edit my memories is one of the most effective and empowering things I’ve gotten from hypnosis and NLP.

Like many people, I used to believe memories were a matter of fact; files stored in the back of my mind – recalled, in the case of good or useful ones, upon command, or surfacing as a surprise-yet-welcome blast from the past… But more often, in the case of bad or unwanted memories, haunting me in the dead of night.

I started to suspect memories were more fiction than fact when I realised that a foundational childhood memory was not a memory at all – it was rather a story of a photo I’d been regaled with time and again. This puzzled me – perhaps for the best, as it made me suspicious of the ‘absolute truth’ of those 2am hauntings.

And then, as is a recurring theme on this blog, I discovered memory editing techniques via Derren Brown. ‘Tricks of the Mind’ cites a couple of NLP techniques – changing the size, shape, colour, brightness and position of images/sequences, or playing a memory backwards to absurd music, etc.

I realised that a memory was like a clay sculpture: I could fool myself into believing the sculpture had been fired (for good or bad), and thus view it as would a visitor to an art gallery, a passive observer; or I could consciously keep shaping and improving it, an artist at work.

So this was an ‘a ha’ moment. But, as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention: it was only when I needed to ANNIHILATE a new-forming negative memory that I implemented something I could personally truly buy into.

Because a couple of years ago, I congratulated my company’s brand new Head of HR on being pregnant.

But she was not pregnant.

Yes.

I was mortified.

Being a trim, beautiful, intelligent, rational Norwegian woman, she laughed this off and accepted my rambling and profuse apologies: she was standing at an odd angle, her dress created an optical illusion; there’d been a spate of Norwegian colleague pregnancies; my mind moved faster than my mouth…

ARGH!

Anyway. We drew an amicable line beneath my social and professional awfulness. But as soon as I sat down at my desk, I could feel my sadomasochistic imagination preserving, amplifying, worsening the ‘memory’ of it. I knew it would be ‘Exhibit A: Why Amy Is Just The Absolute Worst’ come 2am each night… (Until, presumably, the sweet, sweet release of death in approximately 60 years’ time.)

But – recalling what I’d read – I immediately forced myself to change the movie in my mind to black and white, and generally meddle with it. This led to the creation of ‘The Magic Roundabout’, playing the images/sequences backwards and forwards at stupid speeds, and in black and white, to the tune of (you’ve guessed it) ‘The Magic Roundabout’.

I now use ‘The Magic Roundabout’ to nip potential bad memories in the bud at the point of creation. Plus I regularly make myself play back recurrent bad memories – especially the ‘Congratul-a-t-i-o-n-s..?-OH-SHIT-NO-KILL-ME-NOW!’ one – to keep them in perspective or run the charge off them.

I’ve since come across two more memory editing approaches and sort of mashed them together into something I, and the few people I’ve used them on, find useful. I’ve been nervous of sharing learnings, musings and work-in-progress on this blog. But I figured I’d have to start as this has been a half-written, hesitant-to-share post for too long. As my Chief Magical Consultant points out, the only ‘facts’ hypnotists can cling to are the latest in cognitive neuroscience, which are sketchy at best. Or, as Melissa Tiers puts it: “This shit is all made up.” Yet that doesn’t stop a few in this field seeking, or advocating and arguing for, the definitive method or school or thought. So, for the record, I’m not a ‘hypnotherapist’, I change my mind more frequently than I change my knickers, and I assume it’s clear from the vicarious content of this blog that I’m not positioning myself as any kind of expert!

So. My memory-editing-mash-up comprises ‘The Magic Roundabout’, together with the classic NLP/Richard Bandler ‘green frame’ technique and Integral Eye Movement Therapy (IEMT).

I might use one, or all three, as the mood strikes, in whichever order feels right.

But I always start by asking the following questions of the selected memory:

1. Is the memory a still photo or series of still photos, or a movie?

2. Is it in colour or black and white?

3. Does it have sounds, words, speech, a soundtrack – or is it silent?

4. Is it subjective or objective? I explain this: “As in, seen through your eyes, or perhaps through the eyes of another person or as if through a film camera or by a fly on the wall.”

5. Does it feel very close or far away? This could be in time or space: five minutes ago, or 100 years in the future; or as seen from the perspective of a cockroach on the floor or a satellite orbiting in space.

6. Finally, how emotionally charged is it, on a scale of one to 10? 10 being A Very Big Deal Indeed and one being ‘meh’.

Then you play with the opposite – or whatever seems intuitively/creatively fitting – of these answers:

1. If it’s a Hollywood Blockbuster Movie, make it into a series of poorly captured Polaroid snaps.

2. If it’s in glorious Technicolor, change it to hazy black and white.

3. Make the soundtrack ridiculous a la ‘The Magic Roundabout’, or, say, turn it into an OTT foreign language soap opera or 1930s silent movie. I don’t force ridiculousness; I find this edit point sparks it if appropriate and if the person is so inclined. And if a memory seems too grave, I simply silence it or tweak the soundtrack – eg, reduce a whole script to one key phrase/word that stands out. (I dislike how prescriptive some trainers are on levity versus gravity: I say, take the subject’s lead.)

4. Most people I’ve experimented with seem first to see memories through their own eyes and, when prompted to shift perspective, inclined to choose their aggressor, if there is one. I figure this is because people want to be seen to be empathetic or ‘doing the right thing’, etc. But I think this can be unhelpful as they may then feel obliged to proclaim, say, forgiveness, which is neither present nor true. So I’ve often suggested the movie camera or fly-on-wall perspective, by way of communicating the difference between subjective and objective. Some people are grateful for the definition, or it negates the need for them to consciously summon it up if it doesn’t immediately come to mind (you can see the jolt in someone pondering the difference). Plus it plants two strong visuals in their head – both of which are covertly silly (ie, a Hollywood movie crew filming that time your boss made you cry) – as an alternative to seeing the memory through an aggressor. So I just feel this line negates the need for them to engage their critical mind and/or have to feign saintly forgiveness for an aggressor (which they’ll later likely reject).

5. I love the ability to play with both time and space when it comes to the near and far question. I did this with someone close to me, who, first questions round, proclaimed a years-past petty incident was now too close for comfort. The emotional score of eight shot up to 11 (!), and they threatened to stop because I’d ‘re-traumatised’ them. I insisted they see it through and, by the time they considered this from their deathbed in their late 90s, and from 100 years forwards in time, they didn’t even need prompting to now score the memory as ‘meh’. They were laughing by the end of the process.

6. I use my outstretched arm as a gauge for one to 10, hand high for 10 and low for one. People seem to respond to the visual cue and the implication is: it will go down. I also heard someone on the ‘change-work’ scene (though I forget who – sorry) say you shouldn’t let people quibble – eg, a nine that’s “maybe an eight-and-a-half” next round. Insist they pick a number. I guess the psychology is they won’t want to go back to nine, for their own sense of progress as well as to be polite to you. So they’re forced down by a digit at least. It seems effective and, frankly, more authoritative and ‘process-y’.

To elaborate on ‘green frame’ and IEMT…

I saw Daddy Bandler do the ‘green frame’ thing on a fellow NLP course attendee. But he was so fast and nonchalant; I think a lot of NLPers forget Bandler is effective because he’s A Power Hypnotist – and a fucking terrifying one, at that. So I mostly use this as a final, vivid blast, depending on how receptive I think a person is. I just feel it can be a bit ‘er, what..?’ in insolation if a person is unmoved by NLP witch-doctoring and/or my relative ‘hypnotic prowess’, and/or is particularly attached to their problems.

But basically I run through my questions and alter each point as above. Then, as Daddy Bandler does it, you have the person imagine whatever visual they landed on – say, a backwards black and white movie of a bad break-up – sitting within a bright green frame. He draws the frame in the air in front of them, which I copied. I instruct them that it’s bright, garish, Kermit-The-Frog-green. I’ve been mulling why I find this hue compelling and a memory came up: we had a glitchy TV when I was a kid – the picture exploded into neon green whenever it died. I wonder if some people have a similar dormant memory… The fast-spoken instructions – “Grow the frame til the image within it shrinks to nothing, just seeing green now, then explode that green into a million pieces, like a neon firework that fades into the black night sky…” – seem to make yet more sense, at least to me, with that old TV glitch in mind.

Then there’s IEMT. You can read about this here. I shan’t much attempt to explain the theory or procedure. So please take my words with a pinch of salt – I did a short workshop on it, so I can’t advocate for or do justice to it; I’m merely happy to adapt and bastardise things that appeal to me at this stage in the game.

What worked for me as a convincer is that the IEMT movements, supposedly, ‘scramble’ the memory by ‘moving it’ back and forth across the logical/creative, left-brain/right-brain areas. So, returning to our sculpture analogy, the ‘fired’ memory is returned to soft clay, allowing it to be reshaped by the right-brain, before being returned, ‘re-fired’, to the left-brain, improved, diminished or liable to be forgotten.

I don’t currently have time, money or inclination to investigate the veracity of this theory – the IEMT website copy features words like ‘algorithms’, ‘calibrate’ and ‘coding’ that indicate a ‘mind as computer’ conceptualisation. After spending some unhappy months trying to believe myself to be a robot, I dropped this as a concept of mind and strive to avoid it a metaphor, too. But the left-brain/right-brain concept is ingrained in many of us – so, even if, like me, a person has read (or considered or concluded) that this isn’t necessarily true of how our brains function or are organised – it still makes (total or some) logical sense. I can certainly buy into it. The clincher, though, is the movements – it’s just a fundamentally odd procedure. So, for me and others, it does indeed ‘scramble’ the ‘memory’, creating the feedback loop and subsequent belief that it’s been altered (or ‘deleted’).

You ask the/a starting set of questions and then instruct your subject to keep the memory in their mind while they focus on your index and middle fingers, held out on your outstretched hand. It seems effective to stand/sit about a metre apart and for your subject to look up slightly, rather than your fingers to be eye-level or lower. Having been on both sides of the fence, as a subject, focusing upwards is a touch uncomfortable and tricky to maintain, which adds to the concentration, gravitas and ‘process-y-ness’. While, as the person leading it, you can more easily track your subject’s eye movements and see if/when they aren’t doing as instructed.

With their eyes locked on your fingers, you then sweep your arm – at a slowish pace – horizontally six times, and then diagonally left to right, then right to left, also six times each. People often need prompting to keep focusing/following while keeping the memory in mind (ie, periodically say, “Keeping that memory in your mind…”), as well as to not pre-empt the movement (their eyes will race ahead of your fingers).

Then you ask them what’s changed about the image/s or sequence. I found it impossible to preserve my memory – in particular, the memory of the news of a university burglary on an ugly day in my parent’s divorce aged 22 is reduced to an image of a presumed-stolen vintage coat I was upset about losing. I find I cannot conjure up much of the original memory – I have a concept of it and can relate the story in words, but the ‘movie’ feels like it’s ‘cloaked in’ the coat. I know I could dwell on this and recreate a movie, but I know I’d be doing just that – recreating.

I share this experience with those upon whom my IEMT witch-doctoring works – I leave them with the suggestion to actively work on the new memory or whatever weirdness they’ve landed with, as striving to recall what’s gone, out of curiosity or bloody mindedness or whatever, is liable to undo this wonderful act of creation.

You can do one, two, three cycles. I’m increasingly fond of ‘The Magic Roundabout’, two cycles of IEMT and the ‘green frame’.

A final note on framing and expectations if I’m working with someone for the first time… I first and foremost instruct them to choose a memory that isn’t traumatic, too high-stakes or episodic.

I’ve found the latter is particularly important as people sometimes seem to conflate ‘a memory’ into a mega-memory-movie of, say, ‘My Miserable 17-Year Marriage To My Cheating Husband/Wife’. They’d probably need a lobotomy to forget that!

And by ‘high stakes’ I mean ‘memories’ that are, in fact, current hot messes – someone I did the workshop with wanted to work on a ‘memory’ that was, in fact, a raging email war with someone active in their life. I get it: you want to feel, say, more power than your foe, either in mind or preparedness for the next showdown, by rewriting a past encounter. But I don’t believe in (wittingly or unwittingly) supporting a victim narrative, so I try to sniff this out, too.

And ‘traumatic’ speaks for itself.

I use my ‘Congratulations’ story as an example of the kind of memory they may wish to choose; something that haunts them at 2am that they needlessly beat themselves up about. I often prime them a day or two before we’ll do ‘the edit’, as well as play up the possibility of it not working if they select the wrong kind of memory for this first experiment – they can advance to murkier, stickier memories at a later stage.

I appreciate some hypnotists/NLPers/etc would say it’s perfectly possible, and ethical, to foreshadow more dramatic first-time results or to ‘remove’ a memory altogether. But this doesn’t sit well with me… My muted ‘Congratulations’ memory remains because it reminds me to engage my brain before I open my big mouth. The magic, for me, is the ability to stop using ‘memories’ as ‘Exhibits B-Z: Why Amy Really Is Just The Worst’, but to let the lessons remain. Perhaps, someday, when I’m mastered my mind and my mouth, it will permanently fade. But if someone asked me to ‘hypnotise’ them to forget an unwanted memory I wouldn’t be able to: not only because it goes against my values of working for, rather than against, human progress, by hopefully helping someone confront their problems rather than suppressing them; but also because I don’t believe it’s possible. You merely imagine you forgot. Which is a pleasant illusion (delusion) – and is fine if your boss only made you cry that one time… But folly if you’re crying every day.

So, IMHO, while it’s possible and (mostly) desirable to alter and/or defuse a memory using these techniques, we may not be able to forget physical or emotional pain or unpleasantness – because otherwise we’d fail to learn from it. A memory serves a purpose, whether we like it or not.

As Dr Seuss once wrote, “Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”

Photo by Sanwal Deen on Unsplash.

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