(An earlier version of this article appeared in HYPNOS, 2003, 31(2), pp. 89-93, under the title, "Multimodal Suggestion for Facilitating Meditation and Prayer." Reprinted by permission.)
"Thought will live when the stars grow cold
And mix with Deity" -- Emerson
Considering the variety of suggestions which may be accepted by sufficiently responsive individuals (Shor & Orne, 1962), it may be hypothesized that suggestions will be actualized more easily if they are formulated in such a manner as to systematically and comprehensively involve several different modes of experience. The Best Me Technique utilizes the simultaneous involvement of Beliefs, Emotions, Sensations and physical perceptions, Thoughts and images, Motives, and Expectations, for greater involvement and effectiveness. Taken together, the elements of this technique form the acronym, BEST ME, and may be summarized as follows (Gibbons, 2001).
Belief systems which orient an individual to person, place, time, and events may be suggested as being different, allowing the participant to mentally transcend present realities.Emotions may be enriched, intensified, weakened, or combined with others.Sensations and physical perceptions may be suggested and experienced with an intensity approaching those of real events.Thoughts and images may be created and guided in response to explicit or indirect suggestions.Motives may either be suggested directly or implied as a consequence of other events.Expectations may be structured concerning the manner in which the participant will look forward to and remember suggested events which will occur in the future, and the manner in which suggested experiences will subsequently be recalled and interpreted in memory.
Hyperempiric suggestions may be administered in any order, each of the aforementioned categories may be employed as often as necessary, and each step in the procedure may incorporate elements of the others. In the latter case, the label applied to each step refers to the dimension of experience which is being given the greatest emphasis. For ease of illustration, the suggestions contained in this article have been provided in the B-E-S-T-M-E order. In actual use, hyperempiric suggestions may be administered in any order and repeated as often as necessary, with modifications which contribute to the total effect, much as one might repeat the verses and choruses of a song.
Mystical and Transcendental Experience Mediated by Suggestion
People of many different religious traditions have attested to the life‑changing potential of mystical and transcendental experiences involving contact with a consciousness beyond one's own. In one study of the Fundamentalist Christian experience of salvation, for example, subjects readily attested to both the personal reality of the experience and its subsequent influence upon their lives, although such experiences did not seem to be universally attainable and did appear to be related to the ability to respond to suggestion (Gibbons & DeJarnette, 1972; Gibbons, 1988).
Many clients approach life from a primarily religious point of view. Such believers -- particularly those who are elderly, infirm, or who have experienced a number of personal tragedies -- may experience a "dark night of the soul" (Peers, 1990) as they struggle to deal with the stresses of life without access to sources of experiential spiritual support for their beliefs.However, Glasner (1955) refers to several purported uses of suggestion and hypnosis in Scripture to encourage and inspire the faithful, concluding, "Although it is impossible to state with any definiteness that hypnosis is referred to in the Bible (Old and New Testaments) and in the Talmud, there would seem to be considerable evidence that the authors of these works were indeed familiar with phenomena which we today should call hypnotic or which we should explain in terms of suggestion" (p. 39).
From the standpoint of the therapist who is well-versed in the techniques of hypnosis, experiences of this type may easily be made available to clients who desire them and are sufficiently responsive to suggestion. Such experiences should be determined by the needs and expressed preferences of the client, with the goal of providing reassurance, strength, and encouragement. It should be of little consequence whether the religious and metaphysical beliefs of the client are shared by the therapist or are in conflict with those of the therapist, or whether the therapist has no theological or metaphysical beliefs at all.
The following BMT suggestions for facilitating meditation and prayer describe a visit to a cathedral. They are not intended to be used as a script, but rather as an illustration of how the Best Me Technique may be used as a template for constructing multimodal suggestions for a variety of similar purposes. They may easily be modified to refer to a visit to a temple, a mosque, an ashram, a shrine, or any site or event which the client may find personally meaningful.
Because of the nature of the experiences to be undergone, an expressly hyperempiric induction, based upon specific suggestions of increased awareness and responsiveness (Gibbons, 1975), may be preferable to a more traditional hypnotic induction based upon expressed of implied suggestions of diminished awareness (Bányai & Hilgard, 1976; Gibbons, 1976), although either type of induction may be presented using a multimodal or Best Me format facilitate involvement with the experiences which follow.
After the therapist has become sufficiently aware of the client's needs and preferences through preliminary discussion, and the client understands and fully consents to the experiences in which he or she is about to participate, suggestions may be given in the following manner.
Belief systems. Now, you can gradually become aware of yourself standing in front of a pair of large wooden doors, which are the doors of a great cathedral. If you accept each detail of the scene as I describe it, without trying to think critically, your imagination can be free to allow you to experience the situation just as if you were really there.So just let yourself stand there a moment, gazing at the carved wooded doors, as you prepare to enter. [Brief pause.]
Now, as the doors swing open, you first traverse a small area paved with stone, stopping at the font if you desire, and pause before a second pair of doors which leads inside.
Emotions. You can feel a surge of happiness and anticipation as you pass through a second pair of doors and into the dimly lit interior. As your eyes gradually become accustomed to the dimmer light from the stained glass windows, take a moment to look around in wonder at the magnificence of all you see.
Sensations and perceptions. Let yourself breathe slowly and deeply, as you inhale the faint aroma of incense, and listen to the gentle tones of music floating upon the quiet air.
Some distance away from you stands the High Altar, bordered by banks of gently glowing candles. You select a pew and, after pausing to genuflect if you wish, you enter the pew and take your seat or kneel once more.
Thoughts and images. Let your mind flow with the experience, and allow it to fill you to the very core of your being, until you feel as if you are able to hold within your own consciousness an awareness of the entire Universe, and all its beauty. As it does, you can feel yourself gradually becoming aware of the presence of a Consciousness other than your own.
As this Consciousness begins to merge with yours, you can feel the power of an infinite healing energy filling and flooding every muscle, and every fiber, and every nerve of your entire body. And it's as if all of the worry, and all of the tension, and all of the care that you have ever felt is being driven out, and replaced by the power of this infinite, unbounded, healing love.
As your own consciousness merges ever more completely with this Infinite Awareness, you feel as if you are able to hold within your own mind an awareness of the entire Universe, and all its beauty ‑‑ infinite, beyond infinity, and eternal beyond all measure of eternity. And in this sense of total oneness, you are able to freely communicate all your deepest thoughts and needs.
Motives. The experience, as it continues, is providing you with all that you had hoped to obtain from it. The serenity and the peace which you fine here will remain with you, as a source of deep inner strength which will enable you to cope much more effectively with all of life's problems.
Expectations. You will treasure the memory of this experience as it meets your needs in the future; and each time you return, you will be able to derive new benefits which will meet your needs even more effectively.
At the conclusion of the experience, the client may be re‑oriented to the present and the induction terminated in the usual manner.
Although most of us routinely provide a considerable amount of detail with the experiences we suggest in order to make them more realistic, the Best Me Technique of hyperempiric suggestion provides a systematic framework for incorporating sufficient detail into several major types of experience, in order to make sure that the suggested experiences are sufficiently comprehensive for maximum effectiveness.
Suggestion has previously been found to facilitate the Fundamentalist experience of "salvation" (Gibbons & DeJarnette, 1972). Similar types of "believed-in imaginings" (Sarbin, 1998) may be involved in hypnotically-induced experiences of reincarnation, pre-incarnation, and co-incarnation, which, like religious sacraments, as well as hypnosis itself, may be conceptualized as a form of experiential hypnosis.
Lawrence (M. A. Lawrence, personal communication, June 27, 2003) reports the successful application of the Best Me Technique with nursing home residents who are dealing with end-of-life issues.
For additional instruction on meditation techniques, the Web site, Psychology Tools, contains a number of free downloadable audio files for meditation and stress management, as well as a host of other resources for therapists and clients.
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