Have you ever wanted to surf an astral plane or regurgitate your inner conciousness in front of a group of strangers who’ve paid £5 each to see somebody embarass themselves. Maybe you’d like to dance like a chicken to satisfy the whims of a man who wishes he was Derren Brown but lives in Ottery St Mary. I have wanted none of these things, but you have to do something with your life and sometimes craigslist is the source of such thing.
For the uninitiated, craigslist is a listings site. Most of it is fairly mundane buying and selling. It’s the personals section that is most intriguing. There’s a casual encounters section full of men begging for sex, a dating part full of men begging for sex and a strictly platonic section which, defiantly, is full of men begging for sex. Among these ten-a-penny requests, there are some gems.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be hypnotised? Or perhaps you’ve seen a show and wondered what effect hypnosis would have on you? It is a unique and interesting experience quite unlike anything else you will ever experience.
Also included is this admonition to that section of viewers who prey on kindly hypnotists:
Please be genuine about meeting. Getting too many replies from guys who are unreliable
I am eager not to waste his time, so I fire off a friendly request and get back to my essay. He replies within half an hour. If this were dating it would seem desperate, but I suppose hypnotism is an entirely different business. His name is Vince, and his email address is worryingly anonymous. The first image I conjure up is of a man with a thick monobrow in a string vest swinging a tightly gripped timepiece in a shabby attic while I’m tied to a chair. My mental image then turns to a slick, consummate professional with a bowtie and white gloves who will delight and entertain me. I have a mild fear he may murder me with an axe.
After an exchange of emails, we agree to meet at the Euston Travelodge. I text a friend, last known location: euston travelodge, 4th floor. Pressing send, I shudder, it’s not so much my death that would bother me, I’d just imagined it would happen in a more glamorous way. Preferably in at least a 3 star hotel. On a sofa in the lobby of the Travelodge, I watch guests come and go, looking out for signs that they might be hypnotists. I’m disappointed to note that none of them have a hypnotic air to them, not even Vince, who spots me first and reaches out his hand. He doesn’t fit either of my preconceptions, being a portly Irishman with a soothing voice that sounds like soft rain. I tell him this and he grins.
We take the lift to his room, which I’m pleased isn’t 101. The room is a classic budget hotel with stark white walls, a small television and a print of some extremely bland art. As Vince puts his bag down I study it for the outline of a hatchet. Vince leans over and removes a twix from the bag. I silently wonder if the twix will be part of the hypnosis. He notices my expression of concern. “Some people have said they wonder if I’m going to be Jimmy Savile!” he says jovially. There is a silence.
The first part of the session is a consultation where he tells me a variety of things about hypnosis and the sort of things he’s going to do to me. You can’t hypnotise anyone unless they’re willingly involved. And did you know that you need a license to perform hypnosis onstage? Fascinating. When he asks some questions about my mindset, I say to him, “I’m an extremely tense and neurotic person and I like to maintain control over my surroundings”. He reassures that this won’t be a problem. I can feel my aching muscles relax already.
Hypnosis starts with an induction, a kind of ritual used to put you into a state of increased suggestibility at which point the hypnotist can tell you stop smoking, berate you about your excessive burger consumption or make you rob a bank. Most of this is fairly simple stuff. Vince delivers his patter with smooth and easy professionalism and I have to say, I am quite enjoying myself. I close my eyes as he begins.
There is a hooting from the street as some football fans exit the pub opposite. I open my eyes again. Vince sighs, goes over to the window and rolls down the blind. As he does so I notice a giant stone eagle with its wings spread on the building opposite. I start thinking about the Nazis. Then which is the best Indiana Jones film, then… OH GOD SHOULDN’T I BE RELAXING RIGHT NOW? I give Vince my most apologetic but serene expression. He looks pleased and says, “well hopefully that’s all the interruption we’ll have tonight!”. As he sits down an extremely loud siren bursts into life. He sighs an even longer sigh. I’m somehow reassured by these disturbances, I feel like I’m with a gritty, urban hypnotist dealing with real life problems, not one of those saccharine, white teeth, Hollywood fantasy-relaxers.
We get back to the induction. The first technique involves me watching him and copying his actions. He moves his finger up and down his face and does a strange twitchy thing with his eye which makes me think he might be a David Icke style lizard. I make a mental note to look out for any shapeshifting. I have trouble replicating his eye movements, but I make a good go of spasming. Some breathing exercises, and then, “you’re stepping into a luxury elevator … going down … 4th floor… 1st floor… you feel your muscles start to relax.” Next he lifts my arm and lets it plop onto my thigh. He does it again. This is the signal for me to enter a deep state of relaxation. And I do, a little bit. Sort of. Right before I get my mind blown.
“Now, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.” he announces boldly, while I still have my eyes shut, apparently in a trance. “There’s no such thing as the number four. Once you come out of this state, you will simply have no recollection of that number.”
He asks me to open my eyes again. He’s holding up his hand. “As I put my fingers up, I want you tell me how many there are”.
“1, 2, 3…” I pause for a moment, wondering how hypnotised I am. “5?” I say sheepishly.
“Are you sure?”
“Well, no, not really. There is a number 4. I don’t think that one worked…”
We try some more inducing. After Vince has been talking for a few minutes, describing some peaceful paradise, I hear him get up and cross the room. A door creaks. Maybe he’s going to play a cool prank and get his twin brother in. A steady tinkling indicates this is not the case. I tentatively open an eye, as I do so the door of the toilet on the opposite side of the room swings open and I meet his eyes in the mirrored wall. His eyes widen and we have a brief moment of contact before I squeeze mine closed again. There is a hurried zipping and he quickly returns to the chair. I hope that I can act bleary enough we can both pretend I was too hypnotised to notice anything.
“Ok Tom, I’m going to bring you out of the trance state now. When I get to zero, open your eyes again…”
“Wow, I was totally under there Vince! I didn’t know what was going on!” I say, convincingly. I think I can detect Vince quietly breath away his tension.
In spite of my enthusiasm, the first attempt at hypnosis hasn’t been particularly successful. Since I have such an impenetrable mind, I briefly consider trying to hypnotise Vince, the old turning the tables trick. But I figure he’s probably pretty wise to the signs by now. Instead I suggest moving things to the bed. The Travelodge sofa seems to have been designed by someone who had a contempt for people who enjoy sitting, and it’s hardly conducive to letting yourself go. Vince consents, so I lie down and stretch out. He brings his chair over to the side of the bed and starts a new induction. The imagery of this one is quite dark. He describes walking through a wood at night, towards a still lake. Nevertheless, I actually feel myself drifting off for a while. After I awake, he tells me I was under for half an hour. He claims this is something called the Esdaile state, an extremely deep trance where the subject is not responsive to any stimuli. I am skeptical and I express the thought that perhaps I just fell asleep. Vince says this is not possible.
I sit up on the bed and we have a few more minutes of lingering chit chat. Vince tells me that I’m the only person his hypnosis hasn’t worked upon. I feel some pride for my rigid mind, but also a tinge of shame for being different. I think this is how the X-men feel.
Overall, I enjoyed the experience. It was interesting to see how it all works up close. Sadly I didn’t really get to experience what it’s like being hypnotised. Still, I recommend it. Perhaps you’re not as intensely controlling as I am and will be able to relax in the company of a stranger in a cheap hotel room.
As the Travelodge doors gracefully slide open to permit my exit, I have to admit to feeling a little bit less on edge. On the way back through Euston station I buy a family size lasagna from M&S. While waiting for my tube, I wonder if he hypnotised me to do this.