By Sophie Nicholls
Some years ago now, by grandfather died leaving me a diary that he had kept as a prisoner of war in 1944. Inside its yellowed pages and between the penciled lines, I read things that he had never spoken about.
When he first learnt that he was ill, my grandfather took out his old war diary and re-wrote its contents as a 5,000-word memoir. But it is the original pocket-sized green cloth-covered book that I treasure the most.
This is the diary that affirmed my belief in writing as a tool for making narrative and meaning, writing as a means of being free to simply not make sense for a while, and writing as survival in the most difficult of circumstances.
At the time of my grandfather’s death, I had reached a crossroads in my own life. I was employed in a comfortably paid job in London but my life had begun to feel like the wrong ‘fit’ for the person I suspected I might really be. This sense of disconnect from a ‘real’ sense of self deepened into feelings that I could no longer suppress or ignore. As the secure world that I had constructed around myself – my relationship, my home, my job – began to waver, I felt confused and overwhelmed.
But, in the midst of this crisis, there was one feeling that I did recognise – the feeling of having an urgent desire to write. Here again was the feeling that I had experienced as a child, when I had been compelled to scribble little poems and stories in my notebooks.
For many years, I had not given myself much time or space to indulge this old passion for writing. Now I felt instinctively that one of the positive steps I could make would be to begin to write again.
And so that is what I did. And I began to rediscover a more ‘real’ sense of self, word by word, line by line.
Since that time, I have used my creative writing and Hypnotic Journaling techniques to work with people in business who feel stressed out, unhappy or that they have lost touch with a vital part of themselves; people who have been through pain, suffering and trauma, including survivors of imprisonment and political torture; people living with long-term illness and their relatives; university students; all kinds of people.
My research into states of creativity – drawing upon ideas from cognitive science, neurophysiology, psychodynamic theory and consciousness studies – lead me to a training in hypnosis and self-hypnosis.
Writing as self-hypnosis
I believe that the process of writing – when it is approached in a particular way – is ‘hypnotic’. Firstly, when you are immersed in a process of writing – or sketching or painting or doodling, or whatever it is that you love to do – you often have no idea how much time has passed. You experience a kind of time distortion. Secondly, your whole world shrinks to the size of your notebook page, the sound of pen or pencil on paper: sensory distortion. Finally, what you are creating there on the page can become more real to you than the world around you: positive hallucination.
Time distortion, sensory distortion and positive hallucination are natural shifts in awareness that take place when we are in a hypnotic or ‘trance’-like state. As a hypnotherapist, I guide my clients into a similar state of awareness in order to help them to recover, process and reframe experiences that may previously have been unavailable to their conscious minds.
How many times have you heard yourself talking about feeling ‘inspired’ or being in ‘the zone’ or ‘the flow’ of your creativity? I think that what we are describing when we talk in this way is a positive hypnotic experience in which the quality of our awareness changes to a relaxed but very focused state, enabling ideas to arise easily and to be expressed without difficulty.
The problem for many creative people, however, is that they have not yet discovered how to access this state whenever they choose. If you are one of these people, you might experience sudden flashes or bursts of creativity, often at times when it is impossible to act upon them; and you may worry that the source of this seemingly random creativity might dry up at any moment, leaving you feeling ‘blocked’ and unhappy.
But I don’t think it has to be this way. By cultivating a regular practice of creativity as self-hypnosis, you can find out what it feels like when your mind relaxes, allowing new possibilities to present themselves.You can learn to let go of the more conceptual and analytical ideas about yourself – those exhausting thoughts that buzz relentlessly around your conscious mind – and connect with the flow of your bodily feelings, images and ideas.
The poet, Ted Hughes, compares writing to fishing:
‘Your whole being rests lightly on your float, but not drowsily; very alert, so that the least twitch of the float arrives like an electric shock. And you are not only watching the float. You are aware, in a horizonless and slightly mesmerised way, like listening to the double bass in orchestral music, of the fish below there in the dark’ (Winter Pollen, 1967).
My book Hypnotic Journaling, guides you through five simple techniques that will help you to cultivate a regular practice of reflection and reconnection with your self and the world around you. You will (re)discover how to ‘let go,’ breath and see where the uncertainty of just being in the moment can take you.
Of course, if you are a bit of a stationery festishist like me, the notebook that you choose for your Hypnotic Journaling is important. That is why I love my Moleskin notebooks: just the ‘right’ kind of size to carry around, with the ‘right’ kind of paper and the ‘right’ kind of cover. I like their simplicity, which helps me to feel free to make ‘mistakes’ and ‘mess-up’ – an essential part of the process of self-discovery.