Essay for Doctor of Spiritual Development
Rev. Alasdair Gordon
I was originally drawn to this course as it was probably the only one I have seen that links up NLP and hypnosis with aspects of spirituality.
I have to lay my cards on the table and say at the outset that I am not exactly new to the subject of NLP. In fact, I have been associated with it now for a number of years, qualifying first as a Practitioner and, in 2009, finally achieving the status of Master Practitioner. I am also a registered hypnotherapist in the United Kingdom with a lifelong interest in that subject.
However, I am aware that this is not the "be all and end all". All systems of belief and practice have their limitations and constraints. The danger of misusing systems such as NLP is that they can achieve an almost cult-like status. NLP has its followers, its own language and jargon, its "founding fathers" and influential writers and teachers. It is tempting, although unhelpful, to live within an NLP world seeing everything in these terms. In my model of the world, I see NLP as most useful when it is integrated into everyday life and practice rather than as a belief system operating on its own (and perhaps that seems strange, coming from an NLP Master Practitioner!).
To me, one of the great strengths of NLP that differentiates it from a cult is that it never seeks to assess or judge anyone's beliefs. It does not say what anyone "should" or "should not" believe. It does not question anyone's beliefs. It simply asks the question "Is this belief useful for YOU?" If someone wants to believe in God and that belief is useful for him, that's fine. If someone prefers to believe that there is no God, and for him, that is a useful belief, that is also OK, from an NLP point of view.
Now, for all of us, beliefs are really important since they affect who we are. They are the basis of our values. In other words they are part of our identity. When our beliefs about ourselves and the world are attacked or under threat, we will react in some way, even if only through a strong emotion or sense of anger. Many of the dreadful terrorist activities that have taken place in the last ten years can trace their origin to beliefs and values being under attack (or, more exactly, the perception that they are under attack).
Many beliefs are formed in us when we are young.
"Don't talk to strangers. They're all bad."
"People are out to get you – you can't trust anyone."
"Little boys should be seen and not heard"
"If you don't do well in school, you'll fail in life."
"A woman's place is in the home"
We are all, at least to some extent, the products of our own background and upbringing. We will have cause to follow – or else consciously reject – what our parents, teachers and mentors have told us, whether that has been done expressly or by implication. So, if a child is brought up to believe that he is clumsy, stupid, talented and clever or whatever, this belief about his capabilities will be deeply seated. And the problem is that useful beliefs and non-useful beliefs are equally powerfully rooted. Our unconscious does not know how to differentiate the one from the other.
So, if I have a belief that I cannot add up a column of figures, it will, in essence become a self-fulfilling prophecy. [Some people would say that all prophecies are self-fulfilling. That is another story.]
If, on the other hand, I believe that I am "good" at addition, I will almost certainly find that I am good at addition.
Also, some beliefs are useful but have only a limited shelf life. It is a useful belief for a young child that he needs to check things out with his parents and cannot stand on his own two feet. Young children need protection and guidance. But that need does not and should not last for ever. The time comes when that same belief needs to be changed. The "child" is no longer a child and needs to make his own decisions. He is now independent of his parents or at least moving in that direction. That process of change can prove difficult and painful.
Some aspects of personal change can certainly be difficult. But not all personal change needs be so. Some changes can be made surprisingly quickly by using appropriate techniques of NLP or hypnosis or other related disciplines.
Reference has already been made to the fact that the subconscious (or the unconscious) does not make moral distinctions. It will seek to reinforce a belief that is already programmed because it thinks that if that belief is there, then it must be useful and in the person's best interests.
So, the person who believes in God will look at the world for all signs of a creating and loving God to reinforce that belief. The atheist, on the other hand, will look at the evil in world and ask how a loving God could possibly allow such terrible things to happen. They will also tend to gravitate towards people who hold similar views.
At a more mundane level, when a person who believes deep down that he cannot do a particular thing – and is then asked to do it – his subconscious will send him the protective message – "No, you cannot do that; remember?" The subconscious perceives that it is working for the best (and the subconscious always tries to do its best) in preventing the person from attempting something he cannot do, with all the repercussions that brings.
In NLP terms, this "cannot do" is an example of a "limiting belief". Some of our limiting beliefs have been with us for a long time and may be so deeply seated that we may not even be consciously aware that we have them. (Of course there are many very useful beliefs that are also programmed in, such as that fire burns.) Scientists have proved that, aerodynamically, a bee should not be able to fly. Of course, no one has told the bee that! Just recently, I observed my neighbour's tabby cat running up a vertical garage wall. Again, that "shouldn't" be possible, but the cat didn't know that.
I remember reading in an NLP book (unfortunately I cannot remember which one) that the most important question anyone can be asked is "What do you want?" I remember being just a little sceptical when I first read that. However, the more I think about it, the more I realise just how insightful this statement is. If we can actually work out what it is we do actually want, we can move on from there.
It is easy to drift through life without any aims, objectives or goals in mind. If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there, as the Cheshire Cat said to Alice. What NLP and hypnosis can do is to allow the conscious and the subconscious to function together, find out what the person really wants and begin the process of moving in that direction.
There is no doubt that NLP received a rather bad press in the 1980s when it came to be associated with techniques used by the less reputable end of the used car market. Similarly, for many years, hypnosis was viewed with suspicion although even today it seems to be much more main stream in the USA than it does in the UK.
However, if we are thinking (as we are) of the ethical uses of such techniques, we have to be aware that we only seek to help people do what they really want to do. I am sometimes asked, for example, if I can "make" someone stop smoking. The answer to that is a clear "no" – I cannot make anyone do anything they do not actually want to do. I can, however help that person to improve his clarity of purpose.
But how does all fit in with the spiritual issues involved? Coming myself originally from a mainstream Christian background, I know that Christianity (and probably all the major world religions) seek to put the puzzles and challenges of life into a meaningful context. Jesus said that he had come to give life and give life abundantly. He healed many people who were sick, not only physically but mentally. It is God's purpose for us to be well and not ill. Indeed, Jesus went even further and told his disciples that they would be able to do greater things even than he had. This was a very radical statement. It is something the mainstream Christian church has not yet come to terms with.
Of course, a great deal of what has just been said will clash with our rational minds. If we cannot make sense of something then it doesn't make sense – at least this is the way in which Western society has thought since the beginning of the Age of Reason. We have had a long love affair with reason and tend, culturally, to believe that reason must always triumph over feelings and intuition. If it cannot be measured, we assume only too quickly that it does not exist. (Actually Charles Dickens wrote his novel "Hard Times" to ridicule people, known at that time as "determinists" who believed that everything could, sooner or later, be measured!)
Yet, the mediaeval mystics were able to recognise that something can be "true" without there being scientific proof. I can believe that the Genesis account of creation is "true" from a theological and spiritual point of view yet I can also accept that an evolutionary scientist also produces a different version of creation that is "true". If both sides in the creation argument could see that, a great deal of human energy would be saved!
In the developing world, some amazing things have taken place even in my own lifetime. This is because people in some of these cultures believe that the words of Jesus are actually true. There are amazing modern accounts of healings through faith, even accounts of people being raised from the dead. This is more than we can take in the Western world. We often block the power of the spirit with our chilly rationalism. In Capernaum, even Jesus could do no mighty works because of the unbelief of the people.
Spiritually, we need to be able to tap into our mystical and intuitive sense in a new way – or else rediscover the older way. It seems (to me) that the world is full of "religion" yet is spiritually parched. There is an old Gospel hymn that has the chorus "I will pour waters on him that is thirsty" There is such a need for a time of refreshing today among all the great world religions.
As a registered hypnotherapist, I know that even in a light trance, it is possible to access our true desires even, dare I say, to regress into past lives. In fact our most useful state is that area of light trance – such as when we awake in the morning. People such as Thomas Edison and Winston Churchill were able to put themselves easily into that state and came up with their best solutions as a result. In the Old Testament, many of the prophets went into trance-like states. It is said that the famous Anthony of Padua could, in such a state, bilocate, i.e. be in two places at once. Saint Teresa of Avila could get into such an ecstatic state that she actually levitated and the other nuns had to hold her down!
I believe that, in the western world, our religions have become far too cognitive. Certainly where I live, in Scotland, in centuries past it was very important to know what people "thought" from a doctrinal point of view – with much less importance being placed on what they did or how they practiced, far less how they felt.
Alasdair Bothwell Gordon
Aberdeen, Scotland (UK)
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