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The topic of hypnotism seems to elicit two kinds of responses from people: uncertain fascination or unflinching skepticism.
It’s understandable that sometimes hypnotism gets thrown into the same new-age mystique as meditation and yoga, especially because as an audience member, it’s impossible to actually see the internal effects of hypnosis. For someone who isn’t interested in how the mind reacts to certain simple stimuli it can seem like a joke. After all, the people getting hypnotized could just be going along with the act. The truth is actually somewhere in the middle, which provokes even more bizarre questions about the nature of the mind.
This particular hypnosis was held on Thursday as part of the UMC’s Intermission program, with the sorcerer in question being local Denver entertainer Keir Royale. As I approached the northern end of the Glenn Miller Ballroom and noticed the familiar line of chairs waiting to be filled by droning shells of students, I felt assured at what the Thursday evening would entail after seeing a similar performance in high school. From what I remember it was an extremely entertaining and therapeutic experience.
At 7:15 Royale began the show. He started with the usual assurance to the audience that hypnotism is not something that can be forced upon someone, but rather it must be welcomed with an open mind, otherwise the procedure would not work. After a short monologue of the humor caliber expected of someone in this line of work, he cut to the chase and brought a small group of volunteers onto the stage, including myself.
The process of hypnosis is eerily akin to being forced asleep. For a period of about nine minutes, Royale led students through the process of closing their eyes, slowly hunching over and becoming lost in a state of pure relaxation. With some trippy music orchestrating his calming suggestions of letting go of all body tension and his never-ending reminders to stay perfectly calm, Royale led us deeper and deeper into the chasms of the brain before slowly counting down from five and waking us up again.
At first the feeling can only be described as being woken up in the middle of the REM stage of sleep, with eyes always half closed and the mind being miles away from what’s happening around it. In the beginning, Royale led us through several basic demonstrations in which he would illustrate us being on a warm beach, and it actually began to feel a lot warmer in the room. He did this again by describing an oncoming storm cloud, and in a second the heat was transformed into cold and I could feel myself shivering at the thought of the temperature.
Royale then began playing even more fascinating tricks on us. In one instance, I was told that my right shoe was in fact an adorable puppy, and although at no point did my shoe actually take on the form of a dog, I felt an incredible wave of attachment to my shoe, and couldn’t help laughing at how small and affectionate it seemed. In another amazing demonstration, my friend and I were told that no matter how hard we pulled, it would be impossible to lift a chair that he set in front us. When he told us to attempt moving it, my arms felt completely locked as I pulled and the chair refused to budge.
The event continued in this fashion for about an hour. My friend was told he was an alien at one point and created an entire language that was undecipherable to all but another selected translator student. Royale convinced us at one point to forget our own names, and when the microphone was drawn to me any trace of my name had disappeared from my mind. Some of the tricks worked better than others, and some of the more sensory suggestions were not as effective. One command he made, in which an awful stench would be perceived from one of the other students, had little effect on me. Even in the less powerful moments, a sense of obedience overtook the brain in a compelling way.
When the performance was finished, Royale slowly began to wake us up with another simple countdown from five. With the final number I could feel an immediate sense of consciousness. Feeling relaxed and less tense upon awakening, the experience seemed to have flown by in some sped up version of time.
At its core being hypnotized can be described as a hyper-intense version of zoning out.
The part of the brain that performs actions is completely on autopilot, and the repetitive suggestions of the hypnotizer seem like pleasant invitations to one’s reality. The fascinating idea however is that at no point does it feel like the experience is out of your own control. If desired, a hypnotized person could snap themselves out of it at any point and go back to their normal state of mind, however, there is a feeling that overtakes the brain where even suggestions of slightly embarrassing acts seem perfectly normal.
Although this particular evening did not find me quite as locked in hypnosis as my last experience, Royale’s feats of mind-bending madness proved surreal and fun for all.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Sam Goldner at Samuel.firstname.lastname@example.org.