Flow (The Oxford papers) Part 1: What’s in a name?

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet (1597) Act II Scene ii

The Shakespeare Rose

The Shakespeare Rose

 

This is the first in a series of posts reporting on the recent Music & Consciousness 2 Conference at Oxford University. Here I present the first part of my own paper. The second part and discussion of other papers will appear in subsequent posts.

Flow, an optimal state for study, training and creativity, is often linked with the concept of The Zone, an ideal state for elite performance. Are these two states identical, or how might they differ?  Does it matter, which name we use? See more at TheFlow.Zone

 

See also May the Flow be with you! here.

ABSTRACT

In this first of two parts, I’m considering the similarities between Flow and The Zone, as two of the many different manifestations of Hypnotic trance. I’m arguing for very careful use of language, but not for the sake of a more rigorous theoretical discussion. The narrow definitions of some terms are highly contentious, so I’m deliberately accepting broad definitions in order to sidestep those theoretical debates. But I suggest that precise choice of terminology is vital, for utterly practical reasons.

As you read this paper, imagine it being presented aloud at a conference, with the words in bold emphasised by subtle changes in vocal tone.

APPROACH

My approach to this subject is Experiential, Phenomenological, individual and practical. I draw on my personal experiences as an international musician, as a professionally qualified sailor (sailing is one of Csikszentmihalyi’s favourite examples of Flow) and as an elementary student of Feldenkrais Method, Tai Chi, modern Epée and historical Rapier. I’m also privileged with many opportunities to compare notes with fellow performers and advanced music students, as well as with highly experienced teachers and some of the world’s most insightful sports trainers and martial artists. The theoretical background to my approach is Joe Griffin’s Expectation Theory of Dreams. Griffin speaks about his theory on video:

 

I discuss the implications of Griffin’s theory for Flow and for music & drama here.

STATES

For a moment, let’s leave aside the much-debated theoretical question of whether or not Flow can strictly be termed an Altered State of Consciousness, although later I’m going to place great importance on nomenclature for practical reasons. We can agree, can’t we, that sometimes we feel in the mood to work, ready to practise; or we feel the coffee-break coming on, or even “I’m in a right state”;  or we experience that je-ne-sais-quoi as we walk out on stage in front of a packed auditorium, or line-up to compete in a major sports event.

Our expectations and habits, our deliberate preparation and conditioned reflexes, Anchors in NLP-speak, set up mind/body responses which can be positive or negative for desired outcomes in specific situations. Those responses can be optimised through mental and physical training: music lessons, practising and rehearsals; sports training and coaching sessions.

LANGUAGE

Those responses are most effectively optimised through combined mind/body training in which physical processes and neural changes are programmed by specific use of language.

It matters – a lot – what you say in a music-lesson, rehearsal or coaching session. It matters – perhaps even more – what you say to yourself, your inner dialogue, whilst practising. My choice of words as director differs depending on whether I’m rehearsing baroque specialists or a modern chamber orchestra. And each individual has their own inner dialogue and primary sensory modality. “I see what you mean.” (Visual).  “I hear what you’re saying.” (Auditory) “I’ve got a hold on that idea.” (Kinaesthetic) “That feels right.” (Somatic) “Sweet!” (Gustatory).

ASSUMPTIONS

I began my research with two huge assumptions. I won’t call them hypotheses, because they probably can’t be proved. It may well even be impossible to falsify them. But thus far, they are producing meaningful questions and plausible answers.

My first assumption is that this phenomenon of Flow has some essential common features across a wide range of activities: study, creative work, music-making, sports, martial arts, flying aeroplanes etc. Csikszentmihalyi has observed the outward signs of Flow in many different situations, but it remains an unproven assumption that the inner reality is somehow ‘the same’.

The second assumption is that Flow is an ‘altered state of consciousness’ similar to ‘hypnosis’. Just as there is debate about the notion of ‘altered states of consciousness’, there is no universal agreement about what Hypnosis is. The ‘first and perhaps most important’ theme of ‘dialogue and debate’ in the 2008 Oxford Handbook of Hypnosis is of definition: what is Hypnosis? However, the neural correlates of Hypnosis have been identified:

‘Now, numerous experimentally controlled investigations have produced consistent and converging findings demonstrating physiological responses associated with hypnotic conditions … these markers directly reflect the alterations in consciousness that correspond to participant’s subjective experiences of perceptual alteration’ [Barabasz and Watkins 2005].

What is Hypnosis?

What is Flow?

 

HYPNOSIS

Whilst there are many unanswered questions in Hypnosis Research, linking Flow to Hypnosis invites us to consider all the work that has already been done for Hypnosis for possible relevance to Flow. For example, neurological patterns whilst hallucinating a certain action in Hypnosis closely resemble the patterns for that activity when carried out for real. Similarly, we can expect that the brain activity of a musician playing in Flow will resemble that of another musician not in Flow, more than that of Flowing Kung Fu fighter. Any specific neurological markers for Flow are likely to be subtle, but Hypnosis studies might suggest where to look. [There were tentative suggestions of neural correlates for Flow in other papers at the Oxford Conference].

Researchers tend to adopt a narrow definition of Hypnosis, requiring a formal induction and specified tests. Experimental work begins by testing subjects for hypnotisability, using a Standardised Induction.  Most practitioners work with a broad definition, using a great variety of inductions, formal and informal. The guru of modern hypnotism was Milton H Erikson, who viewed trance as a natural phenomenon, a state we all go in and out of several times a day.

 

What is Hypnosis?

What is Hypnosis?

 

Have you ever made a familiar journey, and found yourself at your destination with no clear memory of how you got there, because your mind was on something else? You were in a travel trance. Have you ever been in a lecture-room and found yourself off in a little daydream, with no idea what the speaker just said? You were in a conference trance!

Erikson’s mantra was to Accept and Utilise his clients’ reactions. So if you have already drifted off, wonderful! I can get my suggestions over so much more effectively, if you are in trance. Erikson’s approach was client-centred, tailored to each individual, whereas Research pre-supposes that the Hypnotist has his own agenda. There are ethical considerations here. In the Eriksonian understanding of Hypnosis, self-hypnosis is quite possible, and most practioners consider it highly beneficial, teach it, and give Suggestions during sessions of guided hypnosis to facilitate self-hypnosis later.

What is NLP?

What is NLP?

 

Neuro-Linguistic Programming largely derives from Eriksonian Hypnosis, analysing precise use of language to maximise the speed and efficacy of Suggestions. NLP is ‘take no prisoners’ Hypnosis: it does not beat about the bush, but cuts straight to the chase. Consequently, before embarking on any therapeutic procedures, NLP practitioners spend some time establishing whether the client really wants and is ready for the requested change.

Practitioners recognise that individuals respond to Hypnotism in different ways, and that an Induction that works for one person may not work for another. In the Eriksonian approach, the Hypnotist does not try to force through against ‘client resistance’. Rather, one accepts that a certain Induction or Suggestion isn’t working, and one tries to utilise that knowledge to indicate a more promising alternative.

In my favourite Erikson story , the famous therapist was struggling with a difficult case: he couldn’t find an effective therapeutic approach. So he hypnotised the client, and brought him (whilst in trance) forwards in time to a date after the successful conclusion of his treatment. He then asked him what the therapy was, that had succeeded, and having obtained the answer directed the still hypnotised client to forget this conversation. He then brought the client back to the present, re-oriented him out of trance, and applied the therapy as described. It worked a treat.

The point is that the unconscious mind is a rich resource, full of knowledge and skills that may not be available to us in normal consciousness. In music teaching and sports coaching, the 19th and 20th-century trend was towards analysis and scientific teaching of step by step processes. But sometimes it can be more effective to reverse-engineer: focus on the end-result, and let the student’s unconscious figure out the required process. Fencers are taught to imagine the target attracting the point of the sword towards it.

HYPNOTISABILITY?

In principle, NLP does not accept the concept of hypnotisability. If your client cannot be  hypnotised, you are using the wrong induction. Conversely, many people enter Hypnosis without formal induction. If this is true, as most practitioners believe, then some of the most rigorous Hypnosis Research is called into question. Standard practice compares the responses to Suggestions of hypnotised subjects and of a control group who did not receive an Induction and are therefore taken to be in a normal state of consciousness. But in the NLP view, there is no guarantee that the control group are not also in trance, especially if you start making hypnotic Suggestions to them. Indeed, in NLP, the very concept of ‘normal consciousness’ is questioned.

FAQs

One of the most inspiring applications of Hypnosis is for control of pain during surgery, for example for patients who are are allergic to conventional anaesthetics. I’m acquainted with a Hypnotist who provides hypnotic anaesthesia for major dental surgery – if anyone still thinks of Hypnotism as a party-trick or a new-age fad, this clinical application is undeniably the real thing.  Some clinical psychotherapists use Hypnotism alongside other talking therapies.

Then there is a huge Hypnotism industry worldwide, offering Hypnosis in face-to-face sessions, on CDs and DVDs, or for download from the internet. Help with losing weight, giving up smoking, relationship problems, phobias and anxiety is much in demand. Alongside these, and also in sports- and music-guru websites, Flow and other performance-enhancing concepts are marketed similarly. In these circles, it is taken for granted that Flow or ‘being in the Zone’ is the secret of elite performance, and that Hypnotism can help you achieve it. The most frequently asked questions are How can I get into Flow? How can I keep Flowing in difficult circumstances? How can I cope with Performance Anxiety?

Flow FAQs

Flow FAQs

 

Griffin’s theory of Dreams offers an explanation for the link, often remarked on, between high creativity and susceptibility to mental illness. Recent studies have highlighted the incidence of mental health problems and alcohol dependency amongst professional musicians; performance anxiety afflicts not only students but many established performers. Beta-blockers and other drugs are frequently needed, to say nothing of dangerous levels of caffeine. Mental illness causes untold suffering not only to the patient, but to their families and to society as a whole: the recent airplane crash in the Alps is tragic example. See Griffin & Tyrell How to lift Depression […fast] here.

Many people find that trance itself – for example, in Meditation – is a beneficial experience, even without any deliberate input of therapeutic Suggestions. Flow for music-making, for study, creativity and for life in general, is highly conducive to mental health.

How to lift depression ... Fast

HOW CAN I GET INTO FLOW?

Csikszentmihalyi associated Flow with a particular personality type, the Autotelic, from auto ~ self & telos ~ purpose. Autotelics are strongly self-motivated, ready to do something for its own sake, ‘because it’s there’. If you feel that the task at hand is interesting and worth doing, you are more likely to be in Flow whilst you are doing it. If you can find this motivation for yourself in many activities, you can live much of your life in Flow.

This is all very well, but it does not answer the most frequently asked question: How can I get into Flow, now? Re-building your entire personality might be a long-term project. Can we find a short-cut, a magic portal, a hidden gateway into Flow?

 

How can I get into Flow?

How can I get into Flow?

 

The idea I’m putting forward here, that Flow might simply be a phenomenon of Self-Hypnosis, seems to be a new contribution to the field. The implication is that techniques for entering Flow would resemble hypnotic Inductions.

TYPICAL HYPNOSIS SESSION

Hypnosis 1: Pre-talk

Hypnosis 1: Pre-talk

So let’s look at a typical experience for a Client who visits a modern Hypnotist. There will be some introductory chat, which the experienced Hypnotist will utilise to build rapport, to find out what’s important to his Client, to explain the procedures of the session and to instill confidence. This phase is called the Pre-Talk, and a fine Hypnotist will be able to do a lot of effective work, before taking the Client into trance. An NLP practitioner might not draw any hard boundary between pre-talk and trance, regarding shifts of state as a natural process that is happening anyway.

Hypnosis 2: Induction

Hypnosis 2: Induction

 

There are many possible approaches to Induction (for example, there’s a list of over 30 different Inductions here), but most of them mimic the results of Hypnosis, slow deep breathing, fluttering eyelids, etc. so that the unconscious mind reverse-engineers trance as a cause. Suggestions for relaxation and concentration, whilst seeking an inner focus, are very often employed, using a gentle tone of voice… drifting easily from one suggestion to the next … smoothly avoiding full stops … timing suggestions with the Client’s outbreath…

Alternatively, one can overload the conscious mind with shock, excessively confusing language, or too many simultaneous demands, so that the unconscious is forced to step into the gap. Fencing coaches deliberately employ such Stack Overload, maintaining the complexity of swordplay just beyond the pupil’s comfort zone, in order to keep the unconscious mind positively engaged whilst under the stress of combat.

Ericksonian Hypnotists use the mnemonic SOLER for techniques that facilitate rapport:

Erikson's SOLER mnemonic

Erikson’s SOLER mnemonic

 

  • Sit (be comfortable, and on the same level with your client)
  • Have an Open posture
  • Lean forwards (and concentrate closely on the client)
  • Make Eye contact
  • Relax

 

With such rapport, and with the Hypnotist also enjoined to sit comfortably, concentrate and relax, it is hardly surprising that one can all too easily end up hypotising oneself. In the NLP view, mutual trance is inevitable and no bad thing: Hypnotist and Client find themselves in complementary states of consciousness, similar but not identical. So too performers and audiences: see The Theatre of Dreams: La Musica hypnotises the Heroes here.

 

Neuro-Linguistic Programming

Neuro-Linguistic Programming

 

NLP practitioners use indirect language, so-called Sleight of Mouth, to smuggle suggestions past the conscious mind in order to influence the unconscious. Conjunctions – as, while – can link a truism to a desired response: As you breathe out, you can feel your shoulders relaxing. Whilst you sit in this room, you’re unconscious mind can access new learnings. Clearly, you are sitting in this room and breathing; the implication is that the second half of each sentence is also true. Emphasising certain words allows the Hypnotist to hide an Embedded Command within an apparently innocuous statement: “your Unconscious” sounds like “you’re unconscious”.  Deliberately vague language, Nominalisations in NLP-speak, access new learnings rather than learn something new directs the mind inwards in the search for meaning (a Trans-Derivational Search).

Whilst you sit in this room, you’re unconscious mind can access new learnings.

So it’s no wonder that the abstract, nominalisation-rich language of academia puts people to sleep!

There are many, many more NLP techniques, subtle use of language that works directly on your Unconscious mind, to get the results you want. Read more here.

Hypnosis 3: Suggestion

Hypnosis 3: Suggestion

 

With the Client in trance, there may be a two-way conversation, or the Hypnotist may ask for non-verbal responses – raise your hand when you’re ready to continue . Typically, the Hypnotist gives Suggestions for desired responses to specific situations in the future. As you walk out on stage, and you take a deep breath, you will feel your shoulders relax, and your whole body feels warm and relaxed. with a pleasant sensation of calm confidence. Suggestions work without trance, especially if you use NLP techniques to aim the Suggestion direct at the Unconscious mind. But Suggestions work better with trance, and best of all with a combination of trance and NLP’s clever use of language.

And of course, your own internal dialogue, the way you talk to yourself (perhaps mostly imagined, sometimes out loud) is a powerful form of Suggestion. It’s worth becoming aware of this ‘self-talk’, and learning to direct it the way you choose to. If your internal dialogue is over-critical, negative and in a harsh tone of voice, you are are imparting powerful negative Suggestions at point-blank range. Adjust the tone-settings, and re-record the announcements with a new script, so that you speak to yourself with gentle encouragement, some firm guidance to follow your chosen path, whatever would help you most. Your internal dialogue is like having a personal trainer whispering in your ear 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Make sure this “personal trainer” shares your agenda and speaks to you with warm encouragement.

Most people can take charge of their internal dialogue, and improve its quality, with a bit of work. But if you realise that your self-talk is highly negative, and you are unable to change it yourself, then seek help. An NLP or hypno-therapist can fix this for you, easily and quickly. I would recommend a therapist using the Human Givens approach, see here.

A wily Hypnotist will Suggest that next time, the Client will find it easier and quicker to go into trance.

Hypnosis 4: Re-orientation

Hypnosis 4: Re-orientation

 

Then the Client is gently re-oriented back to normal consciousness: the classic procedure is a 3, 2, 1 countdown, Suggesting a pleasant experience as you emerge from trance.

Learning as a post-hypnotic process

 

If we now look at a sports coaching session, there are obvious similarities. In the pre-talk, the team are brought together, rapport is established, the program for the session is announced, the vocabulary shifts from everyday to specifics. Warm-up exercises aim for a certain combination of concentration and relaxation, there may even be a formal ritual for achieving the desired state of mind and body (e.g. the New Zealand ruby team’s Haka). With the athletes in the Zone, the coach gives Suggestions to improve performance. The session ends with a warm-down, and a good coach sends everyone home feeling good.

Sports Coaching compared to Hypnosis

Sports Coaching compared to Hypnosis

 

Similarly, a typical music lesson begins with a pre-talk which establishes rapport, eases the student from everyday life into a suitable state of mind for high-level music-making. A good teacher will calm an agitated student, energise one who is lethargic, and try to find out how best to fit the lesson to the student’s current needs. Many lessons begin with exercises for relaxation, physical and mental ‘centering’, almost a formal ritual for entering the desired state. During the lesson, the teacher offers Suggestions to improve technical execution, or to help the student engage more fully in musical emotions. Finally, the teacher makes Suggestions for the forthcoming performance, and/or for the next week’s practising, and re-orients the student back into everyday life with some concluding chat.

Music Lesson compared to Hypnosis

Music Lesson compared to Hypnosis

 

The working definition of Hypnosis put forward by Kihlstrom fits Music rather well.

 

Definition: is this Music, Sports, or Hypnosis?

Definition: is this Music, Sports-coaching, or Hypnosis?

 

A process in which one person … offers Suggestions to another … for imaginative experiences entailing alterations in perception, memory and action. In the classic case, these experiences are associated with a degree of subjective conviction…and an experienced involuntariness…As such, the phenomena … reflect alterations in consciousness that take place in the context of a social interaction.

Of course, a good teacher will offer Suggestions for imaginative experiences, and will try to improve the student’s perception, memory and action. Good musicians develop a ‘feel’ for the music, a strong sense of subjective conviction:

When I played through the whole piece, it just seemed that this passage had to be loud.

And when you are playing especially well, you can ‘let your fingers do the hard work’:

If you just close your eyes, relax, and focus your intention on that octave leap, your fingers will find their way to the right note all by themselves. 

Music and sports coaching closely resemble hypnosis sessions, especially if they are done well. If there is good rapport, good concentration and the right kind of relaxation, good coaching takes both participants into a special state, in which there is communication and learning via the unconscious mind, facilitating powerful Suggestions for future action.

 

Mind/Body Awareness

Mind/Body Awareness

 

Many music conservatoires offer classes in Mindfulness, Yoga, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais Method. Tai Chi and other disciplines teaching mind/body awareness. These are highly effective in improving concentration and relaxation, and instilling an effortless way to use the body that gradually becomes ‘second nature’, ‘automatic’. These outcomes help students enter the music-making trance more easily, and the teaching methods are also highly hypnotic.

Mindfulness teaches breathing exercises and control of one’s own attention, for example by intense focus on small movements.  Feldenkrais directs the mind inwards with such questions as As you rest your feet on the floor, can you feel more weight on your right foot, or on your left? Or are they the same? Don’t change anything, just notice. This is a well-known technique of hypnotic induction. Feldenkrais also normalises and accepts the student’s experiences, in a similar way to Eriksonian hypnosis: ‘that’s right‘, ‘good‘.  Making small changes to habitual actions calls the unconscious mind to attention:

Clasp your hands and interlace your fingers, then re-clasp them with the other hand on top … very good.

Similarly, Tai Chi and other martial arts use breathing, visualisation exercises, unfamiliar postures and exotic names – Nominalisations – to alter the state of consciousness of the student, in order to maximise the mind/body effectiveness of training. Stand in Wuji stance, with the head suspended from above, hollow the chest, relax the waist, open the Bubbling Spring points at the centre of each foot, let your hands rise of their own volition to hold a ball of green energy at eye level, breathe slowly, feel the Chi descend to the Dan-Tien.

This makes a perfect hypnotic induction, and the best teachers use a gentle, slow tone of voice, and linking conjunctions as recommended in NLP. AS you transfer the weight to the front foot … your right hand moves outward … PENG! See Michael Gilman’s Tai Chi videos, here.

But it’s not all gentle meditation. There is also inner power, the strength of spirit that we look for from a great musician or a dedicated athlete. Good martial arts require that same combination of relaxation and concentration that is induced in hypnosis. See Ian Sinclair’s approach to the Wuji Stance, perfectly characterised by his motto “Relax Harder”,  here.

As all good teachers do, Sinclair uses humour to get across some of his most serious advice. A corny joke makes the lesson more memorable, of course, but it is also a NLP technique for disarming the conscious mind, so that the Suggestion goes direct to your Unconscious mind, where it is even more effective.

There are further connections here. Moshe Feldenkrais was himself a Judo black belt, and one of the first to bring Judo to the West. He contributed several books on Judo, which emphasise the deeper elements on the art, offering mental and spiritual development as well as physical skills. His first book on his Method for teaching Awareness through Movement links Body and Mature Behavior: A Study of Anxiety, Sex, Gravitation and Learning.

Hypnosis-aided Learning

Hypnosis-aided Learning

 

One of the particular benefits of hypnosis-aided learning is that your Unconscious is given more opportunity to integrate newly acquired skills and knowledge with previous expertise. Relaxation, combined with enhanced access to the unconscious mind, promotes the establishing of new neural connections, and even allows the brain itself to grow, increasing neural capacity for the skill being practised – neural plasticity. Concentration encourages the growth of myelin around those neurones, leading to faster, surer responses.

ETHICS

If the NLP view (shared by many practising Hypnotists and Psychologists in this field) that trance is natural event is accepted, if we even admit the possibility that teaching can be a hypnotic process, then we should consider seriously questions of Ethics. If I’m giving a harp lesson, informed consent to Hypnosis has not been given. Nevertheless, good teaching should change the student’s state and help them access deep levels of the mind-body link. I would argue that good teaching cannot help but be hypnotic. So how can we ethically employ NLP techniques in teaching?

My personal response to this question of ethics could be described as “What does it say on the tin?”. If someone comes for a harp-lesson, I teach them harp-playing. If I’m asked for a lesson on Flow, or on Hypnosis, I’ll work on those topics. If someone comes for a harp-lesson, but it emerges that direct work on finding Flow or managing Performance Anxiety is needed, then I’ll seek agreement before changing the approach of the lesson. I introduce Feldenkrais Method in the same terms of “Awareness through Movement” that are standard vocabulary amongst Feldenkrais practitioners, using pre-recorded lessons prepared by licensed teachers. (I am not myself qualified as a Feldenkrais teacher. More about Feldenkrais Method here)

The Bottles Exercise

But here is an example of a ‘straight’ teaching technique that works by appealing to the student’s unconscious mind. I use this exercise to teach relaxation of the hands for Early Harp playing and also for Baroque Gesture.

water bottles

1. Hold you hands out, palm upwards, and imagine that you are holding two large, 1-litre, plastic bottles, full of water. As the bottles lie horizontally in your hands, wrap your fingers gently around the bottles. Feel the cool touch of the plastic… are there drops of water on it? Use just enough strength to support the bottles.

2. Now pour out half of the water, and then hold the bottles again. Notice how much less effort is needed, now.

3. Now pour out the rest of the water, and hold just the empty bottles. Notice how your hands feel, now.

[Read more about applications of this Bottles Exercise for Early Harps and Baroque Gesture here]

Whenever I use the bottles exercise in routine teaching, I’ll explain that doing it imaginatively, without the actual bottles, is actually more effective, because it requires more concentration and engages the unconscious mind. I’ll use the vocabulary of concentration, relaxation, conscious attention and unconscious mind; but in a regular lesson, I would avoid the word Hypnosis.

How to Practise

I might explain how to practise an ornament slowly, with conscious attention, and then to relax, let go, and let your fingers fly ‘by themselves’. To help the student get the notion of conscious control and fingers that work ‘by themselves’, I often use the image of a little bird learning to fly, closely watched by its attentive parents. At a certain point, the bird just has to jump out of the nest and fly by itself. I help the student change back and forth between conscious control and ‘flying’, by teaching how to change the head-position and gaze, how to use breathing and posture. Sometimes it can help to distract the student’s conscious mind at the moment of ‘take-off’. See How to Practise here.

 

Baby Owl learning to fly

Baby Owl learning to fly

 

The interlinked themes of artistic intention, strength of purpose, emotional commitment, physical movement and emotional communication often emerge in music lessons. One needs a vocabulary for discussions of that emotional sensation of a dissonance, that is understood in the mind, felt in the body and mysteriously communicated to the listener; or for analysing the communication of musical effects that cannot actually be created on certain instruments. When you pluck a harp string, the sound then decays, you can’t make a crescendo. But I have to teach students how to make an audience believe there was a crescendo. Although there are technical tricks with sound-quality, timing, articulation and the dynamic relationship to preceding and following notes, the most effective strategy is to imagine the desired crescendo, as vividly as you can, and project that idea with all the force of your powers of imagination.

Similarly, in the Prologue to Henry V, Shakespeare asks the audience to work with their imaginary forces and to Think, when we talk of horses, that you see them / Printing their proud hoofs i’ th’ receiving earth. This entire speech, with its famous opening line O, for a Muse of fire, is a hypnotic induction that entrances the audience, encouraging them to suspend their (conscious) disbelief, to allow the actors to Suggest with their words far more than could ever actually appear on stage, and to receive those words into their Unconscious, in order to heighten their emotional response to the drama that follows.

Imaginary Puissance

Imaginary Puissance

 

NLP recognises that each individual has their own way of seeing the world, a preferred mode of representation. Erikson was always ready to change his vocabulary to suit his clients’ needs.

I vary my vocabulary, according to the student’s background. One can be scientific, and talk about intention and imagination; arty, with talk of magic and mystery; historical, with the 17th-century concept of Pneuma. Some students appreciate the computer-analogy; you sit at the keyboard, loading sub-routines into the computer, and then you hit RUN and leave the machine to operate at maximum efficiency without further keyboard input. Hungarian Flow-researcher Lazlo Stacho employs the vocabulary of Magic, recalling ancient connections between music and shamanism; there are still folk practices of hypnotism in Eastern Europe today. I find the Stars Wars idea of The Force helps some students find their own way to an understanding of these unconscious processes, that are hard to describe or measure.

Choice of vocabulary affects not only the processes of building rapport and trance induction but also the post-hypnotic end-result. In experiments on the use of Hypnosis for pain reduction, some Subjects were given the Suggestion You will not feel any pain; others were told You will notice the sensation of pain but it will not trouble you. Both Suggestions were effective, but Subjects described the results differently, and neurological measurements showed corresponding activation of different areas of the brain. The unconscious mind is capable of distinguishing between subtly different means of controlling physiological phenomena that are beyond our conscious control.

For this reason, whilst in theoretical discussion I adopt broad definitions of such technical terms as Hypnosis, Altered States of Conscious, Trance, Flow etc., I believe that in practical sessions one should take enormous care with the choice of particular words. It’s vital that teachers adapt their vocabulary to suit their students. In the spirit of Erikson’s Accept and Utilise, one should acknowledge the student’s viewpoint of these topics, and use the corresponding vocabulary. It may be effective to introduce some mysterious word, such as Oriental Chi  or historical Pneuma, which can function as a Nominalisation and facilitate access to the Unconscious. But for teaching purposes, there is nothing to be gained by insisting on your own preferred vocabulary, your model of the whole process, even if (academically or scientifically) it is more correct. In this situation, your aim is to help students find (via the Unconscious mind) their own way into the desired state (whatever they want to call it, however they believe it works), not to engage their conscious minds in a debate over what the best name and most scientific explanation for that state might be.

Choice of Vocabulary matters for practical, not theoretical, reasons.

Choice of Vocabulary matters for practical, not theoretical, reasons.

 

Chunking and Dissociation

 

One essential part of the learning process is chunking. For a beginner, playing a single note on baroque harp is a challenge: rest your hand on the harp with the fingers gently curved, relax the elbow, align the structure of your whole body behind and underneath your fingers, place your thumb on (not behind) the string, move your thumb slowly into the hollow of your hand allowing it to slip over the string whilst applying steady firm pressure, keep moving your thumb for the duration of the note. With practice, all of that is chunked-up into “Play a Good note”.

 

A sequence of Good and Bad notes (Good/Bad is a technical concept in Early Music, derived from accented and unaccented syllables in poetry: read more here) is chunked into a phrase. Phrases are chunked into sections, movements, pieces, entire programs. Effective performance depends on the unconscious mind doing the detailed work inside each chunk, whilst the conscious attention is at a higher-chunked level. You think about the phrase, your fingers play the notes ‘by themselves’.

In Hypnosis studies, this is a phenomenon of Dissociation: the conscious attention is dissociated away from on-going physical processes. Perhaps you’ve had the experience of arriving upstairs, but being unaware of what you came up for….

Dissociation is perhaps the most significant marker of Hypnosis, and can be of two types. With dissociated Control, your conscious mind is unaware of a command given to your fingers, so that they seem to move ‘by themselves’; with dissociated Monitoring, your conscious mind is unaware that your fingers have moved, until you notice that ‘somebody moved them’.  With careful use of language, it should be possible to give Suggestions for the particular type of Dissociation required for a certain application.

There are subtleties in precisely how to apply dissociation at different levels of chunking. It can be utterly disruptive to divert the attention suddenly to a lower level of chunking. This is what happens if a tennis player is serving wonderfully, until you ask them “Exactly how do you throw the ball up in preparation for your serve?”  The balance between conscious and unconscious processes is upset, and the player’s game may collapse entirely. Paralysis by analysis! But contrariwise, it can be very helpful to suggest to a violinist that they engage their mind more with the sensual grain of the experience of drawing the bow across the string. The wrong kind of focus on technique can be counter-productive, the right kind of focus on detailed perception can be inspiring.

A teacher demonstrating often has to dissociate in order for the conscious mind to direct a running commentary on the actions being demonstrated, whilst the actions themselves remain under unconscious control. One learns a lot, by teaching in this way, and it makes an interesting exercise for students to attempt. A similar dissociation allows advanced performers to analyse their own technique with sharp focus but a certain detachment that keeps one relaxed.

 

Chunking & Dissociation

Chunking & Dissociation

 

Anchors

The NLP concept of an Anchor is rather like the bell Pavlov rang for his dogs. In training, ideally in hypnosis, the student programs himself for success by linking a certain stimulus to a desired response. As you walk out on stage, you take a deep breath, you feel your shoulders relax, and your whole body feels warm and relaxed, with a pleasant sensation of calm, confidence and concentration. Many performers have warm-up routines and pre-show rituals that function as Anchors to confident performance.

If the response is required only when called for in special situations, you can Anchor it to a highly specific trigger – when you clasp your hands that other way and breathe out slowly, you will relax and go into Flow. If the response is required automatically, you can Anchor it to an unavoidable trigger – as you walk out on stage, you enter The Zone.

NLP has methods for de-activating unhelpful triggers, typically by re-Anchoring them to a better response. It’s very difficult to inhibit an Anchored response, once it has been Triggered, so these methods rely on getting the Trigger to fire the new response first, before the old, unhelpful response can kick in.

Memory itself is an Anchored response, which functions best if the environment at the time of memorising matches the conditions at the time of recall. Hypnotists use small signals to Anchor key words: Flow, Relax, Concentrate. Language-teaching programs using hand signals, and baroque gesture (stylised signs linked to the text) work the same way. For musicians, the score itself (being read or performed from memory) provides a series of Anchors, whether deliberately created for positive results, or unconsciously built through anxiety or mistakes in the practice-room, causing negative responses.

Careful choice of vocabulary (in teaching, and in the self-talk of inner dialogue) ensures that the correct Anchor is Triggered, and unhelpful responses are avoided. If there is a command vocabulary that you associate with a bad response, then avoid using those instructions. For example. sometimes the word “Relax” only makes people more tense!

On the positive side, if you find your way into Flow by imagining the Star Wars ‘Force’, then continue to use ‘The Force’. But if the words ‘Magic’ or ‘Altered State of Consciousness’ work better, use them. Whatever works for you! Set the Anchor you can believe in, and reinforce it with constant repetition in easy circumstances: then it will work for you when you need it the most. The best situation for setting an Anchor is trance. Then use that Anchor, deliberately, even when the circumstances are so undemanding that it’s hardly required: then the Anchor will be strong enough to keep you safe in difficult situations.

To be continued…

In the second part of this paper, I’ll discuss in more detail what Flow is, how to get into it, and how to avoid losing it. You can also read more at TheFlow.Zone, here.

And the next time you read one of my blog posts, you’ll find it even easier to enter Flow.

Coming back to normal consciousness now …. 3: becoming more aware of your surroundings … 2: feeling wonderful …. 1: fully alert, now!

May the FLOW be with you

The Flow Zone

 

Please join me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/andrew.lawrenceking.9 and visit our websites www.TheHarpConsort.com

www.IlCorago.com and www.TheFlow.Zone

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago, and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions.

www.historyofemotions.org.au

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The Theatre of Dreams: La Musica hypnotises the Heroes

La Musica Hypnotises the Heroes

The Theatre of Dreams is Joe Griffin’s metaphor for the REM-state, that part of the sleep pattern characterised by Rapid Eye Movement and associated with dreaming. See Such stuff as dreams are made on, here.

Griffin’s Theory of Dreams suggests that an evolutionary breakthrough gave humans access to the REM-state whilst waking, in day-dreams and in hypnotic trance. Griffin and his co-writer, Ivan Tyrrel characterise this development, ‘the Mind’s Big Bang’, as the origin of consciousness, language and creativity. Their work also explains the often-noted connection between high creativity and mental illness.

My OPERA research project studies Operatic Performance as an Early-modern REM-state Activator. I hypothesise that around the year 1600, the first operas and Shakespeare’s plays ‘moved the passions’ of their audience by means of what we would now call Hypnosis. More about Music & Consciousness research strands here.

Of course, every fine performer somehow ‘casts a spell’ over their audience, but my research explores exactly how that spell functions. The aim of early opera was muovere gli affetti, to move the audience’s passions. Although present-day researchers are properly sceptical about period reports of audiences ‘laughing and weeping’, we know that music and drama does sometimes produce such emotional responses, even today.

I argue that the emotional response to music-drama might be heightened by hypnosis. And I hope to show that performance practices circa-1600 were particularly closely aligned with trance-induction processes, in order to create the psychological conditions in which the audience’s passions could indeed be moved.

In this post, I analyse one of early opera’s most famous Arias, La Musica (the Prologue to Monteverdi’s Orfeo, 1607), in terms of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and as an Induction into Hypnotic Trance.

The Theatre of Dreams

There is still considerable debate amongst researchers as to what Hypnotism actually is, and there is no single accepted scientific definition. The traditional view (shared by many academics) considers someone to have been hypnotised only if they have received a formal induction including the word “Hypnosis” after which they pass specific tests, for example arm levitation.

The modern view (shared by most practitioners, and largely derived from the practice of Milton Erickson in the late 20th century) considers that trance is a naturally-occurring state that we all enter and leave many times every day. Different people can reach different levels of trance in a variety of circumstances.  In this view, self-hypnotism is easily achievable, and can be highly beneficial. Erickson’s methods were developed into the science of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), which studies how subtle use of language can alter the listener’s mental processes.

In spite of the lack of a formal definition, there is general agreement that Hypnotism involves heightened attention, absorption (being so concentrated on the focus of attention as to be unaware of other stimuli), and an imaginative experience so vivid that the boundary between internally generated perceptions and external reality becomes blurred. Hypnotism is often (but not always) linked to deep relaxation and an experience of inner calm and well-being.

As reported in the Oxford Handbook of Hypnosis, neuro-scientific observation has confirmed activation of specific areas of the brain in Hypnosis, consistent with an increase in focussed attention, a decrease in automatic vigilance (i.e. less watching out in case a sabre-tooth tiger should suddenly attack), and dissociation of the brain’s control and/or monitoring systems. It is this dissociation that leads to the subjective experience of things happening ‘by themselves’.  Low-level unconscious processes instruct your arm to lift, and if those processes are dissociated from the normal conscious monitoring and/or control systems, you may have no conscious awareness of how or why your arm moved.

The intensification of inwardly generated experience together with reduced awareness of external stimuli outside a narrow focus of attention can lead to increased intensity of emotional reactions in Hypnosis.

Orfeus Party

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

There are many ways to induce Hypnosis, but most Inductions mimic one or more of the characteristics of trance, in order to facilitate some kind of dissociation and direct the mind inward. Ericksonian hypnotists would say that ‘Once upon a time…’  can be considered an Induction, since these words tend to relax the listener, dissociate attention from the present moment and invite an imaginative response to whatever story follows. Temporal and spatial dissociation – ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’ – also encourages the mind to turn inwards and imagine whatever details are missing from the information stream of external reality.

Academic researchers are encouraged to use a Standard Induction, a prescribed script read in a monotone, often recorded so that the same Induction can be administered to a large group of experimental subjects. If the Induction is ineffective, the subject is presumed to be non-hypnotisable.

In contrast, most practitioners use different Inductions for different clients, observing that individuals vary greatly in what they respond to best. Someone whose primary sensory system is visual may respond very well to an Induction involving Guided Imagery, whereas someone more kinaesthetic might respond better to Progressive Relaxation. A logical thinker might readily dissociate when confronted with Confusing Language, a deep thinker might turn inwards to search for missing meaning in what he is told.

Many practitioners do not accept the validity of hypnotisability tests based on Standard Inductions. Richard Bandler, co-founder of NLP, is particularly scathing about such tests, which – he opines – only measure the ineffectiveness of the standard induction, and say nothing useful about the hypnotic abilities of the subject. Bandler believes that anyone can be hypnotised, if they permit it, and if the hypnotist has the necessary skills.

The core strategy of Ericksonian Hypnotism is ‘accept and utilise’. If at first the Induction does not work, then rather than labelling the failure as ‘Client Resistance’, the Hypnotist should accept the response as genuine, and utilise any information gathered to guide the choice of a new approach. For example, if the subject responds to an invitation to relax by getting more tense, the Hypnotist would be well advised to abandon an ineffective Progressive Relaxation Induction, and try something different, perhaps attention-locking and ‘sleight of mouth’ (see below).

Many Hypnotic Inductions have been published (there is an online selection here) and recorded on audio media. There is a large Hypnotism industry selling Inductions over the internet as mp3 files for download (I think Hypnotism Downloads are good, here). Once you understand the principles, you can easily write or improvise Inductions, for yourself or your friends. There is a list of books and links for further information, here.

In my research generally, and for this post in particular, I’m considering Hypnosis in practice, from the viewpoints of the Hypnotist and of the Subject, the person going into Trance. In academic language, this is a phenomenological and experiential approach: what happens, what is experienced? I take Trance to be an everyday, natural state. I consider that hypnosis is entered into willingly, as a collaborative process permitted, often actively encouraged by the Subject, within a safe environment created by a sense of mutual rapport. In NLP, it’s assumed that Hypnotist and Subject will both enter trance, each of them in a (subtly different) altered state of consciousness that optimises unconscious communication, deep learning, heightened emotions and hypnotic suggestibility.

In the special case of a performer entrancing an audience (or at least, those audience-members who are willing to ‘suspend their disbelief’ and become absorbed in the on-going drama), the performer’s altered state of consciousness is a particular type of Flow (also known as the ‘Zone’, an optimal state for elite, highly-skilled performance whether in the arts, sports or any other challenging situation). More about Flow here. More about connections between Flow and Hypnosis here.

Hypnotic Inductions are related to the typical phenomena experienced in Trance. Often, an Induction creates that characteristic blend of relaxation and concentration, or evokes specific physiological responses are evoked, so as to mimic the Trance state. Then the two-way nature of the mind-body link does the rest. [In a similar way, if you put a big smile on your face, you naturally feel happier and more relaxed. In fact, it’s sufficient to use electrodes to stimulate the smile-muscles, producing an utterly artificial smile on your face – you’ll still feel happier and more relaxed.]

So the traditional cliché of hypnosis, “follow the movement of this swinging pocket-watch” creates attention, focus, rapid eye movement and also a relaxing steady rhythm, all of which mimic the sensations of trance.

swinging watch

The rhythm of music circa-1600 is directed by Tactus, a slow beat at around one pulse per second. This steady pulse mimics the slow heart-beat of someone who is thoroughly relaxed. More about Tactus, here.

Now, as the Subject begins to slip into trance, it’s the moment for a Suggestion that encourages Dissociation , perhaps an invitation to imagine some far-away place. If that place is pleasantly dreamy, so much the better. ‘Imagine yourself lying on the beach, with the warm water lapping gently on the sand …’

Of course, TV adverts for tourist destinations use hypnotic techniques. And perhaps now you can appreciate why so many early operas are set in Arcadia.

Arcadia

According to NLP-guru, Richard Bandler, the most important elements of a successful Induction are:

  • Rate of speech
  • Timbre of voice
  • Intonation (the ‘melody’ of speech)
  • Breathing

Good Hypnotic speech employs a slower-than-normal rate of speaking, a soft tone of voice with downward inflections at the end of phrases. That downward inflection can transform the grammatical construction of a question – “You’d like to go into trance now, wouldn’t you?” – into a plausible statement. If the speaker emphasises certain words with an altered tone of voice, the phrase even becomes a command: “You’d like to go into trance now, wouldn’t you.”

Around the year 1600, the first opera-singers sang softly, in the intimate spaces where such court ‘operas’ as Monteverdi’s Orfeo were staged.

“One sings in one way in churches and public chapels and in another way in private chambers. In [church-music] one sings in a full voice … and in chamber-music one sings with a lower and gentler voice, without any shouting.”

Zarlino (Le institutioni harmoniche, Venice, 1558)

The pace of operatic Recitative varies with the drama of the moment, but (as we read in an anonymous c1630 guide for an opera theatre’s Artistic Director, Il Corago) in general it is somewhat slower than everyday speech. At the end of each short phrase, the last accented syllable is often considerably lengthened, and the most frequently used cadence has the melody descend to the final note. Il Corago and Jacopo Peri (in the preface to Euridice, 1600) agree that the modulazione of the voice, the melodic contour of recitative, is modelled on the ‘course of speech’ of a ‘fine speaking actor’.

Singers have to control the out-breath as they sing, and breathe in quickly between phrases. For audience members, exhaling more slowly than you inhale creates relaxation. For this reason, Hypnotists speak in short phrases, with frequent pauses in between, in a rhythm aligned with the Subject’s slow breathing.

These short phrases are chained together into long, flowing streams with few full stops. “Each time you breathe out … you feel more relaxed … and the more you relax… the more you feel… that you’d like to go into trance now… wouldn’t you.” We see the same structure in 17th-century sentence construction; many phrases are linked together; those phrases are separated by semi-colons; there are few full stops.

In operatic recitative, the composer similarly breaks up long sentences into short phrases: In questo lieto e fortunato giorno … ch’a posto fine a gl’amorosi affanni … del nostro semideo … cantiam, Pastori … in si soavi accenti … che sian degni d’Orfeo …. nostri concenti. [On this happy and lucky day …. which has put a stop to the relationship problems … of our godlike hero … lets sing, shepherds …. in such soft tones … that we honour Orfeo … with our music.] Notice again the ‘soft tones’. And by the end of this article, you’ll be able to recognise many more hypnotic techniques in this speech.

Monteverdi 'Orfeo' Act I

Monteverdi ‘Orfeo’ Act I

 

There are many Hypnotic techniques for obtaining compliance by means of subtle encouragement, as well as direct commands.

  • Universal Quantifiers

General statements that “People find that music takes them naturally into trance”, or “Every dramatic performance alters the spectator’s state of consciousness” normalise the expected response and reassure the Subject.

  • Implied Compliment

A more subtle approach informs that “intelligent and highly-creative people find it particularly easy to enter trance”. The implied compliment lowers resistance and encourages the Subject to align themselves with the complimented group.

A lot of advertising works on these hypnotic principles of implied compliments and universal statements. Buy this product and belong to the group of beautiful people shown in the advert. “Things go better with Coke”.

  • Double Bind

This seems to offer a choice, but any choice produces the desired result:

“You can go into trance immediately, or you can take a few moments to relax gently before you go into a deep trance”.

  • Embedded Commands

Subtle emphasis can create Embedded Commands, within such Generalities and Binds.  “You can go into trance immediately, or you can take a few moments to relax gently before you go into a deep trance”.

  • Analogue Marking

This emphasis, marked by changes in tone of voice, in the speaker’s gestures or position, can communicate directly to the unconscious mind by suggesting alternative meanings. “Now, your unconscious ( = now you’re unconscious) can deepen the transformation ( = deepen the trance)”

  • Confusing Language & Trans-Derivational Search (TDS)

Unfamiliar words or confusing constructions lead the Subject to turn the mind inwards, in a search for hidden or ambiguous meanings. The technical term for this is Trans-Derivational Search. Confusing language, or confused emotions, might be delivered with unusually fast rate of speaking, or a silence might be left after a strange word: either way, the conscious mind is baffled, so that the unconscious takes over the search for meaning.

Suggestions for relaxation are often effective, but it’s even more effective to direct the mind inwards with subtle questions. “Close your eyes, and focus your attention on your hands. Notice if the right hand is more relaxed than the left. Or is the left more relaxed?” And every time the Subject breathes out slowly, or when the Hypnotist observes some small reduction in tension, this can be reinforced with an encouraging “Good. That’s right”. Feldenkrais Method uses these hypnotic techniques to optimise the mind/body link for effective learning of posture and movement.

As the conscious mind begins to let go, you can mix all this up with Confusing Language: “If the relaxed hand is right, you only have the other hand left, right? So right now, with your eyes left closed right up, see if you can write with the left, so the right is left to relax, and the left is right because it’s already relaxed, right? What’s left now is to go right into trance, right now, that’s right, you’ve left it all right behind you.”

  • Silence

A good Hypnotist is not afraid of silence. Once there is relaxation and concentration, a long silence can be powerfully hypnotic.

  • Attention Fixing & Eye Rapid Movement

Many Inductions relying on Attention Fixing, and/or creation of Rapid Eye-Movement. Experts use such methods for Speed Induction, with impressive results. See Richard Nongard’s demonstrations of Speed Induction, here.

Transit of Venus

Sleight of Mouth

A conjurer’s sleight of hand focuses your attention in a certain way, whilst he carries out the trick right in front of your eyes. In NLP, ‘sleight of mouth’ similarly dissociates the mind’s conscious attention on the actual words, away from the unconscious attention on the underlying meaning. Whilst the conscious mind deals with the surface details, the Hypnotist’s underlying message goes direct to the Subject’s unconscious. We’ve already seen examples of sleight of mouth: Universals, Binds, Embedded Commands, Analogue Marking, Confusing Language.  Here is a quick check-list of some more techniques:

  • Cause & Effect

It helps if the statement of cause is plausible, but the link to effect does not have be genuine. “Because you are reading this …” [that much is obviously true] “you will find it easy to learn self-hypnosis” [since the conscious mind accepted the first part, the unconscious is primed to accept the second part too].

“Because music is so charming to the ear, it can entrance your unconscious mind.”

  • Links

Cause & Effect can be suggested more subtly, by replacing ‘because’ with another, less obvious link:

“Music usually charms your ears, and in that way it uses spiritual power to entrance your mind”

Whilst I am singing, nothing moves”

  • Sugar

A pleasant-sounding word works like the spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down.

Happily, most people find it easy to relax into a gentle Trance.”

  • Pacing

This links an obvious statement about the Subject’s current experience to a Suggestion.

“Every time you breathe out, you become more relaxed”.

  • Presupposition

Rather than giving a command, the choice of words assumes the desired response:

“Whilst I am singing, nothing else will be heard.”

  • Guided imagery

The Subject is encouraged to imagine that they are in some especially peaceful place. The idyllic surroundings support relaxation; relaxation and imaginative dissociation bring about hypnosis. A good Hypnotist will be artfully vague with his guidance, to leave maximum space for the Subject’s imaginative response, and to avoid jarring the subject out of trance with an over-specific suggestion that conflicts with the Subject’s inner experience.

I prefer radio to TV, because the pictures are better.

Similarly, the bare stage of a Shakespearian theatre leaves space for the audience’s imaginative response.

“Think when we talk of horses, that you see them

Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;

For ’tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings…”

 Shakespeare Henry V Prologue

Globe Theatre

  • Multi-Sensory Absorption

Guided imagining that involves all the senses offers a rich and absorbing experience for the Subject. Absorption encourages hypnosis. Appealing to several senses also allows for individual differences between Subjects: some people are more creative with images, others with sounds, others with taste, smell or physical sensations (touch, or the position of the body).

  • Sensory Confusion

Confusing sensory information and synaesthesia (crossed-over senses: a warm colour, a blue note) create a surreal, dream-like experience and direct the mind inwards in the search for meaning.

  • Emotional confusion

“I can calm every troubled heart, and now with noble anger, now with love, I can enflame even the most frozen mind”

  • Nominalisation

Nominalisation is an NLP term for replacing active verbs – to love, to understand – with abstract, semantically complex nouns – Love, Understandings. Abstraction, ambiguity and complexity send the mind inwards in a search for meaning.

Compare the active language of  ‘Many people know about you and praise you. But they still underestimate you, because you are so cool!’ with these nominalisations:

Fame narrates heavenly Praises about you, but does not reach the Truth, because the Sign is too high.”

  • Selectional restriction violation

This is the NLP-term for re-attributing the Hypnotist’s Suggestion to some abstract concept or inanimate object:

“Your chair wants you to go into trance”.

  • Now

This one word is very powerful. ‘Now’ focusses attention and suggests an immediate response.

“Now, you can identify these Induction techniques at work in La Musica’s Prologue.”

Prologo La Musica

 

In the first strophe, La Musica introduces mild spatial Dissociation with the mention of far-away Permesso (a river sacred to the Muses – a more thought-provoking name than the expected Parnassus, the sacred mountain-home of the Muses). The actor Relaxes the audience with generous compliments, and fixes their Attention with varied gestures. High gestures are particularly hypnotic: rolling the eyes upwards is itself a marker of trance, and fixing the gaze a little above the horizon is often used to begin an Induction.

 

La Musica hypnotises the Heroes: Strophe 1

La Musica hypnotises the Heroes: Strophe 1

 

The Ritornello gives about 12 seconds pause, in which the listeners might come out of their developing trance. This is another hypnotic technique, known as Fractionation, in which letting the Subject come partially out of trance helps them go deeper in again, afterwards. Strophe 2 introduces Emotional Confusion and a Post-Hypnotic Suggestion: in the next hour or so, your emotions will be moved by a ‘story in music’.

 

La Musica hypnotises the Heroes: Strophe 2

La Musica hypnotises the Heroes: Strophe 2

 

The next strophe Suggests much more profound influence, by means of a subtle Link and Selectional Restriction Violation: some special kind of musical instrument takes you into the deepest part of your unconscious. “The more…. the more” is another NLP technique: the more you listen to La Musica, the more you will go into trance.

 

La Musica hypnotises the Heroes: Strophe 3

La Musica hypnotises the Heroes: Strophe 3

 

In the penultimate strophe, the intensity of the Induction is temporarily reduced (Fractionation), but the language of ‘desire spurs me’ holds the Attention. La Musica starts to tell a story (story-telling is a favourite method for hypnotherapists to deliver Suggestions) with vivid imagery, super-natural events and locations. Mention of far-off, idyllic places – the mountains of Pindus and Helicon, both homes of the Muses – Relaxes again, and encourages spatial Dissociation.

 

La Musica hypnotises the Heroes: Strophe 4

La Musica hypnotises the Heroes: Strophe 4

 

The final strophe is the most powerfully hypnotic, taking the audience deep into trance just before the drama itself begins. Attention is fixed three times with ‘Now!’, several sleight of mouth techniques are interwoven, with a strong Embedded Command: “Don’t move!”, which creates the catalepsy characteristic of profound hypnotism. Pastoral imagery simultaneously suggests Relaxation.

The line “and it’s not heard” is particularly subtle. Italian ne (= and not) makes a confusing link. And once you are told “it’s not heard”, you strain your ears to listen for whatever it is (we are not told what it is, until after a hypnotic pause).

“Sounding wave” would have been more unusual, more synaesthetic, to a 17th-century audience than it is to us: we are accustomed to the scientific concept of Sound as a Wave, they were not. This strophe mixes sensory channels, imagery and emotion, and then suddenly …. stops!

 

La Musica hypnotises the Heroes: Strophe V

La Musica hypnotises the Heroes: Strophe V

 

And as La Musica holds all the audience in trance with a commanding gesture, Monteverdi notates an 8-seconds silence before the orchestra plays again. The Prologue is ended, La Musica leaves, and the favola in musica (story in music) begins.

theatre-palais-cardinal Louis XIII

This kind of hypnotism is not authoritarian, it cannot be forced; it needs the listener to collaborate. It relies on the audience suspending their disbelief, engaging their imagination, and voluntarily relinquishing some control to La Musica. And if you let her ‘influence your soul’, her story of Orpheus can make you laugh and cry. You don’t make yourself cry, the drama does it. But you could have stopped yourself, if you had chosen to, especially if you had decided at the beginning of the show to resist becoming involved.

La Musica’s Induction is an invitation to participate deeply in an imaginative experience.

01 Mantua 1575

When this hypothesis of seicento hypnosis first came to me, I was concerned at the apparent anachronism: after all, the word ‘hypnosis’ was invented by James Braid around 1841. But the knowledge and practice of hypnosis is much older, of course; there is evidence of it in shamanic traditions and other ancient cultures. And there is a 17th-century word for the persuasive use of unusual, image-laden, semantically dense, sometimes confusing language, in order to sway the listeners’ emotions, the study that today we call NLP: Rhetoric.

Rhetoric is the Neuro-Linguistic Programming of the Renaissance

Remember you are dreaming

 

Please join me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/andrew.lawrenceking.9 and visit our website www.TheHarpConsort.com . Further details of original sources are on the website, click on “New Priorities in Historically Informed Performance”

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago, and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions.

www.historyofemotions.org.au

Flow (Accessing Super-Creativity): Making Connections

Neurons

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of Flow was enthusiastically taken up by musicians, sportsmen, businesswomen, creative types, indeed by anyone interested in learning, training and high-level performance. It’s that wonderful feeling when one is ‘in the zone’, simultaneously relaxed and concentrated, where one’s actions proceed effortlessly from a deep understanding of the situation. Whatever your particular application (arts, sports, business, creativity) Flow is the optimal state for efficient learning, effective training, and maximising one’s performance.

As part of my research (read more here) for the Australian Centre for the History of Emotions (CHE, read more here), I’m investigating Flow in the context of various related disciplines. My approach is phenomenological, experiential, based on my personal experience and on observations reported to me by colleagues, teachers and students from their own individual experiences. My aim is to reach a deeper understanding of how Flow works on a pragmatic level, so that I can offer practical hints to anyone who wants to access Flow in their own activities.

In this Introduction, I will summarise the classic description of Flow according to Csikszentmihalyi, and set out various connections which I’ll explore one-by-one and in greater depth in later posts: Griffin’s Dream Theory, Ericksonian Hypnosis, Ericsson’s Deliberate Practice, Neuroplasticity & Myelination, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, Feldenkrais Method, Positive Psychology, Historically Informed Performance.

Also in this post, I’ll identify one crucial element of Flow which has not so far received the attention it deserves. I’ll connect this to the background theory, and suggest why this might be the missing link between Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow, and the high-level, elite performance skills that so many coaches and performers are searching for.   

Chain Missing Link Question

 

MIHALY CSIKSZENTMIHALYI’S FLOW

In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – Steps towards enhancing the quality of life (New York 1990, on Google Books here), Csikszentmihalyi identifies various elements that characterise Flow. If you experience several of these (not necessarily all of them), you are probably experiencing Flow. These elements can be present in any activity – sport, music, creative writing, business negotiations, public speaking etc.

  • Challenge

The activity is challenging, but not impossible. You are pushing the limit of your skills, but you are nevertheless confident in your abilities.

Csikszentmihalyi developed and gradually refined a diagram relating challenge and skill, with the flow-zone in the area of high-challenge, high-skill.

Flow diagram transit of Venus

 

  • Merging of Awareness & Action

Your intense awareness of crucial aspects of the activity leads immediately and effortlessly  to your actions, perhaps without any intervening conscious decision-process. You notice the situation, and your actions flow from that awareness.

  • Absorbtion

Your awareness is so intense that you are fully absorbed in the activity. Incoming information entirely fills the “bandwidth” of your attention.

  • Goals / feedback

The activity has clear goals, and you receive clear feedback on your progress towards those goals.

  • Concentration

You are fully concentrated so that nothing distracts you from the activity. Your focus does not shift here and there. Your concentration does not flicker off and on again. Potential distractions (e.g. background noises) do not disturb your focus and concentration.

This maintaining of a narrow focus is subtly different from the intensity of concentration described above as Absorbtion.

  • Control

You have a sufficient sense of control. As with Challenge, the optimal level of control presumably balances the thrill of unpredictability against the stability of control.

  • Lack of self-consciousness

Whilst the activity is in process, you are not aware of yourself, you are not concerned with how others see you, you are fully immersed in the activity itself. Typically, there is a strong feeling of pleasure after the activity is completed.

Csikszentmihalyi gives the example of a mountain climber, for whom the activity itself is physically demanding and requires total concentration. When the climber reaches the summit, only then do the feelings of elation kick in.

  • Time Distortion

You may not be aware of the passage of time, whilst you continue the activity in Flow. Only afterwards do you notice how late it is, that you might be hungry, thirsty, or need sleep.

As the saying goes, time flies when you are having fun! I’ll return to this question of Time Distortion, which I consider to be highly significant.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

 

The Autotelic Personality

Csikszentmihalyi considers that having an Autotelic Personality makes it easier for one to enter Flow. Autotelic people (from the Greek words for Self and Purpose) are self-motivated, they can find a sense of purpose in doing an activity for it’s own sake. Here are Csikszentmihalyi’s characteristics of Autotelics, which he derives from the corresponding elements of Flow:

  • Taking charge of your own destiny

You believe that what you are doing makes a difference.

  • Outward focus

You are focussed on your activities, on the outside world, not introspecting about your own situation

  • Goal setting

You set goals and monitor your progress towards them.

  • Absorbed

You get absorbed by the activities you undertake

  • Ability to concentrate

You can maintain a sharp focus over time, without being distracted

  • Enjoyment

You enjoy the immediate experience of the activity at hand.

I would add these two further characteristics, corresponding to Challenge and Merging of Awareness & Action

  • Have a go!

You enjoy taking on (new) challenges

  • Go for it!

You don’t procrastinate.

 

Flow notes

JOE GRIFFIN’S THEORY OF DREAMS

My investigation into Learning, Training and Performance rests on the theoretical foundation of Joe Griffin’s theory of Dreams and the REM state. In his later writings, together with Ivan Tyrrell, Griffin explores wide and deep implications of his theory, particularly in relation to mental health and creativity. (More here.)

The Expectation-Fulfilment Theory of Dreams offers a psychological, biological and evolutionary explanation that is consistent with neuroscientific data and has already led to measurable clinical success. It amounts to a new Organising Idea, a simple fundamental concept that underpins many observed complexities. In essence, Griffin claims that:
  •  Dreams are associated with the Rapid-Eye-Movement (REM) state during sleep

 

  • The biological function of Dreams is to resolve unfulfilled expectations (positive or negative), generated whilst awake

 

  • Dreams re-present unfulfilled expectations in Metaphors, so that they can be resolved by pattern-matching to recalled memories.

 

  • Some 40,000 years ago, humans evolved the ability to access the REM-state whilst awake: this facilitated learning, language, tool-making and higher culture.

Griffin’s metaphor for the REM-state is the Theatre of Dreams.

Waking access to the REM-state allows us to day-dream, to relive the past, to envision the future, to watch a play in the Theatre of Dreams.

In hypnosis, the hypnotist “hijacks” the theatre machinery, changing the scenery, producing special effects, sending on various characters, directing a play for you to watch (even to act in) within the Theatre of Dreams.

The Origin of Dreams

ERICKSONIAN HYPNOSIS

Milton H. Erickson is widely recognised as the founder of modern hypnotherapy. In contrast to the myth that hypnotism is ‘magic’; in contrast to the traditional view of the hypnotist as an authority figure who imposes his will on his client; in contrast to the cliche of watching as the hypnotist swings a pocket-watch and counts down from 10 to 1 whilst instructing you to sleep; in contrast to the Freudian concept of the unconscious as a dark cavern of negativity; in contrast to the caricature of the all-knowing therapist and the helpless client, the Milton method assumes:

  • Trance is a natural state that we all experience several times each day

 

  •  The hypnotist creates conditions in which the client can feel permitted and able to enter trance.

 

  • Different people enter trance in different ways and have different experiences within trance.

 

  • The unconscious mind can be a powerful and positive resource.

 

  • The client can be helped to access solutions from within their own unconscious resources.

 

One aspect of Ericksonian Hypnosis is that therapists don’t feel the need to rush through their Pre-Talk and Induction, in order to get the client into trance and ‘start doing something useful’. Rather, the Pre-Talk is seen as an essential and highly significant part of the therapeutic intervention, and there may be no formal Induction as such.

In the Ericksonian view, hypnosis is at work in many everyday situations, including conventional (supposedly non-hypnotic) talking therapies, and teaching/learning. I would also add the performer/audience interaction to this list.

Erickson made a particular study of Time Distortion effects in Hypnosis, where the client’s subjective experience of time, under trance, was either much slower, or much faster, than real time. I will return to this subject, which I consider highly significant for Flow.

 

Erickson

Erickson at work. Notice the characteristic SOLER posture: S = Sit down with your client; O = Open, friendly posture; L = Lean forwards, be attentive; E = make Eye contact; R = Relax.

 

Accept & Utilise

Perhaps the most important characteristic of Erickson’s approach was his response to Client Resistance. Rather than struggling to overcome resistance or to ‘correct’ the client’s behaviour, his solution was to accept whatever the client presented, and utilise even the most difficult behaviour as part of the therapy. For example, when treating a delusional client who believed that he was Jesus Christ, Erickson’s approach was not to attack the delusion, but to accept it. “I understand that you have a background in carpentry, would you like to build some bookshelves for me?”. The occupational therapy of woodworking became a crucial component of a successful treatment.

There are many stories from Erickson’s cases, which have inspired succeeding generations of hypnotherapists. My favourite is one particularly difficult case, where Erickson himself was unable to find a successful angle from which to direct his therapeutic intervention. Finally, he put the client into trance, and progressed him into the future, to a time when his problem had been successfully treated. “How was it done?” Erickson asked. Having obtained the answer (under hypnosis, direct from the client’s unconscious), Erickson gave the instruction (by hypnotic suggestion of amnesia) for the client to forget about this exchange, and brought the client back to the present, and out of trance. He then began a successful line of treatment, from the angle that the client himself had described in trance.

For an easy-to-read practical introduction to Ericksonian Hypnosis, I recommend Bill O’Hanlon Guide to Tranceland (2009). Richard Nongard Speak Ericksonian (2014) draws on his rich experience as a stage and speed hypnotist, clinical therapist and religious minister, and introduces techniques of NLP (see below). Michael Yapko Trancework: An Introduction to the Practice of Clinical Hypnosis (2012) is a thorough guide to essential theory and current practice, an excellently compiled textbook for serious students. Nash & Barnier (editors) The Oxford Handbook of Hypnosis is for researchers.  

 

CPD

 

As part of my investigations, I have been studying the theory and training in the practice of Hypnosis. I am not qualified as a Hypnotherapist, but I am competent to use Hypnosis as part of my work on Flow, in consensual and informed interactions. This training also gives me a better understanding of how hypnosis is at work in many everyday (supposedly non-hypnotic) situations.

 

ALK TRA

ERICSSON’S DELIBERATE PRACTICE

Psychologist Anders Ericsson researches the cognitive structures that underpin high-level training and expert performance. His work shows the importance of sustained, intensely concentrated practice that challenges one’s current skill-levels, deliberately and precisely pushing the envelope, always just outside the comfort zone. As the title of one of his editions – Towards a General Theory of Expertise (Cambridge University Press, 1991) – suggests, although expert skills are specific to a particular domain, the processes underlying the acquisition of those skills are common across a wide range of applications: music, sports, chess, business negotiations etc.

Ericsson’s work has led to a reassessment of the nature of Talent. The modern consensus places much less emphasis on ‘natural giftedness’, even on helpful genetic traits (runners born with long limbs), recognising the importance of environmental factors (in particular, access to training opportunities) and the decisive factor of many, many hours of Deliberate Practice.

These ideas have been popularised and extended in a number of books linking elite performance in sports to effective training regimes on the Ericsson model: Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers (2008) presents the 10,000 rule (i.e. the need for about 10 years dedicated training to reach elite levels of performance); Josh Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance (2008) looks at the acquisition of high-level skills in two apparently unrelated areas, chess and martial arts; Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code (2009) examines a biological mechanism underlying the beneficial effects of skills training; Matthew Syad’s Bounce (2011) discounts genetic factors, even useful physical attributes, in favour of Deliberate Practice.

Johan Harmenberg’s Epee 2.0 (2007) follows a similar line to Waitzkin in advocating a narrow focus during training – what Waitzkin calls ‘making smaller circles’. Harmenberg considers performance under intense stress, the ‘Olympic hit’: in such circumstances, even highly trained performers are sometimes unable to access their elite skills. Waitzkin also considers high-stress performance, and draws attention to Time Distortion – ‘slowing down time’ within a particular state of consciousness that he calls ‘the soft zone’.  I’ll return to these ideas below and in later posts.

NEUROPLASTICITY

My focus is phenomenological and practical – what is the experience of Flow, and how can we access it? Nevertheless, it’s inspiring and illuminating to examine the findings of Neuroscientists, as they try to understand the biological processes that support the expert skills we wish to learn, train and perform. The metaphor of treating your brain as you would a muscle – use it well, train it deliberately, and it will strengthen and grow – is apt.

Deliberate Practice (targeting precise skill elements, pushing the envelope) carried out in a state of Flow (optimal transfer of information between conscious and unconscious mind) builds new pathways, activates neural networks inside the brain. Think of this as installing new software into your computer.

After a couple of days of Deliberate Practice, your brain starts to grow, physically. You are growing new hardware, bolted-on so as to increase your capacity for the specific skills you are training. The results will show in two to three weeks.

On a similar time-scale (2 or 3 days for activation, 2 or 3 weeks for measurable results), training switches on or off certain genes, optimising your inherited DNA according to the demands your training makes. (This is one reason why identical twins, who share the same DNA, show differences in genetic activity: genes are switched on or off according to the experiences you have.)

Neurons

MYELINATION

If neurons are like wires, transmitting and processing signals through the brain, you can connect them up better, and even add new circuits, with Deliberate Practice. Practising a particular skill under challenging conditions (pushing the envelope) also wraps layers of Myelin around the particular neurons that are working hardest. Myelin is like the insulation around a wire, it stops the charge leaking out and makes transmission more efficient. The more Deliberate Practice you do, the more Myelin you can wrap. You get better, sharper, faster.

And of course, to stay in Flow, as you continue to train, you must continually raise the bar, up the Challenge. As you continue to push the envelope, you assemble more neurons, connect up more neuro-circuits, and wrap them all in Myelin. The skill becomes effortless, awareness and action merge, and you might well start to have some serious fun!

 

Myelin

 

POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY

Csikszentmihlayi’s concept Flow is part of a general trend to move away from researching only pathological conditions, mental illness, psychological trauma, and investigate well-being, happiness, positive psychology. Performance Studies can also benefit from a positive approach, with Solution Oriented interventions, learning to acquire confidence and access Flow,  rather than wallowing in the pathology of Performance Anxiety.

Nevertheless, musicians and sportsmen know all too well the phenomenon of ‘choking’. Just when it matters the most, the stress of the moment is too much, and one loses access to all those hard-won elite skills. In bad cases, one loses even basic competence, and reverts to crude bungling. This is what happened to the Brazil football team in the last World Cup: after they had Flowed through all the heats, in the semi-final they failed to Flow, and were not so much beaten as annihilated by Germany, 7-1. Brazil choked.

 

Brazil world cup defeat

 

How can we learn to use the stress of a highly significant moment as a spur towards our finest, most Flowing performance, rather than being knocked out of Flow into hopeless incompetence? I’ll explore some ideas in future posts.

NEURO-LINGUISTIC PROGRAMMING

NLP takes many ideas from Ericksonian Hypnosis, especially the subtle use of language to influence modes of thought, and distills them into their most concentrated form. Although NLP has become associated with covert hypnotism and unfair manipulation, its powerful techniques can be used beneficially, for teaching and even for self-improvement.

 

As well as subtleties of language, NLP examines directions of gaze and other outward indications of inner processes. I am interested to explore how this link might be reversed, to use deliberately directed gaze to re-order modes of thought and unconscious processes. Some work has already been done in this area by Feldenkrais practitioners and researchers into Performance Anxiety.

 

FELDENKRAIS METHOD

Moshe Feldenkrais was a martial arts expert and engineer who developed a method for learning and teaching efficient, effortless use of the body. Although its aim is similar to that of Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais Method teaches by different means. An ‘Awareness Through Movement’ class invites participants to notice subtle feedback from the body, as they carry out simple, undemanding movements in a relaxed environment. The use of non-habitual positions (e.g. crossing your legs with the other leg on top), or the introduction of a twist into a movement (direct your eyes to the right, turn your head to the left) produces a kind of alienation effect, sharpening one’s proprioception.

Classes include frequent moments of rest, not because the exercises are physically demanding (on the contrary, teachers repeatedly warn not to use too much effort), but in order to let the unconscious and conscious mind exchange and assimilate information. Many elements of Feldenkrais teaching look very familiar to the Ericksonian Hypnotist.

The results of Feldenkrais teaching can be amazing. The Method manages to link up conscious/unconscious learning, mind and body. A good session engages the participants in Flow, and the body Flows beautifully afterwards.

Feldenkrais Method

AREAS OF EXPERTISE

Csikszentmihalyi, Milton Erickson and Anders Ericsson all considered that their findings were valid across a wide-range of cases – music, arts, sports, business, any creative and challenging activity.

My experiential approach inevitably draws on my personal experience as an elite musician and teacher (part of my work as a Historical Informed Performer has included acquiring and teaching the related, but distinct techniques for different types of historical harp, Italian, Irish, Spanish, French etc, and the study of such related skills as directing, continuo, and baroque gesture); as a professionally qualified sailor (sailing is  favourite example of Csikszentmihalyi’s); as a novice fencer (modern epée and historical rapier) and as a keen student of the Feldenkrais Method.

I’m also consulting colleagues, teachers and students in each of these disciplines.

I hypothesise that certain aspects of Historically Informed Performance of music may be particularly suited for facilitating access into Flow.

QUESTIONS OF TIME 

Csikszentmihalyi considers Flow on the time-scale of an entire life-time’s search for happiness. But the Flow many of us are looking for is a transitory state, a temporary heightened consciousness that allows us to perform at our very best, just when it matters most.

Csikszentmihalyi characterises the Time Distortion of Flow as the perception that one has worked only for a short period, whilst in the real world, a long time has passed. This is a useful Time Distortion for training.

But in performance, we are looking for the other type of Time Distortion. The tennis ball comes flying over the net, but for the skilled player time seems to slow down: there is plenty of time to assess the incoming ball, position one’s body and the tennis racquet, and execute a perfect return that will severely challenge one’s opponent. In the Time Distortion of Performance, subjective time seems to slow down so that Awareness and Action can merge, effortlessly.

Erickson wrote about various Time Distortion effects under hypnosis, and about how this relates to the phenomenon of people responding to emergencies with cool, effective action: such people report a Time Distortion of Performance in which subjective time seems to slow down. Waitzkin links ‘slowing down time’ to the extreme stress of what Harmenberg calls ‘Olympic hits’, the most crucial, decisive moments.

swinging watch

 

TWO KINDS OF FLOW

 

Having proposed many connections, I’d like to conclude this introduction by suggesting a separation. I consider that there are actually two kinds of Flow, crucially distinguished by two types of Time Distortion. In Flow-T (ideal for training), the subjective impression is that a short time passed, whereas in the real world many hours went by. In Flow-P (ideal for performance), the subjective impression is that time slows down, so that one can effortlessly observe the situation and merge that awareness into action at elite skill-levels.

The two types are distinct but related. I hypothesise that long-term use of Flow-T can prepare the way for short-term access to Flow-P.

 

In the fluid mechanical phenomenon known as a Hydraulic Jump, a narrow zone of intense Flow contrasts with an extended region with different Flow characteristics.

In the fluid-mechanical phenomenon known as a Hydraulic Jump, a narrow zone of intense Flow contrasts with an extended region with slower Flow characteristics.

 

Please join me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/andrew.lawrenceking.9 and visit our website www.TheHarpConsort.com .

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago, and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions.

Flow connections

Flow 2014 – The Cambridge Talks

Cambridge bridge of sighs

Csikszentmihalyi defined Flow, being ‘in the zone’, that ‘Zen feeling’, you’re relaxed, but wonderfully concentrated, quietly confident, feel calmly exhilarated at the challenge in front of you. [Read ALK’s introduction to Flow, Accessing Super-Creativity: May the Flow be with you!  here.]

This posting summarises and comments on papers and discussions related to Flow at the recent CMPCP conference at Cambridge University. [More about the Centre for Musical Performance as Creative Practice here.]

SELF-REGULATED PRACTICE PROCEDURES AND FLOW STATES

Marcus Araújó, who investigates Performance Studies and Psychology of Music & Education at the Department of Communication and Art at the University of Aveiro, is interested in Flow, the cognitive processes underlying performance and practice of music, musical expertise, and expert musicians’ preparation for performance.

Abstract

The aim of his study is to explore self-regulatory practice behaviours and Flow in highly-skilled musicians. A sample of 212 musicians answered a developed questionnaire about practice behaviours and Flow state. Results show that the skilled musicians were highly self-regulated. Most of the Flow characteristics were experienced whilst practising, but ‘action-awareness merging’ and ‘sense of control’ were less reported. Self-regulated behaviours, ‘metacognitive awareness’ and ‘self-efficacy’ were correlated with Flow dimensions, suggesting that these may contribute to the Flow experience whilst practising. ‘Goal setting’ negatively correlated with the ‘action-awareness merging’ dimension of Flow. No positive associations were found between the ‘action-awareness merging’ dimension and any or the self-regulated behaviours.

ALK summary 

Marcus is looking at the relationship between Flow and efficient practising. In particular, he has devised a questionnaire to measure various aspects of musicians’ experience. He has taken well-agreed indicators of Flow (from Csikszentmihalyi  and others):

  • a good balance between challenge/skills
  • clear goals
  • clear feedback
  • intense concentration
  • loss of self-consciousness
  • merging of action and awareness
  • sense of control and agency
  • losing track of the passing of time
  • a sense of deep satisfaction

Flow improves creativity and combats performance anxiety. But there is a lack of research on positive experiences whilst practising. This is why Marcus is looking at positive experiences, and at experiences during practising (as opposed to performance).

The experience of the ‘Merging of action and awareness’ is the Flow-indicator that is most beneficial for musicians.

Self-regulation and the optimal use of one’s own personal resources is the key to finding Flow and practising efficiently.

Marcus’ results show a negative correlation between Practice Organisation and Merging. Practice Organisation may inhibit Flow.

ALK comments

Marcus’ advance title was more ambitious “Entering into Flow-state through self-regulated behaviour: an explanatory study”. This is of course what we are all looking for, reliable ways to enter Flow  that we can use for ourselves, that don’t require the presence of a teacher. I can understand that with his revised title, Marcus wanted to avoid claiming more than he could deliver, but his study is already on a good path towards identifying possible gateways into Flow. And he has also noticed along the way some potential blocks to be avoided.  

The particular importance of Marcus’ work is that he is measuring experience. It is very useful to have data on, as well as descriptions of, Flow. Of course, there are limitations inherent in his methodology. Participants are reporting their own experiences, after the practice-session is over. There might perhaps be a tendency for self-reporting to be over-optimistic, but the strength of Marcus’ questionnaire is that it asks about many different aspects of experience. We don’t have to make any judgement about how successful or not these musicians were at entering Flow, rather (as Marcus has done) we can examine correlations between those different elements.

There might well be differences between how a practice-session feels whilst it is going on, and how one feels about it just afterwards – obviously, questionnaires cannot give real-time data on the on-going experience. Indeed, Csikszentmihalyi has already shown that the satisfaction associated with Flow is not felt during the process (which may require hard work,    Csikszentmihalyi  gives the example of rock-climbers making a difficult ascent), but afterwards, when one looks back on the completed task. And it seems to me that, since Flow is associated with an absence of self-consciousness, real-time testing carries a strong risk of Observer Effect (the process of measuring will change the activity that is being measured), even of disrupting Flow entirely. It is very difficult to devise real-time testing that would be ‘invisible’ to the participant.

Marcus is measuring subjective experience. This positions him somewhere in-between those of us who are investigating experience qualitatively (i.e. phenomenology) , and the ‘hard science’ approach of measuring objective variables. Such an in-between position might be particularly advantageous for establishing connections between subjective experience and more objective measurements from neuroscience and other disciplines.

Questionnaires are low-tech, low-budget and easy to administer. Collating the data is also straightforward. These are all significant advantages.

For all these reasons, I think Marcus’ approach has much to commend it. Other studies are producing descriptive material, but lack measured data. It would be very useful if other researchers could take up Marcus’ questionnaire and apply it to their own studies, so that large data-sets could be built up for comparative studies and meta-analysis.

From his data, Marcus pulls out some interesting ideas. I agree that the Merging of Action and Awareness is a key benefit of being in Flow, not only for musicians but also for sportsmen. It’s not the only such benefit, and in a future posting I will argue that it is not the most important one for elite performance. However, Marcus is looking at practising, and my next post will present my hypothesis that performance-Flow and practice-Flow are significantly different.

Marcus observed that goal-setting and practice organisation correlated negatively with Flow.  Can this be explained as conscious, Left-Brain processes interfering with subconscious Right-Brain Flow?  Or does referring back (during the practice session) to goals and practice-plans (established before the session started) disrupt the focus on the present moment, the Mindfulness that is needed for Flow? These are important questions, because Ericsson’s concept of Deliberate Practice suggests that conscious organisation of practice-sessions is highly beneficial. How can we organise practice efficiently without disrupting Flow?

My own investigation examines Flow within the Griffin model of the REM-state, and in connection with Ericsson’s Deliberate Practice and Ericksonian Hypnosis. [Read more here] Learning (in lessons or in self-regulated practising) is regarded as a Post-Hypnotic process, guided by Suggestions which can come from the teacher or from one’s own self-regulation. In a future posting, I’ll discuss how established knowledge from Hypnosis might contribute to our understanding of gateways into Flow and of how to manage blocks that prevent or disrupt Flow. Marcus observes that Self-Regulation is a key factor: I will propose that Self-Hypnosis could be a highly effective gateway into Flow.

 

Cambridge river flowing

 THE ABILITY OF REAL-TIME NAVIGATION IN THE MUSICAL FLOW: THEORY AND PEDAGOGY

László Stachó is a musicologist, psychologist and musician working as senior lecturer at the Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest ad at the University of Szeged. He is a CMPCP Visiting Fellow. His research focuses on Bartok analysis, 20th-century performance practice, emotional communication in musical performance and enhancement of attention skills involved in music performance.

Abstract

Laszlo argues that a true sign of musical giftedness is the ability to uncover meanings from musical materials – grounded in feelings – and to position into them in the act of performing with full concentration. Full concentration is fostered through the ability to navigate cognitively in the musical Flow, i.e. the ability to ‘be’ in  (i.e. to position into) the future, in the past and in the present – phenomenologically very often at the same moment.

In a forthcoming book, he presents the outline of a new, detailed pedagogical methodology for enhancing in musicians (regardless of their instrument and including singers) the ability of real-time navigating in the musical Flow, including the sub-abilities to imagine the upcoming structural units (i.e. to estimate by feeling their durations through forming a mental image of them), to form a clear mental image of the past musical units to which the upcoming ones are to be measured, and to feel deeply the present moment.

ALK summary 

Laszlo contrasted two viewpoints: technical, logical, looking for the end-result and content-centred, emotional,  focussed on the on-going process. In Music, these viewpoints can be contrasted as  Mathesis (i.e. science/learning/mathematics) versus Emotions. Today’s conservatoire methodologies are strongly rooted in 19th-century attitudes to technique. However, Emotion and Mathesis need not be mutually exclusive.

What is missing in theories of musical ability is the consideration of Affekt, and Time. What is missing in pedagogy is teaching how or what to feel, teaching how music happens in real time (as opposed to detached analysis).

Laszlo showed videos of master-classes with elite performer-teachers. Teaching how to play Chopin in 1961, Alfred Cortot said that the performers interpretation “should be transposed to the plan of a kind of intimate reverie”. “You need to dream the piece, not play”. Flow is compared to dreaming.  In another master-class, Maria Peres said “We have to believe that miracles can happen, and then they happen more and more often”.

Lazlo argues that imagery is strongly connected to feeling. Mindfulness is also important: Laszlo sees it as a short-term phenomenon, linked to particularly significant musical moments.

Laszlo drew attention to the performer-teacher’s Gaze. A certain characteristic direction and focus of the eyes reveals the cognitive process of reflection.

Another video showed high-tech analysis of Gaze, contrasting two footballers, an elite international (Ronaldo, popularly dubbed “the phenomenon”, and considered by experts and fans to be one of the greatest football players of all time) and a competent amateur. Analysis showed Ronaldo’s very precise direction of his eyes, switching very rapidly and precisely from the ball to opponent’s feet, hips (for predicting the opponent’s next movement), looking for empty space to move into.

For musicians, Laszlo recommends that the mental image should appear in your mind just before you play. This ability is a core ability, appearing in sports as well.

Three skills must be operated simultaneously:

  • Goal setting – being in the future
  • Mindfulness – being in the present
  • Reflection – being in the past

The quality of performance depends on thoughts and feelings in your mind during performance.

Real-time navigation of musical flow requires learning “how to let go”. We learn this by visualisation exercises involving imagined movement (e.g. the trajectory of a thrown ball).

ALK comments

This was a fascinating paper, even if Laszlo’s detailed methodology for entering into Flow was not presented here. We’ll have to wait for his forthcoming book (in Hungarian!).

It could be very productive for Laszlo and Marcus to collaborate, since Laszlo has methods for helping musicians enter Flow, and Marcus can measure the experience they have as a result.

Ericsson’s concept of Deliberate Practice argues against the idea of inherited talent. I would re-phrase Laszlo’s opening claim to avoid the notion of “giftedness” and re-prioritise for the audience rather than for the performer: a true sign of musical success is the ability to reveal meanings to the audience. The performer must extract those meanings from musical materials – grounded in feelings – concentrate on them fully during the act of performing.

Laszlo is grappling with a difficult but vital concept as he tries to help performers ‘be in’ the Past, Present and Future, all at once. Perhaps this happens in different ways on different time-scales. As we speak (whether formally or in casual conversation) we are able to link the words we just said, the word we are pronouncing now, and the words that will follow immediately afterwards, in order to create a sentence. Whilst we remain more-or-less aware of our previous sentences, and of the sentence we are saying now, we might or might not have a conscious intention concerning the next sentence. Only an experienced speaker can maintain a coherent structure for an entire speech or lecture, navigating sentence by sentence through the current paragraph, whilst keeping in mind what was said in previous paragraphs and what must be said in subsequent paragraphs. Most people would memorise or write down some kind of plan (an outline, or an entire script) for such a speech. All of these examples are shorter-term than and different from Laszlo’s triad of Goal Setting, Mindfulness, and Reflection.

In Early Music, we can side-step these complications by equating Music with Rhetorical Speech. Past-Present-Future relationships in Music can then be linked to similar progressions through Time in prose or poetry (as I just did, above). I’m strongly convinced that such a Metaphorical understanding of the Past-Present-Future relationships is more useful in the practical situation than abstract theorising. Other Metaphors are also valid (walking, dancing, visual imagery) and indeed Laszlo recommends visual imaging as a practical way to manage Past-Present-Future awareness.

In Early Music, we can think about Passions (affetti) that change across measured Time. Time is measured with a slower beat (Tactus, read more here), affetti change more frequently, than in later music.  This results in a different experience of passions/time, that may be more effective in facilitating Flow. My own research into Enargeia links changing affetti to the emotional power of detailed visual imagery. (More about Enargeia: Visions in Performance here).  Positive imaging is frequently used in sports training and in Hypnotherapy.

Early Musicians are very aware of the bias of Conservatoires towards 19th-century models of performance and pedagogy. One aspect of this bias is the conventional divide between Technique and Interpretation. Historically Informed Performance (HIP) does not accept this binary, but follows earlier models in which technical means are more closely interconnected with musical ends (e.g. keyboard fingering and phrasing). Nevertheless, the most recent research relates HIP to Emotions Studies, so that performance, passion and the audience’s perception are also all interconnected. [Read more about How did it feel? here.]

I suggest that Laszlo is seeing from his pedagogical and Flow-oriented viewpoint similar limitations of the standard Conservatoire approach that we see also from the HIP viewpoint. Certainly most Conservatoires are uncertain how to teach Emotions in music, whether in standard repertoire or in HIP. There are programs that address the problem of performance anxiety, but (as Marcus observed in the context of practising) there is less teaching of precisely how to work positively with emotions.

Laszlo’s plea for a holistic approach that unifies interpretation, technique, and emotions should be heeded. This is the same triad that we see in the historical concept of Music as Musica Mondana (the Music of the Spheres, that Otherworld of magic, myth and mystery that makes a musical interpretation deeply meaningful, somehow spiritual), Musica Humana (the harmonious nature of humanity, unifying body, mind, spirit and emotions) and Musica Instrumentalis (actual music, i.e. techique, whether instrumental or vocal).

My first reaction to the videos of master-classes was to remind myself that a master-class is a very asymmetric situation, in which everything favours the teacher. The student is not only processing new information & new instructions, and changing their whole performance, but they are doing all this in full view of the audience. It is highly likely that the student will not be in Flow. At worst, a master-class can become a vehicle for the teacher to demonstrate their own superiority, their own Flow, at the expense of the student. But these problems for the student in a master-class are advantages for the researcher studying Flow, since we can expect to observe crucial differences between the master in Flow and the student not in Flow.

Cortot’s idea of a performance with Flow as similar to dreaming relates to the theoretical underpinning of my own research into Flow within Joe Griffin’s theory of Dreams. (more about Griffin’s theory, such stuff as Dreams are made on: Representing Emotions in Metaphor here).

As soon as I saw Cortot’s face, with the characteristic Gaze to which Laszlo drew attention, I recognised a look that can be found in many historical paintings of musicians. The eyes are directed forwards, upwards and into the remote distance.

Zampieri eyes

This Gaze is associated in Neuro-Linguistic Programming with inner focus (accessing visual memory or invented imagery). In Hypnosis this eye movement is part of a standard test, and is considered to be a reliable sole indicator of a hypnotic trance. In Historical Action, it is associated with the hand gestures for Awe or Wonder: the complete set of Awe/Wonder indicators are seen in many religious paintings (saints receiving visions, calling forth or witnessing a miracle).

 

 

Admiror

In 2013, I made a case-study of John Bulwer’s 17th-century gesture of awe-struck worship for performances of the earliest surviving Spanish Oratorio, which tells the Christmas story of the Shepherds witnessing the appearance of the Angel and worshipping the Christ-child in the Bethlehem stable. Another, highly detailed case-study of medieval Awe by Javier Diaz-Vera of the University of Castille La Mancha was reported at the recent CHE conference on “Languages of Emotion”. I observed a startling strong connection between this Gaze and Flow in a class at Scoil na gCláirseach, the summer school of the Historical Harp Society of Ireland, in August 2014.

The Feldenkrais Method advises re-setting ones habitual Gaze by placing the head lower, and lifting the eyes. This releases neck vertebrae, with beneficial effects for wellbeing, confidence and voice-production. Similar adjustments are recommended in Alexander Technique.  I am experimenting with Gaze and Self-Hypnosis in my own investigations of Flow.

Gaze and historical performance are related in the study of Enargeia and baroque gesture – you point at what you see, which can be far off in the distance, within your imagined vision of the words you are singing. 17th-century texts frequently evoke distant mountains or the heavens.

Laszlo identifies Gaze as an indicator of Flow. I hypothesise that control of Gaze can facilitate access into Flow. In discussions at Cambridge, some delegates were concerned that such a Gaze might just be created deliberately: I don’t think this is a problem. “Fake it till you make it” applies – imitating the outward appearance of the Flow-Gaze can be expected to produce the genuine Flow-state within.

Peres’ comment “We have to believe that miracles can happen, and then they happen more and more often” can be appreciated in the context of Hypnotic Suggestion for confidence, suggesting that the ‘miracle’ of Flow happens more frequently as one gains confidence in it. The comment also makes sense in the context of Deliberate Practice: the harder you practice, the luckier you get. Flow can lift you to the very peak of your ability, but it cannot create abilities you do not have.

The Gaze analysis of footballers supports a finding in Matthew Syed’s Bounce [here] that elite sports performance is not necessarily associated with fast physical reactions, but rather with very fast subconscious processing of information coming in from visual observation. That visual observation is facilitated by rapid, accurate, but subconsciously directed eye movements. All this fits perfectly within the Griffin model of dreaming and the REM-state (Rapid Eye Movement). Eye Movement is another route into hypnotic trance (see Richard Nongard’s “butterfly” rapid induction here). I hypothesise that REM is not only an indicator of Flow in elite performance, but could be a gateway into such Flow 

Laszlo talks about “letting go” in order to enter the Flow-state for performance. I think this is a crucial building block for a better understanding of how Flow differs between training/practice and performance. At Scoil 2014 I deliberately asked students to ‘change gear’, to ‘let go’ as they transitioned from establishing technical skills with detailed slow practice into full-speed trials of the new skill. I combined this with deliberate re-direction of Gaze, in order to enter a particular Flow-state for the full-speed trial. I used the imagery of a young bird learning to fly: flap the wings slowly, learn how they work; then jump off and fly. In this context, Yoda’s advice also holds good:

Yoda do or do not

Conscious doubt of whether or not one can succeed is a strong inhibitor of the subconscious Flow needed for that success.

I like Laszlo’s formulation that “The quality of performance depends on thoughts and feelings in your mind during performance.” When I was a student at the London Early Music Centre, tenor Edgar Fleet taught me that “Early Music is transparent. The audience can see through to what you are thinking about. If you are thinking about fish-and-chips, that’s what they’ll get. If you are thinking of something more meaningful, they’ll get that instead”. If we think about technique, audiences may appreciate our skill, but their passions will not be moved.

As Laszlo said in his opening remarks, we need to focus on Content and Meaning. I would add that such focus does not ‘distract us from our technique’, rather it helps us ‘let go’, and enter Flow. Let your subconscious handle technique, give your conscious mind something more interesting to think about, communicate better with your audience and also enter Flow. Win-win-win-win!

In private conversations, conference delegates reported to me that Laszlo’s coaching musicians to enter Flow has wonderful effects. I’m sure this is true, and I’m looking forward to reading his book (yep, it’s time to study Hungarian!) And what is the significance of Hungary’s position as a world-leader in pedagogy for Music (Kodaly method) and Fencing?

Other conversations dwelt on Laszlo’s personal conviction that discussion of Flow should include the language of magic. This was resisted by scientifically-minded delegates at the Cambridge conference, and it might not play well for Laszlo in academia generally. But here are my reasons for supporting Laszlo’s position. Flow is not a modern phenomenon, even though it has been named only recently. Our ancestors, right back to the first cave-painters experienced Flow, even if they did not name or analyse what they were experiencing. [More on the REM-state and evolution here] Flow and Hypnotism are clearly related to ancient traditions of folk-magic and shamanism.

Meanwhile, modern practitioners of Hypnosis recognise that different clients require different types of language. The word ‘sleep’ is used less today in Clinical Hypnosis, though it is still highly effective in Rapid Inductions. ‘Hypnosis’ or ‘Trance’ can be used with clients who are confident and comfortable with the idea of being hypnotised. For other clients, it’s better to invite them to a ‘resource state’ or ‘your own special state’. When I work with students on Flow, I take my cue from Ericksonian Hypnosis and adapt my vocabulary to match the student’s preferred language.  For an Early Music fan, I’ll talk about musica mondana and musica humana; for a new-age enthusiast, I’ll rephrase this in terms of Cosmic Harmony. For the nerd (yes, there are some Early Music nerds!), the Star Wars ‘Force’ may be the best metaphor. The Celtic Otherworld or Shamanism could be very powerful metaphors for someone who responds to such imagery. For someone with a science background, the metaphor of a computer, with its memory banks, operating system, keyboard inputs and background functions can be helpful.

From an Ericksonian perspective, it is the client/student, not the therapist/teacher, who chooses the vocabulary. From a historical perspective, ancient beliefs in music and magic are indeed related to the modern experience of music and Flow.  From my own, practical point of view, I’d recommend widening the vocabulary as much as possible, so as to offer Flow to students from all kinds of backgrounds. “Accept and utilise” is the Ericksonian mantra.

Thinking of the Historical priority that privileges the audience over the performer (in contrast to the 19th-century glorification of the ‘artistic genius’ and ‘expressive performer’), I raised the question at the Cambridge conference: is there any correlation between the Performer being in Flow, and audience members having a Strong Experience (shivers down your spine, the tingle factor, those powerfully emotional reactions to music)? The research project I’ve now begun on The Theatre of Dreams: Operatic Performance as an Early-Modern REM-state Activator assumes that around the year 1600 there was such a correlation, and draws on Ericksonian Hypnotism as an explanation. [More here]

 

Cambridge Mathematicians Bridge

WHAT COULD BE UNIVERSAL ABOUT MUSICAL IMPROVISATION? SITUATING THE COGNITIVE APPROACH

Andrew Goldman is a PhD student at the Centre for Music and Science, University of Cambridge. In addition to his scholarly research, he is a pianist and composer. Recently, his musical entitled Science! The Musical was premiered in Cambridge.

Abstract

Andrew Goldman reviewed trends in ethnomusicological and critical research on improvisation, showing how they challenge cognitive-scientific approaches and also how they share certain motivations (such as exploring performers’ creative processes). With specific reference to his own experimental research paradigms working with jazz musicians, he shows how such sensitivity can be an important check on the universalising tendency of scientific theorising, but also a way to demonstrate the broader validity of such scientific theories. This is accomplished through exploring modes of performance in terms of cognitive-scientific theoretical frameworks – such as motor theories of perception – in order to expand the explanatory scope of scientific conclusions beyond a particular musical tradition.

ALK summary

Andrew Goldman showed how daunting a task the serious, cognitive-scientific researcher faces, in attempting to establish solid,  reliable data for such richly complex activities as music-making and improvisation. His carefully designed and executed experiment established that time-delayed Feedback disrupted the performance of jazz pianists significantly more when they were improvising. From this, we can deduce that improvising (whatever that means: for this experiment the pianists were just instructed to improvise, and the results were accepted) is indeed different, and that the difference is somehow related to Feedback and to Time.

ALK comments

I admired this paper precisely because Andrew G’s conclusion was so carefully limited, precise in what it did not attempt to claim. Painstaking and sustained effort was needed to reach even this modest conclusion. This encourages great respect for those who are investigating complex phenomenon within the ‘hard’ scientific disciplines. We do need this check and balance on the tendency to universalise individual experience to general theory. Even if we can discover more, more quickly, through an experiential, phenomenological approach, we must constantly test the assumption that such experiences have any more general significance. A rounded view of complex phenomenon is likely to come about from a multi-disciplinary combination of various approaches, both “hard” and “soft”. [Andrew G tells me that he doesn’t like these labels, but I use them as a convenient shorthand, and with proper respect for both sides].

This paper was not about Flow. But I was interested in the topic of Improvisation anyway. I improvise a lot (in HIP styles) in performance; I direct The Harp Consort, an ensemble renowned for its HIP-improvisation; I’m a teacher of HIP-improvisation and I’m personally convinced that Improvisation is a valuable skill for any musician. Andrew Goldman gives us solid evidence that “improvising” [whatever that means] is “different”.

I suspect that scientific investigation of precisely how Improvisation is “different” will run into similar difficulties as scientific investigation of  Hypnosis, which has a much longer history. Neuroscientific observations of Hypnosis identify the characteristics of the activity happening (hallucinated or suggested under Hypnosis, or actually happening in a normal conscious state) rather than particular characteristics of Hypnosis itself. I suspect we will find the same is true for Flow. But in the face of this serious difficulty, Andrew G has established one clear difference, relating Improvisation [whatever that means] to Feedback. And we know from Csikszentmihalyi that Feedback is related to Flow. I have hypothesised that Improvisation may be related to Flow, and that Improvisation may be a gateway into Flow.

One possible explanation could be that Improvisation requires an Altered State of Consciousness, an inner focus that facilitates the calling up of material either from the memory, or from the imagination, or from the imaginative re-combination of memorised and imagined fragments. In ensemble improvisation, this inner focus must be combined with the processing of external information, the material improvised by other musicians. In any improvisation, this inner focus must be combined with the processing of the sound of the music one is creating, i.e. with Feedback. Improvising may self-induce a trance. In trance states, Suggestions can have particularly powerful effect. When improvising, it is the sound of this note that Suggests what note might follow. If that Feedback/Suggestion process is disrupted, the effect would be stronger in trance than in normal consciousness.

In one way, that explanation of mine is useless. It replaces one word we can’t define, Improvisation, with another word we can’t define, Hypnosis. In spite of all the years of investigation, there is still no accepted definition of Hypnosis, and no accepted scientific indicator of trance. Just as with Flow, there is a list of typical indicators: if someone experiences enough of these indicators, they are probably in that state. But the benefit of linking Improvisation, Flow and Hypnosis (no doubt there are distinctions to be made, alongside those links) would be that we could take the knowledge of Hypnosis acquired through many decades of practical investigation and scientific study, and quickly apply that knowledge (mutatis  mutandis) to Flow and/or Improvisation.  

Certainly, we should not be ashamed that we don’t really know what Improvisation or Flow is, in the strict scientific sense. In that sense, we don’t yet know what Hypnosis is, but we do know that it works, and that in certain circumstances, it can work magic, wreak miracles. An phenomenological approach might open up ways to extend good experiences of Hypnosis, Improvisation and Flow to the benefit of more people, more often. A ‘hard’ scientific approach can provide necessary balance by searching out chinks in the links, establishing how these related phenomena differ from each other. Ericksonian Hypnosis emphasises how one person’s experience can differ from another’s, and searches for ways to accept and utilise those differences. Can hard science establish what is universal, beyond such individual differences?

water drops

In the meantime, my own experiential investigations into the phenomenology of Flow and the Theatre of Dreams continue. More posts on these subjects soon. In particular, I will propose that Time Distortion effects (much studied in Hypnosis) are crucial to the understanding of two different kinds of Flow, in practice and in performance.

May the FLOW be with you

Please join me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/andrew.lawrenceking.9 and visit our website www.TheHarpConsort.com .

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago, and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions.

Accessing Super-Creativity: May the FLOW be with you!

 

May the FLOW be with you

Many musicians, sportsmen and women, creative writers and composers know the special state of consciousness described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as Flow. It’s being ‘in the zone’, that ‘Zen feeling’. It’s related to Mindfulness. You’re relaxed, but wonderfully concentrated on the task at hand; you feel quietly confident that you can manage it, you feel calmly exhilarated at the challenge it presents to you; you don’t feel self-conscious, you are just ‘there’, in the moment, in the groove; somehow, Time seems to slow down, so that you can effortlessly take in all the incoming information, calmly make an elegant decision, and execute your response perfectly; your artistic intentions and your physical actions unite perfectly; you are working at high efficiency, but you could continue for hours without getting tired; you feel happy, even elated, yet somehow also calm.

Flow notes

It’s a great feeling, and it is the ability to find Flow just when it matters most that makes the crucial difference between an elite performer, musician, martial arts practitioner or sportsman, and one who is merely average. But when Flow is blocked by performance anxiety, ‘stage-fright’ for actors or musicians, ‘choking’ for sportsmen, the effect can be devastating. Under the blocking conditions of high pressure and no Flow, elite performers find themselves unable to carry out basic techniques, experienced airline pilots make elementary, disastrous errors; international sportsmen’s competence plunges to rock-bottom. Just think of the Brazil football team in the World Cup semifinal: something happened to disrupt the Flow of their previous performances, and they crashed into incompetence and embarrassing defeat.

Brazil world cup defeat

But Flow is not only for elite perfomers. Accessing Flow can lift any of us beyond the limits of our normal abilities, so that we perform at our very best, ‘better than we know’. Flow is the ideal state not only for high performance, but also for the most effective learning. Flow seems to access something beyond the ‘here and now’, and may also be communicable between members of a team, between performers and audience. Perhaps the Star Wars metaphor of a mysterious Force uniting us all is not so far-fetched.

Access Flow you can

I suggest that in many disciplines we could teach Flow from the very first lessons, allowing students to make faster, deeper and more satisfying progress. Not just (for classical musicians) Technique and Interpretation or (for sportsmen) techniques and tactics, but (for anyone) how to get into Flow at whatever level of technical competence and interpretative insight.

Cellist

There is exciting work already in progress about teaching Flow to musicians, some of which was discussed in a flurry of papers at the recent CMPCP conference at Cambridge Univeristy. Lazlo Stacho (Liszt Academy, Budapest) is developing exercises to help classical musicians enter Flow. Marcus Araujo (University of Aveiro) is measuring whether or not musicians are indeed experiencing Flow, according to criteria based on Csikszentmihalyi’s work. In a properly cautious initial study, Andrew Goldman (Centre for Music & Science, Cambridge) has established measurable differences in cognitive processes when musicians are instructed to ‘improvise’.  Henrice Vonk is looking at Flow and Mindfulness.  I’ll summarise and comment on these CMPCP papers in a future post.

Zampieri eyes

 Elsewhere, Frank Heckman is working with Flow with both elite sportsmen and music students in the Netherlands. In Bremen, violinist and psychotherapist Andreas Burzik works on Flow for orchestral musicians, drawing parallels for businessmen. I’ll comment on Burzik’s approach in another future post.

Accessing Super-Creativity

My own research for the Australian Centre for the History of Emotions investigates Flow as an Altered State of Consciousness, within Joe Griffin’s model of the REM-state. Read more about Griffin’s Dream Theory here.

 

My aim is to build on existing work, and on my own personal experience of Flow as an elite performer (music), competent practitioner (sailing, a favourite example of Czikszentmihalyi’s) and elementary student (fencing), in order to develop exercises, teaching techniques, training conditions and rehearsal methodologies that facilitate entry into Flow.

My approach is therefore experiential, phenomenological and practical. Ethical considerations dictate that my first experiments are personal: observing, tweaking and testing my own experiences of Flow. When I’m teaching Flow to students, concern for their progress must outweigh the demands of pure research. My practical purpose is to help them access Flow. I can observe and monitor their work, and/or ask them to self-report on their personal experience, only in so far as this does not negatively impact their learning.

How far might that be? Lack of (negative) self-consciousness is one of the characteristics of the Flow state. This should serve to warn us that awareness of being observed will tend to work against Flow. We should expect to find the Observer Effect (familiar from quantum physics) at work: attempts to observe and measure sensitive processes will certainly effect the process itself, and that effect will probably be negative. In the worst case, trying to observe Flow (perhaps with an elementary student), might disrupt the Flow state we are trying to access and observe.

Schrodingers Cat

Neuroscience offers some fascinating data, and some understandings that can be applied to this search for Flow. But in the search for descriptions, explanations and recommendations that can be meaningful for students, metaphors and physical processes are likely to be more useful than neuroscience. It is more effective to ask a student to “focus inward” (a metaphor) or to “notice whether you have more weight on the right foot, or on the left” (directing attention to a physical process), than to “de-activate the anterior cingulate”, even if all three instructions are in some way equivalent, associated with switching conscious awareness away from externals.

cingulate

Another difficulty with a ‘hard science’ approach is that playing music, let alone finding Flow whilst playing music, is a complex activity full of rich detail. Reducing the experience to one variable may not be possible, or may be so distorting that any observations are invalid. It must be assumed that the music, one’s emotions and Flow itself will be affected by the intrusion of measuring equipment and the implied presence of an Observer.

Observer Effect

Looking for pathways into Flow, we first need to explore the territory, see the forest not the trees. Putting individual leaves under the microscope can come later, when we have learnt by experience and practice how to navigate the zone confidently.

A good parallel might be the scientific investigation of Hypnosis in the last half-century, where the phenomenological approach has led the way. Clinicians have discovered what works – experientially and practically – for them and for their clients, blazing a trail along which empirical verification and neuroscientific measurement can follow. Indeed the experience of Flow seems to have much in common with (self) hypnosis, and this will be one of the main lines of my enquiry.

Accessing Super-Creativity

My idea is to unite Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow with Ericksonian Hypnosis and Ericsson’s concept of Deliberate Practice (the importance of many hours of effective practice, rather than innate talent, in creating elite performance), all within the framework of Griffin’s work on the REM-state. I am confident that this will offer a better understanding of the experience of Flow, improved success in accessing Flow, and greater efficacy in practice and performance. Watch out for more posts on Flow, soon.

Locking Attention

Please join me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/andrew.lawrenceking.9 and visit our website www.TheHarpConsort.com .

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago, and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions.

“such stuff as Dreams are made on”: Representing Emotions in Metaphors

Griffin Harp

A groundbreaking new theory that puts dreaming at the heart of our emotional well-being…

 

Why do we dream? What do dreams mean? Why is the content of our dreams so very often bizarre? Why do our dreams seem so intense and significant when we experience them, and yet are usually forgotten afterwards?

How do dreams connect with emotions? What is the link between learning and dreaming? Why does everyone love a good story?

In what has been described as

One of the most important scientific breakthroughs of the last hundred years

Dr Farouk Okhai (consultant psychiatrist and psychotherapist at the Milton Keynes Primary Care NHS Trust)

Joe Griffin discovered how and why dreaming evolved in mammals and helped unravel what dreams actually mean. Thanks to Griffin’s work, we now know what dreams are doing for us: they keep us sane, or, in certain circumstances, can drive us mad. The explanation turns out to be strikingly simple and satisfying. And this knowledge opens up wonderful new possibilities for humanity: greater creativity, improved mental health and deeper understanding of who we are.

Griffin and Tyrrell convincingly show that dreaming is vital for mental health and that the brain state we associate with dreaming (the REM state) also has crucial importance for when we are awake. This understanding of the REM state explains not only how our brains construct a model of reality, but also explains hypnosis, how creative behaviour works, and why we develop mental illnesses such as depression and psychosis.

The conclusions arrived at in Dreaming Reality are breathtaking, and considering the freedom the reader has to apply them to his or herself, they prove to be astonishing. This book gives such rational explanations that the culminative effect is like turning a light on in a room of shadows.

Mental Health Practice (the UK’s leading practice-based journal and e-resource for professionals)

Dreaming Reality

Those introductory paragraphs come from the publishers’ blurb to  Griffin and Tyrell’s 2004 book Dreaming Reality.

In my own words, I’ll now attempt to summarise Griffin’s model and show why it is so significant for music, drama and History of Emotions studies in general, as well as for the Australian Research Council’s Centre for the History of Emotions (CHE, to which I am attached) in particular. More about CHE here. 

Joe Griffin is a research and clinical psychologist based in Ireland. His work was initially published in The Therapist magazine from 1993, and brought together as a monograph The Origin of Dreams (1997).

The Origin of Dreams

This was updated and revised in non-technical language with co-author Ivan Tyrell (psychotherapist and Principal of MindFields College, which trains over 12,000 NHS and social welfare staff each year) as Dreaming Reality (2004). A further update has just been published, Why we Dream: the definitive answer (2014).

Why we dream

Griffin’s theory of Dreams suggests a new Organising Idea with wide applications across many fields, and has led to the founding of a new school of Psychotherapy, based on the  Human Givens (Griffin & Tyrell 2003). More about the Human Givens College here.

Human Givens

The Expectation-Fulfiment Theory of Dreams

Joe Griffin’s Expectation-Fulfilment Theory of Dreams offers a psychological, biological and evolutionary explanation that is consistent with neuroscientific data and has already led to measurable clinical success. It amounts to a new Organising Idea, a simple fundamental concept that underpins many observed complexities. In essence, Griffin claims that:
  • Dreams are associated with the Rapid-Eye-Movement (REM) state during sleep
  • The biological function of Dreams is to resolve unfulfilled expectations (positive or negative), generated whilst awake
  • Dreams re-present unfulfilled expectations in Metaphors, so that they can be resolved by pattern-matching to recalled memories.
  • Some 40,000 years ago, humans evolved the ability to access the REM-state whilst awake: this facilitated learning, language, tool-making and higher culture.

Griffin’s metaphor for the REM-state is the Theatre of Dreams.

Griffin suggests that the evolutionary moment when human beings achieved waking access to the REM-state was associated with the development of language, and with conscious awareness of past, present and future. This idea, connecting dreams with creativity, emotional expression and high culture, is explored in more detail in Godhead: The Brain’s Big Bang (Griffin & Tyrell, 2011).  

Godhead

Application to mental health

 

Griffin’s theory offers an explanation of the observed links between creativity and mental illness. It also offers a new model for the treatment of Depression, one that has proved highly effective in clinical work.

The model predicts that anti-depressant drugs will be largely ineffective (except in so far as they reduce the amount of REM-sleep in sufferers), that Freudian therapy involving deep introspection about negative events in the past will have a negative effect, and that the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and other talking therapies will be more effective if re-aligned in accordance with the Griffin model. These predictions seem to be borne out in practice.

The practical application of the model and clinical results are reported in Griffin & Tyrell How to lift depression – fast (2005) This book is written in non-technical language, and is intended to help sufferers and their families.

How to lift depression ... Fast

Applications to History of Emotions studies

 

Emotions drive our lives – in Tyrell’s words, “Emotions motivate behaviour change, so that emotional needs can be met” (private communication). The Human Givens concept compares the psychological resources evolution has given us to the basic human needs. Those needs, Tyrell points out, are hierarchical: food & shelter are fundamental to basic survival; security, control, status, privacy and attention are necessary for mental well-being. Once these lower needs are met, higher needs emerge: intimacy, achievement, a sense of meaning, learning, exploring. These higher requirements satisfy the needs of the spirit.

Thus Human Givens presents “a clear framework of what all human beings need to live mentally healthy and fulfilling lives – based on a solid understanding of the essentials needs and resources we are all born with, whatever our circumstances or cultural background… Because this knowledge about human psychology, emotional health and behaviour is so fundamental to every human interaction and endeavour, the skills and knowledge encompassed in this approach are widely applicable to a wealth of other fields.” Tyrell seeks to provide “a shared language – a lingua franca – that also allows clear and jargon-free communication between practitioners of different disciplines”.  [Human Givens College]

It would seem that the Griffin & Tyrell’s Human Givens approach might have much to offer Emotions studies of historical Change, as well as for improving understandings of mental and spiritual well-being within many different cultures and social groups, both historical and modern.

Dream Theory & the creative arts

 

But let’s now look at that area of History of Emotions studies that is concerned with the creative arts, whether literary, visual or aural, crafted or performed. Griffin’s theory of Dreams and the REM-state explains how the mind’s capacity to pattern-match, to resolve emotionally charged expectations by means of Metaphors, is the fundamental human resource that enables the power of music, drama and art-works of all kinds. Griffin’s model places Metaphor and Story-telling at the centre of human processing of intense emotions. It therefore offers an evolutionary, biological and psychological underpinning to the creative arts, as well as to emotional engagement with daily life, social interactions and major events throughout history.

Waking access to the REM-state offers a scientific model for religious visions, artistic creativity, historical events that appear to evidence mass-emotions etc. Specific historical phenomena featuring in CHE’s investigations (histories of religion, witchcraft, historical attitudes towards soul/mind/body, emotional connections that shape the modern) would appear to be case studies for which Griffin’s model may offer a theoretical framework.

With its explanation of the fundamental significance of Dreams and Metaphors, Griffin’s work offers a theoretical underpinning for literature, music, fine art and indeed almost any human cultural expression, as well as for experiences of religious visions or demonic voices. It links metaphors and emotions to mental well-being. It also explains the observed susceptibility of highly creative individuals to mental illness. I suggest that it is highly relevant, indeed that it could become a keystone for History of Emotions studies.

Dream Theory & the Australian Centre for the History of Emotions

For CHE in particular, there are two additional features of the theory that are highly attractive. The theory offers a profound and subtly different understanding of mental illness, in particular Depression, in which sleep disturbance (typically, greatly increased amounts of REM sleep) is not merely a symptom, but rather is the major cause of loss of energy, drive and enthusiasm whilst awake. It explains why Depression is increasingly prevalent in modern societies. It explains why treatment with anti-depressant drugs is only slightly more effective than placebos, and shows how to re-focus talking therapies most effectively.
 Dreamtime Ku-ring-gai_Chase_-_petroglyph
And of course, Dream-Time is where history, religion, arts, performance and social well-being meet in Australian native culture.
I believe that Griffin’s work might provide a framework that could allow CHE to tell a compelling story, a story that could be relevant to Australians from all walks of life, and appreciated even by politicians and fund-holders.
A new, profound yet elegantly simple scientific theory supports all kinds of varied, detailed historical research across many humanities disciplines. New insights relate Early Modern History to modern life, offering simple and inexpensive ways to improve the mental well-being and quality of life of the entire population. There is a special connection to Australia and to native Australians, whose culture preserves a beautiful metaphor of the modern theory in their ancestral Dreaming.
I think CHE could be proud to tell such a story.
Dreamtime

New Investigations with Dream Theory

Meanwhile, in practical terms, I’m confident that Griffin’s work can provide illuminating insights for many investigators. It certainly has for me. Dream Theory has meshed perfectly with my current CHE investigation into Enargeia (the emotional power of detailed visual descriptions, linked to so-called ‘word-painting’ in early operas, and to Shakespeare’s spoken evocations of imagined scenes, performed on the bare stage of the Globe Theatre).
Enargeia
And Griffin’s ideas about the REM-state have sparked off two new projects:

Accessing Super-Creativity: May the Flow be with you!

 

I hypothesise that Flow, as described by Csikzentmihalyi, is an Altered State of Consciousness, which can be understood within the Griffin model of the REM-state. I link Flow also to Eriksonian hypnosis and Ericsson’s Deliberate Practice.

My aim is to build on existing work, and draw on my differing personal experiences of Flow as an elite performer (music), professionally competent sailor, and elementary student (fencing), in order to develop exercises, teaching techniques, training conditions and rehearsal methodologies that facilitate entry into Flow.

Accessing Super-Creativity

The Theatre of Dreams: 

Operatic Performance as an Early-modern REM-state Activator

 

Period performance practices around the year 1600 show a strikingly close correlation to known gateways into trance (e.g. Ericksonian hypnosis).

Working from Griffin’s model of the REM-state as the “theatre of dreams”, I hypothesise that singers in the first operas were inducing their audiences into an Altered State of Consciousness by means of regular rhythm, particular patterns of speech, persuasive suggestion and authoritative commands, in which deep relaxation in slow rhythm was mixed with sharp calls for attention.

In the REM-state, audience members would be highly susceptible to the metaphors and story-telling of 17th-century drama, which might well then succeed in ‘moving the passions’.

The Theatre of Dreams

You can read more about all these research strands within my investigations for CHE here. 

Please join me on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/andrew.lawrenceking.9 and visit our website www.TheHarpConsort.com .

Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago, and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions.