I was at a sleepover in elementary school when one of my friends suggested we do “light as a feather, stiff as a board.” One of us would sit in a big heavy dining room chair while the hostess stood behind us, rubbing our temples in slow circles. I wasn’t the first to volunteer, but I was amazed how easily the first girl went out. The rest of us gathered around her, stuck out the first two fingers of each hand, slipped them under her legs and butt, and raised her into the air a couple of inches. I remember it being so easy to do, as if she weighed nothing.
When it was my turn, I was sure nothing was going to happen. I felt like I resisted the rhythmic circles on my temples for a long time. Then, suddenly, I felt as if I slipped free of my body, soaring upward to the ceiling. I traveled through walls, spying on Lisa’s older sister reading a book in her room and her dad, who was watching TV. I felt like I was a ghost.
That was the first time I’d been put into a trance.
The second time was twenty years later, when I went to a Black Sun ritual in San Francisco. After the ritual theater part ended, the drumming began. Four men stood around a huge drum. It sounded like thunder, amidst a driving rainstorm made by the smaller drums.
Unable to resist the beat, I moved up to the fringes of the crowd. Several times, as I danced, I felt myself move forward, as if my soul stepped away from my body. Each time, my vision shifted six inches or so in front of my glasses. It was scary. Each time I thought, I am going into a trance, and made a panicked grab at the tail end of my spirit, hauling it back into my body. I was afraid to lose control of myself in this crowd of strangers.
When the evening finally came to a stop, I felt giddy, lightened, transformed.
So admittedly I had some baggage when I signed up for Jenny Bitner’s Trance Writing class in February. At that point, I was really struggling with my writing. I wanted to revise a novel, but it needed a lot of work. I felt as if I kept glancing off of the book, unable to sink in and concentrate and do the new writing I needed to do in order to make it come alive.
I wasn’t sure what to expect with the class. I knew Jenny from an online writing group she’d organized once the pandemic lockdown got underway last year. I knew she taught writing (and she’d taught the Trance Writing class several times) at the Writers Grotto. I trusted her to be gentle with us. I was also skeptical that listening to someone over Zoom was going to have any effect on me at all.
Boy, was I wrong.
I still don’t entirely understand what hypnosis is, other than fun I can have with my brain. I’m not sure why listening to the even cadences of someone’s voice through my earpods can unleash my imagination. But Jenny would hypnotize the class several times every class session, using a combination of focused attention, repetitive actions, physical relaxation, surprising phrasing, and visualizations.
Even though I was doubtful, I saw visions. I reached breakthroughs on my book. I wrote some really lovely pieces that I had struggled with previously. I also learned some techniques that I hope will serve me as I slog forward through this book.
One of my favorite exercises came early on in the class, when Jenny asked us to imagine a place where we could go for inspiration, a place where the writing would flow effortlessly. I immediately thought of the Gilchrist Retreat Center, where I’ve spent many happy days writing. I’d been lamenting that I didn’t know when (if ever) I would be able to get back to Gilchrist in person, but Jenny gave me permission to go there in my imagination whenever I needed to.
It sounds silly now as I write it, but that permission was magical. I could see myself sitting at the table, notebook in front of me, gazing out at the wildflower meadow. I had the sense of the cottage at my back and the dark woods surrounding it, like the shadows of my subconscious mind ready to feed me everything I needed. Ahead of me lay the meadow in the sunlight, full of birdsong and butterflies. I could do this, I realized. I could finish this book. The way forward was clear.
Of course, realizing I had the capacity to do the work — and actually doing the work — are two separate things. I have really packed my days full lately and not left myself much time to create. I need to address that imbalance next.
Jenny’s Trance Writing class ended last Sunday. I’m not sure when she is going to offer it again, but I truly feel like a different person now than I was when I started in February, in the best possible way. I feel more in touch with my imagination than I have at any point in the last 15 months. I feel less overwhelmed by this novel, less afraid of it. I think, finally, I am ready to get to work.
Feel free to ask me questions about the class or contact Jenny directly through her website at https://www.imagine-change.org/.