Month: April 2010

Paul McKenna and Me 5: Birthday

By the time I got to the Ibis Hotel on my birthday, I had a really strong sense of expectation going through my body.  I was wired, and I wasn’t sure why.

A friend had given me a little cake with a single candle in it for me to have that day, and I had brought it with me, a little physical reminder that life is sweet. There was a bustle around me of people, and that strangely growing sense of excitement that was inside me was starting to bubble up. My senses were all switched on in a way that I hadn’t had since maybe I was a kid.

The training started in the usual way – with a lot of joy.  Paul did his thing on stage. Getting us to laugh and enjoy ourselves. Getting us to deal with stuff, and telling stories about treatments he had done on people. Then he demonstrated a technique called swish patterning and asked us to go ahead and perform it on each other.

I’d had a little nagging voice in my mind that had started to tell me that I was going to speak with Paul that day.  That I was going to make a change. And so it happened that when we broke to do the exercise, I went over to him and said:

“Paul, can you use this technique on creativity? Because I’ve had writer’s block for 13 years and it’s been a complete fucking nightmare.”

“Yes, yes, absolutely,” he said. “I’ll get you up in the next session. Great stuff.”

What was weird was that it was like I had stepped out of myself when I asked him. It was as if I was now entering a different reality, by simply seizing a moment and acting on it. I went and did the swish pattern exercise we were shown with a growing sense of anticipation. There was a weight of expectation pushing me from the inside. Paul’s reputation, the changes he was able to make in people, the results he got. My remembrances of seeing him on the box, of considering writing to him to see if he could help my mother, all of that history of being aware of him as a public figure – likeable but aloof – seemed in that moment to crystallise.  Wow. He was going to do some stuff with me.
When we resumed our seats he started a preamble in which he explained that the technique he was demonstrating could be used for all sorts of applications. It could certainly be used with creativity. As he spoke, he gave me a friendly and reassuring smile, I remember clearly his pale face, and the eyebrows raised, the head nodding slightly, a friendly smile on his face.  And then he called me up on the stage and asked me to sit next to him.  He was on my left hand side, and he began to ask me what it was that I used to write.

I told him that I used to be a scriptwriter for The Bill but that things had fallen apart and I had stopped writing.  He talked a lot about tv shows and how he loves police dramas.  He told me one of his favourite cop shows was The Shield, and I found myself, as he talked, becoming slightly disoriented.  He wasn’t particularly doing anything, it seemed to me, but the unfamiliar experience of being on stage, his talking, the bright lights in my face seemed to make me glaze over a little.

“Tell me, what do you do when you sit down to write, now?” he asked.

“Well, it’s like I can’t make a decision.  I start to write a word, and before I have even got to the end of the word I ask myself should it be this word or this word. Why this word? And I start again.  I never get anything done…”

He told me about the Walt Disney creativity strategy. He said that it was vital that the Creator should be allowed to create without any intervention. Walt Disney had a special room for being creative where anything was allowed.  That is the room of dreams and invention. Then, when the Creator was finished for a while, he would take the work to another room, which was the room for the Realist, who would sit and work out whether or not the story hung together and had a realistic chance of working. It might then go back to the Creator for more work.  Only when most of the work was done, would the script be taken to the room of the Critic.  The Critic was there just to make sure that all the edges were rounded off, and that everything work properly.  Once again, the Critic might send the work back to the Creator.  But in the creative room the Critic was not allowed.

I nodded, seeming to understand what this was about.  It was about switching off critical voices.  Then he asked me if there was a particular event that had really caused the whole block to happen.

“There is,” I said. “I had an argument with a girlfriend,” I lifted my hand as if to gesture that there was an image of her there, in front of me.  He put his hand exactly where I had just put mine and said:

“Just there?”

I nodded, and he quickly pulled “the image” away towards the far end of the stage.  It was deeply disorienting.  It really was as if the picture I held of her in my mind was shrinking down.  He quickly asked me if she had said anything in the argument.  She hadn’t really said anything special.  She was Spanish, and she had just shown disapproval. But the sentiment I had got from her was that my work was complete crap.  I told him: “She said my work was a load of shit.”

He mimicked the sentiment in his comedy voice over and over again. It was utterly ridiculous to hear that sentiment said in that voice, and I laughed out loud.

Paul then walked back to me across the stage and got me to perform an NLP swish pattern on my belief in myself as a writer. There was a thing I was certain about, like the sun would come up tomorrow, right?  Where, he asked me, in my field of vision did I experience it. I pointed straight ahead.  And when I saw myself as a successful writer, where did I visualise that? It was in another place.  He quickly got me to fire the image of me as a writer off onto the horizon, then brought it back in right in front of my eyes.  We repeated the exercise several times, and then, again, he moved me on to more of the process.

Then he told me to go into trance quickly. Relaxing down. I was pretty disoriented at this point, and I found myself gladly going down at speed.  He was acting with real pace, now.

He told me to take myself back to a time when I was really deeply creative, and to go inside and really experience that memory again, now.  To get the feeling from the visuals, to make it real, and to experience it all over again. Then, when I had built up that creativity in my mind so that it was strong, he asked me to do the same with other memories.  To build up the creative feeling so that it was really strong inside me.  I can remember, in my heightened consciousness, doing the classic squeezed finger anchor so that I could get this feeling back when I wanted to. It was weird though, because my head was spinning like mad at the same time.

Then he asked me to go down deeper in my trance, and to go along a corridor in my mind, until I found the door marked “Control Room”.  I opened the door and went inside, and he told me to find the control panel marked “Creativity”. I found it, and it was covered in dust. There was a dial on it, that I could turn. He asked me what level my creativity was at now, on a scale of 1 to 100, where 1 was low and 100 was high.  “About five,” I replied.

“Okay, so I want you to turn it up.  Turn up the dial, keep it going.  Keep it building up and up.”

It was weird, it was like I could hear machinery starting to turn.  After a while he asked me:  “What level is it at now?”

“About 15.”

“Okay, well I want you to double it.  Got that?”

I nodded.

“Now double it again.”

He walked away from me, I could hear him going down the stage, giving the audience the show that they wanted, too.

I visualised lights stacked one on top of another in two square columns on either side of the control panel – like something out of Star Trek.  Each square light lit up, one after another and I seemed to be in a room of utter stillness, while at the same time I was on stage in a hotel conference room in London.  I could hear Paul’s voice in the distance…

Then I felt something start inside me. A great big welling up of grief that rose up through my body, flooding my mind with despair, pain, anger, frustration and hatred.  I tried to control it and push it down – but it rose up and up – higher and higher until I let out a lonely, desperate cry  and opened my eyes a little to see a tableau: Paul, whirled around on his heel staring at me, leant forward, watching my face, and out, beyond the lights, the audience in utter silence, some with their jaws dropped.

I wept, loudly and uncontrollably. The anger, the hatred I had nursed for the deal I had somehow got out of life, the broken dreams, smashed aspirations – all of this now surfaced – everything I had ignored for so long as I coped with life. My dreams. My hopes. They were twisted things, it seemed – crushed by life and by my own mistakes.

Paul moved quickly.  “I can see this means a lot to you,” he said and then came in close.

“I’m going to tell you how to get rid of this once and for all,” he said.  “Here’s how to do it.  I want you to hold out your hand and visualise all the bad feeling coming out of you and gathering in a ball on your hand. Do that now.”

I did as he said, imagining all the badness coalescing there, on my hand, a great swirling mass of malice.

“What colour is it?” he asked.

“Black,” I answered.

“Well, keep it coming.  And don’t you dare stop until every last piece of bad feeling is on your hand.  And when you feel the last piece of badness come out from you, I want you to nod…”

I sat there for what seemed an eternity, visualising all this ill feeling coming out of me.  I was desperate.  I felt so deeply alone on the stage, and utterly miserable as more and more of this blackness gathered itself in an imagined ball on my hand.

Meanwhile, another part of my mind was saying: “This is bullshit.  This is complete bullshit.  Utter bollocks.”  And still the blackness swirled.

Then, Paul asked me again: “Is that all of it?”

I nodded, and before I could think of anything else, he knocked my hand so that the ball fell to the floor, and then he stamped where it fell.

And it was then that I knew that something strange was going on in my head.

Because as he stamped, at that very point, I saw a huge pool of black ink splash and then spread across the stage.  The hallucination was so powerful that I blinked two or three times to make sure that my eyes weren’t deceiving me.  And it was still there, but overlaid on it was the real stage, the blue floor and Paul, looking at me.

I sat back in my chair, as if I was exhausted, wondering what would happen next.

Paul McKenna and Me 4: Laughter and Dreams

The effect of the training was cumulative over the days of the Practitioner course.  One of the things that Paul McKenna would do with us in the morning was to get us all to laugh heartily.  It was fascinating watching him do it.  There’s no doubting his natural facility to play the crowd, which I think he had partially learned from experience, but which was also just a part of him. Those years as a disc jockey, then the stage and tv hypnotism had given him this excellent aura, and a supreme confidence in working the audience. So often I had the sense of watching a brilliant showman doing what he did best.

Paul McKenna, master of mass communication

The laughter sessions took different forms.  We were tranced into humour at times, with Paul taking us in our minds to a castle of laughs where we were shown to the dungeon.  In it, there was a crazed scientist who approached us and told us: “I heff vays of makink you laugh”.  And with a progressively hysterical and crazed trance, in which Paul led us by going there first, we found the place in ourselves from which we laughed really strongly, and then shown how to capture that laugh so that we could unleash it whenever we wanted with the use of an imaginary laughter button.  It was a genie in the bottle, a piece of magic that we could conjure when we wanted it.

At other times, Paul would simply demonstrate on a subject one of the NLP techniques we were there to learn, and we would follow along.  He always managed to make their problems seem ridiculous.  Not just to us, but more importantly to themselves. We had entered an alternative world in which problems were dissolved away in minutes.  Meanwhile, Richard Bandler continued his training, telling long looping stories that never quite finished.  Rip-roaring tales of confronting people who wanted to pick a fight with him, mentioning the names of people he had met.  Buckminster Fuller, Anton Wilson, Gregory Bateson, Milton H Erickson, Stephen King and Gerald Schwartz – a man who was convinced that he was Jesus Christ, until Richard had his way.  And always there was humour in these tales.

We laughed a lot that week.  We started the days laughing.  During the mornings and afternoons we oscillated between learning new techniques and then practising them on ourselves and others.  And what was fascinating about it was that when we did the techniques for getting rid of rubbish from the past, for setting goals for the future, for getting rid of bad emotions quickly, then even though we were practising them, the psychological effect just seemed to grow and grow inside of us.

I remember going out with people I met on the course late into the night, then getting home to the place where I was staying and going to bed, and just like on that first night, finding it difficult to sleep at all.  Waking with a start into the silent hours of the London night, and seeing the clock hands wind slowly by.  Waking and reading, and then drifting off, but being so emotionally heightened that sleep could not claim me easily – as if I was standing on the shore in the night, but unable to easily launch into the sea of dreams.

When dreams did come, they were odd, for sure.  I experienced the strangest dreams, and at times I awoke from them aware that they were having the strangest effects.  One time, a dream just seemed to stay with me in the waking state, as if the boundary between the world of sleep and the world of the conscious day had started to collapse.  The images of the dream were overlaid on my waking field of vision. At other times, I was consciously aware of a mad rush of dream images flashing before my eyes as I brought the hurtling images of dreamland and all its high speed processing back into the world of the wakeful – image on image on image piling in front of my eyes rather than fading in the daylight, like a kaleidoscope of other worlds and other symbols.

The emotional effect was instantly noticeable.  We had repeatedly done swish patterns and submodality work to make our problems smaller and further away.  We did hypnosis to take us into trance, and we did spinning to build up and stack good feelings on good feelings.  And then there was more and more laughter.

I began to lose track of time.  I awoke, I caught the bus and the train and ended up at the hotel.  For the first few days I wasn’t bothered by what time I arrived, but as the days went by, I found myself increasingly keen to arrive early and get in the front row.  To watch the hypnotists close up and see the changes they were making.  There were times when we seemed to be waiting with our faces pressed against the glass of the lobby doors, excited to sign in and find our places on the front rows, as if the trancey effects of hypnosis on stage might spill out on us because we were nearer the front.

At times I caught women in the bar after the day’s session fantasising about the trainers.  “Which one do you fancy?”  “Paul, definitely Paul.”  “Oh, for me it’s Michael Neill.”  “What about Richard?” “Richard, he’s an old man..!”  “Yes, but so sexy.  So commanding.”  “Yes, but what about all three of them?!”  The woman who spoke’s eyes lit up, and the other three she was talking with squealed with delight.

“Oooh, yes.”

And the days went on.  On my way to the hotel in the morning, I found myself smiling at strangers on the tube, and laughing at the ridiculousness of the world.  The pointless huddle in the rattling carriages.  On the second day, I saw a woman weeping on the underground.  A pretty, darkhaired woman, several months pregnant, and looking desperate.  Tears making her mascara run. And I wished I could go over to her and do what Richard had done with the women on the first day – except that I didn’t yet know how to make the changes he was going to show us how to make.  I got off the train and smiled at her, and even that act she seemed grateful to me for.  But, I thought, how much more amazing could I have been, if only I had know what to do?

And all the time, Paul and Michael Neill and Richard Bandler worked on us.  And it felt as if, in all of us, there was the unravelling of a ball of knotted wool, the unfurling of a flower, the opening of our hearts, as our minds and our beings became attuned to better things than what we had known before.  This was a new world we were moving in, it seemed.  A world of bright fun and joy, a world of optimism.  A world of laughter.

And still the days rolled on, until I woke up one day and it was my 40th birthday.

And I had the strangest feeling that on that very day, my life was going to change.

For Sale: One Motorhome Filled With Good Will

Okay, so there are pitfalls to buying online – and I guess this is my place to let you know all about it.

I’m always one for a deal.  I like to do deals, and I like to make a little bit of money.  The best deals are the ones where you make a phone call and you sell something you don’t yet have – they’re fun.  But then there are the other deals where you buy something, do it up a little bit, and move it on.

These usually go well for me.  But this one… well this one is one that I thought I’d let you know about so that you can maybe just learn a little lesson at my expense.

I saw the motorhome on the website Gumtree, at a great price. I had sold a few that year and had a nice little reserve of money to play with.  And this one was a beauty, judging from the photos.  Not the rusty hulks that I had been dealing in before, but a really nice van.

So, I gave the number a call, and I got through to this Irish woman called Kathleen, and she told me that I should ring another number because her boyfriend, Tony, was dealing with the sale.  I had a chat with him.  He seemed easygoing enough, and when I asked him to send me the chassis number, he did so straight away.  I did an HPI check on the van… all was well and good.  So, could I come and see it?  I had the address for the place off of Gumtree.

“Ah,” he said to me, nice as pie.  “The thing is, we’ve just moved and Kath has put up the wrong address.”  He gave me another address in North London, and I agreed to meet him later that day.

So, up I drove.  We were in a car park on a council estate, and I looked at it with a little bit of something niggling at the back of my mind.  Why was it on a council estate?  And why was it so cheap?

Before I could even answer the questions Tony filled in the background.  “The van used to belong to my dad.  I’ve had it for about a year now, but it’s expensive to run and it’s a bit big for me.”  I looked at the back of the van where the faring had got a little crack.  To confirm my thoughts he said: “You see, I don’t back up so well.”

He was a medium height guy, a bit taller than me, slightly fat with an unhealthy pale skin.  Tony told me all sorts of stuff: how he was a gardener, he didn’t earn much.  They had just been moved to the local area by the council, and they were in a tiny flat nearby.  He pointed to a building.  “What’s worse, I’ve got my little one in there, and he’s been running a temperature.  Don’t want to wake him.”

I looked over the van.  It was pretty clean and smart inside, and I liked the look of it.  Did he have the log book and the MOT?

“Oh, yes, got them just here.” He pulled them out for me to have a look at.  Yes, they all looked legit.  In all, a pretty nice motorhome at an affordable price.

“The truth is,” he said, “I just can’t keep taking days off work for people to come and have a look at it.  I’m up for selling it today, if the price is right.”

So, the paperwork was there, it all looked good enough for me.  And the address was for a different part of London – but – hey – they’d just moved, right?

My radar clearly wasn’t working that day.  In the end, I handed over the figure we agreed, in cash, and I asked for a receipt.  He looked embarrassed.

“I don’t write so well,” he said.  “Can you write one up for me?  I’ll sign it…”

So, sure, I would do that.  I felt kind of concerned for him.  You know, he clearly hadn’t been given the best breaks.  And when he asked me to fill in the Log Book too, I thought: “Great, I’ll just keep hold of this for a while. Won’t be long before I sell it, so why put on an extra owner?  I mean, I’ll have shifted it in the week – then I’ll be well ahead!”

And so the deal was done in quick order.  I drove it home and booked it into a body shop to get it tidied up – get the cracked faring sorted, get it valeted and get it sold.

This is when I started having problems.  The first one was that the body shop took forever to get it into the shop.  And then it took forever to do the work.  I went down week after week – whenever I could – and the thing just didn’t have any work done on it.  Christmas came and went.  And then the new year came.  By February I was getting desperate.

And something else was going on, too.  It was that, every few weeks I would wake up from a dream with a really unpleasant feeling that there was something wrong with the van…  I did three more HPI checks, and it still showed as okay.  But I still wasn’t convinced.  I double checked the MOT.  It was also legitimate.  Then I double checked the mileage on the MOT.  It was wrong.  The MOT had an extra 30,000 miles on the clock reading.

I rang a mechanic friend of mine.  “There are lots of reasons why it might be wrong.  It could have been clocked – or the original odometer might have broken, so they got one from a scrappy.  I shouldn’t worry about it.”

But I did worry about it.  So I checked the VIN plate.  Except there wasn’t a VIN plate.  It had clearly been pulled off.

Once again, my mechanic friend was reassuring.  “Sometimes this comes off when the front cross bar has to be taken off.  Taking out a radiator, or the van having a knock on the front could do that.  It doesn’t mean it’s hooky.  But there is another chassis number stamped into the chassis by the driver’s side foot well.  There’s a cover there. Take it off.  You’ll see.

And sure enough, when I checked, there was the chassis number – correct as per the log book and the HPI check…

So why did I still wake up feeling so damned uncomfortable about it?

Eventually the body shop finished the job tidying up the paintwork and valetting the car.  I got it home and it looked a stunner.  A really nice van.  but once again the feeling had me waking up with a deep suspicion inside me.  I did one more HPI check.  This time something had changed.  The van showed 7 owners on the online check, whereas my logbook showed only 5 owners.  Now, something was wrong, and I knew it.

I took it to my mechanic friend again.  “Let me have a look at the chassis number,” he said.  He took a torch to it, and kept looking at it.  Something was clearly bugging him.

“I think we should take the footwell cover off,” he said.

We did so, and that’s when it all fitted together.  The chassis plate I hade been looking at had been stamped into a piece of metal that had been riveted over the real chassis number.  You couldn’t see what had been done unless you dismantled the footwell cover.  My friend looked at me:  “Oh dear,” he said to me.  “Matt, I’ve never seen anything like this before.  You paid a lot of money for it and… well, what can I say?  I feel for you…”

I had no idea what to do.  Someone had said to me previously when I had expressed doubts about it: “You bought it in good faith, you sell it in good faith.  If it’s hooky, it’s not your fault.”

But I knew that it was hooky, now.  I got in it, in a state of denial, took it back home, got in my other van and drove around for 20 minutes, wondering what to do.

It didn’t take me long to decide.  I’m not a criminal.  There had already been a lot of misery put into that van with its theft, and with my loss of money.  I didn’t think it would be fair to pass that misery and stress on.  It had to stop somewhere.  So, it was going to stop with me.

I walked into Havant nick with the logbook and the MOT certificate, rang the bell, and announced: “I’ve got a ringer for you.”

At first they didn’t believe me, until I told them all about how I bought it.  I had written down the real chassis number for them, and they checked it.  It did come back as belonging to a stolen van.

To cut a long story short, within the hour, a truck was towing it away to a pound.  And my investment of thousands was wiped out.  I looked at it as it was going up the road, and I started laughing.  The PC who was with me looked at me in surprise.

“You’re taking this very well,” he said.

“Well, it’s kind of a relief.  I mean, I took charge of this by coming into you and giving it up to you.  And that means quite a lot.  Besides, I’ve got two arms and two legs, and I know how to make money.  So these thousands I’ve spent on it I can earn back a different way.  The thing to do is focus on getting on with making it, rather than crying over spilt milk.”

Yes, I really did say that.  And I even meant it!

The officer was impressed.  A few hours later he rang me from the nick.

“I’ve done some enquiries,” he said.  “Turns out that the owner never claimed on the insurance.  I’ve spoken to him, and he wants to talk with you.  His name’s Malcolm Stewart.  He’s an ex-Met copper.”

I duly rang.  I liked Malcolm immediately I heard his voice.   He had a proposition for me:

“The thing is, I never reclaimed the insurance because I have been dealing with my mum, who hasn’t been well.  I always hoped I’d get it back.  But a few weeks ago I gave up and bought a replacement.  So, now I’ve got a spare van.  I’m going to sell the nicked one, do you want to buy it?  You can have it for 6 grand…”

It was tempting, but to be frank, I’d done my money on it.  I told him so.  “But,” I said, “If you agree to it, I’ll act as your agent, get you your 6 grand – and anything over, I’ll keep.”

“There it is,” he said.  “Sorted.”

It was an interesting scenario.  I had lost quite a lot of money, but I had a lot of good will from the owner.  I had a mental image of myself as a kind of psychological valet, taking all the misery out of the van, all the anger about the theft, all the disappointment about my loss of money – and filling the van with something bright and positive.  Good will.  I had filled the van with good will.

So, here it is: one van, secondhand, well used.  Great for holidays – and filled with something you don’t find too often.

Good feelings.

Now, where else can you buy those?

Paul McKenna and Me 3: Trance Journey

And so the training commenced, each day usually following a similar pattern:  Richard Bandler frequently taking the stage in the morning and regaling us with stories that were outlandish, but just feasible.  Tales of schizophrenics cured by meeting them in their model of the world and then taking the logic of their model to the limit.  Tales of Richard discovering how some of the world’s masters in personal change did what they did.  Tales of liberation, of hope, of laughter, of violence and irreverence.  Story on story on story – scintillating, shifting, continually holding our attention and taking our minds down new paths that we hadn’t previously considered.  And underneath it all, a continual message telling us how to make the problems that we might face in our lives feel less relevant, less obstructive, less real.  And patterning, with his talk and with his jokes, a new way of thinking.

It was as if Richard Bandler, in the weaving of his stories was weaving for each of us an alternative reality.  Getting us to make connections in places that we wouldn’t previously have made connections – so that the things that seemed at one point able to hold us back were somehow no longer important, while at the same time those previous “blocks” offered us new opportunities to grow and to expand as people.  We were shown how to seize new opportunities as they came to hand, and to live a life in full rich Technicolor, with opportunities continually opening themselves to our minds.  Realising that where we thought there was only one option, one way to behave, there was a multitude of choices, and that it was down to us to take the most useful ones. But Richard actually said very little of this.  He just told stories, stories and more stories about the way the world is, could be and will be.

A trance journey through a frozen landscape

His lessons were hypnotic, scintillating, captivating, hilarious and uplifting.  At the end of the morning session on the first day I already felt a sense of complete wonderment at what I was experiencing.  This from me: the guy who had been the compulsive mistruster, the analyser who took things to pieces.

It felt to me as if, at last, I was having the academic approach to life that had been drummed into me at university, finally and irrevocably dismantled.  It was wonderful.  A liberation and a wow factor.  An adventure and a realisation.  All in a hotel conference room in London.

In the afternoon, Paul McKenna and life coach Michael Neill worked with us.  Paul continually worked up the feel-good factor inside of us – teaching us how to make ourselves laugh whenever we wanted to, taking ourselves to a place of comfort and ease at the centre of our beings where all things were possible.  He spent time showing us how to laugh ecstatically at life in general, an approach that he was to do each and every day.  How good ten minutes of laughter is for the soul!  I had had no idea, that just by choosing to laugh I could take control of so much more of my life.  As if the chemicals that were released in my brain at such ecstatic and delirious moments could somehow dissolve the pain of the previous years.  Dissolve my frustrations, dissolve my limitations and cause the brain to somehow reboot and start running more positive, delightful life-oriented routines and sub-routines.  Life was just brighter and more fun.  The realisation grew in me each day.

The process was disorienting, too.  At the end of the first day, Paul did something that he was to repeat every day: a trance.  Talking in his hypnotic voice, taking us down through layers of relaxation to a place of stillness and quiet where the creative, imaginative and regenerative processes of life could start to provide a new interpretation.

I remember, on my first day, as Paul wound up the afternoon session, he invited us to go into trance in our chairs.  I had done this so many time before with the CD and with Paul’s voice, that I thought it would just be another CD session – but with the novelty of Paul actually being there.  Just a little chance to let myself relax deeply.

And so he began to talk, and he went through the usual routines of getting us to relax, and count backwards from three hundred, and getting us to notice words, to notice noticing words… and so on.

After a while I was moving through a snowbound landscape.  I was on a sleigh being pulled along a road, and on either side of the road or country track, were icebound trees glistening in the blue light of the ice blue sky.  Everything around me was still, and strange, and silent, and frozen –  a frozen landscape that was beautiful.  And the sleigh moved on in the snow, and I could feel the cold wind against my skin, and there was a blue line across the horizon, a thin pale blue line in the pale blue snow that was the horizon.  And on the horizon was a building – perhaps a dacha or a house – I don’t know what it was, but a building of some significance – and I was moving towards it in the snow.  I could hear my breathing in my ears, and the steady slide of the runners on the ice, and the gentle pad pad pad of the hooves in soft snow.  I travelled on, becoming aware of a sense of purpose that I didn’t understand.  A sense of feeling an emotion that was utterly true, utterly sure – and yet having no sense of what that emotion could be attached to – except to the blue landscape, and the cold snow stretching smooth away for miles beyond the trees lining the track. There was no danger here, only the place itself, moving by me, not fast, not slow, just a steady dream-like glide.  I seemed to be travelling for hours, wrapped in furs.  And I felt a deep sense of calm and contentment, a detached focus, in a way that I had not done for years…

Quickly the scene faded, and I was back in the training room again, and Paul was winding up his hypnotic induction.

I was staring at the carpet beneath my feet – a rich red and green in contrast to the blue white that I had been experiencing.  I didn’t know where I was for maybe ten seconds, because that other snowbound world had seemed so very real – and this one, this one was the dream.  I tried for a moment to draw the other place back into reality, but then realised that this was the reality that I was to have, now, and that other had melted away – its images as strong in my memory as joy in childhood.

It was a moment of deep deep trance in which – I don’t know – maybe I had started dreaming. I had never known anything like it before, this waking dream.  It was amazing.

When I went home that night and got into bed I couldn’t sleep for hours, lying and staring at the wall, and feeling energised and vibrant.  Eventually, I closed my eyes and slept for about two hours and awoke refreshed and contented.

Something new was going on in my mind.

And boy did it feel good.

Paul McKenna and Me 2: Sudden Change

The fact was that I had no idea what the NLP Practitioner Course was going to give me. It’s true that I did a bit of research online before I booked, and saw the slick presentation reels Paul McKenna’s company had posted on Youtube. And in the build-up to the course, I did watch more of Paul McKenna’s tv shows. But the main thing I saw him doing was helping people to overcome stresses. I thought that was pretty cool, but I didn’t see any real benefit to me for all that. I mean, was I really the kind of guy who went around helping people to overcome things?

To be honest, it’s not what I saw in myself, when I looked.

Something else gave me mixed feelings. When I looked at the showreel for the course I was about to go on and saw people handling great big tarantulas that they had once been afraid of, I just didn’t believe that that could be me. I still had in mind the startling NLP stuff that Derren Brown had done with Simon Pegg on his Mind Control show. Getting Pegg to think that he had always wanted a red BMX for his birthday, when the week before he had actually written down that he wanted a leather jacket. Now THAT was what I wanted: to be a better persuader. So, the way I saw it, I was going there to learn some skills. Not change out of all recognition.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I suppose what I didn’t get at the time was that where I was starting from wasn’t really the person I was really about. My starting point was the starting point of someone who had been knocked about by life and who felt disillusioned and unhappy. A person who didn’t really feel a sense of responsibility to others because I had been struggling to make a living for myself in my business for the last 15 years, and I believed the world was all dog eat dog. I was a person who didn’t believe that it was worth following my dreams any more, because my dreams had been torn down and trodden on. None of this was consciously stated. I wasn’t going around doing self pity to strangers like some people do. I was just a pretty cynical guy, I guess.

But not entirely cynical, otherwise I woudn’t have gone on the course. The day came for the training, and still there was this other seed of optimism in me that I guess Paul’s Change Your Life book had planted. And so I turned up on the first day of the course, and went into the lobby at the Ibis Hotel, Earl’s Court, and saw all these smart and smiley NLP Assistants, and the people milling around waiting in the foyer for the doors to open.

I did a quick mingle to see what was going on with people there. There was a guy in business whose boss was a “black belt in NLP” as he called it. This I found reassuring. It was why I was there. But there were others who were looking for something more ethereal, I noticed. People who were there because they seemed to have washed up there, with no sense of direction. As if somehow the tide had drifted them into the Ibis, and they were blinking around themselves looking lost and uncertain.

Others wanted to be life coaches – a phrase which I had poured scorn on when I had first heard it a few months before: redolent as it was with what I considered to be an overly American and pointless occupation. I imagined someone standing at the sidelines at an American Football match, shouting instructions to me as I stood in full football armour with visored helmet, and had conversations with my parents or spoke to business acquaintances in this crazy getup. It was a phrase that didn’t make sense to me at all.

We registered and I went into the seminar room. There was a stage in front of me, with about 400 seats stretching back from it. Was this going to be a show? A really smart-looking guy with an expensive jacket and black polo neck jumper was sitting in the chair next to the one I chose on the front row. He was in his late forties, early fifties, trim and lean. I sat down and got talking with him.

“What did you come for?” I asked, trying to get my range on these people around me.

He looked at me in a friendly way and said: “Well, I don’t know if I’ll be here all week. I came here to get this book signed by Paul.” He held up a copy of I Can Make You Rich.” I just wanted the chance to meet him.”

I thought for a moment. Something wasn’t computing with me. This course cost well over two grand. And this guy had come here to get his book signed?

I think he caught the look on my face. “You see, the thing is, I did everything in this book, from beginning to end. I started two years ago. I am actually a fireman. And now I am a millionaire, as well.”

“But – er – how?” I asked, impressed and taken aback.

“By doing everything it says in the book over and over again. By being unrelenting in doing the NLP exercises, and making sure that you get everything in place. By changing the way you think about money.”

He explained to me that he had devised a computer programme that worked out the odds on bets, and that it somehow meant that you couldn’t lose. My cynical streak kicked in. I didn’t believe a word of it. But, he went on to add, now that he had made himself a cool million, he was looking for other people to turn into millionaires, too, as part of a programming to make more people wealthy. “It works on anything where there’s probability involved. It can be the horses or it can be the stock market. It doesn’t matter which. It always works.”

I still didn’t believe him. But he was doing something right. His Aston Martin he told me about so dreamily and his smart clothes told me that. This was a completely different reality to the one I had got used to. Was it possible? Really?

A woman sat on my lefthand side. She was pale and slim, with grey skin and a distracted look. She had pale strawberry blonde hair and a face that was drawn and tight. She kept biting her nails and looking around her, the concern on her face continuing all the time.

“God, I hope this was worth it,” she said. “God, I really hope this is worth it.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

She looked at me, hard. “It’s a lot of money… What if it doesn’t work?

I didn’t know what to say to that. It was a thought that had crossed my mind, too.

“Oh, it’ll be fine,” I muttered reassuringly. And before we could talk any further, music started filling the hall. It was the slightly spooky music that used to accompany the tv show The Hypnotic World of Paul McKenna – a little bit ethereal, raising the adrenalin in the blood and filling the world with a sense of possibilities. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” – a line from Hamlet seeming to sum up what that music was telling us. A voice announced:

“Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for Mr Paul McKenna!”

The audience burst into applause, and suddenly Paul was there, walking down the central aisle, with his arms outstretched, as if gathering up the good will from the audience. He went on stage and gave an introductory talk about what we were there to do. He explained that NLP was an amazing mind tool that could help people get more of what they wanted. He told us that we were going to go on an amazing journey over the course of the next seven days, and that there would be hypnosis involved. The audience giggled nervously, and he lampooned our fears before adding:

“Remember, you’re going to be in a room with three hypnotists for seven days… you bet you there are going to be changes in you.”

He then went on to explain that the way he taught NLP was to make sure that we can actually do it. The course wasn’t going to be a major theoretical study. “There are plenty of people out there who talk about NLP, but can’t do it,” he said. “We are interested in teaching you to drive the car, not learn how to take it apart into tiny little bits. That is not a skill that we teach. We want you to be able to actually do it, so that when you leave here at the end of the course you are a competent NLP Practitioner. We don’t need you to be able to sit with a client and tell him or her all the things you could do to help them. We want you to be able to make changes, in yourselves and others. That’s what makes our courses so special.”

His preamble went on a little longer, and then he said: “And now, I’d like you to meet someone who was my teacher, who has had a profound effect on my life, and is a great friend. He will be with you for the rest of the morning, and I will be back later. Ladies and gentlemen please put your hands together for Dr Richard Bandler. He raised his hand to welcome the newcomer.

As he did so, the opening notes to Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze piped through the sound system, and an older guy walked down the central aisle.

“Richard who?” I thought to myself.

I had never heard of this guy. Paul seemed to think that he was important though, and I noticed that there were people in the room who were giving him a standing ovation.

The guy got up on stage and I took my first impression of him. It was not good. Balding, with a ponytail. Yeuk! A series of remembrances of people who had never been able to acknowledge that they were losing their hair came to mind. And then there was the leather waistcoat and black jeans. “Hoo boy,” I thought to myself as the audience seated themselves. I noticed I had crossed my arms defensively.

Richard didn’t mess around with any preamble. He looked out into the audience and said:

“Is there anyone here who has a bad memory they really want to get rid of?”

The grey-skinned nervous woman next to me shot her hand up immediately. An Asian woman on the other side of the room did the same. Richard selected them both and said: “Would you come up here, and take a seat please?”

He sat with them and did a little check. Was this memory something that was causing them difficulties in their lives? Was it safe to get rid of the memory? He asked a few questions, and then asked the Asian woman how she experienced the memory. He did a short series of mental exercises on her, then looked at her intently for a few seconds. Her head dropped on her chest as if she had fallen asleep.

Where I sat on the front row, I took a breath. This was startling. No preamble, nothing. Just a hypnotic trance from nowhere.

He turned to the grey-skinned girl and asked her similar questions. When she experienced the memory, did she make a picture? Could she think about it, now?

He got up to address the audience, and then suddenly noticed that tears were starting in her eyes. “It’s okay,” he said acting very quickly, “think about something else now.” He strode over to her at high speed and suddenly, her head fell forward as she dropped into a trance.

The following 20 minutes were eye-opening. He worked quickly and effectively with both women, turning from one to the other, and then back again. He got them doing mental exercises while they were in this apparent dream-state, and put on the most ridiculous voices. There were moments when both were chuckling in their trance.

And then, suddenly, he was done. I watched the grey-skinned woman get up from the chair. She walked across the stage and down the steps with confidence and a swagger in her step, as if she had just woken from a long, restful sleep. I noticed that all the tension had gone from her face and that her skin was no longer the awful grey it had been before. As she came and sat next to me, giving me a huge beaming smile, I noted something else. Her eyes had changed colour. They were now a vibrant, sparkling blue, instead of the dull grey they had been before she sat down.

“Oh boy,” I thought. “Oh boy. This is something I’ve got to learn to do.”

The change had already started.