I’m back.

It’s been a little while since I wrote my blog, for a pretty good reason.

I’ve been away. I’ve got a lot to tell you about the things that I’ve been doing, but as a starting point, let me give you an overview of some of the great things that have been going on in my life.

Firstly, discovering France.

Okay, so I didn’t discover France; there are tens of million people there already. But really I discovered that France is okay. In fact, better than okay, it’s stupendous. I have become a Frogophile.

Then there was going up mountains, and jumping off them, and jumping into glacial meltwater and bobbing down rapids without any boat, and avoiding the rocks, and swirling in eddies and feeling the delicious joy of just cutting loose and finding out where the current takes me.

Cooking breakfast at the top of Monte Rose
Breakfast in high places

I found out more about the joyous sunshine that is caught in bottles of wine – and seeing how the genies that live in them grow on mountain slopes, on hills, in valleys – fattening in the summer sun, before that sunshine is trapped in a bottle and stoppered up with wood.

I ate snails before a thunderstorm and the next day watched others  promenade with their shells in the rain, and I stood eye to eye with oxen so big and so beautiful that they looked like drawings of animals; as if a cartoonist had thought: “Now, how do I make this creature look big, soft, huggable – and powerful all at once?”

I climbed into a volcano, and watched a silent sea of ice in its frozen flow down a mountainside. I saw the specks of mountain climbers and walkers moving beneath me on the ice as I hung from a cable above them.

I saw the palace a postman built straight out of his imagination, and the palace a river built from rain and lime, hidden in the darkest, clearest caves.

I have got so much to tell you about how life is amazing. And in due time I will do, now I’m back from my travels.

Thanks for bearing with me!

Paul McKenna and Me 8: The Filters of Perception

The confusion I felt on that day continued into the evening.  The night floated by like a dream, and I felt a sense of dislocation from my body, as if I was newly fitted into this flesh, and didn’t quite know how it worked yet.

Perceptions and Perspectives...

And so it was, in this little dream that I found myself meeting up with friends in a little restaurant in Chinatown, and sitting having a meal.  I was off my head, it seems.  The evening floated by and I struggled to engage with my pals. It was as if, as the old phrase goes, the lights were on but noone was home.  The thing is, it was as if I wasn’t even in my own home.  I felt as if I had woken up and I was in a house that someone else had been living in for a long time.  I wandered around, wondering who had moved the furniture round, who had been using the place for so long.  The sense of alienation was quite strange.  Metaphorically, it felt like my body was heavier than I remembered it when I last used it, and whoever had been in here had not really looked after it.  I had muscles that I hadn’t used for ages, that I didn’t even know how to work any more.  Potential lurking. A swirl of uncertainties, as the old story I had told about myself for so long had gone.

Again, I felt how I imagine a prisoner might feel when released on to the streets after a long stretch inside.  The hometown is the same, but that house has been knocked down, this one has been extended, another one has a tree in the garden that has grown and grown.  It was familiar territory, but all new at the same time.

And the same was true of my friends.  For a while I felt as if I wasn’t really connecting with them.  My mind was filled with the trainings I had had with Paul, Richard and Michael – and I seemed to not really “get” what these guys were telling me.  We sat and had our food, and the evening drifted by before I said goodbye to these dear friends and made my way home.  It was my first journey out in public after the hypnosis, and it felt weird.

I slept at Nicola’s house that night, who had been acting as my host for the week.  And I slept lightly, with my mind overwhelmed.  And I woke up troubled and highly sensitive and went back into the training across London, bemused.  Moving in a dream.  Confused.

Back in the training room on the Thursday morning, people came up to me and asked how I was doing.  I felt shaky and uneasy.  People speaking to me was a kind of a pain, and I told them in no uncertain terms that I needed to be left alone.  Someone even, bizarrely, asked me for an autograph, saying that their kids loved “The Bill” and they wanted to give them a little keepsake.

A friend in the room, George, came and sat next to me.  He looked at me in concern and I answered his questions in a desultory and staccato manner.  After a few minutes, as the lesson started, I realised that I couldn’t go on.

I slipped out of the room and disappeared into the streets of Earl’s Court, down through the market on a bright sunny spring day, the air bright and fresh and cold around me.  The sounds on the streets, the rumble of the buses, the squeak of the taxis’ brakes, the press of people with their beating hearts and the patt-patter of their feet on the concrete, the reflection of early morning sunlight off the deep red edifices of London buses, swinging by in a golden arc on the walls, the cracks in the paving slabs, the succulent flesh of brightly glowing oranges like balls of flame on the market stalls, the soft yellow of bananas, the mangos with rich and sweet pungent smells, the people all around me: Lebanese, English, Arab, African, European – moving like ants, like the swirl of water, like air, touched with fire, alive, shining, bright.  I was overwhelmed with a torrent of impressions and sensations, as if someone had torn off the filters of perception into my mind and the whole, rich world was pouring in one single, sensuous, crazy hit.  I was going mad.  The world was brighter, and brighter still, and the sharp edges of buildings, of cars, of people’s faces seemed to have been drawn with the finest pen, or engraved in the air – hard – sharp – clear – more real than I had ever experienced before.  The world was pushing in on my senses, moving closer and closer, and I felt myself struggling to breathe.

I pushed on down the streets, my movements jerky as if I was a machine.  The soft machine, the blood-filled, heartbeating, airbreathing, lifetasting machine with a driver at its top.  It was a dream and hyper-real.  It was everywhere and nowhere.

I walked the streets a while longer and then returned to the Ibis Hotel. I remembered that I had tried to write a letter to Paul McKenna that morning, telling him that something had gone wrong with what he had done. Telling him that I felt weepy and weird.  But I had not been able to string a sentence together.  I was sure, so sure, that something had gone terribly wrong.

I was pale and drawn in the mirror as I got back into the hotel.  I then went and spoke to one of the assistants – a guy called Roy.

“Something’s gone wrong,” I told him as I sat in a chair and snivelled. “It’s gone wrong.  I feel weird.  Really weird.”

Roy looked at me with kindly eyes, but maintaining a calm sense of detachment.  “Nothing’s gone wrong,” he said. “You were on stage yesterday with two of the greatest hypnotists in the world.  These things don’t happen for no reason.”

“But my head.  My head.  I can hardly think.”

Roy blinked at me from behind his glasses.  He wasn’t warm or overly kind, but just straightforward matter-of-fact.  “This happens with clients from time to time,” he said.  “I get people call me up after they have seen me.  They tell me their life is all messed up and they’ve been hit really hard.  Then it all calms down after a day or two and they are so much better.  You need to understand that your unconscious mind has been given a task to do by Paul.  It’s telling your conscious mind to shut the fuck up while it gets on with it.”

Somehow, that helped.  He looked at me with intention as he said it, and somehow it helped.  My mind quietened down a little, and I felt myself submitting to the process going on inside me.  It was strange.  A little piece of reassurance was growing, right there in the heart of me.  Like a little star coming out at night.

The first one.  One to wish on.

The confusion I felt on that day continued into the evening. The night floated by like a dream, and I felt a sense of dislocation from my body, as if I was newly fitted into this flesh, and didn’t quite know how it worked yet.

And so it was, in this little dream that I found myself meeting up with friends in a little restaurant in Chinatown, and sitting having a meal. I was off my head, it seems. The evening floated by and I struggled to engage with my pals. It was as if, as the old phrase goes, the lights were on but noone was home. The thing is, it was as if I wasn’t even in my own home. I felt as if I had woken up and I was in a house that someone else had been living in for a long time. I wandered around, wondering who had moved the furniture round, who had been using the place for so long. The sense of alienation was quite strange. Metaphorically, it felt like my body was heavier than I remembered it when I last used it, and whoever had been in here had not really looked after it. I had muscles that I hadn’t used for ages, that I didn’t even know how to work any more. Potential lurking. A swirl of uncertainties, as the old story I had told about myself for so long had gone.

Again, I felt how I imagine a prisoner might feel when released on to the streets after a long stretch inside. The hometown is the same, but that house has been knocked down, this one has been extended, another one has a tree in the garden that has grown and grown. It was familiar territory, but all new at the same time.

And the same was true of my friends. For a while I felt as if I wasn’t really connecting with them. My mind was filled with the trainings I had had with Paul, Richard and Michael – and I seemed to not really “get” what these guys were telling me. We sat and had our food, and the evening drifted by before I said goodbye to these dear friends and made my way home. It was my first journey out in public after the hypnosis, and it felt weird.

I slept at Nicola’s house that night, who had been acting as my host for the week. And I slept lightly, with my mind overwhelmed. And I woke up troubled and highly sensitive and went back into the training across London, bemused. Moving in a dream. Confused.

Back in the training room on the Thursday morning, people came up to me and asked how I was doing. I felt shaky and uneasy. People speaking to me was a kind of a pain, and I told them in no uncertain terms that I needed to be left alone. Someone even, bizarrely, asked me for an autograph, saying that their kids loved “The Bill” and they wanted to give them a little keepsake.

A friend in the room, George, came and sat next to me. He looked at me in concern and I answered his questions in a desultory and staccato manner. After a few minutes, as the lesson started, I realised that I couldn’t go on. I slipped out of the room and disappeared into the streets of Earl’s Court, down through the market on a bright sunny spring day, the air bright and fresh and cold around me. The sounds on the streets, the rumble of the buses, the squeak of the taxis’ brakes, the press of people with their beating hearts and the patt-patter of their feet on the concrete, the reflection of early morning sunlight off the deep red edifices of London buses, swinging buy in a golden arc on the walls, the cracks in the paving slabs, the succulent flesh of brightly glowing oranges like balls of flame on the market stalls, the soft yellow of bananas, the mangos with rich and sweet pungent smells, the people all around me: Lebanese, English, Arab, African, European – moving like ants, like the swirl of water, like air, touched with fire, alive, shining, bright. I was overwhelmed with a torrent of impressions and sensations, as if someone had torn of the filters of perception into my mind and the whole, rich world was pouring in in a single hit. I was going mad. The world was brighter, and brighter still, and the sharp edges of buildings, of cars, of people’s faces seemed to have been drawn with the finest pen. The world was pushing in on my senses, moving closer and closer, and I felt myself struggling to breathe.

I pushed on down the streets, my movements jerky as if I was a machine. The soft machine, the blood-filled, heartbeating, airbreathing, lifetasting machine with a driver at its top. It was a dream and hyper-real. It was everywhere and nowhere.

I walked the streets a while longer and then returned to the Ibis Hotel. I remembered that I had tried to write a letter to Paul McKenna that morning, telling him that something had gone wrong with what he had done. Telling him that I felt weepy and weird. But I had not been able to string a sentence together. I was sure, so sure, that something had gone terribly wrong.

I was pale and drawn in the mirror as I got back into the hotel. I then went and spoke to one of the assistants – a guy called Roy.

“Something’s gone wrong,” I told him as I sat in a chair and snivelled. “It’s gone wrong. I feel weird. Really weird.”

Roy looked at me with kindly eyes, but maintaining a calm sense of detachment. “Nothing’s gone wrong,” he said. “You were on stage yesterday with two of the greatest hypnotists in the world. These things don’t happen for no reason.”

“But my head. My head. I can hardly think.”

Roy blinked at me from behind his glasses. He wasn’t warm or overly kind, but just straightforward matter-of-fact. “This happens with clients from time to time,” he said. “I get people call me up after they have seen me. They tell me their life is all messed up and they’ve been hit really hard. Then it all calms down after a day or two and they are so much better. You need to understand that your unconscious mind has been given a task to do by Paul. It’s telling your conscious mind to shut the fuck up while it gets on with it.”

Somehow, that helped. He looked at me with intention as he said it, and somehow it helped. My mind quietened down a little, and I felt myself submitting to the process going on inside me. It was strange. A little piece of reassurance was growing, right there in the heart of me. Like a little star coming out at night.

The first one. One to wish on.

A Little Moment of Delight In Darkest Africa…

Surfing the net a few days ago I found this video of Damian Aspinall and his reunion with a long lost friend with a difference.  I don’t really have anything smart or witty to say about this.  It’s a definite “Aah” moment that I wanted to share with you.  You know, I’ve seen a lot of bad news come out Africa over the years, and it’s just great to see something a little more uplifting.  Okay, it plays to one of the stereotypes of Africa: big jungles and gorillas.  But then why not?  Africa does still have, thank goodness, both of those things.

And it has something else, too.  A certain amount of magic in its wilds that you won’t encounter anywhere else.  A little moment of honest feeling between two friends, no matter what species they are.

That’s enough to remind me, and I hope you, that yes, life really is amazing!

Paul McKenna and Me 7: Confusion Is The Doorway To New Understanding

I returned to the NLP session in the afternoon, and continued feeling pretty much overwhelmed.  Richard was demonstrating different techniques of hypnosis in the afternoon, and I sat in my chair like a zombie.  People moved around me during the breaks and practice sessions, and I joined in – but it was as if the whole day was now no longer real.  My consciousness had completely altered.

People seemed like projections on a wall.  My body felt distant, heavy and numb.  I was on the outside of it trying to get back in.  It was a feeling I used to get when I was a child walking with parents in crowded places: a sense of dislocation from the flesh, as if somehow I was not experiencing the world with my nerves and all the clunky machinery of the body – but more like I was a ball of air and that my sensations and thoughts moved through it unconstrained, without making any reference to the body whatsoever.  I was giddy at times, at others confused.  People flitted around me like shadows, and I didn’t who they were or what they looked like, but only what emotions they caused in me.

At times I even lost sight of who I was and where I was.  Richard was demonstrating a particular hypnotic technique at one point in the afternoon, and he stood with his back to our part of the room.  I craned to see what he was demonstrating.  Without thinking I called out: “Richard, I can’t see.  This whole half of the room can’t see.”

He looked up surprised, clearly himself surfacing from a trance.

“Huh?  What?”

“This part of the room – we can’t see…”

“You want to see?” he answered straight away.  “Then come up here.”

I felt a shock suddenly as the real world seemed to rush in on me.  “Oh shit,” I said under my breath.  The last thing I wanted was more of what I’d already experienced.  I went on to the stage with a real sense of nervousness.

The World Stopped Making Sense...

As I climbed the steps, Richard reached out his hand.  I was ready for him.  As he tried to do the handshake interrupt hypnotic induction, I kept aware of what he was doing, watching him lift my hand up in front of my face.  My defences were up.

But not for long.  Richard adjusted immediately, and with a deftness of movement he brought his fist down dramatically but very gently on my forehead.  “Sleep!”  And with the gentlest and most precise placing of thumb and forefinger, closed my eyes.

I felt myself drifting again.  I was pleased to block the world out – after all I was now standing at the front of the stage facing the audience again.  I dropped down, content with knowing that I needed to do nothing.  The world could just get on with whatever was happening in the NLP class, without my conscious input.

And so Richard demonstrated on me the hypnotic induction he was thinking of.  It was performed by moving the arms of the client in a particular series of points and withdrawals, moving first the left and then the right arm like pistons.

“You’ll see from this close, that’s for sure,” said Richard before he did it.  That was no lie, even though my eyes were shut.

Once it was done, Richard told me to make my body go stiff.  I felt myself tense a little, but that was all.  He placed his hands gently on my back and on my chest and push, testing to see how compliant I was.  He could clearly tell that there was something not quite as responsive as he wanted in me, and so he just seemed to fudge a few lines:

“When you open your eyes, you will go back to your chair and do whatever you need to do to learn as much as you can, and to bring more joy into your life.”

And then he sent me back to my chair.

The rest of the afternoon slid by in a dreamlike series of images and sounds.  At the end of the day, Richard performed a final trance on the whole group.  I can’t remember much of it, but when I came back from it,  I was a wreck.

I didn’t want to step outside the room.  I felt lost again.  An assistant approached me and took me to a side room, where there was a big leather sofa.  I lay on it and sobbed for about three quarters of an hour, completely at a loss as to what was going on in my head.  I wanted to just roll up and sleep for a hundred years, so it seemed.

But that wasn’t possible. After all, it was my birthday.  I was due to meet friends in the middle of town.

And the fact was that I had no idea how I was going to handle it.

Paul McKenna and Me 6: Birthday Tears

I sat there on the stage as Paul continued to move fast.  He asked me, while I was in this strangely heightened state, to run a series of visualisations.  In one, he told me to pick a writer that I really admired.  To look at that writer and see how they moved, see how they talked, think about what I admired of their work.  When I had done so, and had a clear image of what that writer was like, he told me to step into that writer and experience the world from that writer’s point of view.

He told me to notice really clearly what it felt like to be that writer, and to notice what learnings I could take from the experience.  I remember I chose Graham Greene.   Paul asked me to allow the learnings I could take from being that writer to “encode into my neurology” so that I could take those learnings with me into the future.

I did the same with another writer.  Who else should I choose but William Shakespeare, this time?  And finally there was Louis De Bernieres, whom I have admired for years.

The next part of the trance had me visualising sitting in a room with a script that I was working on, and finding that I was with the agents and editors of writers that I really admired.  We were all sitting and watching a movie of something I had written, and I found myself entering the minds of those agents and editors, to get a sense of what it was that they really wanted.  Again, I was invited to take these learnings and “encode them into my neurology”.

Then Paul asked me to visualise myself writing.  “Do you work with a computer or a pen?” he asked.  I opted for the computer, although I told him that I work with a pen as well.  Paul told me to see myself working at my desk, or wherever it is that is most comfortable for me, and feeling how easy it is to write.  To experience the feeling of ideas coming to my mind easily and quickly, and seeing myself enjoying writing a wonderful piece of work.  He told me to see myself day after day, and then week after week far into the future as I built up the experience, noticing how each day seemed easier than the one before.

Then he took me through the process of working the manuscript up, correcting it, tidying it, submitting it – and finally having it published.  He asked me to take inside myself and keep it there, so that I always held a clear expectation of what the future would bring.

Next, he asked me to visualise the cover of my book, and to imagine holding it in my hands. What colour, he asked, was the book?  Then he asked me to imagine, as I held it in my hands, seeing the title page.  And there it was: my future work in my mind and in my hands.

And that is about as much of the trance as I remember.  He did, at some point tell me that I should integrate the changes into my lfe only at the rate and speed that was appropriate for me.  Then he put me down deep again at some point, and finally, after much intense imaginative work, the session was finished, I was blinking at the crowd, and Paul was saying to me.

“So, there, how does that feel?”

I was out of my head.  I could only think of one thing.  The question he asked me, I ignored, because what struck me now was that this had happened pretty much as I had imagined it would happen, now, on this day, with Paul.  It was, I realised, a really significant day for me.

“Today is my 40th birthday,” I answered without answering his question.

The audience looked surprised and confused by the answer.  Paul gestured to give me a clap, and suddenly he was announcing with a whirl of friendly patter and talk that it was time to break for lunch.

I stood on the stage, not knowing what to do as a swirl of people started to move by me.  It seemed as if I could feel all of their eyes on me, as if my consciousness had somehow been massively expanded or as if I was hallucinating on some wonderful and terrible drug.  I saw someone come from the back of the crowd and shake my hand, and say he was Ben, and I heard him ask me how I was.  But I just wanted to pull away from everyone, but didn’t know what to do or what to say.  It was all so intense, and the room seemed to be a nightmare of overwhelming sensations, sights and sounds.

Then two faces appeared from the crowd and two arms seemed to gather me up.  The pair were a blonde woman called Wendy, and a bald man called Stephen.

“We’re going for lunch. Do you want to come for lunch with us?” They asked.

I felt like a child or an animal.  My brain wasn’t functioning how it normally did – and I went on an instinct that it was okay to trust them.  I wasn’t processing information, analysing and responding as I normally would.  It was as if I was a savage, a creature of little understanding.  So I followed them along like the little animal or the lost child I had become, and we went to a restaurant at the far end of a long road.  And all the while I could hardly say a word, and I looked around me with eyes that seemed to be seeing the world for the first time. There seemed to be no comprehension in my mind.  Just an overwhelming sense of confusion, and grief and pain and anguish.

A little later I was sitting in a cafe with them drinking some fruit juice.  And I wept and grizzled like a child as I drank it through a straw.

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.