Tag Archives: creativity

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 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.

Waterstone's Delight

A little while ago I decided to rise to the challenge of writing in a hundred words or fewer about something that really delighted me, so that I could upload it to the Waterstone’s Delight website. I found out about the website when I bumped into the web developers in a pub on the South Bank up in London. The website was to go live on the very next day. It meant that for a short while, my piece was the most visited on the site.

The thing I love about the idea of Waterstone’s Delight is its guiding light: that in a time when things are really grim, when no-one’s got any money and tv newsreaders keep telling you that the world is about to get blown away in a banking disaster of Apocalyptic proportions, you can still focus on the the good things in life. And the fact is, there are plenty of them.

There are golden places in your mind, stored up, filled up with moments of delight, like the honey from a gorgeous summer or top quality champagne that’s tucked away in a safe place, just waiting for you to revisit and savour again. Right there, in your noddle – all the hope and aspiration and delight you could ever possibly want. And what’s even better about what you’ve got in your head as opposed to champagne or honey, is that no matter how much you drink of it, or eat of it, there’s always more to come. You can bask in the sunlight of a single thought for a thousand years, if you’re minded to live that long. It’s better than tv.

And what’s more you don’t even have to subscribe.

So, here is my piece below. I hope you enjoy smiley

Sand And Sea

Let me tell you about the sea, and the tides. For in their movements there is a delight to be found – a gentle one as soft as sunlight on the water, that laughs like the gurgle of the ocean caressing the shore.

When the full moon comes there is a sand bank close to my house that is laid bare for just a few hours. It is a massive expanse of sand that stretches flat beneath the sky, a transitory landscape. At each appearance, the sand bank is different, its character changed with the shifting seasons, new shapes sculpted in the sand by the draining sea.

A few evenings ago, as I walked out more than a mile onto the sand bank, the sea was reflecting the dying summer sunset with a satisfaction at a job nearly completed. The season, it seemed, was putting on its woolly jumper. The last dog-ends of the summer were burning themselves out under the windless shelter of seawalls. My love and I kicked around on the sand, a lunar landscape revealed by the moon’s movements. We saw horses in the sea. Of such events are the bottled tinctures of future delight made. A potent brew.

No Matter How Bad An Idea…

A friend of mine some time ago told me about an event being held in London called “Cringe”. The idea behind the event was that when we were teenagers we wrote some pretty cringeworthy entries in our diaries that these days we would these days be really be ashamed of – and it wouldn’t be great to share that “cringey” moment with others?

As a writer (and, what’s more, a writer who filled his diaries obsessively in his teens and twenties) my friend was convinced that there must surely be stuff now that I would love to laugh about with other people.

My answer was and is now: nope, surely not. And there’s a damn good reason for it.

It’s all about what you think you are. And whether you still believe that you are a writer capable of holding grand visions. Because no matter how laughable some of the things that I said once when I was younger, no matter what daft ideas I jotted down, I know for sure that there was a spirit of something akin to inspiration moving me to write it. That somewhere, in my addled teenage brain, there was a groping towards something bigger than myself. That somewhere, I was reaching out for the sublime.

So, to stand here as an adult and laugh at myself as a child is, in some way, to mock my own aspirations to be a writer. I may have been misguided. I may have been wrong. But I was trying stuff out. I wouldn’t laugh at the efforts of my neighbour’s teenage kids in trying to express themselves. In fact, I would encourage them the very best that I could. So why on Earth would it be okay to denigrate my own attempts to write when I was a teenager? It’s not. It’s disrespectful.

But it isn’t only disrespectful. It’s also, in my eyes, defeatist. To laugh at what I wrote back then is actually to say: “Ah, well, that’s from back when I wanted to be a writer, you know. Thank goodness those days are over and I’ve grown out of it. I’ll be a section manager in a call centre instead.” And I’m sorry, I just haven’t got to that level of defeat just yet – nor do I intend to get there, ever. I still hold the goal of getting published in my eye, and the sacred flame of creativity in my heart. And what’s more I still write sentences like that last one, 25 years on. And damn good job too. Because for every 20 or 30 crap ideas, there’s a good one. And those old diaries of mine, they are a seam that I’ll work. Oh yes, for years to come.

And that’s the big reason why I, as someone who still sees himself as a writer, and still believes I have plenty more good stuff to come from this brain through these fingers, couldn’t possibly stand and mock the angry, naive, defenceless teenager that I was back then. Because in amongst all of that struggling, there is something valuable. An honesty. And a foolishness. And a drive.

And you know what? I reckon, if you’re going to be creative, none of those things is worthy of mocking.