Friday, September 13, 2013

Not Just Pumping Iron, Part Twenty-Seven

Stop wanting . . .
Start Needing.


Before exploring the lifting trance I suggest that you, the reader, be thoroughly acquainted and adept with the methods already presented. Be able to quiet any unwanted mental chatter, relax any muscles held in tension, and stop any voice of an internal critic, at will. Know how to use a mantra and positive visual and kinesthetic imagery for lifting preparation and rehearsal, as well as rehearsal through the enactment of fantasy. Master the deep, slow, intentional, diaphragmatic breathing which is used for centering, and the fast, forced, costal breathing used for charging. Become adept at grounding, quickly and solidly, and regulating your level of charge, keeping it at an optimal level for your exercise or lift. These are extremely powerful psychological techniques. To benefit from them to the utmost, practice them well and frequently. When you have become proficient with these, you are ready to explore lifting while in a trance.

When I write of a trance state, I am referring to a state that is similar to being centered, but even more so. It is a "hyper-centered" state in which one can manage a high charge of energy, and focus one's discharge like a laser beam. In the lifting trance energy does not leak out; there are no distractions from the singleness of purpose. The purpose, of course, is the exactly focused explosive discharge. In lifting a truly heavy weight, it is exploding with everything you have, in the groove of that lift. In exercising, it is staying in each repetition, one by one, until the set is complete, putting as much of what you have into each set as you choose.

From what I have just written, it is apparent that the primary value of lifting in a trance is to bring about an optimal discharge. It allows for the convergence of all of one's organismic resources in that moment of expressed energy. Anecdotes abound which are folk evidence of the immense personal strength which can be tapped in crisis evoked trance states. Such stories make exciting telling as well as hearing, and may be subject to exaggeration as they are told and retold. But, even taking into account such growing with the retelling of the tale , there is ample anecdotal evidence of this phenomenon of unusual physical ability. In sports, too, this is well known. Several fascinating examples are provided by Murphy and White in The Psychic Side of Sports. And, interestingly, these authors mention that many athletes report performing in a playing trance.

In the yoga tradition, there is evidence for the development of "siddhis," powers which go beyond what are the expected normal mechanical capacities. And, central to the development of siddhi is pranayama, or the control of prana (the life force, chi, barak, mana, logos, energy, etc). Since the external manifestation of prana is the breath, pranayama practice involves breathing exercises. Some of these techniques of breathing are far more complex than those which I have presented for centering and charging. 

Both Eastern and Western disciplines demonstrate, in common, certain practices for the development of exceptional performances. And, even though the specific methods differ in some respects, the practices consist of relaxation, breathing exercises, emptying the mind of chatter, rhythmic activity, and concentration. Note that we have covered, already, three of the five practices. These practices prepare one for entering a state of trance by eliminating the distractions. After this preparation, the two other methods - rhythmic activity and concentration - can usher one ahead, into a state of trance. 

The lifting trance need not be a deep trance. The deepest states of trance tend to take one out of active contact with the physical world, and are therefore not suitable for lifting. Since a deep trance is not required by the lifter, he does not have to be concerned with creating optimal trance-inducing conditions. The rhythmic activity mentioned above is often time-consuming. When a truly profound trance state is sought, the seeker may be eager to spend considerable chanting, dancing, rocking, whirling or whatever. Most of these rhythmic activities are not very practical for the lifter. A modicum of rhythmic activity can, however, be experienced by the lifter during both breathing for centering and breathing for charging. In addition, the lifter may get involved in the rhythm of her or his chanting of a mantra. But, in general, the lifter need not be concerned with any extended involvement with rhythmic activity for producing the lifting trance.
The trance state is an altered state of consciousness (ASC). We need to be clear about what is meant by this. The ASC can be defined as any mental state which can be recognized subjectively by the person himself, or objectively by an observer, as being a significant deviation in subjective experience or psychological functioning from what is the general norm for that person during alert, waking consciousness. So, the ASC can range from a mild alteration in the usual alert, waking state to a profound shift in that state. And, although the alteration can be ushered in by means of various drugs, only those means which do not interfere with lifting are of value to the lifter.
What happens when an ASC is induced? It appears that there is an optimal range of stimulation from the outside world which is necessary for maintaining normal, waking consciousness. It is as if the sensory system is constantly scanning the environment in order to stay oriented. When the level of stimulation is either greater or less than the optimal level, an ASC can ensue. An altered state can also be produced by certain types of interference with the normal outflow of motor impulses, the normal emotional tone, or the normal organization of cognitive processes. These methods, however, are of less importance to the lifter in pursuit of the lifting trance.

Another related term for us to be clear about is, of course, hypnosis. The term "hypnosis" is sometimes used interchangeably with the term trance. The two terms are, more accurately, not synonyms. The clearest and most useful definition of hypnosis which I know was offered by Ron Shor (1969). Without getting too far in depth, I want to give an overview of his theory. Hypnosis involves three independent dimensions. In any given instance of hypnosis, the subject reaches a particular depth along each of the dimensions. The first dimension is that of "trance," or the extent to which the generalized, everyday, reality orientation has faded into unawareness. The second dimension of hypnosis involves the depth to which the subject enacts the role which he believes is the way a hypnotized person would act. This dimension is called "role-taking." And, third, is the dimension which Shor called "archaic involvement," meaning the extent to which the subject becomes as an obedient child, relating to the hypnotist as a powerful parent figure. Since these three dimensions of hypnosis are independent, and, therefore, depth of trance, depth of role-taking, and depth of archaic involvement can all vary from shallow to profound, there are many varieties of hypnotic experience.

As Shor's theory shows, then, hypnosis is a particular form of trance, which involves a degree of culturally influenced role-enactment and of regressive involvement. 

Some people speak of "autohypnosis," or hypnosis in which a person hypnotizes himself. Autohypnosis involves the same procedures which the society has defined as hypnotic procedures, but without the external hypnotist.

The terminology is important for understanding what various writers mean when they use these several related concepts. Remember, "altered state of consciousness" (ASC) or "trance" is the broader concept, while "hypnosis" refers to a certain set of phenomena involving an ASC.

The secret which I wish to reveal is the secret of the creation of the lifting trance. Already, I have given a hint. A few paragraphs back, I spoke of the need for a constant sensory scanning of the environment in order to maintain the usual reality orientation. Without that, one slips easily into the non-ordinary reality of the altered state. So, in order to create the lifting trance, one must stop the sensory scanning. This is done by focusing on one thing only - the here-and-now moment. I will come back to this in more specific detail in a few moments.

It is pointed out in the hypnosis literature that most techniques of induction involve suggestions of relaxation and concentration. We have already explored, in previous chapters, the importance of relaxation for the lifter, and methods for bringing it about. Our task, now, is to explore and come to an understanding of concentration.

The usual waking sensory scanning process keeps us oriented to a composite experience of our environment. By scanning, we use a sweeping focus, a focus which moves from thing to thing, perhaps pausing here and there, then moving on. There is a constant integration of this sound, that sight, this smell, that tactile sensation, and so on. These form a composite orienting experience. If, however, we stop scanning, and concentrate more narrowly, on one thing, our composite experience is traded for an ingredient experience. Erving Polster, a master Gestalt therapist, has observed that when these ingredient experiences, which are frequently unattended, are explored, one may develop a heightened experience. This focus on an ingredient experience is known as concentration. Concentration involves giving very close regard to the specific object of one's interest. It is clearly and specifically focusing one's full attention. Polster relates the use of concentration to hypnosis. Furthermore, he notes that this use of concentration holds an advantage over some other methods of inducing an altered state. Namely, with concentration, one may quickly and easily return to the ordinary reality. A quick movement or as sharp sound in the environment can be detected, and one can return to a sensory scan, to the composite experience of one's world. The advantage of this ease of movement from trance to non-trance state for the lifter is obvious. The lifter can stay closely enough in touch with what is going on around him to be able to respond to changing circumstances, while still having the benefit of lifting in a state of trance. 

The key to the lifting trance is concentration. What does it mean to concentrate? Literally, it means to be with a center, to get right into the center of the situation - "con centrum." This requires an absence of tension. Concentration is relaxed, yet purposeful. It is not a forced attention, but rather a focus arising from genuine interest, even fascination. "Trying" interferes with authentic concentration. If one is trying to concentrate, this is evidence that one is trying to force attention to something which, at the moment, one is not truly interested. Concentration is a relaxed state.

To concentrate, then, one narrows one's attention in both time and space. One focuses attention on what is here-and-now. And, one keeps one's focus on a narrow aspect of the here-and-now, when one wants to enter a state of trance.

Let me offer you some concrete guidelines to follow in order to create a lifting trance. Assume, first, that all prior conditions have been met. One is well-centered, adequately charged, and well-grounded. The very act of centering, charging and grounding, when well done, will carry one to the door of an altered reality. Now, only a small step is required to pass though that door and into a state of trance. That step is exquisite concentration on the present moment. My way of taking that step is as follows, as I have just addressed the bar:

- - - I look off at a distance, at some irrelevant point. As I do so, I allow my peripheral vision to blur and fade. At the same time I allow all sounds outside my body to fade to softness. I feel the rush of energy inside, following my last few charging breaths. I shift my vision to the bar, and see the bar as a vivid, outstanding figure. For a moment, I see the bar ever so clearly. It seems to almost glow against a very faded background of sights and sounds. For a moment nothing exists except the bar and me. I have no thoughts. All that exists is the-bar-and-me in a timeless moment. - - - 

I pause here, in my writing, to create an artificial transition. What I have just described is my own style of inducing my lifting trance. This is the induction. As I lift, I then lift in a trance. That is the use of an established state of trance. Before continuing the sharing of my personal experience of lifting in a trance, I want to present some theoretical material on the established ASC.

There are some differences in ASCs, both as observed from the outside and as subjectively reported. In spite of such objective and subjective differences, there are, however, a number of characteristics which are present to a greater or lesser degree in any ASC. Let me mention each of these, briefly:

Alterations in thinking. 
- Changes in concentration, attention, memory and judgement. Primitive modes of thought may predominate. Incongruities may coexist without logical conflict.

Disturbed time sense. 
- Time may be accelerated or slowed down, as if to stand still.

Loss of control.
- Paradoxically, the person may have a sense of giving up ordinary control in order to gain a more desired level of control or power.

Change in emotional expression.
- There may be either a sense of emotional detachment, or the experience of emotional extremes.

Body image change.
- Body parts may feel shrunken, enlarged, distorted, heavy, or weightless. Blurring of vision, dizziness, numbness, and tingling are possible. The boundary between self and the world may dissolve.

Perceptual distortions.
- Perception may seem especially acute. Hallucinations can occur.

Change in meaning or significance.
- A "eureka" experience, a sense of great insight, illumination, understanding and truth.

Sense of the ineffable.
- An inability to communicate or share the nature or essence of the experience, because of the uniqueness of that subjective experience.

Feelings of rejuvenation.
- A sense of overall well-being, hope, or rebirth.

- Increased susceptibility to respond to suggestions from others or to respond to cues from the environment. 

As I indicated, these are the several common characteristics of all ASCs. In any particular ASC one may find any combination of these in greater or lesser evidence.

What about the lifting trance, that specific ASC which is of most interest to those in the world of iron? I know of no systematic research on the specific profile of characteristics found in the lifting trance. I can, however, relate to the above mentioned trance characteristics through my own experience with the lifting trance. I will take the trance characteristics one by one.

The alteration in thinking which I have experienced has involved a virtual cessation of thought, while in the lifting trance. My concentration has been so focused on the here-and-now moment that I had neither active memories, nor active anticipations of what has been to come. Time has stood still. The loss of control has been the loss of a sense of ego, a sense that "I" was not lifting, but more like "lifting was being done" almost in spite of "me." Along with this loss of a sense of a controlling ego, has been a sense of "detached well-being." All has seemed right with the world. In my times of most profound trance, I have had a sense of weightlessness. It has been as if the bar and I fairly floated together. The world and I have been one, such that, as I said, little sense of a separate "I" even existed. My vision has blurred, almost as if I have been looking under water. I have felt little or no pain, even at times of injuring myself. I have dropped a weight on myself, feeling little, and banged my knee on the platform in a split-style snatch, without pain. The pain came later, after I had come out of the lifting trance. The world has seemed simple and right. The experience of lifting heavy weights while in a trance has seemed beyond possible description. It must be experienced to be known. Lifting at the referee's signal has at times seemed automatic, as if I had no choice. It has been as if I have taken his "suggestion" to lift, without thought or real choice. And, finally, in the moment of successful completion of a heavy lift, I have had an exhilaration beyond description. Times of heavy lifting in a state of trance have been some of my peak experiences. The sense of rebirth has stayed with me for some time, only gradually fading over the course of several days.

Now, I want to continue my phenomenological description of the experience of establishing and lifting in the lifting trance, which I interrupted a few paragraphs ago. Return with me to the lifting platform.

- - - I grasp the bar. One full exhalation, loud against the silence. One huge breath. A rush of energy - tingling all over. The bar-and-I are happening! We are moving! The bar is floating up, along an invisible, but clearly felt groove. The bar feels heavy and yet floating, at the same time. I am fascinated with this sensation. It seems uncanny. Heavy and weightless, at the same time! Time has become strange. This seems like only a moment, and yet it seems like it is going on and on. this rapid yet endless moment is all that matters. Everything except the bar-and-I is a very dim background. Everything seems right. The bar-and-I lock out. I am breathing hard. My world begins to open up and let in more from the outside. I see the referee. I hear him say "It's good!" Yes, yes, he is so right! All is good! And right, and as it should be! I guide the bar back on its crashing return to the platform. The sound echoes and I feel the reverberations of the crash in the boards of the platform. I hear the applause and cheers from the audience. I smile all over. I glow! I feel wonderful! I feel exhilarated! I walk off the platform with a sense of awe, a sense that I have just been a part of the Mystery.

What I have described is my peak experience with the lifting trance. Of course, this does not happen every time I go into a lifting trance. My trance state varies in depth, from quite profound in this example from competition, to rather light, as I sometimes use in a workout. Consistent with the psychological research, I have found that with practice I have learned to induce my trance more and more quickly and easily. In a workout, for instance,  I may induce a light  trance before several of my sets, and do this min a manner of seconds, while I am centering, charging, and grounding. Sometimes, in fact, when I am lifting alone, even in a gym, I spontaneously go into a trance as I address a barbell. At those times when I am lifting near my limit, and especially in competition, I take more time to carefully center, chatge, ground, and induce my lifting trance.

Again, I want to emphasize that my description of my lifting trance is from my experience. Your experience will be different in some respects. Each person's lifting trance is a unique experience. I have discussed the common elements of trance states, and given an example of my lifting trance. Each person's will be different. 

It may be useful for you to practice acts of concentration so as to become very familiar with the feel of slipping smoothly into a trance. To begin this practice, work in a setting where there is a minimum of distraction. Try the following experiment: 

Sit comfortably in a quiet, private place. Breathe abdominally, slowly and rhythmically. Look at some object which is about eye level and somewhere between four and ten feet away. Gaze at that object, constantly. If your gaze drifts away, gently bring it back, once again, to that object. Do not stare. Any forcing will detract from your relaxed concentration. Allow your thoughts to come to quiet. Again, do not try to force your thoughts away, as such forcing will, itself, preempt concentration. If thoughts come, simply let go of them. Do not intentionally think of them, and do not try not to think of them. Simply let go. Allow them to drift on by, like a cloud in the sky or water in the river flowing past. In a few minutes, you will experience a trance. Do not  be afraid. There is no danger. If you become afraid, the trance will fade, as you come to focus on the experience of being afraid. Just relax, and concentrate. Enjoy the experience of being in a trance, as you become more and more familiar with it. You can come back to your ordinary state of consciousness at any time by simply shifting your gaze off the object of your concentration.

When you get to the point that you can enter a trance state rather quickly and predictably, say within a matter of a few seconds, you are ready for the next step. The next step in developing your concentration is to learn to concentrate even in the presence of distractions. Practice relaxed concentration, just as you did before, but with increasing levels of distraction. Do not rush your progress. Master each level of distraction before moving to a level of even greater distraction. For distraction, you can play music, with increasing volume. You can have a television set with picture and sound, the video display being near your object of concentration. You can practice while sitting in a crowd at a concert or sporting event. Keep practicing relaxed concentration in various settings offering various modes of distraction (visual, audio, tactile, kinesthetic) and all of the stimulation from the other modes is to be selectively inattended (intentionally avoided). 

What this means is that the lifter can learn to induce a lifting trance by concentrating not only on a visual object, but by concentrating on a sound, a tactile sensation, or a kinesthetic sensation. For example, a tapping on the knee might be the tactile sensation of focus. Or, the kinesthetic sensations of pumping out a set of curls could become the focus. My personal preference for creating a lifting trance has been, however, a visual focus of concentration.

It is a basic law of perception that a person can fully attend to only one thing at a time. Concentration is elusive - it excludes all but the object of concentration. The illusion of attending to more than one thing at a time is created by rapidly shuttling from attending to one thing, then to the other. This split consciousness drastically reduces concentration. As one shifts from an exclusive focus of attention to shuttling between tow or among more that two stimuli, one is getting away from the trance inducing concentration and back to the scanning behavior which is the anchor to ordinary reality. Remember, it is complete, sustained concentration that will open the door to the state of lifting trance.

When you have mastered the creation of the lifting trance, you will lift, at times, as if in a dream. Learning to lift in a trance is, indeed, training in the art of self-forgetfulness. Selfless, ego-less, the dance of power happens. Nothing exists but the immediate experience of being in the center of that dance. Flesh and iron move as one, creating its own esthetic in motion. Suddenly, the whole experience can disintegrate. Or, it can become complete. This is the flow of total involvement, the dance which is transcendent. In posing, the dance may last longer and be easier to recognize from outside.

Ecstasy, known as a mystic or poetic trance, comes to the lifter who has mastered the lifting trance. To some, it is known that periodic plunges into ecstasy bring a transformation to one's ordinary consciousness. 

So, chalk your hands and concentrate.
This is meditation in the world of iron.



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