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.
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.
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.