Trance states are neurocognitive postures which allow streamlined function of being. At work, we call these “flow states.“ In meditation, we call them “mindfulness.“ In evangelicalism, we call this a “trance,” “vision,” or being “filled with the Spirit.”
What all of the states have in common is a reduction in cortical inhibition and openness to a selected field of information, whether mental images, state of being, or work data. At the root is the subconscious opening, just as it does in hypnosis. When the subconscious opens, it is suggestible either to the selected information or to any information. As language indicates, spirit is breath is idea is moving pattern of action which fills.
People don’t have ideas, ideas have people. ~ Carl Jung
Then subconscious may open in any condition wherein psychological safety unites with pattern repetition. This pattern repetition may include a swinging watch, repetitive tasks, or undulations of thought, voice, or sound. This sound is the focus of this article.
Religious Use of Music
When studying for my undergraduate music degree, I was installed in a series of churches to shadow, and potentially take a position, as a worship pastor. On one occasion I visited a contemporary worship service in which I realized, acutely, that the individuals leading the service were placing themselves and their audience in a trance state. These people were being led into a state of complete openness wherein any idea, however right or wrong, could be implanted, and used to manipulate action. They were being taught to abdicate their own will. Their souls were being stolen.
Naturally this can be good if the idea compelled good action and prohibited bad action and empirical evidence had defined these domains satisfactorily. But were these individuals qualified for such brainwashing? Not at all. In fact, part of my negative response was the ideas implanted were so vague and mediocre that any postmodern ambivalence or nihilism or decadence could easily survive and be bolstered by the generative opening.
Music is habitually used to foment trance states for dance and other interactions which cement a group of individuals together or infuse ideas into the accessible conscious and subconscious. Since it’s introduction into the church, music has been controversial. 3/4 time was at first only allowed by the Roman Catholic Church (because of the trinitarian three-in-one God) and the music written was intended to bring about a state of piety. With the secularization of music came concerns about liturgy, so at its height, religious music was used to teach divinity, espousing values of grace, gratitude, freedom, love, joy, and doctrine. That’s something – teaching psychological safety, individual responsibility, compassion through use of music? I’M ALL for that.
However, in these states, the proselytization of individuals soon overcame music, where it was primarily used to implant doctrinal imperatives of replication and ostracize non-conforming secular individuals. As evangelicalism fades, now it is primarily used to implant a state of openness, a religious experience of an emotional high, which leaves the participant undirected and open to manipulation by the eventual speaker, allegiant to the sharing body, and skeptical towards outsiders. It has become brainwashing, tribalism, and objectification of the other – terrible things in the world of Psychology and true religion. It has nothing to do with the ancient religious imperatives of love, having lost connection to that spirit.
Let’s dig into that. Trance states of abdication steal the deity and power of one’s own consciousness, and violates the Christian dictum of “test all spirits.“ It creates tribal “in-group/out-group” dynamics which separate the religious body from nonparticipants. This causes subconscious rejection of the Christian doctrines directing community integration and a cult of Christianity within people who identify with the group more than their own soul. It finally supports a spirit of false openness, as individuals are led into a trance state of deep openness every Sunday and are then closed afterwards. Their growth becomes stunted, stagnant, and festering with judgment towards non-participants.
Music is stunningly, mind-bendingly powerful. It may be the most powerful thing. It is the pattern, it is the replication of everything, resonance may produce atoms themselves. It is the only expression of emotion outside of emotion itself, perhaps the foundation of the undulation of chemistry and chemicals which creates. It is part and parcel with the resonant source of all, God, perhaps the logos itself, the Word itself, and the spirit and intent behind the meaning, the vocal undulation.
Beware unearned wisdom.You have not finished with the conscious side yet. Why should you expect more from the unconscious? For 35 years I have known enough of the collective unconscious and my whole effort is concentrated upon preparing the ways and means to deal with it. ~ Carl Jung
Zealots (allegiant orderly ideologues) toy with something they do not understand. Like children playing at fire, they seek openness and abdicate their own will to participate in a ceremony they believe is self-denial before the Spirit of God but is really denial of the invitation of Spirit of God itself. It is masturbatory self-gratification, a violation of individual consciousness, and an abdication of divine responsibility imprinted on modern society by traditional rite.
Non-religious Philistines and Angelenos are no better. Between crystals and burning man, mushroom retreats and false / undefined spiritual experiences from seekers, orientation from good to experiential pleasure and mediocre stances towards life rob seekers of their need and potential to take responsibility for the the future. We must stop and seriously consider our task of examining the data and making the world, and our futures a better place. Pure gratification or experiential seeking is simply dopaminergic obsession, much like excessive masturbation or – as my friend Becky Maddox pointed out – with no intentional seeds to plant, it’s erectile dysfunction!
Trance states are powerful methods and ways of being which hold great potential in accordance with the meaning and content we place into ourselves while in them. When we take the shackles off of our cognitive limitations, great opportunities become available. However, doing so irresponsibly or at the behest of self-proclaimed spiritual leader, we risk subconscious malfeasance and waste personal sovereignty. We musty test the ideas, the spirits, and ourselves, and aim for something better. We must use trance states responsibly with clear end goals in mind, and adjust accordingly. To aim at nothing is still missing the goal of potential and all that we could be. Let us aim higher.