Until a few months ago, like a lot of people, when I heard the word hypnosis, I envisioned walking around like a zombie at the mercy of an all-powerful enchantress who would force me to do unsavory things I wouldn't remember later.
But I discovered that hypnosis isn't like that at all. At least not the kind I experienced at the fingertips of longtime hypnotism instructor and practitioner Marie Beach. The All Hypnosis Center, like an oasis in the desert, is hidden in an office park off Huguenot Road. A petite and well-pulled-together woman, Beach has liquid brown eyes that crinkle around the edges. She invites me to relax in an overstuffed black leather recliner, which I do, gratefully. After covering me in a light blanket, Beach explains that hypnosis is an interactive process in which we, together, will access my unconscious mind and offer it positive suggestions to replace self-destructive ones.
"Because the body is an extension of the mind," Beach says, "hypnosis is extremely effective for behavior modification." However, because I am here only for a single session and we can't begin to address each of my neuroses, creative setbacks or the divergent aspects of my deeply addictive personality, we settle on one: I'd like to stop the compulsion to eat every pastry or cake or éclair that's ever passed through Ukrop's bakery.
Beach hands me a large pair of earphones and clamps a small topical sensor to my right hand, explaining that this will help her guage how deeply I've entered the trance state. Her voice pipes in over the soft roar of the ocean as she instructs me to gaze ahead at a screen with swimming turquoise dolphins. Then I follow her finger.
Beach's guided imagery and questions are filtered through the haze of time, intact somewhere in my subconscious no doubt. But the images and, even more so, the feelings that surface that day remain vivid. I am 6 years old in the mountains with my father, who is young and strong and handsome. We are picking blueberries in the late July sunshine; there's no other place we'd rather be. I am happy and safe. There is no such thing as good or bad, fat or thin.
Then I am in a dorm room with white walls and a green comforter and the Rolling Stones are singing: "Take me to the station and put me on the train. I've got no expectations to pass through here again." The dorm is Slonim Woods and the room is No. 6. I'm 19 and with a boy who is breaking my heart. I am wild with despair.
Then I'm in my wedding dress, standing on a cloud in heaven staring directly into the sun.
Beach's voice pierces my vision. "Valley," she says, "are you comfortable with the affirmation, 'I am enough?'"
"No," I say, "I'm not. I want to be more than enough."
"Ha!" she says, laughing. "That's what's happened! You have made yourself more than enough!"
As she brings me up and out of my waking dream state, I laugh too. I have been crying, but I am calm. I sense that the rejection, loss and pain that I experienced so vividly moments before are hovering above my body and for now are no longer welcome.
"You'll be fine to drive," Beach tells me. "Most people on the road are hypnotized too -- they just don't know it!"
Do I still have a regular urge to consume cake? Yes. But I've noticed a change that is perhaps more profound. In the midst of a crisis or shopping, or juggling my 3-year-old, my job and my husband, there have been many moments when I have stopped trying to be more than humanly possible. I am settling into being enough.
Marie Beach will lead a motivational workshop, "Hypno-Coaching for Motivation Is New and Powerful!" Feb. 9 from 8:45 a.m. to 3 p.m. Call 794-9408 for more information.