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Meditation, Mindfulness, Trance, and Dissociation

Updated: 7 days ago

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I love that words and ideas that were once known to a select few have become more and more commonly known and understood. Meditation, Mindfulness, Trance, and Dissociation are words that you may already be familiar with and not yet fully understand. I hope this brief primer provides some useful insight.

Meditation generally describes something that I’m doing as an intentional act, whereas mindfulness, trance, and dissociation are all words that describe a state of being. Meditation is a practice of settling into quiet so as to become present with my body, or my thoughts, or the energy in and around me, or a higher power, etc. It’s basically an intentional practice that is often used to achieve a state of being.

Mindfulness is a state of being fully present in this moment, neither disconnected from nor absorbed by any single piece of current reality – able to simply be aware of what is true right now without being influenced by the past or concerned for the future. I can build my capacity for mindfulness through meditation, but I can also practice mindfulness while eating a meal or brushing my hair. Since most of the time nothing dangerous or terrible is happening to me right now, mindfulness practice can be a helpful way to get a little bit of a break from the things that are hard (both internally and externally).

Trance and dissociation are essentially two different words for the same experience, but there are nuances that are important to understand when we’re talking about dissociative experiences like DID as opposed to general, everyday dissociative experiences that everyone has. Trance is a state of consciousness in which your focus is absorbed in one area while your peripheral awareness is highly reduced. In this altered state of consciousness, we can access information and insights that would be difficult to access while maintaining full awareness of everything that is happening all around us in the present. We are also highly susceptible to suggestion while in a trance state. This suggestibility can open pathways to profound healing, but it can also make us vulnerable to hurt, manipulation, and overwhelm. Developing awareness of what trance feels like, how to utilize trance safely and effectively, and how to bring yourself out of trance can be incredibly useful tools in a world full of people that don’t always have our best interests in mind. Hypnosis therapy, or clinical hypnotherapy, is a four stage process in which a therapist invites you into a trance state, guides you deeper into that trance state, provides suggestions to utilize the power of your own unconscious mind for positive change, then guides you back to full, conscious awareness and alertness.

The word dissociation refers to a separation from some part of self or the physical environment. Associate is to bring together. DisAssociate is to separate from something or someone outside myself. Dissociate is to separate from myself in some way. When I get absorbed in a book or television show and lose track of my immediate environment, I’ve dissociated into a trance state. Dissociation is an umbrella term that covers a variety of experiences. Everyone dissociates a little bit some of the time. Dissociative disorders occur for a variety of reasons and represent the more extreme end of the dissociative spectrum. In Dissociative Fugue, I find myself in a new place having no idea how I got there or what I’m doing there. It’s confusing and disorienting and scary. Depersonalization describes an experience of feeling detached from myself and the experience I’m having right now in a way that feels strange, unsettling, or overwhelming. Derealization describes a detachment from my physical environment wherein I experience a disturbing or bizarre change in my sensory perceptions. Objects around me may look different than I would expect them to look, fuzzy or far away, for example. In Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID, formerly known as MPD or Multiple Personality Disorder), parts of self become so separate from each other that they may take executive control of the body and behave in ways that conflict with the values, beliefs, and even abilities of other parts of self. The dissociation that occurs in DID starts with a trance experience that allows a person to function and survive in a reality that would be entirely overwhelming were it not sectioned off inside. Over time, the brain actually develops separate neural pathways to contain different aspects of self with different knowledge, sensations, emotions, and perspectives. This type of dissociation is covert by design and very rarely perceptible to anyone who’s not already familiar with what DID actually looks like in the real world.

Circling back to meditation... Because meditation is something that we do, it’s also something we can practice and become more skilled at doing. If this isn’t a skill you already have, you may find it helpful to begin practicing for very, very short periods of time. You may also find it helpful to begin with guided meditations. If you’re going to use someone else’s voice and words to guide your meditation practice and it’s not a person that you already know and trust, I recommend listening from an alert state first to be sure your whole self is comfortable with the words and voice that you’re choosing as your guide. Again, meditation can be used to access a trance state, and you don’t want to fall into that suggestible state without knowing what suggestions you’ll be receiving. You can also write your own script and record it using the words, tone, and volume that feel most comfortable for you.

Mindfulness meditation can be a safe way to practice meditation skills without falling into trance. With mindfulness meditation, you can choose to focus only on your physical environment, noticing what you see, hear, feel, taste, touch. Focus on only one of your senses at a time, put words to your experience (activating the thinking part of the conscious mind), and do so without judgment or expectation. If your mind wanders, gently bring your attention back to your environment in the present, just noticing. With mindfulness, you may notice thoughts or emotions, name them, and then let them float past as you continue to focus only on what is actually happening right now in the present.

  The information in this article isn’t designed to be thorough or comprehensive. This is just a brief introduction. If meditation, mindfulness, trance, hypnotherapy, or dissociation are concepts that you'd like to learn more about, the following are just a few of the many available resources you may find helpful: The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, The American Society for Clinical Hypnosis, The International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation, Beauty After Bruises, The Blue Knot Foundation, and An Infinite Mind.

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