Trance Zero:
Breaking the Spell of Conformity

263 pages,
ISBN: 1894042042

Post Your Opinion
Zoning In - Zoning Out
by Paul Dutton

John C. Lilly, the scientist who established interspecies communication with dolphins and who explored chemically induced altered states of consciousness, had an astute term for what most people consider to be normal: consensus reality. The phrase nicely implies that the nature of reality is not fixed. Adam Crabtree, psychotherapist and expert in multiple personality, has another term for it: cultural trance.

Crabtree's concept of cultural trance is an extension of what he calls group mind trance. Group mind is one of those specialist terms that lurk in the corners of every field of study, not assimilated into common parlance, but accessible to those who take the trouble to look. The group mind phenomenon, however, is as common as dust, and will be familiar to anyone who possesses enough self-awareness to notice that, within certain contexts, they function in a different frame of mind and perhaps even a different mode of behaviour. Wherever there is collectivity, there is collective character, often contrary to the personalities of the individuals within the group. Mob mentality is but a classic-and ephemeral-instance.

In Crabtree's view, a person under the influence of group mind is a person in a trance. By trance, he means not some nefariously initiated, mind-controlled or zombie-like state, but a narrowed focus of absorption and abstraction. Nor is it just in group mind situations that the trance element functions. "It is my contention," writes Crabtree, "that we are constantly going in and out of trances of various kinds, that human life itself is a tapestry of trances." Not that this is a bad thing. "This ability to switch from one mental state to another is very important if we are to maintain the flexibility we need in order to fulfill what is required of us in life. Although we may not know how we do it, most of us can switch trances and call upon whatever capacities we need in new situations." There is a further factor here that Crabtree points out: "we also seem to have the ability to open up and operate from two channels of awareness simultaneously... The driver preoccupied with a personal problem during his drive home does this... One [stream of consciousness] drives the car, makes the necessary judgements, and initiates the proper actions for a safe trip. At the same time, his other [one] is deeply immersed in thoughts about the problem."

Trance Zero, Adam Crabtree's fourth book, is a methodical, well-ordered, plain-speaking, and convincing delineation of the operation of trance in day-to-day existence. It is also a thoughtful and thought-provoking examination of consciousness, personality, and spirituality. Central to the book is an appreciation of the duality between the mind which deals with the external world and the mind whose focus is internal reality, plus a realization of the need to find a balance between the two. This balance is an essential ingredient in the state of Trance Zero, which, put concisely, is "an effortless movement from trance to trance through the guidance of a deep intuitive awareness that comes from our own depths." In explaining and developing this concept, Crabtree challenges himself and his readers to live an individuated existence, free from reliance on or rebellion against authority, and open to intuition and guidance from a higher self-what he terms the Ultimate Self, the individual pinnacle of our being that subsumes and overrules our multiple aspects, and that embodies within each of us an immanent (as opposed to a transcendent) divinity.

Lest this sound like another New Age handbook or inspirational text, take note that the very lack of specificity sets it off from the go-therefore-and-do-likewise sort of book. Crabtree is defining principles and establishing guidelines, not issuing edicts or handing out maps. He speaks of the harm people do themselves by submitting to self-help formulae and dismisses New Age orthodoxy as "a kind of spiritual pablum characterized by magical thinking... [as well as] a lack of skepticism and even good sense." He holds in equal scorn the other end of the spectrum: scientific orthodoxy. "No wonder we have failed so miserably," he laments, "in our attempts to understand group phenomena through psychology and sociology, or sociobiology. Group-mind phenomena are principally generated by inner-mind interactions, and the devices of science have never been able to penetrate this sphere significantly."

As a psychotherapist, Crabtree's stock-in-trade is, of course, the inner mind. And in the course of dealing with the inner-mind realities of clients, he has come to encounter, willy-nilly, what he has termed (in one of his choicer coinings) "anomalous inner-mind experiences": telepathy, spirit communication, alien encounters, multiple personality disorders, near-death experiences, and the like. A good deal of Crabtree's professional reputation, in fact, rests on his researches into and analyses of such phenomena, as detailed in his groundbreaking 1984 study, Multiple Man, still considered a standard in the field, and, in conjunction with the appearance of Trance Zero, prudently and considerately reissued by Somerville House.

Multiple Man is an original and masterful overview of the history and literature of possession and multiple personality, within both the psychological and occult traditions. In a measured and unsensational tone (the hallmark of Crabtree's writing, the literary equivalent of the calm and unfazed professional therapist), Multiple Man brings into a coherent context the dramatically outré phenomena of radically dissociated personality components and extraordinary spiritualistic occurrences, illustrating that these states are variations in degree of elements that are common-however moderately, latently or merely potentially-to us all.

Trance Zero, which in my opinion stands on the shoulders of Multiple Man, takes the core material of human multiplicity, or differing and contrasting states and characteristics within the individual, and reveals its workings in commonplace experience-making the outré everyday, as it were. To risk a comparison that should not be misinterpreted as one of scale, but understood as one of type: as Freud detailed the psychoneuroses in extensive pathological case studies, then pointed out the universality of the underlying dynamics in the psychopathology of everyday life, so Crabtree, in Multiple Man, offered the raw material of historical and personal encounters with multiplicity of consciousness, and now, in Trance Zero, identifies the underlying dynamics in a day-to-day context.

Trance Zero rings a rich resonance off the more sonorous chord struck in the earlier work. It also extends Crabtree's thinking into the philosophical and spiritual (as opposed to spiritualistic) realms. The Trance Zero concept provides a serviceable frame of reference for viewing and discussing certain aspects of consciousness and behaviour, especially those so engrossingly portrayed in Multiple Man. The concept of the Ultimate Self, upon which Trance Zero rests, has numerous antecedents of which it seems derivative rather than developmental: the Superconscious, the Higher Self, Cosmic Consciousness, and others, all of which Crabtree is clearly aware, and on which he works his own, barely substantial variations. There are some overstatements of points, and some more statements of the obvious-not always a bad thing, let it be said, in a society that needs constant reminders of the obvious, such as the folly of obsessions with the physical and the monetary.

These shortcomings by no means cancel out the merits of Trance Zero, which is well worth reading, especially after, or even before, Multiple Man. 

Paul Dutton is a Toronto poet and essayist with a special interest in psychology, psychotherapy, and states of consciousness.


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