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Trance Zero: The Psychology of Maximum Experience

Trance Zero: The Psychology of Maximum Experience

by Adam Crabtree

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Psychotherapist Adam Crabtree shows how we live our lives caught up in a series of trances. For example, when we read we become less aware of the sounds around us, temporarily losing touch with our environment and sense of time. The same kind of effect occurs when we are deeply engaged in a conversation, lost in our own thoughts, enthralled in a creative moment, or


Psychotherapist Adam Crabtree shows how we live our lives caught up in a series of trances. For example, when we read we become less aware of the sounds around us, temporarily losing touch with our environment and sense of time. The same kind of effect occurs when we are deeply engaged in a conversation, lost in our own thoughts, enthralled in a creative moment, or immersed in lovemaking.
While trances are necessary, enabling us to function at our jobs and in relationships with others, we can become trapped by them, and thus lose our ability to fully experience our lives and surroundings. In Trance Zero, Crabtree shows how to transcend the trance states that limit our everyday lives. He explains how to access a higher intuitive state, Trance Zero, which is characterized by being fully awake to the real condition of our existence.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Crabtree's thesis--that trances are an integral part of daily existence--is startling, yet his definition of a trance is so broad that his theory is unfocused. He posits that there are relational trances (i.e., being absorbed in one's feelings and thoughts about another person), situational trances (resulting from immersion in an activity) and inner-mind trances (meditation, daydreaming, hypnosis or simply being "lost in thought"). Finally, in group-mind trances, one is swept up in the emotions of one's family, workplace, church or other social group. Crabtree, a psychotherapist, is a former Roman Catholic priest and Benedictine monk who holds a graduate degree in philosophy. He also ran a therapeutic community in the 1960s and '70s. This eclectic experience makes for some fresh observations on the psychodynamics of cults, the benefits and potential pitfalls of recovering repressed memories and the damage families inflict on individual members. He does, however, come off as a latter-day Wilhelm Reich when he dismantles what he calls "The Little-People/Big-People Delusion," our tendency to worship authority or status figures. His claim that Western culture keeps us all in a trance-like, conformist state is reminiscent of Gurdjieff. His theory shades off into vague mysticism when he sets the individual's goal as "Trance Zero," a Zen-like state of contextually appropriate absorption that allows us to make contact with the "Ultimate Self," our inner pathway to the divine. However, his highly personal but somewhat derivative system of looking at ordinary experience may find a readership of adventurous spiritual seekers. Agent, Frances Hanna, Acacia House Publishing Services, Ltd. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
If you've ever driven a car and arrived at your destination without remembering the actual ride, if you've ever been so focused on the story in a book that you forgot where you really were, or if you've ever been so in love that your whole world took on a rosy hue, you've lived in a trance, according to psychotherapist Crabtree. Our lives, he suggests, are composed of a series of trances, which is not always a bad thing: trances help us to focus on tasks and relationships. But trances also cause us to lose the ability to experience life to the fullest, and so, he suggests, we should move toward "Trance Zero"--transcending cultural, relational, and work-related trances by using our intuitive abilities. Not a "quick fix" how-to guide with exercises, this book provides a thoughtful and highly credible discourse on influences on the mind. Crabtree's multileveled theorizing will appeal to an array of students of psychology. Highly recommended for academic libraries.--Marija Sanderling, Rochester P.L.., NH Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.

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Trance Zero

The Psychology of Maximum Experience

By Adam Crabtree

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1997 Adam Crabtree
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-7257-4


the trance


Most people would answer that question with: Of course not! I am in full possession of my faculties. I know who I am, where I am, what I am doing, and why I am doing it. I could not possibly be in a trance.

Nevertheless, I believe we all live our lives going in and out of trances; that trances are behind what is the very best and the very worst in human beings; and that it is possible to become aware of our trances and gain greater control of our lives.

To illustrate, let me ask you a question. At this moment are you "in full possession of your faculties"? If you are really concentrating on this question, you are probably already slipping into a trance. As you continue to read this page you become less aware of the sounds and sights around you. You generally lose touch with your environment. If you are really focused here, you lose track for the moment of the other roles or identities of your life, the fact that you are a "teacher," "salesman," "lover," "friend," "mother." If you began reading with a slight headache or some other minor discomfort, the pain may disappear as you concentrate. All in all, through the experience of reading and becoming immersed in what you are reading, you lose touch with who you are and where you are. You find it hard to gauge the passage of time. You don't notice your body. You lose track of your relationships and your surroundings. These are typical features of the state called "trance."

This reading trance is so commonplace that it escapes notice. Yet it can be a truly engulfing experience. As you become progressively more absorbed in reading, your trance could become so profound that you would fail to notice important things — such as the fact that you have reached your subway stop or that the pot is boiling over on the stove.

But if something suddenly shocks you back to "reality" — if the subway lurches unexpectedly or you spill coffee on your lap — you snap out of your trance. Your attention again broadens to include a wider spectrum of impressions. You are once more aware of the place, the time, your body, the environment. You awake from your reading trance.

This reading trance is just one example of a multitude of trances. Taken together, the trances of everyday life form the fabric of our human existence. Their effects are important. They can enhance our experiences, but they can also rob us of freedom and fulfillment.

Let's wake up now and turn the page.

The Entranced Couple

I noticed the couple as I entered the restaurant. They were engaged in a quiet but intense conversation as I passed their table. The suppressed passion of their dialogue continued to draw my attention as I looked over the menu. There was obviously some trouble between them, some disagreement, and their attempts to subdue the outward expression of what they were feeling paradoxically made them more obvious.

As I looked more closely, I realized there was something familiar about this situation. Each was totally focused on the other. They noticed nothing around them. A stack of dishes could have fallen off the counter a few feet away and they would have barely heard. For them time had no meaning. An hour was like a minute. Their usual involvement with the world was suspended. They were in a world of their own, one very different from that of their fellow diners, a place filled with powerful feelings and images, memories of the situations they were arguing about. Their reality was not the furniture, food, and people of this restaurant; it was the world of their emotional involvement and the images that accompanied it. Yet their reality was every bit as vivid to them as his meal was to the man beginning to eat at the next table. The couple's reality was their highly charged relationship, and they were immersed temporarily in one of the most common and most overpowering kinds of trance that human beings experience, the relational trance.

What Is a Trance?

Trance is as old as the human race. Even its most recently devised version, the hypnotic trance, has been with us for more than two hundred years. Although there has always been controversy about what trance is, you probably will not find a better definition than that given by Webster's dictionary: "a state of profound abstraction or absorption." With a slight modification, this definition is perfect. Let us call trance "a state of profound abstraction and absorption." When we define trance this way, we can see that all of the things that have been called trance over the ages are included. In the old days the ecstatic condition of the seer or sibyl was recognized as a trance. So was the profound absorption of the monk in meditation. Trance was identified in the comatose state of the mesmerized surgical patient, about to undergo a painless operation.

In everyday life, trance characterizes the fixed attention of fascination and the glazed-eye absence of the daydreamer. Stage magicians induce a suggestible state to entertain, and medical experimenters speak of their hypnotized subjects in trances. These and many more instances of trance can be grouped under the definition I am proposing. In fact, this simple description gives us a unified theory of trance for the first time. In what follows, I will spell out how trance, understood this way, can be found everywhere in life.

What about the couple in the restaurant? It is easy to see that they qualify. They were profoundly abstracted or cut off from what was going on around them, and just as profoundly absorbed in each other. Using this couple as a starting point, we can call trance a state in which a person is absorbed in one thing and oblivious to everything else.

Some striking features characterize trance. One is seeing things that are not there — positive hallucination. Another is not seeing things that are there — negative hallucination. Also a person in trance can have a distorted experience of time. Minutes can seem like hours. Or time can speed up so that hours seem like minutes. All of these things appeared to be happening to the couple in their trance. They were unable to see (or hear) things that were right in front of them. Their reality was the vivid impressions of situations and people at the basis of their disagreement, and no one around them could see those images. And I am quite certain that if someone were to ask them to judge the passage of time at the end of their argument, they would have failed miserably.

Other features go along with trance, and I will get to them later. For now I would like to say something about the expression "relational trance." I believe there are a number of different kinds of trance. One of them involves being absorbed in one's feelings and thoughts about another person. That kind of absorption, with its accompanying abstraction from everything else, is what I call relational trance. Other kinds of trance are equally common in our lives. Let me give an example.

The Painter

Dan is a painter. He always paints in the same place: a studio he has designed for the purpose. When he enters his studio and begins to prepare his painting materials, he becomes very meditative. He forgets about whatever he has been involved in before and his mind fills up with thoughts about the painting he is currently working on. Even before he puts brush to canvas, he is imagining himself mixing a colour, choosing a brush, applying the paint. With each step, he becomes more and more lost in the process of planning and doing the painting.

Like the couple in the restaurant, Dan does not hear extraneous sounds. Nothing seems to penetrate his senses except what has to do with the painting. As images fill his mind and he becomes more and more engrossed in the painting process, he loses all track of time. A whole afternoon can go by without his noticing. The only indication of time passing that registers with him is the change in the light as the day grows late — and he is aware of that only because of its effect on what he is doing.

Dan tells me that if he begins painting with a headache or if his bursitis is acting up, he loses awareness of the pain as he focuses on his work. He also speaks of another peculiarity — pertaining to memory. After he has finished for the day and is relaxing with a friend over a cup of coffee, he can remember very little of what he did while painting. If his friend inquires about the thought processes that led to this or that decision about his painting, or asks about the different alternatives he considered when choosing a paint, Dan cannot reconstruct them. In treatises on trance this is usually called amnesia. Yet when Dan resumes his work the next day, all his thoughts and decisions about painting return to him in vivid detail and he cannot imagine how he could have forgotten them.

Without realizing it, Dan is using a trance state when he paints. Each day, in the familiar, well-designed setting, he eases himself into a state of consciousness that allows him to work with an effective and creative concentration. Dan's painting trance immerses him in a well-defined project or situation, so I call it a situational trance.

Dan's situational trance shares a number of features identical to those associated with the restaurant couple's relational trance, and a few others besides. In addition to positive and negative hallucinations and time distortion, Dan also experiences another characteristic of trance — analgesia, the inability to feel pain. This is a quality that some dentists use when they hypnotize people to carry out painless dental work. Analgesia is a much more common feature of daily life than most of us realize.

Inner Mind Trance

Trances do not always result from involvements outside ourselves. Sometimes a trance occurs when we turn inward and become completely absorbed in our own thoughts. This is what I call an inner-mind trance. Let me give you an example. One beautiful June day I had been working in my office and at lunchtime decided to walk the six blocks to a restaurant. I was delighted to get out into the sunny weather, and I fully intended to enjoy the beautiful landscape as I strolled.

But then I started thinking, "How am I going to begin this book on trances in daily life that I have been planning?" My mind began to delve into my ideas, turning them over like shovelfuls of earth in a spring garden. I walked, but I did not think about it and hardly knew where I was going. I saw nothing of the beauty around me. I barely heard the traffic rushing by me and other pedestrians made no impression on me at all.

Suddenly I realized that I had walked two blocks and had taken in nothing of my surroundings, so immersed was I in my inner environment. I mentally shook myself back to the present and reproached myself for losing the opportunity to enjoy the day. With new resolution, I moved on, feeling the breeze, seeing the sights. But in less than a minute it was all gone again. I was once more walking the inner landscape of my thoughts about the book, while my body, little more than a robot, trudged through the outer.

After another two blocks I stopped. I could hardly believe it — I had done it again. By now it was becoming amusing. Despite my best efforts I could not stop myself from sliding into my inner landscape. I recognized the irony in the situation. I was thinking about issues concerning trance in everyday life, and in the process was repeatedly and contrary to my wishes falling into just one of those trances. I was the helpless captive of my own inner-mind trance.

By now it had become clear to me that I would have to include this experience in the book, so when I arrived at the restaurant I began to write it all down. Also, the whole thing was becoming something of an experiment that I could both experience and at the same time observe. Sitting in the restaurant and writing, I noticed that the world around me dissolved and reconstituted itself as I turned my attention to writing and withdrew it again. This building, these people, faded in and out as my reality shifted from the outer to the inner world and back.

The experience I describe here is certainly not an unusual one. Most people will be able to think of similar occurrences in their own lives. But we do not usually identify the experience as a trance.

Group-Mind Trance

American psychologist Boris Sidis wrote of a striking instance of a trance that was not limited to one person, but affected a whole group. He cited the memoirs of a Russian writer and journalist, Ivan Ivanovich Panaev, describing the riots of military colonists in Russia in 1831. Panaev recounted that, in the course of some of the hardest fighting, he came across a corporal lying in the street, crying bitterly. When Panaev asked why he was crying, the young soldier said it was because a mob down the street was trying to kill his beloved commander, Sokolov. Panaev suggested that the corporal stop crying and go to his leader's aid. A little later, when Panaev himself brought soldiers to help Sokolov, he was astonished to see that the corporal had joined the mob and was beating Sokolov with a club himself. Panaev asked what on earth he was doing. The young man replied, "Everyone else is doing it. Why shouldn't I?"

Immersed in the energy of the mob, the corporal had totally given up his own individuality and control of his own mind. His normal perception of reality had disappeared, and he was locked into the thinking and reality of the mob. The mob possessed a corporate mind that overwhelmed the personal views of all who came under its sway. The "Group-Mind" of the rioters was so strong that even the soldier sincerely devoted to his commander could not resist it. He was plunged into a group-mind trance in which he was absorbed into the thought and emotion of the group and out of touch with reality as he normally knew it.

Group-mind trance does not occur only in highly charged temporary gatherings, such as riots or lynch mobs. Group-mind trance is a part of the everyday life of each one of us. We belong to various kinds of groups — families, work groups, churches, and other organizations. Each has its own group mind that entrances us, perhaps more subtly than a lynch mob, but every bit as effectively. And in the group-mind trance, we experience all the features of other trance states.

Group-mind trances give us a basis for understanding the macrotrance of culture. We can think of group-mind trances on a spectrum ranging from the family at one end to culture at the other. Culture is the group-mind trance of a whole people, and because it is so pervasive it remains largely invisible to those held in its sway.

The influence of group-mind trances cannot be overestimated. I will be talking about this in greater detail in a later chapter. In the meantime, let me summarize what I have been saying about trance.

The Four Trances

There are four main ways that we can become absorbed in something and oblivious to everything else — four main kinds of trance. We experience these four trances every day of our lives. For the sake of convenience, I have given the four trances a name and a number.


In the relational trance one person is absorbed in another and oblivious to other matters. Trance I operates in everything from concern for a friend to sickening worry about a loved one, from annoyance with a co-worker to loathing for a sadistic abuser, from flirtation to lovemaking, from interest to obsession.


Situational trance involves immersion in an activity, project, work, or enterprise to the exclusion of other interests. As a rule, the more engrossed you are in the situation, the better you do. People who are successful with their projects tend to be those capable of deep situational trance. Examples of situational trance are typing a letter, threading a needle, watching a play, addressing a staff meeting, performing a dance, and writing a book.


Inner-mind trance occurs when your attention is withdrawn from the concerns of the external world and focused on images of your inner mind (the internal world). Hypnosis and meditation are examples of inner-mind trance, but they are not the ones most commonly experienced. Dreaming is an inner-mind trance that occurs every day, although we may not always remember that we have dreamed. In dreaming, the external world is totally blotted out and images of the inner mind dominate us completely. For that reason it is the most profound inner-mind trance that we can have. Other examples of common inner-mind trances include driving while preoccupied, being "lost in thought," and daydreaming.


Excerpted from Trance Zero by Adam Crabtree. Copyright © 1997 Adam Crabtree. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

"It is impossible to overestimate the importance of this book and the subject it addresses... This study is a must." -- Stephen Larson, author of The Mythic Imagination

"Embark on this intriguing journey through the mysteries of consciousness -- love, creativity, culture, religion -- to the Ultimate Self." -- Sylvia Fraser, author of My Father's House

"Adam Crabtree reveals why we are not actually in control of our lives. He exposes the hypnotic role of our culture and shows how we can wake up from this trance dream and regain control of our lives." --J.L. Whitton, M.D., PH.D., co-author with Joe Fischer of Life Between Life

"Adam Crabtree offers a masterful exploration of the varieties of trance experience. Written with clarity and compassion, this book offers the state of the art in understanding one of the least understood of all human phenomena. Especially useful is his concept of Trance Zero, which involves breaking free from the limitations of trance states through reliance on an instinctual inner guidance. This book should be read by everyone who has an interest in human consciousness and personality development." --Jean Houston, author of A Mythic Life and A Passion for the Possible

"Adam Crabtree seems tome to be one of the most interesting minds in the field of modern psychology...In some ways, this is his most challenging book so far. What makes it so stimulating is that he takes a basic and simple idea--that we all spend more time in 'trance' than we realize--and then develops it in wholly unexpected ways...Crabtree suggests that our culture induces a trance state--in fact, many kinds of 'microtrances'--and that we have to awaken from this trance before we can enter the condition he calls Trance Zero, a state of being in touch with our 'inner guidance.'...It seems to me that Adam is a new kind of psychologist--one who intuitively understands that the mind is far vaster and stranger than anyone suspected--and at the same time, stronger and more full of creative possibilities." --Colin Wilson, author of The Outsider and Alien Dawn: An Investigation into the Contact Experience

Meet the Author

ADAM CRABTREE lives in Toronto, where he writes about the history of hypnosis and teaches at the Centre for Training in Psychotherapy.

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