It must have been on a television program that I first witnessed someone being placed into a hypnotic trance. I don’t remember why the man was being hypnotized, whether it was simply an act or whether I was watching a documentary. What I do recall was the subject being guided to close his eyes and relax as deeply as possible. He was then asked a number of questions, to which he replied in a drowsy voice. Once the hypnotist was finished with his inquiries, he spoke the following words to the subject: “Now I am going to count to three and as I do so you will begin to awaken from your trance. When I reach the number three you will open your eyes feeling relaxed and refreshed.” At the number three, the subject opened his eyes, blinked a little, and then smiled.

Later, when I was taking courses on hypnosis and hypnotherapy, I would often use that same phrase for bringing clients out of their trance state. The teacher suggested other methods for awakening clients, but I would always return to that simple statement, “When I count to three you will awaken…”

When the “three count” occurred in my life, awakening me from my fifty-three-year trance, it happened over a period of about one and a half years. The previous sentence may sound strange to you, but it’s the only way I can describe the indescribable experience that started back then and continues to this day.

The count of one happened in a hotel room in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in March 2007. By then I had been a counselor, life coach, and personal growth workshop facilitator for twenty years. When I was thirty-three years old I considered it my calling to assist people in the discovery of their life purpose and mission. I believed that the more an individual had experiences of who he or she really was, the more peaceful, fulfilling, and abundant his or her life would become. I was a marriage counselor, career consultant, spiritual advisor, and teacher of psychology and philosophy all rolled into one package. I attained a certain amount of positive recognition and I’ve been told that I had helped a great many people improve the quality of their lives.

But for a number of years leading up to my “popping out” of the trance, I had been suffering grave doubts regarding the validity of what I was doing. I felt that I did not deserve to be a teacher, because I did not have that one answer that I felt was absolutely essential—not only essential to my work as a teacher, but essential to my very existence. Who am I? When I was sitting in that hotel room in KL, The torment of not knowing created a powerful suicidal feeling in me. Fortunately, before it could take a stranglehold on me (pardon the pun) the temptation was tempered by my responsibility to my wife and two children. I somehow managed to pull myself together and continue functioning as an effective facilitator and counselor, but I so wanted to simply disappear into oblivion. I surrendered my depression to a feeling of sincere concern for the clients and participants I was serving, and this carried me through the next fifteen months.

The count of two came to me in June 2008. It was a rather simple but startling experience that occurred to me while I was sitting in my car, waiting for a red light to change. Suddenly, a great force seemed to leap out of my chest like a gust of wind, carrying with it the brief declaration: “I’m so tired!” There was no bitterness, anger, or depression; simply a profound, heartfelt tiredness that emerged from some deep yearning that I had carried throughout my life.

For as long as I could remember, I craved some philosophy or path that I could rely on with unconditional certainty that would dispel all my fears and anxieties. I wanted a foundation that was absolutely solid, and so much of what I pursued in my life, including my career, were attempts at achieving such an end. But all my efforts, prayers, and dreams had so far come to naught. After that experience in my car I had the distinct feeling that some shift was taking place within me, but I could not discern exactly what it was.

The count of three came in Malaysia, this time in a Penang hotel room, on an afternoon in November 2008. With two days to rest up before starting a ten-day “Training for Visionary Leaders,” I was reading a book when it happened. I opened my eyes and woke up. In the past I have experienced revelations, mystical insights, visionary illuminations, epiphanies, and what one might call brief moments of enlightenment. Each of these had certain sensations in common: feelings of expansiveness, bliss, clarity, and awe. None of these happened when I awoke from the trance, except maybe for the clarity—but even that was somehow different from my so-called “spiritual experiences.” In fact, there was a noticeable absence of special effects. The clouds did not part to make way for angelic voices or trumpets. I did not hear celestial harmonies, see a light brighter than a thousand suns, or taste the nectar that flows from heaven’s stream. I did not see the face of God, or even elevate off of my chair, except maybe to get another cup of tea (but I’m pretty sure I did that with my own arms and legs).

It was the most unspiritual experience I could imagine.

But it was actually the lack of drama and special effects that made the steps to awakening so real to me. I have read my share of spiritual books, describing the attainment of high spiritual states, and I figured I would get to experience at least one of them if I ever discovered who I really am, but waking up is exactly what I would never have imagined it to be. It was simple. Very simple. Christopher, you are not who you think you are. Everything you have believed about yourself, your life, and this world is not the Truth. You are not Christopher. You are not a child of God, an angelic being, or an extraterrestrial who has taken on a human form to help raise the consciousness of this planet. You are not a teacher, a visionary leader, or a healer, or any other highfalutin title you may have given yourself. You are not some soul that fell from grace, rejected heaven, or committed some terrible sin. Who you really are is…, and that’s when I woke up to the count of three!

To me, the event seemed very similar to a stage show where the hypnotist induces a burly construction worker to believe that he is a ballerina. While in the trance, the construction worker is convinced that he is someone other than who he really is. His jumps and twirls may be clumsy, but he seems to be completely absorbed in the role he believes is real at the time. When the trance is lifted, he returns to his construction worker identity. The major differences between this analogy and my life experience are: (1) I did not replace one human identity with another; (2) When awakened on stage, the hypnotized person has no recollection of the trance experience, whereas I, once wakened from the hypnotic state, remembered the character I had been “pretending to be”; and (3) No one hypnotized me; I’ll go into this statement more fully in the next blog, but for the time being, let’s say that my hypnotic trance was “self-induced.”

There is nothing special about awakening. It’s not a spiritually advanced state that one earns through any specific regimen or discipline. In fact, it’s not earned at all. You might say it’s your destiny, just as it’s the destiny of a child to become a teenager and then an adult. It’s the destiny of an acorn to become a plant, then a sapling, and then an oak tree. Nothing special.

But really amazing!