Meditation vs. Self Hypnosis

Illustration showing person meditating and another in hypnosis

There is some confusion, even for people who both meditate and use self hypnosis, about whether there is any difference between the two disciplines. They both induce extremely beneficial, deeply relaxing and calming states of mind that can help you get through your day in a positive, calm and stress-free way. But, are they really just one and the same thing?

The answer to this depends on your definition of meditation, and that could be argued over long and hard! Therefore, for the purpose of this article we are going to take the most generally accepted definitions of both meditation and self hypnosis, and look at how they are similar and how they can differ.

Meditation is just another means of entering the hypnotic state

Hypnosis is a natural state of mind that we all experience on a daily basis. An appropriate definition of the hypnotic state is: “total concentration on a single train of thought.” We could say the exact same thing about meditation, could we not? So looking at them in their purest form, they are essentially two different belief systems wrapped around the same state of mind.

Guided meditation is simply another name for self hypnosis

There are many “meditation” CDs that are really just guided visualizations, relaxing you before taking you on an imaginary journey with a particular purpose in mind – perhaps simply to find peace and tranquillity, perhaps looking for guidance on a particular issue, perhaps dealing with an issue from the past, reconnecting with parts of your personality that you feel you have lost. There are many different reasons to “meditate” like this, and if the meditation has a firm structure and a purpose, if it is intervening and trying to shape your life in a particular way, and is using visualization, then it is really nothing more than guided self hypnosis. It is not that anyone is tricking or conning you by calling it “meditation,” it is simply that this is a huge area of over-lap, where the distinctions are blurred.

In fact, several years ago, we were approached by a very large company, whose main business was selling a range of weight loss supplements. They very much liked our self hypnosis weight loss programs and asked if we could make a unique series of recordings just for them, to accompany their products. We agreed to do this and set about creating the series for them, for which I was the author. There was one request — for marketing purposes, they wanted the CDs to be labelled as “meditation” CDs. They did not want the word “hypnosis” mentioned anywhere, perhaps because of the many myths and misconceptions associated with hypnosis. But, what they received were what we would describe as “self hypnosis CDs containing advanced hypnotherapy techniques”, yet they were labelled as “meditation” recordings.

The main difference between self hypnosis and meditation

The main difference between the two, in my opinion, is that self hypnosis tends to have an end-point in mind – whether it is to make you more confident, help you to overcome fear or anxiety, to cope with everyday stresses, rediscover your inner wisdom, develop better eating patterns, sleep better, stop smoking, etc.; whatever it is… you enter self hypnosis with a goal in mind. Meditation, on the other hand, has no particular goal to aim at, other than, in its purest form, it is the complete emptying of the mind. The end game for true meditation (unlike the guided form I have already mentioned) is to be able to free the mind completely of all thoughts.

There are different steps towards this pure state of mind, which usually involve trying to concentrate on and contemplate just one thing. This could be an object (e.g. a crystal, a lit candle, or a flower) which you meditate on–picturing it very clearly in your mind, thinking about the nature of that object, what it is made of, its shape, colour, form, what it is like inside and out, how it was created…indeed everything about it. The aim is that you keep your mind totally focussed on that one object for the duration of the meditation, and think of nothing else at all.

Alternatively, it could be a concept that you meditate on (for example, forgiveness). Again, the purpose is simply to explore everything about the concept. In this case, you would explore just what forgiveness really is, what it really means. There is no particular point that you are trying to reach, no sense of achievement other than how well you managed to keep your thoughts from wandering away from the concept you are considering. In general, there is no desired outcome from meditation — there is just calm, focussed thought.

You may gain insights while meditating like this, and while those moments can be illuminating, satisfying and even exciting, it is not the reason for meditating. You will almost certainly feel a distinct calmness and clarity of mind from this form of meditation – it is all about learning to discipline the mind. The ultimate and only real goal is to eventually learn such complete discipline that you can experience the total absence of thought. Whether you ever actually achieve this or not is almost incidental, because the steps toward it are both enjoyable and hugely beneficial.

Both self hypnosis and meditation are hugely beneficial

Both self hypnosis and meditation are pleasant, positive experiences. Both have helped enormous numbers of people to lead happier, more fulfilled lives. We know that there are many ways in which the two disciplines meet and overlap. If you use a less “pure” form of meditation, then it is very often self hypnosis, but under a different label. There are also differences between the two disciplines.

Although this question of the distinctions between meditation and self hypnosis is commonly asked, how important is the answer? Does it really matter whether what you happen to be doing today should officially be called “meditation” or “self hypnosis”? Probably not — although, you may want to go and meditate on it!


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