Drumming, Dancing Playing, Singing.
What’s a “group trance experiment?”
“Drumming, dancing, and singing” should be pretty straightforward, I’m guessing those terms don’t need any explanation. However “group trance experiments” is a different story, so I’ll do my best to explain how and why I’m using those specific words here.
Let’s begin with the word “group.” This is really straightforward. It just means that the work I do involves taking groups of two or more people into trance states collectively, as opposed to working one-on-one with people. Basically I’m just way more fascinated and intrigued by group trance work than by individual hypnotherapy or something. Also, the strategies I use to induce trance (drumming/dancing/singing) lend themselves much more to group work than individual sessions, so it’s partly a practical decision. Finally, I think there’s more interpersonal risks in doing trance work one-on-one with people, risks which are partially mitigated by working with groups. (More on those risks later.)
Moving on to the second word, “trance.” I recommend reading this Wikipedia article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trance
Obviously not the most scientific or culturally specific definition, but I like this article because I think it does a good job of conveying the breadth of trance experiences in different places over time. I also like it because (from my perspective) it doesn’t portray trance as inherently negative or inherently positive, it’s just something our brains can do. Like “Hey, cool we’re humans and so we can solve complex mathematical equations.” or “Hey, cool we’re humans so we can stand and walk and run on two legs.”
“Hey, cool we’re humans so we can go into all kinds of altered states via a wide range of sensory stimuli.”
Why that’s cool (or even if it is cool, I suppose) is a matter of opinion. Personally, I think it’s cool because I’m a trance geek. I love going into trance, I love figuring out how to go into into trance, I love taking other people into trance, I love figuring out how to take other people into trance, etc. And like many other people, I want to build a career based on doing what I love.
If my chosen career was gardening or cooking or programming, this intro could end right here: those vocations don’t have the same inherent risks as taking people into trance does. But trance is risky. Personally, all of my most profoundly spiritual experiences have happened while in some kind of trance. I have experienced states of unity consciousness that were difficult to return from and integrate into my daily life, and I have also spent periods of my life taking myself into trance so often that I had a hard time functioning while not in trance.
Interpersonally, I also am very conscious of the inherent potential for massive abuses of power. While in trance states, people are generally much more suggestible. Normal rational thinking is suspended and people are much more easily manipulated. To complicate things further, because trance states are often accompanied by a strong sense of spirituality and the divine, it’s very easy for people (both those leading trance and those being led into trance) to assume that the intentions of the leader are one-dimensional and benevolent, as opposed to multi-faceted and complex.
You don’t have to search hard to find numerous examples of ‘spiritual leaders’ or ‘healers’ or ‘messiahs’ (or whatever) who have abused people’s faith in them. Here’s just one example, there’s many more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/09/brazil-faith-healer-joao-de-teixeira-de-faria-trial-rape-sex-abuse
Almost exclusively, these abuses involve a man with some kind of assumed spiritual superiority doing something with people that involves some kind of altered state. Hence, when I observe myself from the outside and see a guy who’s self-proclaimed work in the world is trance work, I’m skeptical of myself and my own motivations. I also am keenly aware that, for me, trance is very similar to prayer. When I’m deep in a trance induced by drumming, dancing, and singing, I feel like I’m praying. I feel like I’m connected to the divine. I feel like I’ve come home, finally, from a place of separation. I love this feeling of praying and being connected to the divine, and I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how much that factors into my enthusiasm for trance work.
Thus, my motivations to pursue what I’m calling ‘trance work’ are not altruistic. Howard Thurman’s well-known quote comes to mind:
““Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Just so we’re absolutely clear: I’m trying to build a career based on trance work, first and foremost, because I absolutely love trance work. I’m stoked about it. I would happily bang away on drums and sing and dance and go into trance every damn day if I could. When I have a day that involves leading a group trance experience, for me, that’s a good day. An exciting day. A day that is going to challenge me and push me and teach me and inspire me. So, primarily, I’m not looking to ‘heal as many people as possible. Primarily, I’m looking to have a really good time.
I think it’s important to be clear about that, so that I don’t forget why I’m doing this or other people don’t assume altruism where there isn’t any. One other thing I think it’s important to be clear about: the sense of spiritual, prayer, and connection to the divine that’s present for me in trance work is personal. I see those experiences as my prayers, my connection to the divine, my subjective sense of spirituality. I wholeheartedly do not want to impose any of that onto anyone else. I’m perfectly satisfied if I lead a group trance experience and I feel deeply spiritual while the participants do not. Or vice versa. Or someone else has a spiritual experience that it totally different form my own and foreign to me. I believe that spirituality is subjective and that everyone has their own unique way of experiencing prayer (or not) and connection to the divine. (or not.) My intention is to encourage people to investigate their own experiences and inquire into themselves and discover their own values and beliefs - not to create more carbon copies of me. A teacher of mine once said to me that one of the goals of his work is to help people become more themselves and develop their individuality. I like that, I want to do that too.
All of that being said: in addition to having a really good time, I’m also passionate about researching, studying, understanding and offering group trance experiences because I believe I have a social obligation to try to help people improve their well-being and quality of life, and I want to fulfill that obligation in a way that’s exciting to me. This doesn’t mean I’m not also hedonistic, it just means I’m complex and so are my motivations. To complexify the Howard Thurman quote I referenced earlier, here’s another perspective I endorse:
The best line from that article is: “…learn to come alive WHILE serving the needs of the world.”
In short, I’m excited by the challenge of trying to merge 1) my hedonistic and self-referential pursuit of trance work with 2) my social obligations to help other people. Rather than see trance work as a professional dead end because it’s so self-referential, (i.e., I don’t think that any lone individual going into trance changes anyone else’s life for the better, regardless of how profound the individual experiences may be) I’m choosing to try to figure out how bring groups of people into trance together in a way that helps them become more themselves, enjoy more of their life, and hopefully feel more liberated and empowered in their voices and their bodies and their relationships.
Which brings us to the last word: “experiments.” I quite deliberately chose to say “experiments” rather than “experiences” or “prayers” or “journeys” (or whatever) because I want to make it clear that I’m constantly researching. RhythMandala is not a static body of work, it is my own ever-evolving investigation into how I can blend together my own personal method of mysticism with the social obligations I feel I have towards my culture and my community. Every new class or workshop is another experiment, and I don’t intend to ever define it fully, or stop learning how to do it better.
What’s Ryan’s background?
(Hey, I’m Ryan.) If you have any specific questions about either my background or about working with me, I’m happy to answer them: feel free to get in touch via the Contact page.
Here I will simply list my teachers and influences, and say just that I’m thankful. Studying with lots of people has really helped me self-define and clarify my own goals and desires.
I’m grateful to all my teachers, past, present, and future. Lots of good stuff in the following links. Here they are, in no particular order:
https://www.bethegroove.com/ - Stephanie Paul/Kevin Brown
https://wudang-west.pagefrontapp.com/ - David Wei
http://taketina.com/ - Reinhard Flatischler/Tania Bosak
https://www.circlesing.org/ - David Worm
http://www.brucesilverman.org/index.html - Bruce Silverman
http://www.athleticplayground.com/ - Shira Yaziv
https://fightingmonkey.net/ - Jozef Frucek
http://axissyllabus.org/ - various teachers
http://www.jorgealabe.com/ - Jorge Alabe
https://bal-a-vis-x.com/ - Bill Hubert
http://in2gr8ed.org/ - Francis Norsworthy
http://ancestralmovement.com/ - Simon Thakur
https://stephen-opper.squarespace.com/ - Stephen Opper
https://www.evolvemoveplay.com/ - Rafe Kelley