Three weeks ago, I was propositioned by a Californian hypnotist. We’d corresponded last year, when I was researching an article on the use of hypnotic techniques in business and politics. Now, by email, Wendi Friesen inquired whether I might be interested in “abundance training” – that is, accumulating wealth through hypnosis.
Good guess: I rarely let a day pass without pondering the attraction of vast riches. But did I really want to sign up for this kind of self-help? To find out more, I visited www.Wendi.com – the most popular hypnosis site on the web. This features among other things help with allergies, bedwetting, golf, dieting, impotence, smoking, public speaking and the ultimate orgasm (the best, presumably, not the last).
I also find the following sentence: “Look for an upcoming story in the Financial Times about Abundance Training.” I had not yet agreed to write such a piece: it seemed that Friesen was using her suggestive techniques on me already, through the unexpected medium of the world wide web.
Abandoning myself to her power, I replied requesting attendance at a workshop she was shortly to hold in London. She agreed, waiving the customary fee, and that’s how I find myself in a conference room at the Thistle Hotel, off Marble Arch, surrounded by a group of hypnotherapists eager to share her secrets.
To begin the session, Friesen says: “Money has an energy. If you have money, you give something off to the people around you.” As I daydream about giving off that kind of energy, she asks whether anybody present today has more money than they can spend. Nobody has. Who would like more? This time the hands shoot up.
“What is stopping you from making the money you want?” Friesen instructs us to get in pairs and explain this to each other. I turn to the smartly dressed hypnotherapist beside me, Angie Lawrence, and do as instructed. My pathetic excuse has to do with typing speeds, and how I don’t think I could write much faster if I tried. Angie, more plausibly, tells me she is scared to raise the price of her hypnotherapy sessions lest this put off potential clients.
While we are doing this, Friesen quietly turns the cover on a flip chart, revealing a page to which she had stuck a fair number of what economists might term low-denomination currency notes. At the top of the page are emblazoned the words: “Free money”. But before we can take this in, she instructs us to repeat our excuses – only this time with operatic singing voices. (Angie, a former actress, turns out to be rather good at this.) From now on, Friesen says, whenever we felt like making excuses, we must either sing them volubly or (preferably) not say them at all.
As she is speaking, a man rises from his seat at the back of the room. I assume he is going to the loo, but in fact he stops at the flip chart, pockets a £10 note and returns. The effect is electric. For a moment, nobody dares to copy him – but then there’s a stampede. Friesen says with approval that we will not get rich unless we grasp opportunities, as first man did. She adds that American audiences are usually faster to take what’s on offer.
Next comes the actual hypnosis. Before I was hypnotised for the first time, last year, I imagined a vivid, hallucinatory experience. In fact, it felt more prosaically like breathing deeply to relax, and listening attentively with the eyes shut. When Friesen put us under, it feels the same. First she invites us to identify the part within us that doesn’t want us to make pots of dosh, and to interrogate it. My dissident part for some reason resembles a vast cod-liver oil capsule, and dwells inside my chest. It grumbles that chasing after wealth is a bit vulgar. Money isn’t everything, it whispers. Somebody else’s, I later learn, resembles her grandmother and tells her bossily that she should concentrate on being a successful parent, not on money.
After bringing us back from trance, Friesen explains: “I keep talking about money but that is not ultimately the thing that is going to make you happy. It gives you freedom to do what you love.”
Then she puts us under again, this time encouraging us to peep over an imaginary wall dividing us from the abundance awaiting us. I do as she says, climbing over the kind of wall you might find in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s secret garden, and spy myself in several contexts: in a restaurant surrounded by hundreds of close friends, sailing on a mighty yacht, peering from the battlements of an old castle – that kind of thing. Finally, still following Friesen’s instructions, I knock down the wall and step into that abundance. “Experience the future that lies ahead for you,” she says. “Then take another step and see how that feels.”
It feels good. It feels terrific. But leaving the Thistle Hotel I return home to find a stern letter telling me I must pay a £27 penalty for missing last month’s mortgage payment. Naturally I toss my head back and laugh, then throw the letter away, because thanks to Friesen I feel certain that something will turn up soon. And I shan’t be using a mortgage to buy my castle.
894 words. First published 29 November 03. © The Financial Times