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Trance Zero: Breaking the Spell of Conformity

by Adam Crabtree

Adam Crabtree is a philosopher, psychotherapist, and former Roman Catholic priest, and the author of three previous books on psychotherapy. He lives in Toronto, where he moved as an American graduate philosophy student in the mid-1960s. This volume, part pop-philosophy and part self-help, concerns the personal and societal trances that create impediments to spiritual happiness.

Crabtree defines “trance” as a state of profound absorption and abstraction, either of the individual or the group mind. This could include anything from reading a book or having a conversation (in which the activity is so absorbing that one is oblivious to one’s surroundings) to being in the thrall of a charismatic cult leader. Obviously, the more trivial examples of the trance state don’t present serious roadblocks on the path to enlightenment; it’s the more pervasive cultural trances – the customs and ingrained attitudes of Western society, begun in the family and reinforced through education, work, and social life – that may blind us to the full range of human experience. The goal, according to Crabtree, is “Trance Zero” – a state to which we naturally succumb every day while maintaining an acute awareness of whatever else it might be appropriate to focus on at any given moment. Crabtree believes that we are all capable of this because each of us possesses wisdom and infallible intuition at the centre of our being. Cultivating and recognizing this intuition represents each person’s spiritual journey.

The main problem is that Crabtree spends 150 pages describing the more trivial examples of trances (along with psychic phenomena, hypnosis, recovered memories, and UFOs), without furthering his thesis. Finally he embarks on a critique of Western society, identifying several of its more insidious cultural trances. After some confusing tangential arguments, he gets back to the concept of Trance Zero and its implications, which include the acceptance of an immanent as opposed to a transcendent God. (In other words, according to Crabtree, God is not “out there”; he is inside each one of us, and it is up to us to uncover God within ourselves. Exactly how this is to be achieved will perhaps be the subject of another book.)

Like many books of this genre, Trance Zero will likely find an audience in spite of its questionable assumptions, superficial examples, and indifferent scholarship, purely because of the subject’s universal appeal. In the end, the more discerning reader will wish that the kind of trance state necessary to follow Crabtree’s arguments were less elusive.