Carly ‘Bird’ Ptak
Conversation with Hypnotherapist and Radionic Artist Carly Ptak
Heather Hall catches up with hypnotherapist and “idea machine” Carly Ptak, who years ago helped Heather through a prolonged psychedelic experience later diagnosed as schizophrenia. With questions from her diary, Heather asks Carly: What is the ego, and what is the self? What is the difference between deep hypnosis and lucid dreaming? How do you cope with the ability to affect and influence other people’s minds? What happens in therapy sessions dealing with “life between lives,” “past life regression,” and “spirit releasement”? And why should we engage with past trauma?
I first met Carly in 2007 when I was in Baltimore apprenticing with a small synth business. Carly was a friend of the owner and lived nearby, so we would go to her home (Tarantula Hill) for meals and to hang out. At that time, she had just started training as a hypnotherapist, a practice that’s well suited to someone of her nature, who naturally convenes in the collective unconscious. She’s traveled the depths of her own mind, so she’s pretty fearless when going the distance with others too, for better or worse.
Carly Ptak (Czech for ‘Bird’) has been involved in the avant garde/noise scene since the early 90s as a solo artist and with her collaborator and husband Twig Harper as psycho-nautical noise duo Nautical Almanac. Carly is an idea machine. In fact she just started a new website called Idea of the Month Club. I don’t think she identifies with any one craft or medium. So far I’ve seen her express herself in the realm of sound, stained glass, twitter, games, performance, radionic devices, gardening, photography, sewing, herbalism, and web design. Her home is a continual work of art in and of itself, hosting an esoteric library, sensory deprivation tank, recording studio, and beautiful DIY renovations.
A year after meeting her, I had a “psychedelic experience” that put me in an entirely new, and highly confusing mind space. The clarity of my psyche was quickly dissolving and I was diagnosed by those around me as schizoidal. I felt out of my element regarding how to deal with the experience so, while barely knowing them, I reached out to Carly and Twig for guidance. I knew there was more for me in this experience than a hospital visit, and I felt they would be able to safely witness and hold space. They graciously invited me to stay at their home in Baltimore.
For two weeks, Carly and Twig provided me with a space to explore this new, rapidly unfolding consciousness. For those of you who have not experienced a prolonged and extreme state of altered consciousness, this experience is as if you dropped acid daily for two months. Others have experienced this phenomena, and now it is even established in the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) as “Spiritual Emergency” – you can read more about it here.
I was pretty ignorant about the psychic terrain I was traversing. One of the things that happened was that voices began to manifest in my aural awareness, informing me that I was in a dire situation that would soon involve me being murdered by Twig, Carly, and their friends. Needless to say, it was incredibly stressful. The voices only got louder, so I had no choice but to flee Baltimore, leaving all my things behind at their home, and ended up in a hospital some days later. This voice, and others, continued for years and I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. I didn’t speak with Twig and Carly for almost five years, though they were present in my thoughts and sometimes I would even hear Carly’s voice.
I’ve asked Carly a lot of questions in my mind over the years. I even have a part in my journal entitled “Questions for Carly Ptak.” I have answered these questions myself in various ways but I was still curious to know her perspective.
Knowing you has felt pretty challenging, though also beautiful and rewarding. It has enriched realms of my life beyond just our connection. I know it’s me doing the work, but I feel that you definitely acted as a catalyst. I bet people project pretty weird stuff onto you. How do you deal with that?
Yeah I get a lot of stuff projected onto me. I’m okay with being in that role. It’s an important role, and I’ve learned to recognize I have it because I live and operate in the subconscious realm much more than other people. I tend to communicate with people through their subconscious. Often I don’t realize this in my conscious mind and neither do they, but at some point we become aware of it. Sometimes it’s an agreed upon awareness and sometimes it isn’t.
People are generally fearful of their deeper self. I don’t have a lot of fear of my deeper stuff, I mostly find it interesting. Sometimes issues come up that I’m uncomfortable with but then I work with them and find that experience to be valuable. I tend to trigger this in other people and I think that’s valuable as well. They don’t always think so, or at least it takes time until they do. When something hard comes up interpersonally, I am always open to discuss it. A lot of these discussions are about responsibility, and I do my best to be responsible for all that I feel is appropriate, but also to point out the places where the responsibility rests with others.
Triggering people’s subconscious material is probably a very useful gift to have as a hypnotherapist.
Well yeah, once I realized that was my line of work. When I was a teenager I wanted to be a therapist. I knew that’s what I was suited for. Then I went to college at the University of Michigan for Psychology and Women’s Studies and I found I didn’t want to work with any of those paradigms. I put aside that idea of myself as a therapist.
I didn’t pick it up again until I was 31, when I chose to study hypnotherapy. In between that time, I was often acting as a therapist without embracing the role. That created a lot of discord. Once I embraced the role and had a place to do it, I was able to be more ... free.
Why have midlife crisis when you can have midlife awesomeness? Yes this is my new purple 1992 Camaro pic.twitter.com/RNx8kS5aXa— carlybird (@carlyptak) January 17, 2015
Well, this is the part of the interview where I apologize for accusing you of trying to kill me. [Laughs.] And if you were trying to kill me, I’m sorry you didn’t get to witness my eventual demise and rebirth, it was glorious.
I accept your apology. The reason you were here for that experience is because you were around people who were willing to have it with you.
In order to deal with people and their projections, the most important thing is to maintain a constant awareness of intention. I do my best to maintain this awareness regularly and closely. This way, when someone accuses me of something, I can assume that my intentions represent my most accurate self at the time. Maintaining awareness of my intentions allows me to absorb the kinds of projections you’re talking about. I do my best to act, and live, and be, and love. I don’t keep track of everything I say or do, I keep track of my intentions and how they are interacting with a situation or environment.
A question from my journal at age 21: What’s your conception of ego?
The way I’ve been thinking about it lately is that the ego is the part of myself that wants stasis. It’s concerned with maintaining equilibrium. I don’t know if it’s that simple, but that’s the way I’ve been thinking about it.
I have been feeling my ego a lot more lately because I work consistently with raising my Kundalini energy. In the past couple months, I’ve been feeling that energy, which is a completely different way of being. It’s a rewiring of the Self, on the physical level – all levels of the self, really. I am getting to the point where I’m ready to rewire myself, let the kundalini flow. But my ego is saying NO, shutting me down, coming up with various shades of fear.
People generally talk about the ego as if it were bad, like it’s something to fight or win against, or control. As if there’s an issue with it. I don’t feel that way at all. It’s about helping all the parts of you find their appropriate place and expression. I’m not trying to overcome my ego, or to change in a way that my ego can’t, I’m just trying to allow a different type of integration with it.
I’ll tell you something interesting that happened to me recently. As I was examining the part of me that wants stasis, I realized there’s a part of me that doesn’t believe anything. I was like “is that my ego? Does my ego not believe in anything at all?” I considered this deeply and had an experience where I traveled and connected with this part of me that doesn’t believe anything. There was a faceless being on stage at an arena. The arena was empty and this being was expositing what was happening or what was going to happen. I approached the being on the stage and said, “Hey, there’s no one in here! Do you wanna go... outside?” The being agreed to go outside. This was just a couple of weeks ago, so since then I keep checking “Is that part of myself that doesn’t believe still there?” and it’s gone! Or at least it’s engaged in a new way. I feel like I can fully believe now.
I’ve always been able to believe in things. I believe in things always. But there was a little piece that didn’t, and that’s not there anymore.
Well, it’s important to Believe when you live in Baltimore.
Another question from my journal: What does the big ‘S’ Self mean to you?
There’s a part of me that exists outside of this body and outside of this story. Currently I can only form awareness of it from this body and this story. So, let’s say I have 100 percent energy existent as my essential energy. To this body and this story I’ve brought maybe 30 percent of that. The 30 percent is conceptualizing the 100 percent within the 30 percent. Self is both, the 100 percent as well as my perception of it in the 30-percent version that I am.
I was just looking at your hypnotherapy website and noticed that you're offering some new services, like Life between Lives. I’m familiar with Past Life Regression but I don’t know what Life between Lives is. Honestly, the idea kind of stresses me out. Like, not only do I have trauma to deal with from this life time, but I have to deal with my past lives? And lives between lives?! How far back do I have to go, time being infinite and all that?
Well, in Life between Lives we’re going into a past life, allowing you to die in that life, then moving to your soul state or essence, that spark of light that maintains your life when you’re in a body. The way you’re describing it, it sounds like you are interpreting that time in between lives as also a place that needs to be healed, but from my experience that isn’t the case. The Life between Lives connects you with the essence or spark of light that is fundamental to all life. So those parts don’t really need to be healed but remembered and integrated. So it’s like the self is remembering the Self.
Let’s talk about past lives. This concept is based on time being linear, which in our conceptual form it is. That linear concept is just one of the rules in this game we’re all playing. Time itself isn’t linear, just our experience of it. So I tend to think about it as other lives instead of past lives.
When we’re healing ourselves in this life we are also extending that healing to those other lives. When we go into another life, and help release something that’s blocked or move beyond a perception that got stuck and is still affecting me now, when we clear it, it also affects me in this time. We move it all at one time. It’s not like we need to go back and find everything that ever went wrong. When we’re integrated with our Self (the 100 percent), that’s when you have the perspective that you’re like an actor playing these different roles. From this place you can shift your responses, making them more open, loving, and present.
You also work with releasing spirit attachments? I assume that involves releasing other entities or lives from your life. So there are also other lives that are somehow entangled with our life. What made you incorporate this work into your practice as a hypnotherapist?
It happened during a Lives between Lives training. Prior to this, I didn’t have a conception of spirits attaching to people, but it seemed like everyone else at the workshop did. I was always someone who chose not to believe in that because it locks you into the duality of good and evil, “demons,” and so on. But one woman I met was really into removing these attachments. She showed me how to do the removal and worked on me a little bit. After that I was able to sense and remove them. I used to do a lot of Past Life Regressions but now, when people come to see me for that work, we often end up doing spirit releasement.
I want to ask you about working with victim consciousness. In my own experience with hypnotherapy, I feel like I’m performing this balancing act between wanting to go back into the trauma, but also worrying that if I go back there I’ll get stuck. I think a lot of people have this fear regarding darkness in their past, and also in the sense of not wanting to build one’s identity around these unpleasant scripts. Take Israel for example, a government that uses a history of victimhood to continually justify actions that only serve to compound the nature of suffering. How do you conceptualize victim consciousness? And what is a healthy way to engage with it?
I’ve always believed in the concept of choice and more importantly, responsibility. We live in a dimension of free will and it’s important to accept as much responsibility as possible. The more we accept, the more we get to create. When we feel like victims, we get to choose if we’re going to respond with the same pattern that we have in the past or if we are going to use it as an opportunity for new ways of being. Everyone has that option.
A healthy way to engage is to not get stuck in certain patterns, to stay connected to the core of Kindness, Compassion, Wonder, Love, Presence, and so on. All therapies are working with a part that’s stuck, finding ways to release and change it.
“I’m an advocate of change no matter what, really.”
Taking the example of Israel: people can be born into a society that has a victim consciousness, and choose to engage with that, indulge it and allow it to define them, or they can choose to be the ones who speak up for taking complete responsibility in this moment. It’s a lot easier said than done. I’ve had the honor of witnessing clients who’ve had extremely difficult life stories come out of this victim consciousness and into a new way of responding to the present. It’s not something I convince them to do, it’s a process I’ve watched unfold – something they learn from themselves, their higher selves, and guides.
Moving into another realm of the mind, I’m curious about your relationship to dreams. Do you ever work in the realm of dreams?
That’s a difficult question for me. The realm of the subconscious is also the realm of dreams. People frequently tell me they have dreams of me. This makes me think I’m actively doing something there, but I don’t consciously enter people’s dreams. There’s a type of hypnosis I do where the client will recount the dream in the present tense. From here we can elaborate on the dream and the characters therein.
I’ve definitely had dreams with you in them. I also have people tell me I show up in their dreams a lot. Just recently someone sent me an email with a pretty intense dream they had and asked if I had any recollection of partaking in the events of the dream. I think people ask this kind of question for scientific purposes – they want to know the extent of transpersonal boundaries.
In 2010 I started a lucid dream practice. I was very impressed by the lucid state. I thought it to be my own personal holodeck. Prior to that, in 2008, you had introduced me to the Gestalt technique of working with scripts and characters to formulate dialogue and shifts in consciousness. So I was using Gestalt techniques while lucid dreaming. The combination of the two was very powerful. I didn’t have to dialogue with myself, the characters would all be “there” in the dream. I felt like I was able to integrate many parts of myself that had splintered off into these other characters. At some point I really wanted to apologize to you, but there was still a part of me that didn’t feel safe talking to you, so I decided to do it in this dream state. I opened the door with the intention that you would be there. I walked through and I could see you kneeling in the corner, I could see your hair. But the closer I got to you, the more a shield would intensify around you, until you disappeared. Then I got worried that I was crossing boundaries I shouldn’t be, so I was like “Computer, end program” with that whole process.
I appreciate hearing I have a shield! I do consciously cultivate that type of shield. It is about permission. You can do healing work on people, and think you’re doing a good thing, but if you don’t ask for permission you may be prolonging their suffering. Permission is of ultimate importance.
I’ve never been that interested in lucid dreaming, because I like being invested in whatever’s happening in the dream of who I am right now. I don’t want to go into the future, I want to experience it when I experience it! I enjoy the playfulness of being in this body and this moment.
The other thing is, you can become lucid, but lucidity does not equal wisdom. You could become lucid and do really stupid shit. And you could infinitely “wake up” in a dream, so really, what is lucidity but a continual meta-awareness? You can continue to open up while nothing actually happens or transforms in your consciousness or mythology.
I don’t really know what the difference is between deep hypnosis and lucid dreaming. It would be interesting to talk with someone about this. The dream work I do is not about analysis.
I’ve had a couple dreams where people have appeared and started analyzing my dream in the dream. Actually Twig [Carly’s husband] did this once. Thankfully I wasn’t lucid in that dream because I wouldn’t have been smart enough to ask “What do I represent?” To which he replied “The void.” I also have dreams where I can tell the dream is sending me messages like “please stop analyzing everything.”
Yeah, emotionalize and sensualize. Let’s talk about emotions!
Alright. So, what are those good for?
We all use emotions to experience life. They are what makes life interesting. Why would I come here if all I was going to do was eat and shit and move stuff around? We come here because we feel here. We come here because we form these emotional relationships and see our patterns and how we affect others and are affected. Emotions are the tools. I’ll say here that I have learned so much from Karla Mclaren. She is a genius about emotions and I’ve studied her work a great deal. So, a lot of what I’m about to say is informed by her work.
I used to be very afraid of my emotions, because when I have them they’re very big, everyone in the room can feel them when I feel them. So I began to emotionalize objects.
In Chicago Twig and I had a resale shop, and I’d go find items that people didn’t love anymore and I would love them! I couldn’t express my emotions with people and relationships because a lot of people can’t handle when I’m feeling them. The thing that cured me of my attachment to objects was the Tarantula Hill fire. I have released most of my attachment to objects since then.
But going back to a healthy relationship to emotions, it’s important to realize that an emotion is like a wave that wants to be expressed. All emotions roll up and then they fade away, as long as you allow yourself to engage and express them. Once you start putting up walls and barriers, they build tension and get stuck. A lot of people think of emotions as something that is always there, like they think anger or joy will always look the same. But if you allow yourself to freely emote, you’ll see it’s different kinds of anger and joy every time. So just allow them to happen and recede.
“Have deep respect for each and every emotion.”
Other people experiencing your emotions is so interesting. One thing that stuck with me from being with you as a very impressionable 20 year old was having thoughts and feelings around you that weren’t mine. It had probably happened before in my life, but it was the first time that I had a thought and I thought “that’s not my thought!” I remember thinking things that had no connection to anything in my thought process or life, then having this distinct feeling that it was your thought or emotion. I remember that being really confusing. I felt like I continued to have your thoughts in my head, and this even manifested into a voice. This voice was always pretty helpful, but I was concerned with how present it was. I would work with this in therapy, trying to either integrate or disperse the voice. I also started hearing a lot of other voices at that time. Some of the other voices that manifested weren’t as nice, so I appreciated your voice as it usually just offered gentle advice.
I conceptualize that as a thought form or a piece of my energy. For whatever reason, that thought form that was a part of me, stayed with you. It’s hard for me to generalize this but, I believe schizophrenia to be a symptom of spirit attachments. Our culture is all about diagnosis, but I really believe those voices are energies that want to be released. It seems like that’s what you’ve done.
The gestalt you taught me really helped me shift my relationship to these voices. For example, the voices would often be threatening, saying “Do this task or I will kill someone you love.” So of course I would do whatever they asked because for the most part what they wanted was pretty simple, like as easy as going to a place wearing a specific outfit and talking to someone. They seemed to have some kind of agenda I didn’t understand. At some point I started refusing because I began to realize that this is my life, not the life of these voices. So when they threatened me saying “well if you don’t do it then this person will die!” I would respond “Well, then that’s your choice, I didn’t choose it.” I started just talking to them and opening up to them, and they opened up to me. Slowly, the voices went away. So maybe that’s a different way of doing spirit releasement. Seriously, that Gestalt technique has been the single most important tool in my toolbox so thank you so much!
I didn’t understand at the time the effect I was having on you. I think it’s noble of you to have dealt with it on your own and not put it on me to deal with it. But, I think a part of me gave permission for that thought form to go with you. I’m happy that it was helpful. And now, it’s certainly okay to cut those cords and see what new cords arise.