In Greek, the prefix meta- is generally less esoteric than in English; Greek meta- is equivalent to the Latin words post- or ad-.In epistemology, the prefix meta is used to mean about (its own category). For example, metadata is data about data (who has produced them, when, what format the data are in and so on).
Meta- (from Greek: μετά = "after", "beyond", "with", "adjacent", "self") The prefix comes from the Greek preposition and prefix meta- (μετά-), from "μετά", which meant "after", "beside", "with", "among" (with respect to the preposition, some of these meanings were distinguished by case marking).
It’s about time to rethink the “meta” position in NLP …
I could have said … “moving before the meta in NLP” in the title of this post just as easily, and it many ways it would be more correct to state it that way. But either way the idea is pretty straightforward IMO.
The idea of a “meta-position” is just as firmly fixed in the language of cognitive science, psychotherapy, linguistics and other domains of human inquiry into self-awareness, consciousness and mental functioning as it is in the world of NLP … and each of these fields applies the idea of a meta-position in virtually the same way too.
The “meta” position in NLP is all about commenting on something that is at least one step removed from direct sensory data … e.g.: the meta-model as a commentary about language usage in terms of what’s not there and/or the implications of what is there. But this is not the same as directly attending to what is present, in language or otherwise.
Within the NLP model, the use of the “meta” position organizes the consideration to in some way stand apart from the direct sensory data that is present and being experienced. Using the meta position, or a meta-state, in this way creates a powerful observer position … BUT AT THE COST OF LIVING THE POSITION EXPERIENTIALLY … it literally forces a position that’s at least one step removed from direct experience.
THERE MUST FIRST BE SENSORY DATA THAT IS PRESENT IN THE DIRECT EXPERIENCE OF THE PERCEIVER.
IMO this is a really significant idea in at least one profound way …
When I’m working with my clients I make a critical distinction between helping them to make decisions (strategies) and helping them to make changes (transformation).
I’ve worked with many, many NLPers, and I’ve been in many, many NLP training programs internationally – and I find that very few NLPers or NLP trainers make this distinction with clarity. In fact most of the NLPers and NLP trainers I’ve met apply NLP techniques (what John Grinder refers to as NLPApplications vesus NLPModeling) as though developing strategies and doing transformational work are the same thing.
FWIW this is true of probably 90% of the current crop of “changeworkers” … i.e.: psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, counselors, coaches, hypnotists … you name it.
Now I could be kind and say it’s not their fault … and to the extent that they are ignorant that’s true.
The primary distinction is “where” the intervention is being aimed. Most of these folks “aim” their interventions at the brain processing locations of “ordinary cognition” – language-based and representational cognition.
Ordinary cognition has a couple of aspects that are profoundly important when considering the distinction between developing new strategies and doing fundamental transformational work with a client.
1) The first aspect is that ordinary cognition is symbolically organized NOT sensorially organized … DESPITE THE NLP CLAPTRAP TO THE CONTRARY.
What you are dealing with in ordinary cognition are symbolic representations of sensory experience. As soon as you put language to something … anything … you are in the domain of symbolic representation, i.e.: abstraction, NOT direct sensory experience.
The singular exception might be when you are skillfully using language to create, or point to, direct sensory experience, e.g.: speaking to create and experience of hearing, or using hypnotic protocol to focus the attention on direct somatic experience.
2) Ordinary cognition is largely a cortical process, occurring primarily in the left hemisphere of the neo-cortex, including the frontal and pre-frontal lobes.
While other brain modules and mechanisms may and do come into play to process ordinary cognition, the primary experience of explicit processing of ordinary cognition is limited to left hemispherical cortical processes. These processes are exemplified by being primarily linguistically, linearly and logically/analytically organized.
Direct sensory experience is seldom or never linguistic, linear or logical, tending to be beyond the constraints of language and much more whole-form and aesthetic, then linear or logical/analytical.
The Default of Working with Ordinary Cognition
All meta positions are by default operated in ordinary cognition, with the greatest default of meta cognitive-processing occurring in the frontal and pre-frontal lobes. So by default most operators who are working in the domain of ordinary cognition are working with and/or on the frontal and pre-frontal lobes.
The challenge with this premise (of working with or on the frontal and pre-frontal lobes) is that the information they process is always “made-up” … a series of abstractions that are at least one step removed from direct sensory experience.
Instead of attending to “real” data in “real-time” processing in the frontal and pre-frontal lobes can only attend to data that’s gone through multiple transforms from the direct sensory experience. In terms of brain processing this is as far from direct sensory experience as you can get. Even the imaginal constructs of frontal and pre-frontal processing are at best abstractions about sensory experience.
From the point of view of creating possibilities the frontal and pre-frontal lobes are exquisitely organized to do just that … speculate about possibilities.
However, when it comes to implementing the plans created in by frontal or pre-frontal cortical processing there is no way to connect them to “reality” except to leave cortical processing behind and move into non-cortical processing to collect direct sensory data and take action in regard to it.
[NOTE: An exception might be when working with data limited to pure abstract, symbolic representation, i.e.: any symbolic, linguistic or language form, including maths.]
I propose that we can refer to other kinds of cognitive processes that occur in other parts of the brain and CNS as “non-ordinary cognition”
Much of my attention these days is on non-ordinary cognition, especially in how it applies to transformational processes.
An old and outdated psychotherapeutic reference that’s carried over into current psychology and popular thought is “the Unconscious.” The Unconscious of psychotherapy is a reference to a parallel processing mechanism that operates outside ordinary cognition, and beyond the access or purvey of the individual who’s Unconscious is in question.
I’m suggesting that we update our thinking (and references) about the “Unconscious” based on more current knowledge of brain anatomy and function. It seems to me to be more correct to refer to non-ordinary cognition, and to the specific parts of the brain and their processes responsible for non-ordinary cognition, than an amorphous and unknowable “Unconscious.”
Beyond cortical thinking, and more specifically, left hemispherical cortical processing of language, the other parts of the brain involved in cognition have no ordinary means of communicating linguistically or even symbolically. The right hemisphere of the cerebral cortex does process symbolically, but to our current state of knowledge all of our other brain modules, e.g.: limbic system, brain stem, cerebral cortex, have no access to symbolic or linguistic representation.
The brain parts, other than the neo-cortex, operate on direct sensory data and create immediate somatic response. These other brain parts are more somatic than they are semantic in nature with regard to their processing mechanisms. We can refer to a “language” of sorts that these non-cortical brain modules (and the CNS) can use if we are willing to refer to somatic processing and direct sensory data in terms of languaging.
One of the most powerful kinds of languaging that the non-cortical brain modules and CNS respond to is rhythm. For example, by establishing a rhythmic form these other brain modules will either sync up and entrain moving towards systemic resonance, or reject the rhythmic form and experience dissonance. The non-cortical brain and CNS also seem to respond in a similar way to other direct sensory signals like scents, using them as systemic markers to entrain the system and create a systemic resonance, or to reject and avoid creating sensory dissonance. We can apply any direct sensory inputs using this general formula and the results will be similar, e.g.: touch, temperature, movement …
One of the least studied and least understood brain modules to date is the cerebellum. This is rapidly changing with more current research into the structure, function and role of the cerebellum. For years I’ve been speculating that the cerebellum is the seat of the implicit self, what had been IMO incorrectly referred to as the “Unconscious.” We are now getting closer to uncovering the true relationship of the cerebellum to the creating and sustaining our implicit selves with current research.
We are now moving beneath (or before if you prefer) the “meta-position” to a “meso-position” – a position in the middle of, or at the center of, direct sensory experience.
IMO the cerebellum is literally the heart of the meso-position, as well as being the seat of the implicit self. We experience the world sensorially in direct conjunction with cerebellar processing. Yet it is rare to non-existent to hear anyone in the field of human transformation refer to working at this level, or in this way, with their clients.
Instead of operating in relation to using, or at least integrating, cerebellar functioning in their intervention strategies, most professional clinicians focus exclusively on cortical change. There are more and more clinicians who have begun to seriously consider the role of the limbic system in the process of doing changework with clients, yet even these folks seem blind, deaf and dumb to cerebellar processing or function.
I even heard some of the folks who are considered to be among the most cutting-edge in their thinking about the brain and changework, i.e.: psychotherapeutic intervention, talk about the “three-part brain” referring to the neo-cortex, the limbic system and the brain stem … completely leaving out and disregarding the cerebellum!
Here’s the most critical findings I have gathered in my most recent work with clients regarding transformational change (versus decision-making/strategy development) …
What I found in working with clients based on this thinking is that the use of rhytimic, resonant interventions is the basis for creating transformational change at the level of the implicit self and implicit processing.
I’m going to leave it there for now … but I’d love to read your thoughts and comments.
Joseph Riggio, Ph.D.
Architect and Designer of the MythoSelf® Process & Soma-Semantics®