Meta-Thinking that Leads to Neuro-Semantics

Not Quite Everything About Everything
You Want to Know About the New Field of — Neuro-Semantics®

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.


L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.

Long before NLP came into existence, Gregory Bateson and his associates were exploring the idea and art of “going meta.” In Steps to an Ecology of Mind (1972) Bateson related the “meta move” to art, beauty, communication, consciousness, dreams, grace, aesthetics, schizophrenia, and much more. There he along with Don Jackson, Jay Haley, and John Weakland took the logical types of Russell and Whitehead and looked at the structure of meta communication.

NLP picked up on the meta move from the beginning. Robert Dilts incorporated it as one step (the meta response step) in the horizontal Strategy TOTE model. It was used as the “meta position” and “meta person” position for stepping aside in exercises to access a fuller perception. And it was built into (or assumed) in the most dynamic NLP patterns like the phobia cure, time lines, the swish pattern, etc. (See Meta-States, 2000 for details).

What early NLP did not know was that “going meta” always involved a step upward and that meant accessing a meta state. The old assumption was that any “meta” move always involved “dissociation,” and at that time, most NLP trainers and practitioners tended to treat dissociation as a thing, as an “unfeeling” state. They failed to use meta-model the term and to discover it as a relational action word. They failed to recognize that every time we dissociate from (or step out of) one state we thereby associate (or step) into another state. So given the understanding (or rather, lack of it) about meta-levels, NLP failed to take into consideration the layering effect of those higher levels, failed to recognize the presence of these higher levels and failed to recognize them as mind body states. This caused them to miss out on so many of the rich distinctions that we recognize as fundamental today in Neuro-Semantics.

So What does “Going Meta” Mean and not mean?
I will list a number of things that going meta does not mean in order to highlight what it does mean.
First, “going meta” does not mean becoming unemotional. It especially does not mean that. This was one of the criticisms that several who wrote reviews in NLP World against the Meta-States Model. They assumed that “going meta” was that same thing as “being dissociated.” Several reviewers even took potshots at me, asserting that only a very dissociated person could have come up with the idea of Meta-States.

Actually, meta moves often create much more intense emotional states. The move increases the amount of emotion and even kinesthetic engagement. Consider the meta-state of feeling joy of and about learning (the gestalt of joyful learning). This state is much more intense and emotional than just experiencing a primary state of learning. The same holds for fear of fear, fear of anger, wonder of curiosity, etc. These are much more emotionally intense states.

So what explains this? How can we go meta and end up with more kinesthetics and physiology involved?

Answer: When we go meta, we not only transcend the primary state, but we also include it inside of a new mind-body state. In this way, the second state coalesces all of its thoughts and feelings into the first state. Joy infiltrates the learning. Fear infiltrates the anger.

Conversely, what going meta does mean is that we are texturing the primary state with the thoughts and feelings of another state. When we do this, we thereby layer in a new quality of richness to the experience. This is why “respectful and considerate anger” represent so much richer an experience than just plain anger at someone or some thing. And when we texture in calmness, rationality, self control, etc. to anger, this texturing makes the primary experience of anger a very different experience. It changes the feeling tone of the primary state.

Secondly, going meta does not mean or refer to the collapsing of states. This is an easy mistake to make when first learning about Meta-States. Over the years I have heard this question hundreds of times. “When you meta-state, isn’t this the collapsing of states?”

Yet the answer is, “No, it is not.” The collapsing of states occur when we evoke two states and relate them to each other on the same level and do so at the same time. Then we are attempting to cue the nervous system and body to experience two conflicting states simultaneously. Feel “relaxed” and “tense” now! If we have anchored both states and set off both anchors at the same time, then we typically experience confusion and disorientation as our nervous system tries to go into one state and into its opposite. This disperses neurological energy. It reduces both states. It is for this reason that we have to return to the resourceful state and refresh it afterwards. In that way, we re-set a new anchor for it.

When, however, we access two opposite states and then set one over the other, the meta move sets up a new relationship between the states. Now one state (the one meta to the other) becomes a frame of reference for the lower state. Doing this constructs a new Neuro Semantic reality. Doing this allows us to create a sense of our personal worth as a given. It enables us to set the state of worth and value as a frame over all of the risks involved in making your dreams come true. This may even generate the sense of being “un-insultable.” If that happens, then the Neuro-Semantic state sets the frame that every endeavor that doesn’t succeed in just the way you had hope is not about ‘you.’ It’s about the activity.

Instead of collapsing states, going meta means creating gestalt states like “un-insultability,” resilience, proactivity, courage, etc. These states are “more than the sum of the parts” (hence the use of the word “gestalt”). It is in this way that Meta States takes NLP to the next level of becoming much more systemic in nature.
Going meta means that we are letting the levels coalesce. It is in this way that we create Meta Programs. We meta state our everyday states so often with a way of thinking, sorting, paying attention, etc. and eventually it becomes our meta program for information processing. Of course, when we know this, we also know how to change meta programs. This frees you from any confusion about you being your meta program! You are not. A meta-program is just a learned behavior.

Thirdly, going meta does not necessarily mean that we get more abstract, trancy, and fluffy. The coalescing of meta levels translates ideas and concepts into muscle patterns. That’s the marvel and magic of the Neuro-Semantics Mind to Muscle Pattern. We didn’t invent that process. We just described how it naturally happens and how you can take charge of that integration process.

Conversely, going meta actually describes a trance phenomenon and is therefore hypnotic in nature. This highlights the hypnotic nature of every meta stating process … once we send a person inward and upward to accessing or building new frames-we are engaging in a hypnotic induction. This explains why you only have to meta-state a person a few levels and it invites an inward focus and the suggestibility of hypnosis. This also explains why former meta-stating structures operate in the same way that hypnotic suggestions operate.

When we consciously choose to go meta, this means that we have learned how to recognize and effectively work inside the frames of our mind… the Matrix of Frames that makes up our current “structure” or fabric of reality. This enables us to wake up to our own matrices… and to choose the ones you want to live within.

In these and many, many more ways, Meta States has enriched the meta move (“going meta”) that Bateson initiated and that NLP employed. And it is the art of meta thinking that takes you from NLP into Neuro Semantics.

The Fluidity of Going Meta
Perhaps the hardest think to recognize about the meta-function that we refer to when we talk about going meta is the fact that the meta-levels are not actual or literal levels. This is just a way of talking about the way the mind layers thoughts, feelings, memories, imaginations, etc. upon each other. This means recovering the metaphorical nature of the so-called “hierarchy of levels” so that we learn afresh that there is no actual “hierarchy.” That’s why images of steps and ladders inadequately map the levels.

To more accurately imagine and conceptualize the psycho-logical levels, we have to think in terms of fluid levels. This invites us into a much more dynamic model of the mind. The way we layer thoughts and feelings is fluid and ever-changing. It changes as we think. That’s why we can’t say that one level or meta-state is higher than another. It all depends upon who is thinking, and about what, and when, etc.

Nor can we think about these levels as being “logical” in any rigid black-and-white way. It’s not that kind of logic. It is the “psycho-logics” that Korzybski described. It has its own internal logic. Recently a lady in a Meta-States Training in South Africa just couldn’t stand it anymore and stood up and said “It’s not logical that you can temper anger with calmness. That doesn’t make any sense.” I said, “… to you… To you, you don’t experience your anger in a calm way?”
She said, “Right. Of course.”

“What would it be like if, when something violates something of importance to you, you immediately took a deep breath and kept your muscles in your hands and forearms loose … and you noticed that which you’re angry about … Would you find your anger more manageable and under your control?”
She still fought the idea and started to argue with it.

“Just do it… don’t think about it… just do it… access calmness, relaxation, loosen your arm muscles, take a deep breath … There you go. That’s right. … Feel that relaxation … Good. Now think about something that feels upsetting and anger-producing … Something that would violate one of your values while you breathe deeply …”

She was amazed. “It can’t work that quickly.”
“So you believe that?”

Now technically she was right. It is not “logical” that anger should be a member of the class of “Calmness.” Who every categorized anger in that way? Yet, if we set calmness over anger, this becomes our psycho-logics. And of course, it is this kind of creativity with our subjectivity that takes us into the realm of Neuro-Semantics … how meaning (our psycho-logics) gets into our body and muscles.

Taking an Intentional Stance
When we go meta we move up the layering of the mind (levels of the mind) until we get to our highest intentions. Generally and typically this leads the great majority of people into a realm that we call “spiritual.” We move to very high transcendence states- oneness, love, compassion, contribution, God, etc.

But it does not always. Going meta is not a panacea. Even going to our highest intentional states does not occur apart from our belief frames about the world, about people, about morality, about origin and destiny, etc. Texturing occurs at all levels. So when we elicit the highest intentional states, still there are frames above that which will texture whether we’re dealing with a healthy or toxic frame.

Hitler had “positive intentions.” But what was the quality and property of those intentions? They were very selfish, egocentric, etc. They were governed by toxic ideas of race superiority, “blood purity,” the Fatherland, myths of the third Reich, etc. His was a world of sick neuro-semantic realities. And that’s why the Games he played politically were sick and destructive ones.

I would invite you to consider the words going meta as descriptive of neuro-semantic magic. Within these words we refer to a mechanism so special, so marvelous, so wonderful that it strains the very limits not only of our language, but also of our ability to conceptualize. In the meta-function, we step back from the workings of our own mind and emotions, from our own neuro-linguistic system and we think and feel about it. It’s still us doing it and yet a sense of transcendence emerges from the experience. As we transcend one state or level of experience and rise up to another we also include the first in our awareness, and yet we are no longer controlled by it. Now if that’s now a piece of magic, I don’t know what is.


L. Michael Hall, Ph.D., researcher and modeler, international trainer and entrepreneur (P.O. Box 9231; Grand Jct. CO. 81501; 970 523-7877), developer of the Meta-States Model, co-founder of Neuro-Semantics®,, currently involved in several modeling projects: wealth building, selling/persuasion excellence, accelerated learning, etc.