Reflections on Meta-States #1

It all began with an Aha! experience in 1994. It was that aha! experience which led to the discovery of Meta-States. Most of you know the story, but for those who don’t, here it is again.

I was involved in a modeling project on resilience as I was studying how people develop the quality of “bounce” in their thinking-and-feeling so that when they get knocked down they don’t stay down. In the process I took to interviewing numerous people who had suffered set-backs, who had been through a living hell of one sort or another, and who had recovered their passions about living and were back in the game of life. In the process I had been sketching a basic working schema for the stages of recovery from set back to being back in the game of life. So I prepared a 3-hour workshop at the Denver NLP Convention, it was accepted, and so I went and presented it there some 50 to 60 people.

After presenting the stages in the process of “Going for It – Again,” I invited someone to come forward “who had been through hell and had returned.” When several raised their hands and briefly described the traumatic events that they had been through and the degree to which they were back, I selected one gentleman and began inquiring about his strategy. I wanted to model out how he did it. At one point, he mentioned that he moved from one stage to another and I asked, “What was on your mind as you did that? What did you think or feel?” He said something about knowing that it would all work out. “How did you know that?” He commented that it was like a state about the first state, a meta-state.

That’s when the lights and bells went off. That’s when all of the studies in Korzybski and Bateson suddenly came together and made sense. That’s when the Meta-States model was birthed. Within a week I had the model detailed in a 40 page document and within two months Wyatt Woodsmall called and said it would be given the award for the most significant contribution to the field of NLP in 1995.

The aha! facet of this experience was that the term meta-state brought together things that had been percolating in the back of my mind for several years. Suddenly, lots and lots of things became clear. First and foremost was being able to understand complex states. Having learned about mind-body states in NLP, I described them by saying that we have “two royal roads” whereby we can access a state— mind (thinking, imagining, talking, hearing) and body (physiology, acting, gestures, breathing, etc.).

Yet having worked with more complex states like self-esteem, proactivity, forgiveness, and responsibility, I knew that there was something more, something missing. Mere representational images and sounds on the movie of the mind did not seem sufficient for most of the people I was seeing as clients for inducing and maintaining these states. How do you represent “self-esteem?” What picture induces “proactivity?” What sound track fully elicits “forgiveness” or “responsibility?”

But what was missing? Within such complex states, there was also typically a less direct and different kind of kinesthetic involved. So when the gentleman that I was interviewing started to describe a higher state, a state about the other states in coming back from a set-back, he said it was a “state of knowing that he would eventually get through it all.”
I echoed back his words. “So it’s a state of knowing that he would eventually get through it all. Ahhh. So what do you call this state?” He didn’t know. “I’m not sure, it’s a big picture state, like I’m above it all and know that I’ll get through it all.”

“How do you know that you’re in this big picture state of knowing that?” I asked again, trying to understand what he was doing in his mind, how he represented it and how I could replicate what he was doing. “Well, it’s like this state is about that other state of feeling the emotional ups-and- downs of the setback, but I’m not too concerned about my roller-coaster emotions because I know I will get through. It’s like a state meta to the other.”

“You mean it is a meta-state about the first state?” I reflected back. “Yes, a meta-state.”

Well, I’m sure I got through the workshop that day, but inside my head other things were going on. I was picture a circle of a mind-body energy state meta to a first one and governing it and framing it as its internal reference structure. Suddenly, I began to understand the meta-levels of learning in Bateson’s “levels of learning” in a new and more dynamic fashion. Suddenly the “structuraldifferential” of Korzybski also took on new significance. And so with that the search began in earnest.

Within six months I wrote the first book, Meta-States (1995), and immediate ran a new training here in Colorado that I called “Dragon Slaying” as I began specifying how bringing a negative state of thought-and-feeling against ourselves usually created meta-muddles of self-conflict and self-antagonism that creates the disordering of personality, self-sabotages, and wastes incredible mental, emotional, and personal energy. Dragon Slaying (1996) was then transcribed and written from that training.

So what are meta-states? Our meta-states are the thoughts-and-emotions we have within ourselves about our experiences. If our first thoughts-and-emotions are reactions and responses to the world, meta-states are our reactions and responses to ourselves. This includes reactions to our thoughts, to our emotions, to our experiences, to our concepts, to our abstractions, to all of our meanings.

My meta-states and your meta-states are our reactions to ourselves. So, how do you react to yourself? To you react to your thinking-emoting states with kindness and grace or harshness and judgment? Whatever you do, that sets the frame or meta-state for the first state. In this a meta- state is a “logical level” jump. We step back from ourselves as it were to then think-and-feel a second time, then a third time, a fourth, and so on.

In fact, the process is never-ending. It is an infinite process as Korzybski noted. Philosophers had noted this for centuries and called it “the infinite regress.” In Neuro-Semantics I began calling it “the infinite progress.” Why? Here the good news. Whatever frames we have set and whatever meta-muddles we have created with limiting beliefs and self-sabotaging understandings and decisions, we can always make one more step forward and set a whole new empowering frame. Talk about opening up things so that we are only as stuck as our frames! This is it.

Why meta-states? Stay tune for additional Meta-State Reflections and you’ll discover the power, extensiveness, and nature of meta-states and how to use them for fun and profit.