The Hypnotic Nature & Language of Meta-States

Meta-States as
a Model for Trance

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.

  • How does Meta-States relate to hypnosis, hypnotic language patterns, and the experience of trance or altered states?
  • Since Meta-States refers to going up to higher levels of the mind and trance refers to going down, deeper and deeper, into oneself, are they opposites?

Many people have noticed and commented on the hypnotic nature of the meta-stating process and have wondered about its relationship to hypnosis. Frequently when I first introduce the Meta-States model, I like giving people an experience of their own meta-states. So I provide a meta-stating induction something like the following around the subject of “learning.”

Have you ever experienced that you found so exciting and so thrilling, that learning it didn’t seem like learning at all, it was just pure fun and absorption? You know, something like skiing or roller blading. Some people learn wood working, painting, even reading like that. It’s just so much fun…. and I don’t know if you can just allow yourself to recall an instance like that… but if you give your brain a chance to scan throughrecover the feeling of focused learning. And as you do, notice just how much you enjoy and appreciate that experience… Because as you do, you can appreciate yourself as a learner, can you not for the skill of joyful learning. And as you appreciate yourself, you can also feel a growing sense of passion or ferociousness increasing about that self-appreciation and about that joyful learning, can you not? And about that ferociousness, you can rise up in your mind to feel a sense of respect for people … and if you felt a little bit outlandish in your outrageousness about appreciating so fully and completely your total joy of learning… Of course, you could then become courageous about the outrageousness of your appreciation of your joyfulness of learning…

The invitation to meta-state yourself (and your states) with layer upon layer of additional states– of thoughts, emotions, memories, imaginations, feelings, etc. takes a person up, up and away into the ozone. People “space out.” People can only track so far and then they zone out. It’s the experience of hypnosis.

But how that can be? How can we go up into trance? Isn’t the direction of trance down? Don’t we have to float down deeper and deeper into ourselves?

Ah, the structuring (patterning) nature of metaphors!

  • How do you think about and conceptualize the direction of trance?
  • In what direction do you go?
  • In what direction do you send your consciousness, emotions, and awareness when you go into a trance state?
  • What direction does your language suggest?
  • What direction does the “hierarchy of levels” suggest?
  • How do you picture and conceptualize the “going in” as you or another person develops an inward focus?

The Language of Trance and Non-Trance

Let’s revisit the first NLP model, the Meta-Model of language as originated by Bandler and Grinder (1975). The Meta-Model provides us a list of linguistic distinctions which enable us to identify vagueness in our language use and communications. In doing that, the Meta-Model points out vagueness in expressions and concepts. And as thereby highlights the presence of unspecified nouns, verbs, references, nominalizations, etc. it alerts us to the presence of the very kind of language that hypnotizes. That is, the language that forces us to “go inside” and make up our own meanings. The person who uses this model intentionally and artistically, speaks with artistic vagueness to elicit creative meaning making.

The value of the Meta-model for hypnosis is this: it identifies the language that’s so ill-formed that we have to “go inside” to fill in the missing pieces. In this, the Meta-Model identifies the natural trance states that we create and experience (usually unknowingly) by our use of language. In that way, we then trance out. This illustrates how language (all language) has the power to hypnotize. It also highlights the genius of the Meta-Model, to bring us out of trance! That is, when we know how language works its “magic” to entrance, then we are given the secrets also for how to break negative hypnotic trances that undermine our resourcefulness.

What does this mean for those of us who have learned the Meta-Model? It means that the questioning challenges built into the Meta-Model itself operates as a de-hypnotizing model. The questions of the Meta-Model empower us to stop hallucinating as it calls to us and invites us to stay in Uptime (i.e., sensory awareness). Then, by coming into the now, and truly seeing, hearing, feeling, etc. afresh, we can then obtain enough clean information from the outside so as to make sure that our mental maps are accurate and useful. Then, instead of being hypnotized by what others say and suggest, we can chose the trances that we want, the trances that increase our resourcefulness. This is the heart of the genius of the Meta-Model. (For the 25 year update on the Meta-Model, see The Secrets of Magic, Hall, 1998)

The process of evoking linguistic precision from a speaker by simply asking questions which compels a speaker to specify referents provides a great way for truly understanding that person’s world. It invites the speaker to translate his or her expressions down the scale from vague abstraction to more and more see-hear-feel specificity.

We use the Meta-Model for two things:

First, we use it to reduce the complexity and vagueness of expressions in language. We use it to pull linguistic and semantic constructions apart in order to de-frame them. This becomes especially important if the language forms that someone uses induces negative emotional states. Meta-modeling gets a speaker to bring higher logical levels down to the primary level of experience.

Secondly, we can use it to do the opposite. We can use the same linguistic distinctions and instead of challenging them, we can play with them to induce constructive trances. When we know how to move down the scale of generality, we can also move up that scale, can we not?

It is in this sense that we sometimes talk about the “reverse” Meta-Model, or the Milton Model of language. Bandler and Grinder expressed and popularized the Milton Model as giving us a way to go up the scale of abstractions using language. By intentionally using the Meta-Model distinctions, we develop the art of speaking with artful vagueness. And, doing that encourages hallucinations. It encourages us to “go inside” and imagine or hallucinate sights, sounds, sensations, smells, etc. and to enter into that world. That’s the structure of hypnosis.

“So what?” someone asks.

Going Up as a Direction of Trance

Well, this has lots of ramifications. By moving up the scale from specific to general, we can build new generalizations (i.e., beliefs, understandings, paradigms, etc.) that increase our personal resourcefulness. We can create an internal world (our mental maps) that enable us to be much more effective. This allows us to move up into higher and higher levels of abstraction– into more complex conceptual worlds and categories. And in doing that, we can thereby install new and better maps for running our lives.

From this description of how we use the Meta-Model, the direction of specificity goes “down,” while the direction of trance goes “up.” These orientations of “up” and “down” relate to a scale, a vertical continuum from small chunk to big chunk. This means that when we start high and move down, we engage in what’s known as “deductive” thinking and reasoning. Such takes us down to more precise descriptions, sensory-based descriptions.

Conversely, when we move up, we engage in “inductive” thinking and reasoning. Such takes us more and more into higher level ideas, concepts, and abstractions. As we do, things tend to become more vague and unspecific as we go up. We see these height and depth metaphors used in a very similar way with the Meta-Program of General/ Specific or Global/ Detail.

What does this mean? It suggests that the central NLP metaphor for trance implies going up, rather than down. And I say that even though I love to say, as I think most of us with NLP training love to say, “And you can float down deeper and deeper still…” There’s just something nice about “floating down,” “going down deeper and deeper,” etc.

Yet, in terms of using the scale of specificity / abstraction (i.e., the hierarchical levels), to go into trance involves “heading for the ozone “… and spacing out with higher and higher levels of abstraction.

Would you like some more evidence for this? Then think about the most trancy and trance-like words around. What are they?

They are the most convoluted expressions we can invent, namely, nominalizations.

“And you can feel this satisfaction increasing because you have made this insightful decision, have you not, and now, as your self-esteempleasure in your relationships, knowing that you will be productive, and will begin to feel more effective than you have ever before now…”

There’s nothing like a string of nominalizations to trance a person out and send him or her into la-la-land searching for meaning.

Going Up Into Trance…

In Meta-States Trainings, we do lots of trance-like processes. In fact, every pattern is a hypnotic pattern to the extent that it invites a person to go up, up and away, into the higher realms of the mind, to set higher frames, conceptual states, and the most transcendental core states.

When we do this, we participate in accessing higher states of mind that we find enjoyable and effective. We move upward to our frames of reference. Using Transformational Grammar, early NLP talked about “going inside” as activating a TDS. This stood for a transderivational search to your own personal referents. It was viewed as going down deep inside.

In Meta-States (and Neuro-Semantics) we have turned that old metaphor upside down. We think about our reference system as our frames of references… as the higher frames that establish the very structure and form for the way we think. What are we in reference to?

If we wanted to track the higher levels of the mind, the higher frames that we use, the frames that set the frame for our thinking, feeling, remembering, imagining, etc., then it would look like the following:

Figure 1


Primary Level:

CourageousOutrageous /Outlandish


Joy/ Delight/ Pleasure

Learning… really learning     About ® Something

Above the third level (i.e., “appreciation of joy of learning”) most people just trance out. How about you? What happened to you? Tracking such levels of abstractions about abstractions invites so much inward focus in us …. as the constructions that we layer on top of other concepts, and the meanings upon these meanings, etc., it all becomes increasingly difficult to track, well, consciously at least. Although if we just experiences the words and their referents… we can … did you not find that?

What does this mean?

In terms of using meta-states as an installation process, we work with meta-levels to invite a person to texture the primary state with various higher level frames. As we do this, the higher frame tends to operate as an out-side of conscious awareness structure. In this way, we inevitably use hypnosis. That makes sense when we consider where we send our minds when we “go up” the scale from specificity to greater levels of abstraction. We go inward into our matrix of frames.

That is, we take our thoughts-and-feelings and then go meta to them to apply them to other thoughts- and-feelings. We transcend one level of thinking and feeling and include that level inside of another level. All of this layering or texturing occurs in the mind, the mind working at multiple levels of awareness.

Figure 2


Primary State:

Higher level T-F as FramesT-F about previous T-F

Person– Thoughts & Feelings

The Trance-itional Nature of Meta-Levels

If we examine some of the NLP models which inherently contain one or more logical levels, we will see them as hypnotic inductions for running our own brains for greater resourcefulness. This means that every NLP model that addresses meta-level phenomena (like beliefs, understanding, values, decisions, etc.) inevitably invite us to move up the levels to increasingly higher levels. Doing that essentially involves a hypnotic process. It does this because it causes us to “turn inward” with “intense concentration.” And that, in turn, then effects our neurology at autonomic levels. This means then that most of NLP involves hypnotic processes. Consider the following NLP patterns in this light. They both involve layers upon layers of thoughts and feelings (i.e., meta-states) and a hypnotic effect.

1) Running an Ecology Check

When we “run a check on the ecology” of a state or a system, we ask a meta-level question about other states and experiences. We ask:

  • Does this state, belief, decision, part, meaning, etc. enhance my life or not?
  • Does it create resources or limitations?
  • Does it empower or disempower?

When we do this, we move ourselves (conceptually) into a meta-position of where we can evaluate our evaluations. The meta-function moves us upward to Quality Control our thinking, feeling, states, brains, etc., as we say in Neuro-Semantics. We thereby construct a frame-of-reference by which we evaluate lower level constructions.

This hypnotic process invites a person to then access another meta-level– the level of the person’s values, meanings, and standards. They go inside themselves and become aware of their internal quality control world where they compare something with their set of values.

2) The V-K Dissociation Pattern

When we put one of our internal movies up on “a mental screen” in our mind and take a spectator’s viewpoint to this B-rated file from our memory banks, we obviously move up a meta-level. This allows us to think about the old information with more objectivity and thoughtfulness. It enables us to “think comfortably about painful things.” This creates a state-about-a-state, namely the meta-state of comfortcalm observation about an old memory. about pain, or

We go meta one more time when we imagine floating out of our bodies in the theater so that we gently float back and up to the projection booth. From there we feel our hands on the Plexiglas window and see the back of our head in the audience of the movie theater watching the old black-and-white flick of that unpleasant movie. This moves us first to the meta-state of “observing our memories,” or observing our comfort of observing a painful memory.

And if we do this double-stepping back process above our time-line then we have just added another meta-level since “time” does not refer to a see-hear-feel referent out there in the world, but to our concept of events “having occurred, occurring, and will occur.” See our recent work Time-Lining, Bodenhamer & Hall (1997) for a new extension of “time” as a meta-level phenomena that specifies more than a dozen kinds of “time.” (See the article on this web site about the Frames that drive the Phobia “cure” pattern.)

3) Time-lines

Since “time” itself represents a Kantian category, and therefore a conceptual state (a meta-Ad state), and not a sensory-based one, to have thoughts-and-feelings about “time,” about a specific “past” or “future,” presupposes a meta-state.

To do so, we have to go meta to our primary state and think about this concept. When we do, we usually use a picture or icon– rather than language. We see a line, a circle, a spiral, a boomerang, etc. Thus, the Time-Lines patterns, wherein we move about different representations about “time” do not have external “reality,” but internal.

4) Reframing

Typically reframing works as a horizontal shift. “This behavior doesn’t mean this (X), it means this (Y).” Your sixteen year old laying on the couch watching TV doesn’t mean “He is lazy.” It means that “He has developed the ability to really relax.”

Imagine the speaker gesturing to the first meaning with his or her right hand out in front and the second meaning with the left hand immediately to the left and on the same plane as the right. When we create a new frame-of-reference in this way, we transform the meaning or significance of an event, behavior, or word.

Sometimes when we so reframe, we actually by shift to a higher logical level. Here, if the speaker gestures the first meaning with the right hand, he or she will move the left hand above the right hand to indicate a larger frame that outframes. There, above the current frame, we set a new frame-of-reference (a new context) which then changes the meaning of the lower level events.

“Yes, at this level he lazes around in front of the TV, seeking to avoid taking on challenges, but that is because [jump to a higher level] he wore himself out in the soccer practice yesterday.”

Consequently we have to ask which direction (horizontal and sequential or vertical and meta) did the reframe take us? To find “the frame” of some statements, thoughts, feelings– we have to “go meta” and look at the higher level understandings/beliefs (meanings, presuppositions). There we will find the frame that drives the lower level frame.

Thus, Conversational Reframing Patterns involves such wondrous word magic that they have traditionally been called “Sleight of Mouth” Patterns. These do the magic at a meta-level by setting new frames of references while keeping a person’s consciousness focused on the primary level of content. In Mind-Lines: Lines For changing Minds (1997/ 2000 3rdedition), we reformulated these in terms of meta-levels, identified the seven directions that we can send consciousness and 20 mind-line patterns that naturally emerge from that.

5) Six-Step Reframing

The six-step reframing model describes a meta-stating pattern. We begin with a “part” of ourselves that generates some unwanted behavior. It does this by either inhibiting a response that we want to do, or by creating a counter-response that conflicts with it. These responses operate from a meta-level to us inasmuch as we “inhibit or forbid a response” as “feeling wrong to express ourselves assertively.” (Figure 3).

We then engage in the process of finding this part’s positive intention. In doing this, we again move to a meta-level about the meta-level of the part. Naming that “part” identifies the state of thoughts-feelings that drive the lower level behavior. We then ask our creative “part” to speak to the behavior part to discover its high level positive intention state. This describes the process of meta-stating our positive intention state with creativity to generate better choices (creative about assertive part).

Figure 3


Primary Level:

P.I. Protect@ ¯

Some “Part” that runs an automatic behavior program

@ ¯

Person ®
Speaking & Behaving  Thinking-Emoting

Creativity “Part”
or State ¬@ ¯

Creative “part”

@ ¯

1) Behavior that we dislike
2) Restraint against
behavior we want
to produce

Unconscious at Meta-Levels

Typically, we experience meta-levels as outside of conscious awareness. We don’t know what positive intention we seek to accomplish by the behavior. Yet some part of us runs the behavior trying to accomplish something. It lives and operates in some frame-of-reference.

Below that, at the conscious level, we don’t like the part. We don’t view it as “trying to accomplish something positive for us.” We think it sucks. We wish it would simply go away and leave us alone. At the primary level we feel at war with this facet of ourselves.

Yet as we go meta and explore its positive intention, we discover what it seeks to do of value for us. Sometimes even that part doesn’t even know. So we establish non-verbal “yes” and “no” signals to communicate with it. Then we access another meta-part, that facet within ourselves that comes up with creative alternatives. So we then meta-state our unconscious part with creativity. This generates several new behavioral choices.

Next, we future pace the new choices using the “symptoms,” and other signals, of our “unconscious mind.” This demonstrates how meta-levels drives and modulates lower levels and can do so without our primary level mind awareness of it. We finally run an ecology check to activate a floater ecology-check state to make sure that the process works holistically for our welfare.

6) Metaphor

If in using a story or metaphor, we “bring it to bear upon” a state so that it stands in a meta-position to the state, then it operates as a higher logical level expression. In this way we can use stories, metaphors, narratives, non-propositional language, etc. to install meta-level formats.

By metaphoring, we literally “carrying over” one idea, thought, representation and put it in a meta position to another. This outframes the primary idea. “His argument won’t stand up to a thorough examination” outframes talk, thinking, and reasoning with a war metaphor (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980).

In Narrative Therapy (White and Epston, 1990), the therapist inquires about the stories that have formed and in-formed one’s thinking and feeling.

“What stories have you heard or told yourself about yourself, your life, your destiny, others, etc?”

“Who has storied you?”

“What kind of stories have you received or installed (tragedies, comedies, mysteries, adventures, etc.)?”

This presupposes that a person has heard a story or a narrative and over time has come to use it as an over-arching structure in his or her mind and life. They have used it as a glue that holds together the pieces which gives it meaning from that meta-level.

We do this very thin in hypnosis. We outframe a person’s experiences, memories, thinking, and emotions by telling various stories. The stories set a frame, so to speak, as well as induce very states– state that we want the person to experience and frequently, states that we want them to bring to bear and apply to other states.


In trance work we invite a person to go inside and to access new experiences, new ideas, new beliefs, and new frames of references. In doing this, it provides the person an ideal context (a quiet, receptive, open, intensely listening and learning state) in which to set new frames of references that will remap “reality” — internal subjective reality.

In doing this, the person not only goes inward but also goes up– he or she goes up into higher meta-states and meta-levels of experience. And at those higher levels they construct new and more useful beliefs and frames of references. There they learn to run their own brains more effectively and productively. Here they learn to outframe. Here they learn to truly take charge of consciousness.


Michael Hall, Ph.D., international NLP Trainer, entrepreneur in Western Colorado, and author of more than 18 NLP book.


Lakoff and Johnson (1980) describe the basic orientational metaphors that seem to so pervasively govern our cognitive reasoning, categorizing, and languaging. In Metaphors We Live By they argue persuasively that our embodied existence in the gravitational world establishes the basis for such orientational metaphors as up/down, in/out, back/front, the container metaphor, etc.


Bandler, Richard; and Grinder, John. (1975). The structure of magic, Volume I: A book about language and therapy. Palo Alto, CA: Science & Behavior Books.

Bandler, Richard and Grinder, John. (1976). The structure of magic, Volume II. Palo Alto, CA: Science & Behavior Books.

Bodenhamer, Bobby G.; and L. Michael Hall (1997). Time-lining: Advanced patterns in “Time” Processes. Wales, UK: Anglo-American Books.

Hall, L. Michael. (2000 2nd edition). Meta-states: Mastering the higher levels of mind. Self-reflexiveness Grand Jct. CO: Neuro-Semantics Publications.

Hall, L. Michael. (1997). NLP: Going meta into logical levels. Grand Jct. CO: E.T. Publications (in spiral book format).

Hall, L. Michael; and Bodenhamer, Bobby G. (1997). Figuring out people: Design Engineering with meta-programs. Wales: United Kingdom: Anglo-American Book Company.

Lakoff, George; and Johnson, Mark. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.