The Wonder of Meta

The Wonder of Meta

par Michael Hall


 By L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.

In the beginning there was meta.  Before NLP (1976), the Gestalt study groups were called meta.  Today Frank Pucelik recalls those early days talking about the meta kids.  And if you open up The Structure of Magic, you will find meta everywhere:
meta-commenting, taking a meta-position, being the meta person, meta-levels, numerous meta-tactics, meta-models, a meta-move, meta-form, meta-questions, meta-strategies, the meta agreement frame, the meta function, and in strategies the meta response, etc.

Meta was not a little thing, it is a pretty central thing in NLP.  When Frank split off from Richard and John, he and some of the original developers went to San Diego and created the Meta Institute that lasted several years.  Today he runs Meta International.  Then as NLP developed, meta-programs developed and meta-states.  Later I developed the Meta-Coaching System and even more recently, Meta-Therapy.1

What is this thing called meta and why is it so important?  Obviously, it is not a thing, but a process.  As a process, it is how your self-reflexive consciousness works. As you think, emote, process information, you “step back” from that experience and think-emote again.  You have second thoughts about your first thoughts.  You have third emotions about your second emotions.  You transcend your original experience and embed it inside of a higher experience (or frame) so that the second level governs the first.  This is what makes human subjective experiences so complex and challenging to model.  You and I, via our reflexivity, keep interfering with our experiences so that it’s not a simple answer to, “What do you think?” or “What do you feel?”2

Where is meta anyway?  When we go meta, where do we go?  Using the NLP distinction of map/territory, we go inside.  We go into the inner world where we map things, construct ideas, beliefs, understandings, decisions, identities, permissions, memories, and on and on.  We go into the meta place of our conscious and unconscious mind where we build up an entire world, our “model of the world.”  It is then, from there, that we live our lives.  If the inner world generally fits with the territory, it “works” and we succeed in achieving our objectives.  If not, we suffer a diminishing, a distortion, even a neurosis.  Ah, that’s the importance of meta.  In the meta place are all your resources, solutions, and problems.

Now when you step back and go meta, what will you encounter?  How can we picture this map or “model of the world” that’s inside?  And even more important, how can you work with this inside meta world so as to liberate the best in yourself and others, unleash your potentials, and translate into effective productivity?  Taking our cue from the therapeutic geniuses of Perls, Satir, and Erickson, we first pace, pace, and pace the language, metaphors, and understandings of that world.  Then using the Meta-Model, we invite a person to update the mapping, or completely remap, in his or her inner world.
Then we can begin to get a sense of what is in the meta place and how it is constructed.  And whatever is there determines one’s experiences and the quality of one’s life.  In the meta place are primarily beliefs, but also understandings, knowledge, values, decisions, permissions, prohibitions, memories, imaginations, identities, etc.3

The bottom-line is that NLP, as a “study of the structure of subjectivity,” began by identifying the critical importance of meta.  Accordingly, for NLP to continue its mission, we need to return to this aspect more fully and intentionally.  Why?  Because everything truly important and essentially human occurs in the meta place.  So as we learn how we and others can effectively navigate that inner space—this will continue to make NLP relevant in today’s world.

1. See The Meta-Coaching System (2015), Meta-Therapy: Psychotherapy in the Meta Place (2022).
2. See Meta-States (2012) and NLP Going Meta (2001).
3. In the book Neuro-Semantics and in Meta-Therapy, we have identified over 100 meta-terms for the many facets of constructs which are meta, that is, in a person’s “model of the world.”