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Maps Beyond the Mind: NLP and Spirituality

 

 

Introduction

By the mid 1990s, people in NLP had begun to take an increasing interest in the spiritual. This was natural. After all, we consider NLP ‘the study of the structure of subjective experience’, and the spiritual forms an important part of human experience.

Yet in the domain of the spiritual we can easily stray, as Bateson put it, quoting Alexander Pope, to where,‘angels fear to tread’. Firstly, the spiritual is perhaps the one area of human experience where there has already been extensive modelling. All the major religions of the world – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism – have developed maps of the spiritual and pathways to its attainment, sometimes as part of their mainstream, as in the case of Buddhism, sometimes esoteric and hidden, as in the case of Sufism. Furthermore, the traditional Eastern method of surrendering to a spiritual teacher or ‘guru’ implicitly involves extended second position intuitive modelling.

Besides the major religions, a host of teachers and teachings have offered their own maps and methods. The shamanic and animist traditions from around the world, for instance, so much in vogue in recent years, offer a vast repository of knowledge and wisdom about body, mind, and spirit. In NLP, we are if anything brash newcomers to a field with a long history.

Secondly, the spiritual generates great passions. Directly, and indirectly through the often ossified structures of organized religion, the spiritual has engendered fierce conflict, leading to often brutal intolerance. Confusions of map and territory abound in this area, with potentially horrendous consequences in terms of inter-community strife and personal repression.

Thirdly, many would argue that NLP is a mental discipline, arising from the conscious mind, and as such ill-equipped to deal with the spiritual, which, they suggest, touches realms of revelation that surpass and reframe our ordinary experience. One thinks of the theologian Aquinas, one of the great minds of the Christian tradition, writing after an intense spiritual revelation towards the end of his life, that ‘all I have written is so much chaff’. For many our approach to experiences of the sacred and the ineffable could be reductive. Questions abound: Can analytic modelling do justice to ‘transcendental’ experience? Can the latter be defined in terms of submodalities? If we want to know God, is it enough just to change our state? Or is that ‘chunking on the wrong logical level’?

My own view is that there is a place for our discipline in coding and modelling spiritual experience so that it is better understood and more easily accessible to those who are ready for a spiritual journey. But we need to proceed gingerly, treading more lightly even than angels, if we are to help resolve map-territory confusions, rather than add to them. Our approach needs to be aligned and code-congruent with what we are exploring if we are not to find our work reductive or simplistic.

In this article, I attempt to provide a comprehensive if loose map of different kinds of spiritual experience, both in relation to each other and in relation to our existing maps of experience in NLP. I hope that subsequently it will be possible to make finer distinctions than I do here.

 

The Varieties of Experience

Since the 1980s, the only widely accepted map of human experience in NLP that acknowledges the spiritual has been Robert Dilts’ ‘Neuro-Logical Levels’.

His model offers a cursory glance at the spiritual in terms that are essentially humanistic and neo-Christian. Dilts recognizes five mundane ‘logical levels’ to experience: Environment, Behaviour, Capabilities, Beliefs and Values, and Identity. He adds a number of supra-mundane levels, which he terms ‘spiritual’, such as Family, Community, Country, Planet, and Cosmos. He defines these as answering the question ‘Who else?’, as to who or what there is beyond our identity. He cleverly masks the implied theistic direction of his question by pointing to our experiences with other human beings and nature. The G-word is hinted at but not dwelt on, allowing the model to nod wisely in the direction of both believers and non-believers alike.

At first sight Dilts’ spiritual levels are arguably part of the environment in which we find ourselves, influences on our individual self. What makes them spiritual is the extra dimension of transpersonal connectedness present in special moments such as childbirth, deep love, or death. According to a Newsweek survey in the mid-90s, 68% of Americans sense the sacred at the birth of a child; 26% during sex.[1]

However, such experiences form only a small part of the possible meanings that people ascribe to the word ‘spiritual’. Expansion of our personal boundaries through relationship with others is neither sufficient nor necessary for spiritual experience. Other types of spiritual experience are also important.

At the ‘World Conference on Psychotherapy and Spirituality’, held in Bali in July 1994, NLP trainer Anne Entus used simple NLP questions to have a multi-cultural group of Europeans, Asians, and Americans (North and South) identify and share what the word ‘spiritual’ meant for them. People were somewhat surprised that a word which they thought they all understood had such different meanings for different people.

I noticed that people tended to attach the word ‘spiritual’ to five types and contexts of experience, notably wonder and awe at aspects of nature, including experiences of deep connectedness with others, particularly in birth, death, and love; experience of ‘magical’ or ‘psychic’ phenomena; communion with a Supreme Being; religious life; and deep transcendental experiences in meditation.

I have grouped these five kinds of experience under the headings:

  • Transfiguration of the Natural World
  • Opening to Other Realms
  • Communion with the Divine
  • Religious Life
  • Awakening to Transcendence

The first three categories, although including a considerable variety of experience, fall within Dilts’ spiritual levels, the fourth in a sense spans many of the usual everyday levels of experience, especially special environments and behaviours, and beliefs and values, but also touches the higher spiritual levels, while the fifth involves experiences which fall outside and outframe the logical levels altogether.

These five kinds of experience transcend cultural differences. Although the content and emphasis among them may differ, much that is structurally similar recurs in people’s experience in different parts of the world. These distinctions, I believe, can provide a basis for a simple model of spiritual experiences, which covers a broader ground than Dilts’ original map but is compatible with his coding.

I hope my model can provide a frame to help reconcile some of the important debates in the study of spiritual experience, such as: What is the relationship of theistic and non-theistic experience? Are the deepest experiences personal or impersonal, non-dual or dualistic, with form or without form? How do content-present and content-free notions of the spiritual relate to each other?

 

Map and Territory

Before exploring these categories in more detail, let us briefly consider some of the pertinent map-territory issues that can easily add to confusion in this area.

Michael Paffard notes in Inglorious Wordsworths: A Study of Transcendental Experiences in Childhood and Adolescence that a very large proportion of the population has experiences of expanded consciousness in a variety of situations. He makes an important distinction between experience and beliefs about the experience. How people respond to experiences and describe them depends a lot on their belief systems. What appear to the outsider to be closely similar experiences may be interpreted in quite different terms. For instance, what one person considers a ‘spiritual’ experience may for another be considered an ‘aesthetic’ experience. There is a difference between the experience itself and the meaning attached to it.

Dogmatic pressures, particularly in religions (such as Christianity and Islam) that have emerged from the Middle East, may also influence the experiencer to bend language somewhat in order to translate experience into terms acceptable to religious authorities. Unorthodoxy can mean expulsion from the club, as in the case of the popularizer of ‘creation-centred spirituality’, the erstwhile Dominican theologian, Matthew Fox. In less benign times and places it can be fatal.

As we know in NLP, words are not the same as what they refer to. Moreover people typically find that the qualities of spiritual experience are often difficult to express, arguing that they are ‘utterly beyond words’. Yet language can be indicative of the nature of privileged experience. Successful evocation, however, often involves a mix of metaphor and abstraction, such as St John of the Cross’s mysterious ‘I entered into unknowing’. Often the metaphors used are period and culture-dependent. The ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, for instance, may have connotations now quite different from earlier usage. It may be important to know some of the coding of stock terms and phrases.

People typically find it difficult to understand experiences that they have not themselves had. The language used to describe an experience may seem arcane, until a similar experience makes it comprehensible. In much spiritual experience, mind and senses surpass themselves in a heightening of consciousness quite unlike our ordinary waking state. You have to have been there too in order to really know it.

A person’s beliefs about the meaning of their experience are an important but not necessarily decisive factor in examining spiritual experience. It is important in modelling the experience of others to recognize that both our own and their belief systems can inhibit understanding of experience. It is incumbent upon us in approaching experiences that touch the sacred to recognize that rapport will require us to enter into values and states that beckon us far beyond the confines of our ordinary waking awareness.

My concern here is not to get into wrangles about what experiences are more valid or true, but to stay as close as possible to NLP notions of usefulness. I presuppose that spiritual experiences are both important and of value. While they cannot entirely be divorced from the belief systems that surround them, as we come to understand the structure and relationship among them, we can begin to find ways to facilitate the process of unfolding who and what we are in accord with that very spiritual notion that all the resources are already within us.

 

Transfiguration of the Natural World

Dilts’ original category of the spiritual primarily covers a class of experiences in which it is as if scales fall from our eyes, ears, and hearts to reveal a dimension of deeper meaning in people, places, and even things. I have termed such experience ‘Transfiguration of the Natural World’.

 

Nature

In some experiences, people are filled with a Wordsworthian awe and reverence at an unseen presence sensed in the heart of nature. Such experiences triggered by the beauty or majesty of mountain or tree become commonplace in the West with Romanticism. But we find them before with a more theistic gloss in a long tradition going back at least to Hildegaard of Bingen and St Francis’s magnificent ‘Canticle of the Creatures’.

Such experiences touch inner feeling through the senses of sight or sound, which may be further heightened. People report sensing that nature is as if on fire, ‘every common bush afire with God’, as Elizabeth Barrett-Browning puts it. The world, ‘Nature’s bonfire’ (Gerard Manley Hopkins), can seem to pulse and glow with creative energy and light – ‘The World is charged with the grandeur of God’. And for the seventeenth century poet-mystic Thomas Traherne, even the streets seem paved with gold.

 

Animals

Experiences of transfiguration of the natural world may also involve other creatures. Wonder at the beauty and grace of animals can lead to a sense of the mystery of creation and the unseen hand of a creator beyond. Rilke’s poems about animals in the Neue Gedichte (New Poems) with the tense pacing of panthers and flamingos ‘striding into the imaginary’ suggest his studied entering into the living otherness of the creatures we share this planet with. In his letters, he describes how his attention, reaching far into the centre of a creature he observes, awakens to a sense of the very moment in which the creator releases his creation and ‘finds it good’.

 

Art

Experiences of divine presence and transcendental awe in Nature often lead to attempts to re-evoke such experience through art or poetry. The resultant ‘art’ may itself become a secondary medium for such experience, awakening a sense of wonder, reverence, and awe in the perceiver. Traditionally in Japan short ‘haiku’ poems have been used to capture and communicate the often fleeting and poignant, ‘suchness’ of being in nature. In an inverse process, Judith DeLozier uses aesthetic appreciation of parts of nature, what she calls ‘God’s Art’, and identification with the master-artist to awaken something of such experience.

 

Connection with Others

Transfiguration of the natural world can extend to our fellow human beings. The key transition points of life – childbirth, contact with the new-born, moments spent with the dying, death, and falling in love – can trigger profound experiences in us that we experience as sacred and spiritual. At such moments people may open to a profound feeling of love that is both personal and transpersonal. They may awaken to a sense of the other person as a timeless spiritual entity independent of the body.

 

Collective Consciousness

Among such experiences, we can include the profound recognition that humankind shares in a collective soul or consciousness It is as if at times part of us reaches out from our isolated body to embrace a common humanity uniting us all. In such experiences we may have a sense of belonging to a much larger collective consciousness, in which ‘I’ and ‘You’ form a ‘We’ that contains us both.[2] This ‘we’ may be a small group united in a deep moment, or it may expand to include a sense of oneness with all the beings on this planet. The Catholic Church’s notion of the ‘mystical body of Christ’ and Teilhard De Chardin’s ‘Noösphere’, a field of consciousness surrounding the planet resulting from the consciousness of each of us, imply such experience.

 

Opening to Other Realms

At the 1994 Bali conference in Psychotherapy and Spirituality, a number of participants, particularly those from Indonesia, indicated that they considered psychic and magical experiences one of the key ways they encountered the spiritual. Such experiences reminded them of other forces and presences than those accessible to the conscious mind. Such glimpses awakened a sense of wonder and awe in them. They provided powerful reminders of our connection with realms of experience and a pattern much larger than ourselves.

This category overlaps somewhat with the territory evoked in the previous section. As the world becomes transfigured, the membrane separating us from experience of other realms thins. The magical thinking of some of our animist forebears and cousins in other parts of the world, where everything is sign, symbol and portal to the worlds of beneficent and maleficent spirits and gods, is more accessible.

This grouping, then, includes experiences that stretch our habits of rational materialism. They include Jung’s synchronicity or meaningful coincidence, psychic phenomena, such as telepathy, much channelling, magic and other ‘supernatural’ phenomena, and visions. Experiences range from visionary encounters with departed souls, fairies, devas, demons, angels, and gods seemingly visiting this world to full-blown visionary visits to other worlds, travels to so-called ‘astral planes’ or to hidden heavens and hells.

 

Other Worlds

Accounts of visits to other realms, while superficially different, have sufficient structural similarity among individuals and even across cultures to interest the pattern-modelling abilities of the NLPer. Descriptions of other realms appear to exist around the world. India, Ancient Rome and Greece, Ireland, Scandinavia, and Tibet all offer visions of other realms coloured by local climate and geography, but structurally similar. Dante’s ‘Inferno’ and ‘Paradiso’ offer visions of other worlds not dissimilar to those found on Tibetan Tankas, or on the paintings on the ceiling of the pavilion of justice in the royal palace at Klungkung in Bali.

 

Near-Death Experiences

One important class of such experiences has received considerable attention in recent years – Near-Death Experience. Reports of these experiences have a structural consistency. People commonly report a sense of travelling down a long tunnel, towards a point of light, encounters with emissaries from beyond, such as deceased relatives or friends, or key figures from the person’s religion, such as the Christ. Such experiences, whatever their explanation, are often profoundly influential, altering a person’s belief and value system in the direction of a greater appreciation of, and commitment to, the precious gift of life, together with a greater detachment, as if being here is in no sense the be-all and end-all of existence. People are frequently convinced that this world is only part of a much larger picture in which there is a continuity to personal existence.

 

Channelling and Mediumship

Another a way in which people encounter the spiritual by opening to other realms is through ‘channelling’ or mediumship of other entities or levels of experience. Arthur Hastings has provided a very sane and comprehensive treatment of this subject.[3] Hastings offers a useful discussion of the two predominant explanations for channelling: communication from an external agency of some kind or from another part of the self. He points out some of the merits and demerits of both points of view. He suggests that the quality of channelled information varies enormously from banal platitudes to the comprehensive and sophisticated teachings of the Course in Miracles. What comes through appears to depend on the quality of the channel. For instance, channelled entities have no higher ESP scores than their hosts. Both channelled entities and the derived information, he suggests, need careful assessment.

In the 1990s New Zealand trainer Richard Bolstad and his then partner, Margot Hamblett, used NLP to model channelling. Among their findings, they discovered that NLP can be used to help channels channel more easily and effectively. The NLP modellers also found that the relationship of the channel with their ‘spiritual guides’ and guidance can involve a radical transformation of personal life. As the person surrenders to an often bizarre period of instruction, they may become progressively detached from their old practically-oriented material self, and increasingly aligned with a deeper intuition and wisdom which eventually becomes their own.

Eileen Caddy (one of the founders of the Findhorn Community in Scotland) describes this evolution in simple terms with an interesting switch of referential index. In the early days of Findhorn she reported hearing a voice of guidance, which over the years gradually changed. At first it addressed her as ‘My child’, then ‘My beloved child.’ Later still she realized that she was separating herself from God: ‘There is no separation between ourselves and God, there is only “I am”. I am the guidance. It took me many years to realize this . . . About three or four years ago, it all suddenly changed and I realized that if I accept the God within, then “I am” is the highest source . . . Yes, I still listen to the voice, and we all have that voice inside us . . . It is now in the first person.’[4]

 

Communion with the Divine

Eileen Caddy’s experience of channelling divine guidance leads us to the next category, in which I have placed experiences of devotion to, and communion with, a divine being.

In such experience, that which transcends one’s personal self is sensed to be ‘higher’ and ‘larger’ than oneself. There is a worshipper and the worshipped. In the theistic traditions, this is generally considered the ultimate truth. Both Sufi and Christian mystical literature (Rumi and St John of the Cross, for instance) employ the metaphor of a relation between a lover and the beloved. Writings of mystics, however, suggest that this ultimately yields to a kind of mystical union, where lover and beloved become one. Ramakrishna describes how the devotee may become attached to this blissful relationship and have difficulty letting go to enter into a deeper unity.

Sometimes people describe a somewhat more distant relationship in which they receive ‘God’s grace’. This appears to denote a sense of connection with a beneficent emanation from a divine being. Often this is encountered through prayer, which the Catholic Catechism describes as ‘raising the heart and mind to God’. My research suggests that this can refer to a simple process in which one directs one’s attention to connection with a ‘Higher Being’ by opening awareness at the heart and sensing a link through the upper part of the head with a kind of presence above. One then feels a link with a subtle but powerful energy and wisdom. Once this connection is made it is possible to commune with it, receiving energy and light. One can also seed it with questions or requests, which may be answered immediately or with some delay with a sense of rightness and truth.

People typically report knowing that their prayers have been heard through a mix of external evidence, inner feeling, or an inner voice or vision. Thus a request manifests, often in unexpected and serendipitous ways. Or a reassuring sense of ‘divine grace’ and the prayer having been heard are felt. Or an inner voice is heard or vision seen that appears to answer questions or offer useful guidance or suggestions. People often report that ‘the small still voice of truth’ appears to have a different spatial location and submodalities than ordinary internal dialogue, indicating to the perceiver that the communication is not from their usual conscious or unconscious mind.

Devotional experience may involve our sensing through our mind and body our actual connection with the larger universe, a deep recognition that we also are linked to what Bateson called ‘the pattern that connects’. The question of whether this is an experience of connection with another being or a connection with an important aspect of oneself ‘the Higher Self’ or ‘Higher Unconscious’ (see Roberto Assagioli’s egg-like map of the psyche which distinguishes between a lower, middle, and higher unconscious) is interesting in the light of Eileen Caddy’s experience.[5] While the meaning we ascribe to something influences our attitudes and relationship with it, it appears that as our experience evolves, our relationship with it also changes. What at first may seem Other may eventually be experienced as nothing other than one’s own essential nature or Self. Understanding can influence our interpretation of experience, but experience can also modify our understanding.

If we apply the criterion of use rather than truth, the practice of devotional prayer appears valuable. We alter the state of body and mind in a positive way, engendering a sense of peace, connection with a larger whole, source of creative and intuitive insight. Many hesitate to pray because they don’t necessarily believe in a higher Being. According to Newsweek, 60% of Americans believe that you have to believe in God to experience the sacred. This is clearly erroneous, as many people have acquired their belief in God as a result of surprise visitations of the sacred. Of course beliefs can help or hinder experiences of all kinds, including the spiritual. But it may be that as we model the structure of devotional and petitionary prayer, we can enjoy the benefits without presupposing prior extensive changes in belief-systems. A little innocence and acknowledgement of our place in a larger pattern may be enough.

 

Religious Life

The words ‘spirituality’ and ‘religion’ are closely intertwined. However they are not the same. The spiritual may be experienced outside of religious contexts, while aspects of a religion – such as its politics or its financial management – may have very little to do with the spiritual. Membership of a religion is neither necessary nor sufficient for spiritual experience. Yet, for millions around the world, particularly those externally referenced, active participation in a religion provides the context in which the spiritual is experienced. Through their places of worship and rituals, religions provide a context and structure to help people connect with the sacred. At the Bali conference mentioned above, this was particularly true for the Indonesians professing Islam. According to Newsweek, 50% of Americans also feel a deep sense of the sacred all or most of the time at church service.[6]

Structurally, the spiritual element of religious experience typically fit into one of the other categories of experience – such as transfiguration of the natural world or communion with the divine. I have used a separate category because religion provides a context to support spiritual experience, a context in which people may believe it arises or upon which it depends. Unfortunately, many people are unable to distinguish the spiritual from the religious context in which it is typically encountered. Their path may then become the only path, as they reject and distort other paths. In contrast, studies in comparative religion or the psychology of spiritual experience, which point to common patterns in religious experience, such as those undertaken by Stace, Huxley, Laski, and even the rather biased R. C. Zaehner, are close in spirit to NLP.[7]

Religions often arise from the teachings of an inspired individual. Because profound spiritual experiences of the type we have been briefly discussing in this article engage a level of experience that seems far larger than our personal ego, they can fire a voice with a wisdom and rightness that moves others to make radical changes in their lives. Spiritual experience often involves deep attunement to the present moment and can yield profound insight into issues pertinent to a whole group of people. Such insights may form the core of a teaching, as in the case of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam.

Although subsequent followers may embroider or re-interpret past inspiration rather than generate it afresh, over time religions can become vast repositories of means for orienting life towards spiritual awakening. Religious behavioural guidelines can facilitate the kind of life that will provide a context in which spiritual awakening is easier. The sense of sharing in a communion of other beings dedicated towards supra-mundane ends can be both supportive and socially cohesive. (Although it can also be divisive and dangerous as a group separates itself from ‘infidels’ and followers of other paths).

However, there is also some truth in Illich’s observation that institutions end up achieving the opposite of what they were originally intended for. Over time the founder’s fresh insights are codified and commentated into fossilized dogma. Rigidity and failure to respond freshly to changing conditions may even stifle the impulse to awaken. Ritual observances become mechanical. Behaviour is confused with spirituality.

Jesus’ fresh and immediate replies to those that challenged his free interpretation of then current behavioural rules – such as his retort to those that objected to his disciples nibbling ears of corn on the Sabbath, that ‘the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath’ – indicate that he recognized this process. His pointed remarks suggest a strong internal reference and chunking at a higher logical level than the behaviourally-oriented scribes and Pharisees. Yet, his own inspiration gave rise in time to an institution capable of similar dogmatism.

 

Awakening to Transcendence

The final category of spiritual experience is quite subtle. It involves awakening to one’s own ‘essence’ or ‘being’. Paul Valéry describes how he became increasingly aware, at a deeper level of experience than his personality and personal history, of ‘a profound note of existence’ that formed a kind of permanent background to the changing patterns of personal experience. This is awareness or consciousness itself, what Sogyal Rinpoche calls ‘Rigpa, a primordial pure, pristine awareness that is at once intelligent, cognizant, radiant, and always awake’.[8]

Usually we are aware of the contents of consciousness, rather than the medium of consciousness itself. Sometimes this is glimpsed like T. S. Eliot’s ‘stillness half-heard between two waves of the sea’. Pure Consciousness is identifiable in gaps between thoughts and between perception. ‘When your attention is off a thing and not yet fixed on another, in the interval you are pure being’, remarks Swami Nisargadatta Mataraj.[9]

Eventually such experience can lead to a profound reordering of the person in which one ceases to identify with the machinations of our usual individual self, and identifies instead with the almost abstract field of consciousness itself. Swami Nisargadatta offers one of the most compelling accounts of awakening to, and identification with, such experience, which he claims took about three years of introspection under the guidance of his teacher:

Nobody ever fails in yoga . . . It is slow in the beginning and rapid in the end. When one is fully matured, realization is explosive. . . In the great mirror of consciousness images arise and disappear and only memory gives them continuity. On such flimsy foundations we build a sense of personal existence – vague, intermittent, dreamlike. This vague persuasion: ‘I-am-so-and-so’ obscures the changeless state of pure awareness and makes us believe that we are born to die and suffer. p. 113

One thing is quite clear to me: all that is, lives and moves and has its being in consciousness and I am in and beyond that consciousness. I am in it as the witness. I am beyond it as Being. p. 92

 

The Problem of Identity

Modern Western psychology is predicated on building a strong sense of individual self. Yet many of the great spiritual traditions – especially those of the East – appear to suggest that the individual self is our real problem. As a field, NLP has probably failed to tackle this issue, appearing for the most part content to bolster and fulfil the personal self. This for many people who have reflected deeply about such things makes NLP also part of the problem space – making the prison more comfortable, rather than shattering its walls.[10] Perhaps before posing the question: ‘What is beyond identity?’ we should ask: ‘What is identity?’

As I understand Dilts’ model of ‘logical levels’ of experience, identity is that sense of individual selfhood which encompasses the various beliefs, values, capabilities and behaviours of the lower logical levels. We sense identity when matters of deep importance pertaining to ourselves are touched. We sense identity in others also in moments of deep interpersonal contact.

However, if one tries to identify identity within, it is hard to do so, as most of our experience turns out to consist of beliefs, values, behaviours from lower logical levels. What is more constant is a sense of ‘I’ or ‘I amness’. It would seem, as Bateson suggests, that identity is the sum of our learnings, about who and what we are, attached to a sense of ‘I’ – ‘the biggest nominalization of all’.

Thus one spiritual practice recommended in India by Ramana Maharishi and others is an inquiry into the nature of self to answer the question ‘Who am I?’ For Sri Nisargadatta entering the sense of ‘I am’ is pivotal between ordinary mental and emotional experience and that which is ‘beyond’, Pure Awareness, Being. ‘The way leads through yourself beyond yourself’, p. 166. It is a small step between settling into a deep sense of one’s own existence – which is the immediate in-the-now complex equivalence of ‘I am’ – to merging into the simple awareness of existence itself.

Accounts of such experience abound. The French poet Mallarmé described how his habit of nocturnal self-enquiry led to dissolution of his personal identity into ‘nothingness’ (le Néant) in which he became completely impersonal. ‘I am no longer the Stéphane that you knew, but an aptitude that the spiritual universe has in order to see and develop itself through what was me’. Mallarmé describes a kind of inner death and rebirth in which identification with personal identity is irrevocably broken. The usual perspective in relation to our context, actions, and the inner machinations of the individual self, shifts. They are, as it were, now experienced from the outside, as an observer. The American philosopher, Franklin Merrell-Wollff, in The Philosophy of Consciousness-without-an-Object describes similar experience in considerable detail.

Dilts’ logical levels of experience do not really accommodate this kind of perspective, in which we jump outside maps altogether to a reflexive awareness devoid of content or defining qualities. Typically, I place such experience to either side of the figure I use to illustrate the various logical levels, from context to self. I situate the sense of ‘I am’ pivotally, vertically between the mundane and supra-mundane logical levels of experience. The sense of ‘I amness’ also provides an access point ‘sideways’ to the consciousness-existence implicit in, but independent of, cognition of the various possible contents of consciousness, from earth to heaven, from ants to angels (See below, Figure 1).

 

Personal and Impersonal

One of the most thoughtful and thorough commentators of the subtle realms of inner experience, A. H. Almaas, notes that most people find the notion of spirituality involving loss of personal selfhood to an impersonal being-existence disconcerting. Given a choice between loss of self and experience of the world, he suggests, most people choose the latter.[11]

Almaas proposes that there is another possibility. He draws on both Sufism and psycho-dynamic object-relations theories of how the individual self is constructed in the early years. He suggests that as the ego develops we create a false self. However, the impersonal realm of pure being, consciousness-without-an-object, or what he calls ‘Essence’ can also be tinged with a personal quality. This ‘Essence’, as opposed to the ego, is our ‘True Self’. Personal essence on the one hand has a flavour unique to an individual, and on the other derives that flavour from the universal being that illuminates it. It is this quality of essence which permits genuine contact with others. It is the essence and fulfilment of our humanness, but it is a quality of being rather than a discrete function of the ego or personality. As we go deep into the sense of our own existence, through experiencing the sense of ‘I am’, we come to experience not only impersonal being, but the quality of personal essence which imbues our everyday life and relationships.

This quality of personal essence resembles the ‘core states’ encountered in Connirae Andreas’ Core Transformation process, described in terms such as ‘being’, ‘inner peace’, ‘love’ (lovingness), ‘OKness’, and ‘oneness’.[12] These seem to be experiences of states at the heart of personal identity yet touching more impersonal realms at the intersection of the higher and lower logical levels and the personal and extra-personal facets of existence.

 

Mapping the Spiritual: Unity and Duality

Having outlined the key types of spiritual experience, we can begin to consolidate our understanding of how they relate to each other. Philosopher Walter Stace offers a helpful model. In Mysticism and Philosophy, he groups spiritual experience according to whether it is introvertive (internal) or extrovertive (external), unitive or dualistic. We thus have the possibility of four primary kinds of experience, notably that which is 1) both introvertive and unitive; 2) introvertive and dualistic; 3) extrovertive and dualistic; or 4) extrovertive and unitive.

 

 

Introvertive

Extrovertive

Unitive

1. Introvertive & Unitive

4. Extrovertive & Unitive

Dualistic

2. Introvertive & Dualistic

3. Extrovertive & Dualistic

 

In introvertive unitive experience, the variety of active experiences of the mind return to a common ground. The Indian sage Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras calls this the ‘cessation of the modifications of the mind’. The divisions of the psyche are transcended and suspended in a state of oneness, of simple being-awareness. Tennyson used to access such states by inwardly repeating his own name, until the latter faded away and he passes ‘into the Nameless as a cloud melts into heaven’.

Stace accurately observes that such experiences typically involve two kinds of state. One is void, flat, empty, dark – what St John of the Cross termed ‘the dark night of the soul’. People can have a sense that they are losing all that they loved and enjoyed in the world as well as the warmer aspects of inner experience. It is as if they are being stripped bare. This can seem quite painful, as if one is losing everything one held dear and gaining in return an empty Nothing. In the other kind of introvertive unitive experience, this emptiness appears light, full, brimming with the sense of unexpressed possibilities.

The language used to describe introvertive unitive experience is usually paradoxical, often highly nominalized or mixed with metaphor – as in ‘The cloud of unknowing’. It can be full of negation – such as ‘And my spirit/ was given an understanding/ while not understanding, /Transcending all knowledge.’[13]

Introvertive dualistic states often begin to occur, while resting in Merrell-Wollff’s undifferentiated ‘consciousness-without-an-object’, when we become aware of inner thoughts and feelings arising and passing. This content appears without overshadowing the deeper ‘pure awareness’ that is the silent, unexpressed reflector of experience.

Certain Buddhist techniques of ‘Mindfulness’ are predicated on this kind of realization. Practitioners are encouraged to stay in a state of inner quiet, simply noticing that ‘there is thinking’. It is presupposed that some quieter backdrop of mind is simply present to the comings and goings of internal computations.[14]

As this experience becomes more familiar, it begins to persist in ordinary waking consciousness. One rests in, and identifies with, being-consciousness, while observing the presence of the coming and going of the usual machinations of self, its thoughts, feelings, and sensations.

In both introvertive and extrovertive dualistic experience, the contents of consciousness are witnessed from a spacious awareness outside the frame of the usual ‘logical levels’ of experience (sensory experience, cognition, etc.). Inner witnessing, first experienced in meditation or meditative contexts, comes to exist in everyday life. Experience acquires a quality of detachment, as if ‘doing is being done, but I am not the doer’. Identification is not with the personal self, but with a kind of impartial witnessing awareness, which merely reflects what occurs within it. Much extrovertive dualistic experience, then, simply extends introvertive unitive experience into daily life.

Subsequently there may be a further shift in which separation between self and non-self, between consciousness-without-an-object and the objects of consciousness, first softens and eventually almost disappears altogether. All is experienced as one.

Extrovertive unitive experience involves recognizing that both the mundane and supra-mundane levels of experience are ultimately fluctuations of this underlying consciousness. In extrovertive unitive experience, what we perceive in the world is taken as part of a unified whole that is ultimately simply our own inner awareness. It is as if our transpersonal being-consciousness is recognized permeating all levels of experience. Our own sense of self-being is experienced as no different from the being of all things. Differences continue to exist, but they do not predominate over the sense of intimate harmony and unity.

Stace’s model also accommodates many of the other experiences we have discussed in the earlier sections. Thus devotional prayer tends to be internal and dualistic. But the perspective is typically, at least in those at the beginning stages of devotional practice, not from outside the frame of the usual ‘logical levels of experience’, but from inside them. The personal self and its expressions remain in the foreground as the locus of our attention. The one praying is usually engaged in some kind of behaviour that turns the attention to the supra-mundane ‘level(s)’ of experience. The dualism is between the usual sense of personal thoughts and feelings and the felt sense of divine grace or presence.

When such introvertive dualistic prayer becomes unitive, typically the person passes, like St John of the Cross, into the state of consciousness-without-an-object outside the frame. Traditionally this has been termed ‘contemplative prayer’. The challenge facing many Christian mystics, such as Meister Eckhardt, was how to describe such impersonal experience (Eckhardt calls it the ‘Godhead’) in terms that were accurate, while remaining within theistic orthodoxy.

When introvertive pure awareness reflects a sense of the divine Other, mystics such as Rumi and St John of the Cross may describe subtle dualistic states in terms of a meeting of lover and beloved, in which separation and unity, knower and known, are so very close:

All through eternity
Beauty unveils His exquisite form
in the solitude of Nothingness;
He holds a mirror to His Face
and beholds His own beauty.
He is the knower and the known
the seer and the seen;
No eye but His own
has ever looked upon this Universe.[15]

Experiences of opening to other realms are typically dualistic. They can be either introvertive, glimpsed in meditative or dream-like states or extrovertive, involving visions in the world, such as the reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary to Catholic children in a number of different parts of the world. The sense of self may be heightened through the feeling of wonder, but the experiencer does not necessarily rest in pure consciousness – although Dante appears to describe something like this in the final cantos of the Paradiso.

Experiences of transfiguration of the natural world are typically extrovertive. They may be unitive or dualistic, according to whether the experience emphasizes a unity in nature that includes the experiencer or not.

Experiences of heightened perception in which nature appears tinged with a radiant and celestial quality are usually dualistic, involving a sense of wonder and awe at the Beauty present in nature.

In extrovertive unitive experiences of transfiguration of the natural world, the boundaries of self dissolve in a state of unity. Everything – we, the world – is experienced as arising and unfolding within the one field of Being.

Thus a summary of the experiences we have discussed so far using Stace’s model might look like this:

 

 

Introvertive

Extrovertive

Unitive

• Emptiness, void, dark

• Fullness, light

• All is one

• One with all that is

Dualistic

• Witnessing of inner experience

• Communion with (a) higher being

• Witnessing of waking state

• World transfigured by divine energy and presence

 

Typically, over time we might find a progression in a person’s spiritual life, sometimes over many years, from encounters with inner union leading to internal dualistic witnessing, to external dualistic witnessing, thence to a sense of oneness with the world (extrovertive). To those whose spiritual life is oriented towards devotional communion with a divine being, we may find introvertive dualistic experience preceding introvertive unitive experience, and thence a sense of the presence of the divine in everyday life, and from there realization of our ultimate unity with it.

Of course glimpses of any of these experience may occur at any time.

Our map (Figure 1) allows us to situate many of the key philosophical and spiritual traditions, according to which parts of the map they emphasize or are centred in. Thus materialism and classical science are typically locked into the bottom triangle (area 1). Existentialism, Nihilism, Beckettian stripping away of the trappings of life, Pascalian pits, loss of meaning, etc. derive from the partial realization of the emptiness of the introvertive void. I become disconnected from the surface elements of life, but not yet fully grounded in my own Being. I encounter void, as something flat, empty, and separating (1a). Much of Eastern spirituality (Taoism, Buddhism, and Hinduism) emphasizes knowing areas 1a and b, in order not only to witness inner experience (2a), but to attain 3, in which the seeker awakens to inner awareness as the uninvolved reflector of relative experience (Nirvana, Satori).

Other traditions, such as Hinduism ultimately aspire to a fuller embodied awakening that unifies self and non-self (4). This process is condensed in the traditional Mahavakyas used to seal enlightenment, by summarizing the key realizations on the way. First ‘I am that’; then I realize also that ‘thou art that’; finally I recognize that ‘all this is that’; ‘there is nothing but that’).

Animism emphasizes the two arcs of sector 2b and 2d. The great theistic religions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) emphasize 2c, which may lead to familiarity with 2d and 4. Naturally this is a simplification. Elements of each kind of experience crop up in every tradition. They are all part of our human heritage and the deep structure of human experience.

 

Attention and Intent

Our account of spiritual experience may have important implications for our teaching of NLP. In its first decades NLP was primarily conceived of from within the frame of the mundane logical levels (area 1). Other experience was mainly viewed from there. If we begin to view NLP from the other parts of the map, whether from the ‘side’ perspective of ‘consciousness-without-an-object’ or from the perspective of the supra-mundane logical levels, we might re-evaluate the significance of the NLP endeavour and consider new priorities to accommodate these other perspectives.

Grinder and DeLozier’s New Code goes in this direction. Their starting presupposition appears to be that what we know is less important than how we are in ourselves. The emphasis in New Code NLP shifts from acquiring concepts and techniques to moving more elegantly through the world. How we are gives immediate and unconditional access to the resources we need in life. From this perspective, we find that the quality of our experience in life depends on how we orient our attention. If we know the world only indirectly through our representations, and these representations become the stuff of our inner life, then our attention becomes crucial in determining the nature and quality of our experience. New Code NLP picks up Castaneda’s notion of conventional ‘first attention’ and shamanic ‘second attention’, which is closer to pure presence and witnessing of experience.

 

Attention

Nelson Zink, author of the Structure of Delight, also emphasizes the importance of attention. He suggests that attention has a number of important modalities, depending on whether it is oriented to external or internal experience, and whether it is widely or narrowly focused. These four facets of attention mediated through each of the three primary senses give twelve modes of attention: visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic, which is either held with a broad or narrow focus, and oriented to either internal or external contents.

Awakening implies being at home in all modes of attention. But in spiritual experience, wide attention is particularly important. Most spiritual experience involves a sense of expansion of awareness. The sense of being unbounded in space is a characteristic of experiences of consciousness-without-an-object. Space is common to all sensory modalities. Space transcends the sensory modalities and unites them. All visual, auditory, and kinaesthetic experience presuppose location. They all depend upon a common space that they share. Experiencing the space implicit in all sensory experience is close to awakening to being itself. Opening to the sense of the limitlessness of space in which we find ourselves can expand attention to a sense of being-consciousness. It is a potential portal to ‘second attention’.

Paradoxically many spiritual practices achieve this expansive quality of experience by narrowing the field of attention, for instance, restricting it to a thought such as a mantra, the sense of ‘I am’, or an image, or feeling, such as in the flow of the breath. However, the attention subsequently expands radically as the mind becomes settled and passes beyond the object of attention to the unlimited field of consciousness itself.

 

Intention

Intention sets the direction of attention. What we set intent for is what we get. What we intend tends to manifest.

Intent operates at both the level of the conscious and unconscious mind. If we need to draw cash, we may hold the intent at the level of conscious mind until we come across the necessary bank. Or we may forget about our intent at the conscious level until, passing a bank or ATM, our unconscious mind gives us a prompt.

One of the functions of the unconscious mind is to maintain past intent. This has both positive and negative effects depending on the nature of the intentions already programmed in the unconscious. For instance, we may experience the recurring effect of intentions set in early childhood throughout our lifetime. At the deepest level, these are ultimately oriented towards shoring up our personal self, protecting us, for instance, with and from unspoken fears of annihilation.

One could define NLP as the management and realignment of intent. Ultimately this involves inventorying those knee-jerk responses of early intent that keep us within the frame of the mundane logical levels. Much belief-change work involves reorienting past intents so that they better serve us in the present. In my own personal one-to-one work, much of what I do involves identifying deep structures that inhibit opening to the spiritual core of life outside the mundane logical levels. This is important, since our life problems and challenges are compounded by over-attentiveness to the mundane, while ignoring the supra- or extra- mundane levels of existence.

 

Setting Intent

Setting intent can be simple. We first establish a positive relationship with our conscious and unconscious mind. We then identify our desired intent, seed it into the conscious mind, and let it go. If we repeat this process, regularly, what we intend manifests.

However, our choice of current intentions and our ability to set them are shaped by the intents we have already set in the unconscious mind, often long ago. As such setting intent requires humility and wisdom. It is preferable to coax, rather than force, our life into a self-evolving process. For this it is advisable that at the conscious level we orient our intent by asking our unconscious to help us identify intentions that will help us move forward with grace and wisdom.

This same process can help enhance spiritual life. Spiritual life is to a large extent the product of intent. If we are interested in and seek the spiritual, we tend to favour situations that allow it to unfold. A large part of the value of religious structures and codes of conduct lies in programming intention for our life to move towards balance and relationship with a larger whole than our personal selves.

Prayer, for instance, often serves as way of setting intent. A young Balinese explained to me that she always prays before going to sleep, using the customary flower offerings and traditional mantras. One of her personal requests is that she may be free to choose in life what is good for her, but if she is about to choose something that is bad for her, may God let her know. When I asked whether and how God lets her know, she described a number of kinaesthetic signals, which we would recognize in NLP as communications from the unconscious of inner incongruence. She also told me that before she sleeps as part of her night prayer she asks God to show her the future in her dreams. She informed me how she notes her dreams and finds that things she dreams subsequently happen in her life.

 

Intention and Awareness

If intention orients attention, both depend on and can open awareness. Awareness is that which enables us to recognize not only what we are attending to, but any associated intents. In many meditative practices, spiritually-oriented intent effectively turns attention onto itself, and we attend to the process of attending. In so doing, we come to know the source also of attention, awareness itself. Awareness is then recognized as that consciousness-without-an-object, which enables us potentially to attend to any part of experience within the logical levels. Awareness becomes both an end and a means in spiritual life.

As we come to know that awareness, we find that it is the magical ground of our own mind. It is the source of the little inspirations and intuitions that allow us to set intent wisely. Through a closer relationship with that creative consciousness, we find ourselves naturally orienting attention towards selecting intentions that enhance our awareness. We find ourselves attending quite naturally to what will support a life of quality. We choose a more balanced pathway of action, respecting our needs as a whole, eating and drinking more wisely, for instance, enjoying more creative sparkle and inspiration in our life. In the most simple of ways life becomes a sacrament, with everything imbued with a sense of being and meaning. We find ourselves in a virtuous circle from awareness to intent to attention to greater awareness. Life becomes without pretence or pretentiousness, in ways small and large, simply spiritual.

 

Physiology

Although the spiritual can involve rapturous experience that can appear to take us out of the body, the body is closely involved in spiritual experience, contributing either to its presence or absence.

Typically spiritual experience has profound effects on the body contributing to a sense of peace, well-being, ease, purification, renewal and health. Difficulties in accessing spiritual experience are often connected to tension and walling off in the body.

Brian Van der Horst, in Volume 1, issue 3 of NLP World (1994), proposes that we consider ‘energy’ as the key to exploring spiritual experience. Here we have emphasized consciousness, however there is a sense in which the two terms are two faces of the same coin. Spiritual awakening involves a heightening of consciousness that goes hand in hand with the freeing of inner energy in the body.

Many spiritual practices aim to enliven energy within the body in order to flush out blockages to the awakening to spiritual awareness. Physical movements, postures, gestures, dance, and ritual movements are used to enliven spiritual states – yoga, tai chi, and dervish ‘turning’ are examples.

Spontaneous movements, unanticipated kriyas and mudras, shaking and quaking, may arise quite naturally in altered states of awareness of a spiritual nature, as well as stimulating such experience. The unbidden unfolding of the body’s kundalini or shakti energy both opens and cleanses the subtle channels of the body in a naturally arising ‘inner dance’. At the same time, ecstatic dancing, ‘shaking medicine’, and other body- and energy-oriented practices can prime the pump for powerful energetic release and awakening.

In this process, ‘cool’ practices that emphasize a settling of body and mind are complementary to ‘hot’ practices that rattle our personal cages in a sacred and ecstatic shattering of boundaries.[16]

 

Breath

Breathing, too, becomes very important in awakening the flow of energy in the body and redirecting awareness. Shifts in breathing both stimulate and arise from shifts in energy and movement in the body. As mental activity quietens, so does the breath. Glimpses of consciousness-without-an-object often occur in the pause between the in and out flow of the breath.

 

The Three Chambers – Head, Heart, Gut

Many spiritual and psychological systems acknowledge the importance of different parts of the body in the overall balance and well-being of human life. A simpler version of the chakra system alluded to by Brian Van der Horst considers three major centres: centred on the head, the heart and the viscera, corresponding to intellectual, emotional, and vital or moving centres. I have found that most ill-formed deep beliefs about self or world involve some energetic blocking in the communication amongst these parts of the body.

These centres, or ‘chambers’, seem to predominate in different kinds of spiritual experience. The head appears central in introvertive unitive experiences of consciousness-without-an-object, in which the body is typically very still and breathing much more settled or suspended. The head also appears central in many dualistic experiences, particularly in dispassionate witnessing type awareness.

The heart centre, the seat of compassion and generous love, is involved in many dualistic experiences of devotion. The function of devotional prayer is to open and awaken the heart centre. It is no accident that the typical posture for prayer in much of the Christian West involves hands joined at the level of the heart. (In Bali hands may be joined at the heart, forehead, or above the forehead. Each position shifts the mind-body system, altering the nature of experience.)

The vital or moving centre, in the gut, seems to be the repository of our deepest fears and anxieties, concerning the survival of our personal ego. From our entrails comes the deepest sense of personal selfhood. As we come to identify with our physical body the head says ‘I’ and the guts ‘me’. From our belly arise the great resources of energy that mobilize our selfhood to defend itself against perceived threats to its separate existence. It is perhaps natural that the release of deep tensions and associated beliefs in this part of the body should make possible the surrender of the fortress self, and open the way to greater union, whether with the otherness of the Divine, with other people or with nature as a whole. As the power of ‘me’ and ‘mine’ loosens its grip, paradoxically it increases it, but lightly now. For what was before exercised to exclude in bolstering separateness, now expands to include.

It is possible to trace a typical, but by no means uniform, progression in spiritual awakening from states centred more in the head (Buddhist mindfulness, dispassionate witnessing) to experiences centred more on the heart, compassionate connection with the divine, with other creatures, and with nature, to an awakening in which the roots of emotional separateness contained in emotional/energetic blockages in the belly, resolve to permit a full experience of unity within and without.

Premature opening of the heart can lead to an overriding of rational thought and behaviour driven by the unredeemed ego. We then have the emotionally-driven narrowness displayed by fundamentalists of quite different persuasions. Their faces may glow with inner light and they may express and enjoy much warmth and intensity in their lives, but they can be rigid in their beliefs and unable to consider that others possibly have a spirituality as valid as their own. They are unable to go meta to their own world-view, a gift of the head.

Balinese and much oriental spirituality appears to acknowledge this need for a balance and alignment among these three primary centres. Man is viewed as occurring between Heaven and Earth, between the energies of earth and sky, connected with the dispassionate masculine through the head and with the mother through the earth. Typically we are biased too much towards earth (materialism, immersion in nature) or too much towards the sky (intellectuals and airheads). Energy must flow in and through the body in such a way that we experience balance and connectedness, poised between the two, with the heart awake and open as a bridge between the two, and as a conduit for the outflowing of our personal energy towards meaningful contact with others and our world.

 

Conclusion

The above lightning tour situates the range of spiritual experience in a simple comprehensive frame. It offers some simple ways of considering the structure of such experience (unitive and dualistic; introvertive and extrovertive, for instance). It also begins to consider some of the elements that help awaken spiritual experience. The two NLP presuppositions ‘every behaviour serves a positive intention’ and ‘people have all the resources’ have always tacitly acknowledged that the fruits of our change processes ultimately derive from that which is beyond the ordinary logical levels, an implicit guiding wholeness, which is, I would suggest ultimately spiritual in nature. In modelling and mapping the spiritual, NLP has the exciting prospect of rediscovering and transcending itself.

 

Peter Wrycza, PhD

This article was first published in NLP World, Vol. 2, 1, 1995, pp. 35-65. This revised version, Sidemen, Bali, August 2017.

 

 

Bibliography

A H Almaas, Essence: The Diamond Approach to Inner Realization, Samuel Weiser Inc., York Beach, Maine, 1986

Diamond Heart, Diamond Books, Book 1-3, Berkeley, California, 1987-90
The Pearl Beyond Price, Integration of Personality into Being: An Object Relations Approach, Diamond Books, Berkeley, 1990

Connirae and Tamara Andreas, Core Transformation, Moab, UT, 1994

Hasan Askari, Spiritual Quest: An Inter-religious Dimension, Seven Mirrors Publishing, Leeds, 1991

Alone to Alone, Seven Mirrors Publishing, Leeds, 1991

Roberto Assagioli, Psychosynthesis: A Collection of Basic Writings, Turnstone Books, London, 1975

Morris Berman, The Reenchantment of the World, Bantam, New York, 1984

Coming to our Senses: Body and Spirit in the Hidden History of the West, Bantam, New York, 1990

Anthony Campbell, The Mechanics of Enlightenment, Gollancz, London, 1975

Seven States of Consciousness, Gollancz, London, 1973

Deepak Chopra, Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of the Mind/Body Medicine, Bantam Books, New York, 1989

Mihaly Csikszentmihaly, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Harper Collins, New York, 1991

Anthony de Mello, Awareness, Doubleday, New York, 1990

Amit Goswami, The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World, Simon and Schuster, London, 1993

Nicholas Hagger, The Fire and the Stones: A Grand Unified Theory of World History and Religion, Element Books, Shaftesbury, 1991

Douglas Harding, On Having No Head—Zen and the Redicsovery of the Obvious, Arkana, London, 1986

The Little Book of Life and Death, Arkana, London, 1988
Head Off Stress, Arkana, London, 1990

Andrew Harvey, Hidden Journey, Arkana, London, 1991

Bradford Keeney, Shaking Medicine: The Healing Power of Ecstatic Movement, Destiny Books, Rochester, VT, 2007

Brian Lancaster, Mind, Brain, and Human Potential: The Quest for an Understanding of Self, Element, Shaftesbury, 1991

Marghanita Laski, Ecstasy, London, 1961

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, The Science of Being and Art of Living, SRM Publications, London, 1966

The Bhagavad Gita, A New Translation and Commentary, Chapters I-VI, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, 1967

Franklin Merrell-Wolff, The Philosophy of Consciousness Without an Object, Julian Press, New York, 1973

Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Ryder, London, 1992

Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, I Am That, Acorn Press, Durham, N. Carolina, 1988

Michael Paffard, Inglorious Wordsworths, A Study of Transcendental Experiences in Childhood and Adolescence,

Walter T Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy, Macmillan, London, 1961

Charles T. Tart, Waking Up: Overcoming Obstacles to Human Potential, Element Books, Longmead, 1988

Ken Wilber, The Spectrum of Consciousness, Quest Books, Wheaton, Ill., 1993

Peter Wrycza, Higher States of Consciousness and Literary Creativity, unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of East Anglia, Norwich, 1983

Living Awareness: Awakening to the Roots of Learning and Perception, Gateway Books, Bath, 1997
With Luh Ketut Suryani, Moksha: A New Way of Life—Practical Wisdom for Our Times, Bali Post, Denpasar, 1996
Living in the Spirit, Bali Post, Denpasar, 2003
With Jan Ardui, When Performance Meets Alignment: A Compass for Coaching and Mentoring, Authors Online, May 2005

R. C. Zaehner, Mysticism Sacred and Profane , Oxford, 1957, 1961

Nelson Zink, The Structure of Delight, 1992 (now available from Metamorphous Press, Portland)

 

 

Notes

  1. December, 1994, p.40.

  2. The ‘We space’ (a proposed fourth perceptual position) was discussed in NLP World I, 2, in an article with Jan Ardui, ‘Unravelling Perceptual Positions’.

  3. With the Tongues of Men and Angels: A Study of Channelling, Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, Fort Worth, 1992.

  4. ‘Willing to Change’, interview in One Earth, issue 12, pp. 8-11 (Findhorn Community), 1993-4, p. 9.

  5. Psychosynthesis, pp. 200-1.

  6. Structurally we find many recurrent features to ritual around the world used systematically to alter the participant’s state, such as slow rhythmical incantation, the use of purifying smoke, aromatic incense, water, the symbolic sharing of food and so on.

  7. A. Huxley, The Perennial Philosophy; M. Laski, Ecstasy; W. T. Stace, Mysticism and Philosophy; R. C. Zaehner, Mysticism Sacred and Profane.

  8. Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, p. 47.

  9. I Am That, p. 90; see also Sogyal Rinpoche: ‘When one past thought has ceased and a future thought has not yet risen, in that gap, in between, isn’t there a consciousness of the present moment; fresh, virgin, unaltered by even a hair’s breadth of concept, a luminous, naked awareness?’ The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, p. 160.

  10. See, for instance, Ram Dass’s keynote remarks at the NLP Comprehensive conference, Denver, Co., September 1994.

  11. The Pearl Beyond Price, pp. 7-19.

  12. Connirae and Tamara Andreas, Core Transformation.

  13. St John of the Cross.

  14. Some question whether Mindfulness practice, particularly in novices, involves witnessing of experience from pure awareness or attempts to attain such realisation by imitating the nature of experience encountered in awakened consciousness. Making the result the method, imitating the effects of consciousness, may not make for the most effective approach, if it reinforces the active mind as observing mind, rather than letting go of it altogether, such that its operation is innocently and naturally witnessed. Such questions are pertinent to the modelling of subtle experience and expertise. What are the limits of insight into the nature and structure of subtle qualities and abilities and how these can be transmitted to others? How far can the modelling of the spiritual help ease and accelerate the unfolding of others?

  15. The Divani Shamsi Tabriz XV.

  16. Shaking Medicine.

Fourth Generation NLP and Modelling

 

 

Love says ‘I am everything.’ Wisdom says ‘I am nothing.’ Between the two, my life flows.

– Swami Nisargadatta Maharaj, I Am That

 

 

Four Generations of NLP

This article begins to explore what might be the nature of modelling in fourth generation NLP. In the first first half I consider how the practice of modelling evolves through the different ‘generations’ of NLP. I also consider how NLP modelling evolves when applied in the helping relationship. In the second half I describe how my own work with clients has developed through third to fourth generation NLP.

I felt called to write this piece after revisiting my 1995 article, ‘Maps Beyond the Mind: NLP and Spirituality’ in preparation for the gathering ‘NLP 4th Generation: Exploring Source and Beyond’ held in Bali, 7-17 September 2017.[1]

The earlier article focused on the kinds of mapping that might guide or emerge from an NLP that espoused an interest in modelling the spiritual. It didn’t really touch the question of how this topic might have been approached in the different phases of NLP’s development. I suppose this is because I was writing at a moment when my own interests were evolving, like NLP itself, beyond first and second generation NLP, without enough distance to recognize the kind of shift happening in myself and in the field as a whole. So the question of how the modelling process might evolve in the development of NLP through its various iterations or ‘generations’ was moot.

Looking back, it would seem, as far as I am aware, that accounts of the first three generations of NLP have tended to focus on the characteristics and interests of the different generations, as opposed to what is presupposed and expected on the part of the modeller.

Thus we know that first generation NLP was focused more on observable behaviour, sensory-specific experience, and language patterns, such as sense-related ‘predicates’, and ‘meta-model’ distinctions. The focus was on what Gregory Bateson termed ‘Learning I’, simple rote learning and the identification and practice of sensory and behavioural shifts to replace unwanted responses and generate new behaviours.[2]

Very soon practitioners found that, while behavioural shifts were remarkably powerful in enhancing performance and life-quality, such changes were constrained by attitudes and strongly held ideas. And so innovators in the new field of NLP began to consider the conceptual frames conditioning this kind of Learning I.

For example, in helping his mother overcome cancer, Robert Dilts found that he needed to address the beliefs and values influencing not only his mother, but the doctors and medical system treating her. Dilts realized that our beliefs and values not only reflect meaning given to previous experience, they set the boundaries for future responses to similar situations. For instance, our experiences of intimacy or lack of it in childhood, not only determine how relations are understood in the past, they shape our responses, such as our ability to trust or not, into the future.

This kind of deep learning from experience can have an impact on almost every area of life. For example, in attempting to make learning spelling easier, Dilts observed that we might model a good strategy for learning new spellings effectively. But will people be prepared use it, if it does nothing to address influential old learnings (beliefs) about the nature and place of teachers and schools in their lives?

Second generation NLP also witnessed the emergence of powerful cognitive maps, notably Dilts’ Unified Field Theory of NLP, which showed how the eclectic elements of NLP were connected conceptually. Unified Field Theory provided an holistic way of thinking about NLP, linking the micro elements of language, physiology, and sensory systems to macro organizing principles, in particular, logical levels, perceptual positions, and time frames. It explained the NLP endeavour through an overarching spatial metaphor, as we analyse the micro and macro structure and processes that shape a particular cognitive ‘problem space’ and determine how to enlarge that space to become a ‘solution space’. In this conceptual endeavour, second generation NLP is, arguably, demonstrating Bateson’s ‘Learning II’ or ‘learning to learn’.[3]

For my colleague Jan Ardui and I, the transition to third generation NLP began in earnest – although we did not really know this at the time – during a large NLP practitioner training we were co-leading with Judith DeLozier and Anne Entus, near Moscow in 1992. We began wondering innocently why NLP seemed to have 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person perspectives, but no collective or ‘we’ position. We wondered what happens when we allow our bodymind to experience what it is like to hold a whole community, company, or country within it. And we invited participants to try this new perspective.

Given the powerful residual tensions still present among participants from the various former Soviet republics, this was quite a daring and dramatic move. Our realization that the ‘study of the structure of subjective experience’ had a completely unexplored yet vital dimension in our collective lives led us to go deeper into group process and the facilitation thereof – something one of Europe’s pioneering NLP trainers, Gene Early, had seeded for us a few years previously.

We returned to the systemic roots of NLP in Gregory Bateson’s work, as we began to look beyond the focus on individuals to consider our collective dimension. And we began to consider what kind of qualities would be necessary to approach this collective domain effectively.

In considering the kind of responsiveness needed for exploring group consciousness and handling the complexity of group process, we identified a number of higher order skills, which we called ‘transcontextual skills’. However, these meta-abilities, which we considered essential for modelling at this level – attentiveness, reflection, discernment, commitment, and simple awareness – seemed to be taking us some way from the sensory-based roots of NLP, towards something we sometimes felt more akin to a kind of Buddhism. We wondered if our interests still fit within NLP, a question echoed by one of its founders, John Grinder.[4] However, in his forward to the book we had started in 1995, but finally published 10 years later, Robert Dilts perceptively situated our work at that time squarely in third generation NLP:

Third generation NLP is more generative, systemic, and focused at higher levels of learning, interaction and development – including those relating to identity, vision and mission.[5]

Early NLP had no notion of development. It approached the human being in pretty much the same synchronic way, whatever the subject’s age. Second generation NLP, with models such as Reimprinting, acknowledged how our present condition is influenced by earlier imprints. But it was only as NLP matured, that people like Nelson Zink began exploring how we develop through a number of phases or ‘levels of development’.[6] Meanwhile, other trainers took an interest in Ken Wilber’s work in this area or began to explore developmental models like ‘Spiral Dynamics’.

Third generation NLP, then, has an interest in the modelling of systems and their unfolding. Like Bateson’s ‘Learning III’, it begins to transcend the conceptual and experiential frame of separate selves.[7] If first generation NLP was essentially linear and behavioural, focusing on simple change, we find second generation NLP more focused on learning, and third generation NLP more focused on growth of the whole person and his or her situation as a part of a larger context.

 

Fourth Generation NLP

As to fourth generation NLP, it surely points beyond the content of experience of the individual perceiver to the context of that experience. This is the fulfilment of what Bateson understood by Learning III. For Bateson, if Learning I means a shift in behaviour, Learning II involves learning about the context of that learning, cognitively and conceptually. Learning III, in turn, for Bateson, involves learning about the context of Level II learning. And that context is ultimately provided by our ‘self’ or pseudo-self, what we take ourselves to be – the sum of our learnings, not only about what we can and cannot do, but about who and what we are:

Selfhood is a product or aggregate of Learning II. To the extent that a man achieves Learning III, and learns to perceive and act in terms of the contexts of contexts, his ‘self’ will take on a sort of irrelevance. The concept of ‘self’ will no longer function as a nodal argument in the punctuation of experience.[8]

To be coherent, we would expect fourth generation NLP to go further in deconstructing the conceptual mapping of the personal self, to explore what, if anything, underpins or provides the ground or context for that self. Such a process cannot be purely intellectual, for the intellect is what provides the context for Learning II learning. It cannot be personal or individual, because Learning III addresses the nature of the context of our Learning II learning, the self, eventually transcending it altogether. Learning III implies a different way of knowing that is not only systemic but essentially transpersonal. Fourth generation NLP, as such, implicitly recognizes that our habitual self is primarily a construct arising from memory and its subsequent reinterpretation.

Deconstructing our entrenched Learning II understandings is thus arguably a key focus of fourth generation NLP. Such deconstruction presupposes and leads to a new kind of knowing: a direct apperception of the groundless ground, the undefined reflector prior to experience and cognition. Such direct knowing is posited by philosophers such as Franklin Merrell-Wolff.[9] Paradoxically, such direct knowing is itself the wherewithal to the realization of this new kind of knowing.

Just as first generation NLP makes a firm distinction between experience that is sensory-based and abstractions and generalizations about that experience, fourth generation NLP, in my view, should be able to draw a clear line between the contents of consciousness (both sensory-based and generalizations) and what Merrell-Wolff calls ‘consciousness-without-an-object’, between the perceptual content of experience and the content-free pure reflector of that experience.

Such experience and its description sounds abstract, but is actually well-documented in the writings and utterings of many saints and poets from a number of different periods and cultures, as I discovered in the late 1970s in my doctoral research on Higher States of Consciousness and Literary Creativity.[10]

 

Evolution of Modelling in NLP

The evolution over time in the way NLP has been conceived and practised is naturally reflected in the process of modelling itself.

First generation NLP might be referred to as ‘black box’ NLP. The analogy is with computer programming. The NLP programmer analyses the programmes of the ‘computer’ or ‘subject’ (‘object’ might be more accurate). The NLP modeller considers him- or her- self outside the system analysing its programmes, translating them into sensory VAKOG code and rewriting that code for the benefit of that particular biocomputer or for others. The emphasis is on identifying and then streamlining or improving internal ‘strategies’ for enhanced behavioural performance. NLP modelling in this view is something I as an expert do for my own purposes, to acquire something of your expertise. Even if the intention is to learn something of interest and benefit to others or even yourself, I am learning from you rather than with you. I may do some of this covertly, by observation and ‘intuitive modelling’. Or if I proceed more analytically, I might need your cooperation, but we do not need to be deeply engaged relationally.

If John Grinder and Richard Bandler originated this style of modelling with its mechanical computer metaphors, and Robert Dilts brought his genius to codify and systematize best practice within this framework, it was Dilts’ work with beliefs in the 1980s that propelled classic first generation NLP towards second generation NLP.

Modifying Bateson’s ‘Logical Categories of Learning and Communication’, to his ‘Neuro-Logical Levels’, Dilts observed that you cannot explore and influence beliefs from the same impersonal stance of first generation NLP.[11] He realized that ‘higher’ logical levels, such as beliefs engage more of our neurology, impacting our autonomic nervous system, hence his preference for the term ‘Neuro-Logical Levels’.

In practice this was the death knell for black box NLP. If you acknowledge the impact of beliefs on behaviour, you have to conduct modelling in a different way. You can’t ‘do’ modelling to someone, you have to engage with them in a more intimate, way. You have to build trust and pace them, not only at the behavioural level, but empathically, accompanying them with the same sensitivity you are asking them to exercise in exploring themselves. For someone to open their heart to themselves and to you, you have to open your heart to them and engage with them without maintaining distance or detachment. You find yourself delicately part of the process. Without this connection, the process remains ‘mental’ and, hence, superficial, not delving into the highly influential and more hidden facets of a person’s world.

To reflect this change of emphasis, the operating metaphors of NLP in the 19080s shift, at least for Dilts and his partner Todd Epstein in their trainings. We are no longer programming a subject, rather are we serving as a guide to the one exploring.

Dilts and Epstein began teaching not only modelling, but ‘co-modelling’, where one might conduct NLP modelling in tandem with another person. Inevitably in the spirit of co-modelling, modellers and model enter into a closer relationship.

Taking this trend further in the spirit of ‘Systemic NLP’, as second generation NLP evolved into third generation NLP, Jan Ardui began to speak (mid-1990s) about ‘second order modelling’ in which the subject being modelled is an integral part of the modelling process. Modelling then involves co-operative learning in which the modeller and the model engage in a close relationship. Something emerges from, in, and through this relationship that is the fruit neither of the modelling subject nor the modeller, but an expression of their interaction. In this way of thinking, the person modelled not only contributes to, but benefits from, the process of modelling. What emerges would not be possible without their mutual co-involvement. In this ‘second order modelling’, the ability to enter a shared space, the ‘we’ emerging in and through their interaction is vital.

In third generation NLP, modelling also extends into exploring the deep defining patterns, not only of individuals, but of groups and organizations. The nature and quality of the ‘relational field’ becomes of interest, not only as a focus of enquiry in working with the organization, but in terms of how it is reflected in the relationship with the individual coach or consultant modelling that relational field.

The discrete ‘actions’ (Learning I) and interplay of ‘interactions’ (Learning II) of the group or system are important. But ultimately they are critical pointers to the overarching ‘choreography’ of group patterns (Learning III).[12] The choreography touches how the system coheres as a whole. It is apprehended not only through observation and enquiry into the system’s actions and interactions but through the consultant’s immersion in an engaging dynamic dance with that group or organization.

So, to sum up, if first generation modelling focuses on the behavioural level, developing capabilities in modelling on that level, and second generation NLP develops capabilities for modelling beliefs and values, while adjusting its best mu practice so that we can ‘match’ and build rapport with the subject of modelling on that level, in third generation NLP there is an attempt to model and embrace identity, both individual and shared.

 

The Challenge of Fourth Generation Modelling

We would expect, then, in fourth generation NLP, to model experiences and states that transcend identity, whether individual or shared. As such, fourth generation NLP has an interest in modelling experiences that are transpersonal, touching dimensions of wonder and awe beyond our usual ways of apprehending self and world. In approaching such experience, the modeller needs qualities and abilities beyond those necessary for modelling according to the first three generations of NLP.

Attention to the role of beliefs and values in second generation NLP does not eliminate interest in the sensory substrate to experience. It merely adds an extra dimension to it. Similarly, third generation modelling presupposes a continuing interest in the sensory substrate, as well as attention to the relevant beliefs and values, and, beyond that, attention to the overarching organizing principles of the system as a whole.

Fourth generation modelling will need to include all this, and besides these elements address the overarching transpersonal and transcontextual field of awareness situating all the elements of interest to first three generations of modellers. To do so, fourth generation modelling presupposes the expansion and growth of consciousness of the modeller, so as to be able to enter into and match the experiential world of the person or group encountering the transpersonal. If we are only approaching such experience analytically, from the frame of mind/capabilities, we remain practitioners of second or, at best, third generation NLP.

There is a problem here. Those who map cognitive development find that, while glimpses of more integrative states are relatively common, deep familiarity and grounding in those states – realization, awakening, enlightenment, moksha, satori, nirvana, etc. – remain very rare, present among just a few exceptional individuals. As Bateson points out, the ‘self-validating nature of the premises acquired by Learning II indicates that Learning III is likely to be difficult and rare even in human beings’.[13] The assumptions accompanying Learning II generalizations are tenacious and tricky as they lead us to perceive ourselves and the world through the very lenses that they create.

This has important implications for the challenge of modelling extraordinary experience. How well can we expect to model such experience if it is largely beyond our own model of the world? To have some idea of the challenge, we can consider Robert Kegan’s findings in the related field of cognitive development.

In comparing studies of the capacity to handle ‘mental complexity’ in adults Kegan observes that a bare 6-7% begins making the transition beyond what he calls the ‘self-authoring mind’ (in alignment and coherent with its own belief system, code, boundaries) towards the ‘self-transforming mind’ (transcending personal ideology, entertaining multiple perspectives, aware of their map-making ability, but not embroiled in it). And less than one percent of the population develop full self-transforming minds.[14]

Kegan’s findings sharpen the question: how do we ourselves become truly ready for modelling in a way that is fully congruent with the kinds of relationship with the larger wholeness implicit in fourth generation NLP if we are not even part of that 1%? And who will provide reliable representatives of the kind of personal, transpersonal, and spiritual integration that will help us fathom the nature of that wholeness and our relationship with it? If we shift in 4th generation NLP from Coach to Awakener, how do we as coaches awaken?

In pointing to ‘Source’, Robert Dilts deftly focuses attention in an accessible and understandable way towards what is beyond the frames of first, second, and third generation NLP.

‘Source’, however, is a bare one syllable word, a simple metaphor. It can point us in the right direction. But then our challenges begin. What does the word ‘Source’ refer to? Can we agree upon what it is? Is there one Source or more than one? More than one valid description of it? How do we recognize Source? How do we know it? In ourselves? In others? In the world? How do we untangle direct Learning III knowing of Source from our Learning II accounts and descriptions of that knowing? How can our work assist in unravelling map-territory confusions, as opposed to adding to them? Can our modelling of how Source is encountered and known help make otherwise inaccessible insights more accessible? Can 4th generation NLP make a genuine contribution to the developmental unfolding of humanity? Or could it end up increasing divisions through that which ought to bring us together?

 

Nerk-Nerk and Not Knowing

In a curious way, modelling in 4th generation NLP closes a kind of hermeneutic circle in the evolution of NLP. In the mid-80s, when Dilts and Epstein taught modelling, they encouraged their students to approach experience in the way ‘Nerk-Nerk’ would. Nerk-Nerk they suggested is a kind of idiot savant who understands language only at the sensory level. Nerk-Nerk doesn’t really have a gender, he/she/it is more a kind of perceptual space. Nerk-Nerk cannot abstract or generalize and can only ‘make sense’ of what ‘he’ hears spoken when it describes things he can see, hear, touch, taste, smell, or feel. If you talk about a grapefruit, he can see a largish bright yellow citrus fruit, but he has no idea what you mean if you talk about love, understanding, or communication.

As a pedagogical device, becoming a ‘Nerk-Nerk’ nerk has many benefits. It helps one stay close to the ‘deep structure’ of our model’s actual experience. It helps one tune into the modelling subject’s actual lived experience, rather than hitching the subject’s abstractions to our own personal associations to those generalizations.

It helps one listen carefully, and be aware of what we can genuinely say we recognize as the client’s experience and what is actually still hazy or vague in concrete terms.

It helps us probe more deeply to understand what our clients mean when they speak about, say, ‘confusion’ in terms of sensations in the body, visual phenomena, or internal dialogue, as opposed to hallucinating their ‘confusion’ from our own, often quiet different, embodied experience of that word.

Nerk-Nerk also helps us listen to the ‘dead’ metaphors in a subject’s communication, where a concrete image can be so revealing as to how the subject is ‘stuck’, ‘bogged down’ or a ‘high-flyer’ or ‘star’.

With Nerk-Nerk, we develop a quality of innocence and ‘not-knowing’ before the mystery of the modelling subject’s world. We become mirrors reflecting the other’s experience rather than projecting our own.

From one perspective, Nerk-Nerk harks back to 1st generation modelling, focusing on sensory ‘strategies’ or micro-programmes underlying how we motivate ourselves, make decisions, or think creatively. It also echoes the NLP model of the 70s in which all experience is sensory-based. We consist of so many sensory-based programmes, and there is no self or identity. Only referential indices pointing to our labelling of separate selves.

In this view, early NLP anticipates an essentially Buddhist view of the self as a phenomenological ‘heap’ of discrete patterns and programmes, rather than an identifiable someone or something.

With his map of Neuro-Logical Levels, Dilts pulls NLP towards a world of separate selves or ‘identities’. Perhaps 4th generation NLP, with its interest in the transpersonal returns somewhat to the earlier view, where consciousness-without-an-object provides a reflective mirror to experience that ‘witnesses’ the contents of consciousness, including the various patterns and programmes of the thinking mind, without becoming identified or involved with them. In modelling from this placeless place, Nerk-Nerk is reborn, no longer as a kind of hypothetical idiot savant that we endow with our mind-space, but as a higher order of not-knowing, an intelligent emptiness that innocently reflects all that falls within it without falling under the spell of identification.

Such witnessing awareness, however, is not a mental construction or contrived stance, as first generation Nerk-Nerk might have been. We don’t ‘try’ to witness. Witnessing happens, when we rest or ‘abide’ in non-dual awareness, as ever-present backdrop to active, content-filled knowing.

 

NLP in the Helping Relationship through the Generations

While NLP was founded as a discipline for modelling human excellence, in practice it rather quickly also became a methodology for helping people become more successful at what they do and more capable of leading fulfilling lives. As such many NLP practitioners began to work with people in ways bridging therapy and coaching. In effect, NLP became a kind of precocious coaching methodology, well before coaching emerged as a distinct niche in accompanying people in their development. However, even in working with clients in this role, NLP practitioners, ideally, do so in a spirit of modelling.

In first generation NLP, work with clients involves first specifying the client’s ‘desired outcome’, contrasting this with his or her current or ‘present state’ and identifying the adjustment or resource needed to help shift the present state towards the desired outcome. This process focuses on identifying discernible sensory or behavioural shifts. ‘Well-formed’ outcomes for the consultation are needed, and expected to meet certain criteria, such as being defined in sensory-specific terms, stated in the positive, and so on – essentially perceptible concretely, rather than abstract generalizations.

And although the process might acknowledge the unconscious mind, drawing on it, and attempting to reprogramme it, the approach is primarily driven by the conscious mind, following an essentially linear model. The client is ‘here’ and wants to get ‘there’. The therapist or coach helps the client identify the missing ‘steps’ to do so, as directly and elegantly as possible.

This process, nonetheless, involves modelling the client’s experience. Using the ‘outcome strategy’, we elicit the client’s model of present and desired states, and, by comparing them structurally, identify the element or process that will allow the present impasse to yield realization of the intended of outcome.

In second generation NLP, the recognition that the hinterland of past learnings profoundly influences how and whether the desired state can be attained, means the basic NLP outcome model, and the process of modelling, need to accommodate more complexity – in particular the potential interferences from past experience and the influential generalizations (beliefs) derived from it.

 

Robert Dilts’ SCORE Model

Reflecting this shift, Robert Dilts extended the first generation outcome model into the ‘SCORE model’ (where SCORE corresponds to Symptoms, Causes, Outcome, Resource, and Effects). The present state now includes not only the ‘symptoms’, but their underlying ‘causes’ derived from the beliefs and past learnings that had shaped them. Similarly, the desired result includes not only the outcome, but its potential impact on the client’s future.

Although these potential benefits are motivating the present outcome, just as the causes are driving the symptoms, the SCORE model in its initial form, like the old outcome frame remains essentially linear – addressing how to get from ‘here’ to ‘there’. Even if structurally, we expect to match the logical level (and other facets of the patterning) of symptom and outcome, causes and effects, we are extending that temporal linearity further into both past and future. Second generation NLP, translates this abstract spatial metaphor for time into a literal correspondence in physical space, situating the SCORE elements on a pre-agreed ‘time line’ laid out on the ground, which can be explored by walking along that line stretching from the present symptoms backwards in time towards initial causes, or forwards towards the desired outcome, and thence to its future effects


<– Causes – Symptoms – Outcome – Effects –>


Eventually the pertinent Resource(s) matching the client’s world, can be identified from the client’s own experience, present in some context, at some point on the line of time. The matching resources can then be connected to contexts and time frames where they are missing, so as to neutralize the influence of past causes and their resultant symptoms, easing the pathway to the enjoyment of the outcome and its anticipated beneficial effects.

In this way, the SCORE model provides a template for modelling the ‘problem space’ of the client, what constrains it developing into the ‘solution space’, and what can help it be transformed into the ‘solution space’.

As second generation NLP evolves into third generation NLP, this approach becomes more systemic and integral. Patterns are sought matching symptom and outcome, cause and effects. What I want and what I have reflect each other, as peace and turbulence, success and failure, getting down to work and procrastinating, matching not only content, but also structural features, such as logical level or perceptual perspective.

 

During our first forays into Russia in the early 1990s, Jan Ardui and I began using an adjustment of the SCORE model, which we renamed the ‘Systemic SCORE’. Instead of focusing on how the elements related to each other through time, we treated them spatially like a gestalt in which the key elements relate to each other in a structured way to form a coherent whole at this moment in the client’s experience. By situating the four elements of the SCOE on four chairs, corresponding to the four active branches of the compass model we were using to synthesize East-West approaches to enhancing performance and alignment, we were able to explore more easily the patterns and relationships inherent in the whole gestalt. We could then help the client to identify the resource that would be key to adjusting the pattern as a whole.

Much of what I have said earlier about the development of 3rd generation NLP in a more whole-person, systemic, whole-system direction is relevant to how we approach the helping relationship, I shall not repeat it here.

And since the full picture of how 4th generation NLP develops in the helping relationship is at this point (August 2017) still emerging, I don’t want to generalize too much about it here, either. What I would like to do in the second half of this paper is review how my own work in the helping relationship has developed in the direction of one possible 4th generation expression of NLP.

 

Modelling and the Helping Relationship in my Work with Clients

When I discovered NLP, in the early 1980s, I came to it from a decade of practising and teaching meditation and modelling states of heightened consciousness and awakening among writers and artists.[15] I began exploring NLP on the cusp between its first and second generations. I entered the field as Bandler and Grinder ceased collaborating and began to move in different directions. Robert Dilts was on the verge of that creative burst which led to the flowering of 2nd generation NLP in his integrative ‘Unified Field Theory of NLP’.

By the second half of the 1980s I was already developing a way of working with people that brought insights and understanding from the field of meditation and consciousness studies to bear on deep-rooted life issues and patterns. In this work, I was guided by the classical Sanskrit notion that all human difficulties are consequences of an unavoidable confusion in our thinking, termed ‘pragyaparad’, ‘the mistake of the intellect’.[16] Pragyaparad arises from a fundamental fracturing of the essential undivided unity of the field of experience into the manifold shards of multiplicity.

Such fragmentation is the inevitable consequence of the way we make meaning. Life, is intrinsically whole, undivided, and unlimited, but we have learned conceptually to split that which is not separate into many discrete elements. In our management of meaning, we divide ourselves from ourselves, from each other, and from the world. For radio waves, there is no significant difference between you or I, the table or the space between us. But for me the difference between us appears incontrovertible and substantial. As, no doubt, it does for you. Radio waves don’t split the world up the way that our minds do.

This cognitive confusion between the one and the many in all the forms it takes impacts how we conceive and relate to ourselves, the world, and each other, contributing to all our challenges. It is what consistently fractures the ultimately unbounded and indivisible ‘solution space’ into the impoverished ‘problem spaces’ we struggle with in life.

 

Open Heart Learning/Re•Patterning

In this new approach to working with people, which I came to call first ‘Open Heart Learning’ and later ‘Re•Patterning’, I abandoned the typical linear stance of first and second generation NLP.[17] There is no specific outcome to attain, although there might be an initial request. We are supporting the overall growth of the person, rather than particular Learning I or Learning II goals. Growth cannot be something we target, like an objective. It is something that emerges from our own unfolding.

In Open Heart Learning, I realized, we can start anywhere of interest to the client and include any part of the clients’ experience. All is grist for the mill, as we explore the beliefs and patterns behind problematic contexts to hone in on the deepest notion we encounter, one influencing the client across every facet of his or her life. We are approaching the client’s particular variant of the ‘mistake of the intellect’ shaping his or her world – both strengths and weaknesses, powers and limitations.

In this approach, we circle with the client through a number of layers, levels, contexts, and eras, rather than progressing in a purely linear way. The backdrop of primary awareness, at first in the coach, and ultimately in the client, provides the mirror for recognizing how the client’s deepest beliefs and assumptions are distorting, deleting, and generalizing experience to bring both success and suffering to the client.

Situating these client misprisions against the correcting mirror of pure consciousness – consciousness-without-an-object – allows the client to connect with the transpersonal source of awareness beyond thought, feeling, and perception. In so doing, he or she takes a first step in awakening to his or her ‘true nature’ beyond usual self-definitions. At the same time, deep cognitive confusions update themselves, freeing insight, understanding, and energy, positively influencing the quality of the client’s life as a whole.

As such, Open Heart Learning already anticipates third and even fourth generation NLP in its holistic and multi-levelled approach, referenced to the transpersonal. Where this process, in its early days, remained close to second generation NLP was in the considerable focus on beliefs, even if these include beliefs about self as a whole through time. It also reflected second generation methods in a tendency to rely at times a bit too heavily on cognitive analysis or understanding. In spite of my recognition that this approach meant connection and exchange between ‘Open Hearts’, it was still in the interest of a ‘learning’, which at times tended to privilege head over heart.

Fortunately, I quickly realized that the process was self-correcting. If one was too much on an inappropriate logical level (for instance, too mental), the process of tuning into the client’s deep patterns becomes stuck. Conversely, recognizing stickiness, invites a shift of level, which generally frees the process to go deeper. And in such freeing, I too must rest in a deeper kind of awareness. Shifts in my own awareness towards ‘consciousness-without-an-object’ are both a means to and a result of the realignment in the client and in our shared field.

 

Modelling and Open-Heart Learning

Although I wasn’t aware of it in the beginning, I later realized that in my Open Heart Learning sessions, I was practising a form of modelling. I was listening to and tracking the client’s experience in order to reach some kind of existential model of the client’s thinking in which, from the client’s stories, attitudes, and beliefs, I reached the notion, assumption, pattern that seemed to run through all facets of the client’s experience, cross-contextually and diachronically, to influence all its surface expressions in a manner that fitted with its own premises. In effect I was attempting to model the core of the client’s model of the world.

Typically the client’s version of pragyaparad resided in a form of self-definition that defined the undefinable, breaking the unitary nature of life into some narrative that was irrefutably both true and not true. For instance, if it emerges that at the heart of my stories and explanations, I hold the idea that ‘I am not good enough’, I am defining what I think I am as something substandard. I am setting up spurious comparisons with that which might be good enough. Whatever you might say about my looks or my talents may or may not confirm whether I am good enough for certain things in certain contexts – good enough listener, swimmer, carpenter, cook. In such applied domains I may label myself or be labelled in such ways. But in my self-essence, beyond labels and definitions what I am is beyond content, I am neither good enough nor not good enough. I just am.

Identifying the core mistake of the intellect allows one to use various reframes and ‘sleight of mouth’ patterns to loosen the old convictions and open space for the client to relax, release the old responses, and entertain a different relationship with those long-held truths.

This process owes a lot to Robert Dilts’ work with beliefs, but favours the more conversational approach that his sleight of mouth patterns lend themselves to, rather than the more formal structured formats, such as Reimprinting. In that sense, Gene Early’s improvised work with his ‘structural coherence model’ was a seminal influence, complemented later by Chris Hall’s ‘learning in reverse’, which, with its process of ‘backing up’ into the implicit thinking prior to what was being expressed, felt immediately familiar.[18]

 

Challenges Teaching Open Heart Learning/Re•Patterning

As my understanding and integration of this work deepened in the mid- to late- 1990s, I tried to share this work with others in NLP master and advanced master practitioner programmes in Italy and elsewhere. While I was able to share something of this approach, these attempts were often frustrating both for NLP students and for myself.

First, I found myself struggling with time constraints, trying to introduce this wide-ranging and holistic free-form approach to my students in the limited frame of a three- or four-day workshop.

Second, NLP practitioners tended to expect work to be conducted with focus on a linear outcome and a tool and technique problem-solving approach matching step-by-step formats to defined issues. Phobia? Use the Fast Phobia Cure? Unwanted responses, try 6-Step Reframing, etc.

From the late 90s, I began referring to Open Heart Learning as Re•Patterning, in accord with the work I was doing with Jan Ardui to stimulate what we called ‘Generative Patterning’. Generative Patterning refers to the way our individual and shared patterning is already potentially inherently self-transcending. It was our observation that this generative quality, already present in own patterning, can be furthered. With sensitivity and reflexive awareness, we come to recognize and embrace our patterns in such a way that change, learning, and growth unfold naturally and optimally. Re•Patterning is one powerful way to stimulate and support such recursive unfolding of possibilities already present in our lives.

During this time, I abandoned most of the NLP formats entirely and merely focused on the general basic modelling tools I had integrated, such as listening, calibration, sensory systems, language patterns, pacing and leading, together with some simple filters to orient interaction – such as the big frames of logical levels, perceptual position, and spatial and temporal awareness.

These basic skills and orienting frames allowed me to conduct a conversation with the client in which something unknown to either coach or client emerges as the key to the patterning expressed and explored in the conversation. We are allowing a model to emerge of the pattern which connects the recurring themes of the client’s life.

Re•Patterning, I found, presupposed integrating the basic 1st generation communication micro patterns and observation skills with 2nd generation macro frames (such as logical levels, perceptual perspectives, and orientation in space and time). It also implied integration of 3rd generation patterning and ‘transcontextual skills’. All these were necessary in order to approach the client’s patterns as organic expressions of the wholeness and coherence of his or her world.

The people I was teaching, however, were often still struggling with 1st generation skills, while doing their best to assimilate 2nd generation NLP.

In effect, I was trying to teach my students to work with clients who might be constrained in Robert Kegan’s socialized or self-authoring developmental stages. And I was trying to train students who had not necessarily transcended these stages themselves. I was trying to teach a method which presupposed some progress, at least, towards the self-transforming mind, which is able to appreciate the relativity and pervasive presence of our own map-making, while apprehending this map-making from a place outside that process.

We may teach NLP presuppositions such as ‘the map is not territory’ in NLP 101, but that doesn’t mean that we are automatically operating from that presupposition in our private lives, nor in communications with others. It takes a ‘self-transforming mind’ to really ‘live’ recognizing the presence of his or her own maps while being fully cognizant that these maps are indeed just maps, and not the territory.

But the biggest challenge of all arises from the way Re•Patterning presupposes familiarity with a kind of figure-ground reversal, in which one distinguishes between the ultimately sensory-based ‘contents of consciousness’ and the pure quality-less reflector of those contents, ‘pure consciousness’ or ‘consciousness-without-an-object’.

It is pure awareness, as a deeper, more inclusive kind of self, like a truthful mirror, that allows one to spot the cognitive confusions which fracture this subtle self-awareness and unmanifest wholeness in the client. To spot how frames of meaning both define and distort requires resting in a space outside those frames.

It is such spacious awareness that validates the adage that ‘the solution space needs to be larger than than the solution space’. This is Nerk-Nerk’s awakening.

However, it is challenging to explain intellectually to those who have not had this kind of direct knowing that what is needed here is, just that, direct knowing. It is not a simple task (though not impossible) to give everybody a significant glimpse of pure consciousness – sometimes called ‘the view’, or Rigpa, in the Buddhist school of Dzogchen, which practises this kind of ‘direct approach’. But it is an even taller order to ground them significantly in such not-knowing in a short space of time sufficiently to impact the nature and quality of their work with people.

In the struggles to share this work in the 1990s, I was not yet lucid enough about what the difficulties were that I was facing. I tended to blame my own limitations, which surely compounded my difficulties in sharing this material, even if I was not solely responsible for them.

Even so, with each attempt, I learned something. I realized that if I was to succeed, I needed a lot more time with students to lay some important foundations so that trainees might practise something recognizably analogous to what I was attempting in Re•Patterning.

By the mid-2000s, I was fortunate in being able to satisfy these conditions. Thanks, in particular, to the support of Russian partners, I was able to create a substantial 36-day training programme, in what we called first Transformational Coaching and subsequently Deep Transformational Coaching. This programme trained people in pertinent basic skills, and culminated in two weeks focused on Re•Patterning.[19]

Besides this programme in Russia, I was able for more than a decade to offer an annual two-week ‘Dynamics of Deep Transformation’ international training (now an International Coach Federation accredited diploma) focused on the art of Re•Patterning at the retreat centre I founded in Bali, the Nirarta Centre for Living Awareness.

And so, from the mid-1990s into the 2010s, partly as a result of insights gained through these trainings, I gradually made finer distinctions in what I was teaching and practising. I clarified and extended the model of core patterns to make it richer, more holistic, easier to teach and to practise.

 

Categorizing Core Beliefs

During the 1990s, as I worked with more clients, I realized that there were discernible recurring patterns among the kinds of deep beliefs that impact people’s relationship with themselves, with others, and with the world.

I noticed that beliefs reflect a progressive separation from Source-awareness. At a certain point, in birthing into this world, I discern myself as distinct from the larger Whole. Some beliefs, such as ‘I am separate’ or ‘different’ reflect this separation of inner wholeness from the larger whole of the ‘World’. When this separation happens, I may still be at home in my inner being, but I am now potentially vulnerable to the impact of that world which is bigger than me.

Once I am marking a separation between what I am and the rest of the world, I am at risk of losing my at-homeness in inner being, too. If I am small and vulnerable, relatively insignificant in the scheme of things, I easily lose my inner identification with Source-awareness, and identify with any number of surrogates of self: such as my body, emotions, feelings, sensations, mind, thoughts, actions, role, social status, etc. This fragmentation of inner and outer wholeness accentuates my vulnerability. My power and strength is potentially in question and at risk. And with my power, my worth, too, I can perceive myself as ‘weak’, ‘powerless’, ‘not good enough’ or just plain ‘wrong’, and many similar distorting shades of self-definition.[20]

 

Distinguishing Beliefs and Epistemology

While I understood early on that my work with life patterns was touching both core beliefs and key epistemological assumptions present in a client’s map of the world, in practice, at first, I did not sharply distinguish these two facets of the client’s world. I tended to focus on whichever element came more sharply into relief: beliefs, such as ‘I’m weak’, or assumptions such as ‘I am my feelings’.

‘I am not loveable’ is a belief. The notion that a particular sensation in my body means I am not loveable or that past experience is irrefutable evidence for this ‘fact’ are epistemological assumptions. They confirm what I am assuming to be so, in order to hold the belief.

As I noticed more clearly that cognitively some of the facets of core patterns I worked with were more like fundamental beliefs and others were more like epistemological presuppositions implicit in the client’s beliefs or map, I realized that it would be helpful to make this distinction more sharply. It is important to consider the client’s beliefs, but also to pinpoint the epistemological roots of the beliefs and patterns. After all there is more leverage on a belief, when it is clear that what it assumes to be true is not necessarily so. Rather than lumping beliefs and assumptions loosely in the same basket, and focusing more on whichever came more easily to light, I took more care to distinguish them and pay attention to both and include both in the Re•Patterning process.

 

Tuning into the Energetic Bias

Increasingly, during the 1990s, I noticed that as we explore deep patterns, the client expresses both verbally and non-verbally an important physical and energetic dimension to his or her patterns. I began to follow more closely, as clients shared their experience, how what they were saying was reflected in the flow of energy in the body. Typically, these patterns in the client’s sharing would repeat in a consistent way. For instance, in talking about connection or separation, clients would demonstrate this in movements of the hands and body, showing the direction and flow of energy, and where it was stuck. And very often, these deep patterns would reflect inter-relationships among our three primary centres of intelligence – head, heart, and gut – indicating which were favoured, how the energy flowed among them, and where it became stuck.

Core patterns are embodied. And the way they are embodied is not only reflected in the words, voice tone, posture, and gestures of the client, but that very embodiment is an essential part of the client’s pattern. We are back to the ‘neuro’ part of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, but now at a higher logical level, touching the identity and individuality of the client, and felt boundaries between self and world.

And so, I began to include what I came to call the ‘Energetic Bias’ in the work with clients to integrate and evolve the cognitive patterns that had emerged, at first sporadically and then more consistently.

 

The Resolution of Contraries

Fairly early on, in 1991, when I took a retreat alone in northern Arizona, to explore my own patterns, I realized that beliefs function systemically, through binary tensions they engender. And these tensions shape the dynamic unfolding of our lives. Like de Saussure and Structuralists such as Claude Lévi-Strauss, I realized that the whole of our meaning making unfolds through the dynamic tension among interconnected pairs of opposites.[21]

For example, as soon as I apply a belief such as ‘I am not loveable’ to myself, I set up a dynamic in which its opposite is also in play. In saying that ‘I am not loveable’, I am saying something that cannot be completely true. For whom and in what circumstances am I not loveable? And what is this ‘I’ whose lovability is in question? What I am cannot be defined either as absolutely unloveable or loveable. It all depends on perspective and definition.

And the mind inevitably seeks to redress the unavoidable bias in taking one side of a pair, by finding itself compelled to take the other. For example, the more I believe I am unloveable, the more I might feel driven to create situations where I can prove that I am actually quite loveable. I may then behave in a way that attracts a lot of love. But when people show their love, the other side of the polarity can kick in again, and I may behave in a way that challenges that love. If the other person becomes frustrated and withdraws his or her love, I am confirmed in my unloveable nature, which in turn leads to new attempts to find love, and so on. Many a life unfolds through such a dance. There is no escape except to resolve the tensions between both sides of the coin – what Bateson called, echoing William Blake, the ‘resolution of the contraries’ – whether by embracing them both or realizing that I am neither.[22]

Among the many binary oppositions shaping meaning in each one of us, I found that each person tends to favour clusters of just a few such ‘Primary Polarities’ as dominant orienting principles in their lives. And generally one or two pairs of opposites emerge at the centre of a person’s world, influencing his or her whole life. Such oppositions often show up in beliefs the client holds, while the tensions between opposites also point towards influential beliefs in the client.

During this period, I noticed that there are considerable overlaps with the tenets of ‘Non-Dual’ or ‘Advaita’ philosophy. Conceptualization engenders duality through the tendency of mind to define meaning by means of opposites: hot/cold, up/down, black/white, and so on. But all such conceptualization ultimately reflects a more essential duality between subject and object, between knower and known, consciousness and contents, between that which is conceivable and that which is conceiving it. In effect it turns out there is a kind of duality also between the field of duality (the world of conceivable differences) and the non-dual reflector of those differences. Since this last duality, between the conceptual and the non-conceptual is itself conceptual, ultimately, it too needs to be deconstructed for full freedom and awakening to be realized.

In a typical session of Re•Patterning, much of what we do involves helping the client resolve contradictions and confusions in the field of duality, helping ‘Primary Polarities’ become what Jan Ardui calls ‘Generative Complementarities’, where the tension between opposites is no longer toxic, as, potentially, between ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ but creative and complementary, such as between ‘rest’ and ‘activity’.

Such work is very much in the spirit of 3rd generation NLP. It becomes 4th generational when the resolution of tension between opposites also dissolves the ultimate tension between pseudo-knower and known. When the tension between self and non-self is resolved, the freedom and release of awakening can arise.

In my experience it is rare that this happens in a single session of Re•Patterning, but it is what this work is predicated on and where it tends.[23]

 

By the mid-2000s, I was giving clients verbal feedback embracing the three interconnected facets to their deep patterns: Epistemological Assumption (deep epistemology), Primary Polarities/Core Assertion (core concepts), and ‘Energetic Bias’, as well as a written summary and follow up suggestions to help integrate the work.

 

Complementary Polarities

Towards the end of the 2000s, I realized that just as we find a creative tension between pairs of opposites, or ‘Primary Polarities’, as we unravel a client’s core pattern, we eventually discover a creative tension between two such pairs of opposites (or cluster of pairs).

If we map these pairs as two axes crossing each other at their centre at right angles, we typically find a ‘vertical’ pair, connected primarily with the client’s relationship with him- or her- self, while the horizontal pair points to the relationship between self and non-self, self and other, or self and ‘world’. The vertical pair touch the client’s inner alignment, how he or she stands in the world, how earth, sky, head, heart, gut, line up. The horizontal pair reflects how he or she moves through the world. These horizontal contraries point to the client’s dance with the world, with non-self, with ‘other’, to the quality of resonance between me and my context. Inevitably the relationship between these two sets of contraries is in some way dynamic and complementary, supporting the unfolding complexity of the person as a whole.

In the dynamic interplay of the self-self and self-other axes, we can generally discern a cycle or pattern through which the client revolves again and again as he or she deals with the consequences of how self and world and their relationship are conceived and engaged with. We typically discern a kind of life-strategy or life-process running through the client’s world as a whole. In this way, Re•Patterning reveals a simple model that is highly reflective of the main contours of the underlying dance and drama of the person’s life, the underlying pattern that repeats, over and over again, between, say, withdrawal and burnout, between head and gut. This understanding of where structure and process meet in a person’s life typically opens a way for the client’s pattern to adjust, to ripen towards wholeness and balance, while a window opens up to the realization of his or her true nature, prior to and beyond the pattern.

 

Connecting Metaphors

In 2010, I began including a fourth element in the core pattern, the key image or symbol that the client uses to describe the essence of his or her experience living the pattern we had been exploring together. I called this new element the ‘Connecting Metaphor’. [24]

I noticed that clients often spontaneously use quite powerful metaphors to describe their experience: ‘It’s as if I am pushing a train up a hill’. At other times, in reviewing with the client what they had shared of their pattern, I began to ask them to share an image or metaphor for their whole pattern.

Including Connecting Metaphors in exploring the core pattern enhances the Re•Patterning process. Firstly, the client’s metaphors provide a valuable way of checking how well the client’s pattern has emerged. The ’fit’ between the metaphorical, the embodied energetic, and the cognitive elements help confirm the coherence of the pattern. Connecting Metaphors carry their own in-built assumptions, which speak to the tendencies and tensions present in the pattern, as well as to the assumptions implicit in those cognitive patterns. Connecting metaphors also often dovetail in interesting ways with the energetic expressions of the pattern in the client. Together all four elements provides a clearer and more coherent model of the pattern.

In the Re•Patterning process, Connecting Metaphors provide a powerful way of supporting the unfolding of the pattern in the long-term. As the client allows updated versions of the metaphor to emerge, the metaphors provide a simple, yet influential, representation of the kind of direction the client’s bodymind might entertain in the coming period.[25]

The Fifth Element: ’Source’

From the end of the 2000s, after working with an exceptionally gifted and well-integrated client, I began including a fifth element pertinent to Re•Patterning, though I do not systematically focus on it every time. I’ve written it with inverted commas as ‘Source’, because this word here typically denotes what the client holds as source or ‘higher’ inspiration, support, guidance, and so on. ‘Source’ is a ‘catch-all’ word for all that clients take as their personal source or even a common source encompassing the larger whole – Humanity, Cosmos, Nature, Life, etc. Such words do not necessarily denote source in any absolute sense, though they denote something absolutely important or essential in the client’s world.

Sometimes the client’s sense of ‘Source’ can be of vital importance when we are exploring the client’s life patterns and personal epistemology. Experiences of source can be highly influential in a person’s life, whether through their presence or through their absence, and the concomitant sense of lack or something important missing.

Experiences of source can be vital in giving the client an orienting sense of coherence and alignment. Occasionally, we have a client who is very close to what he or she considers his or her ‘Source’. Such clients may appear extremely well integrated, often inwardly fulfilled and outwardly successful. Faced with such a client, one may wonder, ‘What can I do for this person? They have it all.’ And yet, the mere request for a session is an indicator that for all the client’s well-being, he or she has a sense that there is something else. There is a next step or another phase in that client’s development, which, while to that point has been deeply satisfying, has nonethelesss been arrested.

 

Closeness to ‘Source’ can become a kind of developmental limitation for the client. On occasion clients may share how fortunate they are to enjoy, say, ‘Wholeness’, a state of integration and balance, in which they feel inwardly aligned and in coherent connection with the greater world, creating and achieving, personally, and professionally, living in a beautiful place, wonderful partner and family, fulfilling work, everything delightful… And yet. And yet something very subtle is nudging them inwardly, saying, ‘This isn’t quite it; you’re just a little stuck’.

It may turn out that the ‘Wholeness’ is not quite whole. Although such a person may be highly self-actualizing and live each day like that, there are still moments that do not feel quite so whole. And if those moments are not so welcome, there remains a subtle duality, between such times when he or she enjoys ‘Wholeness’ and those unwanted moments when ‘Wholeness’ is lost.

There is something amiss epistemologically here: ‘Wholeness’ is not quite whole if some parts of experience are still rejected. True Wholeness would include everything, the rough as well as the smooth. For such a client, there is a kind of reduction of Wholeness into a particular way of feeling or functioning. That subtle dimension to my knowing which includes and welcomes it all, both the Whole and the lack of wholeness has been lost. Returning to that subtle knowing, which, without judgement, embraces more of the whole than ‘Wholeness’ frees the growth and unfolding that had become stuck.

‘Source’, then, like this client’s ‘Wholeness’, can reflect a kind of reification of that which is ultimately beyond labels or sensory modalities of any kind. Arguably, what we conceive as Source, cannot be Source. Source, if such there be, is inconceivable, beyond sensory and conceptual experience. In a sense, we cannot know Source, we cannot even awaken to it. We realize we are Source, when we let go of any separation or differentiation between that which knows or is aware of Source and Source itself. Then life flows from and within its Source without any interference of the pseudo-self, which is finally surrendered to, and serving, that upwelling wave of life.

 

Beyond Re•Patterning – Conversations on the Edge of Silence

As the formal Re•Patterning model has crystallized around these six facets, I have found something curious happening, particularly since 2016. My work begins to simplify itself. The discipline of exploring the four or five principal facets of core patterns leads to a kind of integration of the model, where I embody it in a new way. I feel I have it in the palm of my hand, where the four fingers represent the four main facets of core patterns – Cognitive Contraries/Concepts, Epistemological Assumption, Energetic Bias, and Connecting Metaphor, with the thumb, like the ‘Source’, helping to get a grip on the whole. Meanwhile, the palm, like indefinable, unknowable pure awareness, connects everything, while also being ‘Beyond’, beyond fingers and thumbs.

From this new sense of integration and completion, I begin to let go of the formal model and let go into that no-place place of receptivity and readiness, in which quite naturally and beautifully, we explore conversationally with the client, whatever is necessary to illuminate both important facets of the client’s patterns and the particular issue, so to speak, at hand. In these much shorter sessions, which I call ‘Conversations on the Edge of Silence’ or ‘Heart to Heart, Conversations that Matter’, I find myself more and more out of the way simply accompanying the process of the client, guided very lightly by the whole hand, guiding with the whole hand, keeping a grip on things, without needing to grip or grasp anything. There is a sense of structured unstructured unfolding. Everything is happening as it should, lightly, in a way that I am neither one with the client, nor separate, but in beautiful flow with them, in which what needs to emerge, emerges, what needs to happen, happens. When I am out of the way, we are on our way. In this pure unfolding, I feel I really begin to live the heart of fourth generation work, at least as I understand it.

It’s been a long journey in that intriguing area between the psychological and the spiritual, but worthwhile….

 

 

 

Peter Wrycza, PhD
Nirarta, Sidemen, Bali, Indonesia – August 2017

 

Notes

  1. NLP World, II, 1, March 95, pp. 35-65.

  2. Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Ballantine Books, New York, 1972, pp. 287-92.

  3. Steps to an Ecology of Mind, pp. 292-301.

  4. Private communication.

  5. When Performance Meets Alignment: A Compass for Coaching and Mentoring, Authors OnLine, Hertford, UK, 2005, pp. 11-12.

  6. See the article we co-authored on the subject: ‘Levels of Development’, NLP World, II, 3, Nov. 95, 5-27.

  7. Steps to an Ecology of Mind, pp. 301-6

  8. Steps to an Ecology of Mind, p. 304

  9. The Philosophy of Consciousness Without an Object, Julian Press, New York, 1973.

  10. Higher States of Consciousness and Literary Creativity, doctoral dissertation, University of East Anglia, Norwich, 1983.

  11. Bateson’s Categories are themselves adapted from Russell’s Theory of Logical Types. Steps to an Ecology of Mind, pp. 279-308.

  12. Bradford Keeney, The Aesthetics of Change, Guilford Press, New York, 1983, pp. 37-44.

  13. Steps to an Ecology of Mind, p. 301.

  14. Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, Immunity to Change: How to Overcome and Unlock the Potential in yourself and your Organization, Harvard Business Press, Boston, 2009, pp. 16-28.

  15. Higher States of Consciousness and Literary Creativity, doctoral dissertation, University of East Anglia, Norwich, 1983.

  16. Term originally highlighted by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and taken up by Deepak Chopra in Quantum Healing, Bantum, New York, 2015.

  17. In French, ‘Accompagnement au coeur de l’être’.

  18. I explored Gene’s groundbreaking work in the mid-1980s in a special 16-day post-master programme, entitled simply ‘Beyond’, inference in part being: Beyond [2nd generation] NLP. This programme was hosted by the UKTC for NLP, London, 1986-7. Chris Hall’s conversational ‘learning in reverse’, I encountered, in Trainer’s Training with Chris Hall, Germany, 1992.

  19. Firstly Yuri Ouchenikov and Emily Kasentseva sponsored this work, handing it on to the team from Psychology and Business On-Line, led by Igor Niesov. Later Natalia Tochilkina decided to go in depth into this work and together with Alena Savyuk, set up the International Academy for Transformational Coaching and Leadership, in a team with Marina Zakarova and Natasha Dudinkina. More recently, up to August 2017, this work has been sponsored by Lusia Karkle and Alena Loktionova. Throughout these years, Alexander Baikin made communication of this work possible with his patient and precise interpreting with classes and clients.

  20. Living Awareness: Awakening to the Roots of Learning and Perception, Gateway Books, Bath, 1997, p. 173.

  21. Ferdinand de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics, edited by Charles Bally et al., McGraw-Hill, New York, 1959. Claude Lévy-Strauss, Le Cru et le cuit, Plon, Paris, 1964.

  22. Steps to an Ecology of Mind, p. 305-6

  23. Ramesh S Balsekar, Experiencing the Teaching, Advaita Press, Redondo Beach, CA, 1988, pp. 53-8.

  24. A suggestion from a Ukrainian NLP trainer, Seva Zelenin, who had been studying with me a few months previously, initiated the reflection that culminated in the inclusion of Connecting Metaphors in Re•Patterning in mid-2010.

  25. Influential because such metaphors condense and hold an enormous amount of life-experience.

Contact Improvisation – Some Reflections

and striding            
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,                
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend

– Gerard Manley Hopkins

Although I first heard of Contact Improvisation (CI) in the 1970s, and experienced some distant echoes of it – basically shared as a simple following a point of contact between the index fingers of two people – I didn’t have much actual contact, so to speak, with CI until observing it on the fringes of a series of conferences on ‘Science and Non-Duality’ in the Bay Area a few years ago..

Real involvement for me began with workshops and a CI festival held in Bali, in March-April 2014. The festival was a revelation because, not only did different teachers bring different flavours, but practitioners from different backgrounds also interacted with each other through quite diverse styles in the same workshop.

Later, when I observed, on two separate occasions, a CI facilitator opining to another: ‘What you do isn’t really Contact Improvisation’, I began to wonder what exactly makes Contact Improvisation, Contact Improvisation? And what does it mean to me?

Four Facets of Contact Improvisation

Reflecting on the different styles I had observed, I felt they grouped around four main emphases, according to whether the facilitator or participants favoured what we might loosely term:

  • Aesthetics (dance),
  • Gymnastics (athleticism)
  • Theatrics (ludic, playful, dramatic)
  • Proxemics/Haptics (physical contact, closeness, and intimacy)

4Styles.jpg

Some of these differences of emphasis arise from the background of the founders of Contact in the 1970s. For instance, Steve Paxton and Nancy Stark Smith themselves straddled the worlds of gymnastics and dance.

In effect, Contact owes something to all these four elements, and although one or more of them can become foregrounded at any time, I feel that Contact Improvisation loses something if any one of them is either present to excess or completely missing.

 

For iAesthsmall.jpgnstance, if Aesthetics are emphasized too much, it can mean that dance and performance are highlighted in a way that is exclusive and can lead to a kind of Narcissistic artistry without connection.

On the other hand, the lack or absence of aesthetics can result in a form of movement that is boring, brutal, functional, or just plain clumsy.

 

 

 

 

If the ContaGym.jpgct veers excessively towards Gymnastics, we can have a style of movement that is leaning towards athleticism and technique, becoming soulless, sweaty, and rather mental. Prowess and endurance chase away beauty.

In contrast, when the gymnastic edge disappears, we can have movement with a restricted range and an impoverished use of the possibilities of the body and of space. Consciousness becomes cramped and the movement potentially dampened down and joyless.

 

 Dram2.jpg

Where there is an excess of Theatrics, the practice can become excessively ludic, not so much childlike, as childish, and the movement again impoverished, mental, devoid of ecstasy and delight in the freedom and beauty of the body.

On the other hand, a lack or absence of Theatrics can mean the dance becomes excessively serious, losing its lightness and playfulness, displacing mind and the more expressive parts of the personality altogether in a more beauty or body-oriented encounter.

 

 

Proxemics and Haptics denote the nature and quality of physical closeness and touch. It is the prominence of physical interaction that gives CI the ‘Contact’ part of its name.

Proxemics and Haptics imply not only the degree of physical proximity and interplay, but its nature and quality. Not only how close we are physically and whether (or how) our bodies are touching, but the nature and quality of that closeness and touch. How close are we, both in the physical and metaphorical sense? How do we touch each other, both body to body, but also how much do we touch each other, person to person?

Proxemics and Haptics Relat.jpgthat reflect a high degree of physical intimacy can mean that the Contact slides towards a kind of grope or pick-up opportunity. The full celebration of the body can be lost in the restricted range of a sensual clinch with virtual strangers in which dance and movement are almost forgotten.

From the other side, where the Proxemics and Haptics among dance partners become excessively distant or detached, movement can become mechanical, impersonal, and disconnected, while relationships lack sensitivity, warmth, sensuality, passion, and intimacy.

It strikes me that we all have tendencies to excess in one or more of the four styles or facets of CI. We all have one or more areas where we are typically much less at home. We each have our typical mix of tendencies and preferences.

Moving out of our usual biases can be particularly rich and, for me, is one of the gifts of CI. I find the dance fuller when it allows ample space for all four flavours or styles to come in and out of focus and mix in new ways. Moving with different partners stimulates fresh possibilities, as the interaction with the other challenges habit and invites new combinations and flavours to emerge in the space between us.

 

I very much enjoy the way Contact Improvisation embraces these modes and styles, owes something to all of them, and leans now in one direction, now in another, without becoming excessively anchored in any of them. For me it is rather satisfying that Contact includes and transcends them all, owing something to each without defining itself definitively in any one of its flavours.

These thoughts brought me closer to the heart of the questions I was asking about Contact Improvisation. What is it really? What is its essence? What attracts people to it and what does it really offer?

Perhaps, as I reflected on the fluid interplay of the four facets of CI, it is the ‘Improvisation’ part of CI that makes their mix so magical.

 

Improvisation and Contact Improv

In a way, Improvisation provides a ‘fifth element’, at the centre of the mandala of the four styles of CI. Improvisation makes CI more than the sum of any ones of its parts and allows them to meet and merge in delightful and interesting ways.

Improvisation happens at the edge of Awareness, both arising from it, bubbling up within it, while also enlivening it. When we improvise, we surrender a good portion of our habitual control. Staying present in a spirit of Not-Knowing, we receive what emerges at the edge of Awareness and respond innocently to it.

Improvisation allows a great flowering and richness as the four facets of CI miraculously recombine in ways that we would not have imagined or anticipated.

For instance, Aesthetics and close Proxemics/Haptics can join to make dancing that is both beautiful and sensual, passionate and creative, while Aesthetics and Gymnastics make for a dance that celebrates body and space, in way that is vigorous and daring, graceful and liberating. Theatrics appears as playfulness colouring both Aesthetics and Gymnastics. And so on.

And all this freshness has a way of taking off and taking us – but only when we let go and truly transcend the hackneyed habits of thought and movement. And that is the challenge of Improvisation. How can we really let go of habitual responses and allow that which is fresh and original, perhaps astonishingly never encountered before, yet happening quite spontaneously, beautifully and surprisingly, with all the shock and joy of the new, to arise?

When we are able to let go of our usual patterns, and allow the spirit of Improvisation to take us fully, we open the door to an extraordinarily heightened and ecstatic encounter between being and becoming in the dance. Through Improvisation we are astonished to meet the New in the Now.

 

Relationship and Definition of Contact Improvisation

Fortunately, this meeting of the New and the Now is not only dependent on our relationship with ourselves. Improvisation can also flourish relationally, where a joint commitment to let go and receive the New in the Now, may sometimes more easily bump us out of habits than moving alone. Full Improvisation, taking us beyond our clichés, is at once intrapersonal, arising within ourselves, and interpersonal, happening in the space between us, connecting me and you.

Improvisation can help us nudge each other out of old ruts taking us suddenly out of the familiar into the unexplored and undiscovered. When this happens, it feels as if we encounter a quality or field beyond our separateness, something transpersonal that embraces and infuses us both.

 

As such, we might define CI as a systemic and embodied presence to an innocently unfolding relationship, normally through a shifting point or points of physical contact, with at least one other, in which there is a heightened sensitivity to space, and, within space, to the inspired interplay through movement, touch, and feeling of the living energy within and between each other.

In other words, at best, Contact Improvisation involves being present to an unfolding relationship, with at least one other person, in which, connecting and interacting physically in space, without planning or expectation, we surrender something of our habitual sense of separateness and control in an energetic and aesthetic encounter that enlivens a shared field where self-boundaries soften. In this enlivened field there is a beautiful and blissful sense of being neither one with the other nor separate from them, but in between and both.

 

We can represent this summation of CI as a triangle with three apexes: Relationship, Space, and Energy. And at the centre is Innocent Awareness or Presence. These elements, for me, sum up the full range of CI from its subtle essence to its rich and embodied sensual expression on the dance floor.

In and through a Relationship with at least one other during CI, we activate, enter, and explore a kind of field, where we are neither two, nor one. In this Non-Dual field, we interact Energetically with each other, through inner and outer feeling and weighted touch within the subtle organizing intelligence of Space that we shape and sculpt, while being moulded and held by it. And connecting and containing these three elements of the process is our Innocent Awareness or Relational Presence, which is the embracing reflector of the unfolding (improvised) interplay of these three fundamental elements of the dance: Relationship, Space, and Energy.

UnfoldingthruCI.jpg

From Relational Presence to Living Awareness

At best, in Contact Improvisation, we are fully Present to these three elements, shifting among them, balancing and including them. We are focused and sensitive to the quality of relationship. At the same time, we give in to the possibilities of embracing and inhabiting our space. And we also exchange and awaken to the passion and promise of unfolding energy in and through the body. When this happens, we enter a delightful sense of both dancing and being danced in an ecstatic encounter. In this encounter, we blissfully touch another’s essence and are touched by theirs, in a way that nourishes and expands individuality, while transcending it in something extraordinarily beautiful and great beyond both.

When this happens, it moves me enormously, enlivening a sense of being closer to my true nature and the great beauty and harmony of all that is. I feel bliss, gratitude, and a sense of the grace and holiness of life’s core. I think, ultimately, that is what CI gives me and how it nourishes me and, quite likely, those who share the space with me.

In effect, CI, through its three elements and four facets, opens wide a great portal to a direct sense of embodied awakening. It is that embodied awakening, or what I have long termed ‘Living Awareness‘, which life’s journey patiently and persistently draws us towards. I am deeply grateful for that opening to Living Awareness. And I deeply grateful to those who have carried and shared the flame of this extraordinary creative impulse from the radical demotic experimentation in the margins of the performing arts of the 1970s.

Peter Wrycza, PhD, Sidemen, Bali, April-October, 2015

 

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Annalisa Adelberg who stimulated my interest in subtle interpersonal energetics and re-introduced me to CI on the margins of conferences on Science and Non-Duality in California

To Rolf Gibbs for providing a regular, safe, and warm context in Ubud, Bali, to develop that interest

To Inna Pavlichuk, Sasha Bezrodnova, Alex Postnikov, and the many teachers and participants of the 2014 Indonesia Contact Journey who showed me the range and variety of approaches to CI

To Angela Doniy for giving me a sense of CI as a Way of unfolding presence and awareness as we move through life

To Stephen Batts for wordscaping the way Zero can infuse performance to illumine ‘the dearest freshness deep down things’

To Irina Sbaglia and Jonathan Magaw for their generous feedback and sharing

And lastly to Olga Berdikayan for the photos depicting the four flavours of CI

 

 

What Makes For Truly Transformational Coaching?

Out beyond ideas of right-doing and wrong-doing 
there is a field. I will meet you there.

– Rumi

 

Originally from the UK, I have spent much of the past ten years training beginning and advanced coaches in Russia and at my retreat in Bali. Joining ICF and seeking ACTP certification for our programmes and personal credentialing in 2013 stimulated my interest in mentoring and supervision for coach development. And it brought into focus again the question: what makes for really extraordinary coaching?

Listening to recordings of sessions that our coaches had submitted for mentoring I wondered: why was so much of what I was hearing – while skilled and relevant to the clients’ requests – neither deep nor truly transformational? How, I asked myself, could our work have more sparkle and depth? What exactly makes for the magic? And how can more of our sessions have that extra zing, when something truly transformational happens?

Coaches often call themselves ‘transformational’, but is that an attractive marketing tag or does it correspond to anything observable? We can distinguish ‘transactional’ and ‘transformational’ leadership. Can we do the same for coaching?

I believe so, and Bateson’s distinction among orders of learning is key.[i]

Bateson’s model shows how we can understand development in terms of a logical hierarchy of types or orders of learning, in which each key level transcends and outframes the lower level.

For practical purpose three levels or orders of learning concern us here: simple first order, behavioural change; second order learning-about-learning, including the beliefs and labels we apply to ourselves as a result of our life-learning experiences; and third order learning – realizing that we are not our self-definitions, but the greater being-awareness, transcending and reflecting the one we thought ourselves to be (Figure 1).

DTC_FIg 1.jpeg

 

Transformational Coaching

Basic coaching tends to be outcome and performance oriented – first order focused in Bateson’s model. The emphasis is on clarifying the desired result and working out a pathway to its achievement through behavioural shifts and skill acquisition pertinent to success.

Transformational coaching does not invalidate such first-order work. But it implies more: we engage with the client’s second-order frames influencing the achievement of those goals – notably the beliefs, assumptions, and attitudes that predispose the client to the possibility or impossibility of succeeding.

We call such coaching ‘transformational’ because it implies a shift, not only in behaviour, but in the client’s relationship with what he or she is trying to achieve. It means not only influencing what we do, but how we have been relating to it. We are updating old learning in a way that embraces body, mind, and emotions.

This deeper second-order learning is felt in the body, as old blocks shift and dissolve, relaxing long-held tension in the muscles and tissue, freeing feeling, and expanding the subtle inner space of being.

Coaching needs to be transformational when the client wants to perform at an elusive higher level and inner blocks or resistance spoil the path to achievement.

Transformational coaching implies disrupting the usual stability points anchoring our world in place. It implies letting go in an often-disorienting transitional moment – ‘a wobble’ – as the bonds of old learning slacken and the mental-emotional maps fixing our world are updated.[ii] In that destabilizing moment, the new can at last unfold.

As Hawkins and Smith suggest, such embodied transformational shifts need to occur during the coaching session itself for there to be a lasting shift outside in the workplace or elsewhere.[iii]

 

Deep Transformational Coaching

Deep transformational coaching goes further. It implies loosening the whole framing holding our second order learning in place. That means third order learning.

In third order or triple loop learning, not only the meaning or truth of particular assumptions in our internal landscape – such as our value or worth, or ability to change or learn – are in question. Rather, the whole foundation on which we have constructed our world is tested. Cognitively, we are dealing, not just with assumptions about a particular ability or character trait, but the very existence of a separate self to have and hold them. The long-forgotten ways in which we have determined that there is a me, a you, and a world, and all the mental and affective ramparts, ditches, and dykes to keep the castle of self separate and safe come into question.

Deep transformational coaching happens when the bonds of division loosen, and, in a moment of direct knowing, we realize that our existence is not firstly individual and defined, and belatedly universal and transcendent, but the reverse (Figure 2).

DTC_Fig2.jpeg

Such a radical shift may seem far from what generally concerns the client, and not that relevant to a typical life- or executive-coaching session. However, it is fundamental to successful coaching in three ways. 

 

Deep Transformation in the Coach Eases Transformation in the Client

First, transcendence of self provides the perspective from which the coach can best gain insight into what the client is really requesting even in standard coaching sessions. Inner awareness beyond the self makes first order and transformational change more obvious.

The frame-shaking ‘felt shifts’ of transformational coaching as old thinking is transcended are localized examples within the client’s internal world of what can happen to the whole. The ‘wobble’ as old frames shift is a lesser example of the great upheavals accompanying growth in the totality of the psyche.

The more the coach experiences deep transformation and transcendence of the primary divide between pseudo-self and supposed non-self, the more he or she is at ease stimulating and supporting transformational shifts in the client.

Truly transformational work happens when we have experienced deep transformation and transcendence of our own ego-centred divisions – when we are at home in that reflexive dimension of knowing, embracing both you and I, me and my world.

 

Clients Bring Challenges Requiring Third-Order Shifts in Coaching

Second, as the coach ripens, clients tend to bring wider-reaching issues to coaching. The challenges clients face are no longer about achieving outcomes, nor overcoming deeper psycho-emotional blocks to growth, but questions touching the whole nature and meaning of personal existence.

To accompany the client in this exploration, it behoves us to be already transcending our own stories. It helps if we are increasingly present to that simple unconditioned awareness – reflecting all, judging nothing – in which solutions naturally arise.

We need to be some steps in our own unfolding further down the path than the client has trod. And when that path has brought the client to the edge of old assumptions about who and what he or she is, it helps if we are no longer enmeshed in our own story, but deeply aware of the arbitrary nature of all stories. And the key to such narrative freedom is not conceptual, but embodying spacious Being-awareness in comfortable, loving presence.

 

Deep Transformation Eases Working in and from the Common Ground

Third, real change does not happen primarily in the personal world of the client nor through the coach’s interventions.

Rather it arises naturally through an opening to the ground of experience, common to both coach and client. It is vital that the coach awaken to that transpersonal ground, because in this field – beyond dualities and differences coach and coachee truly meet (Figure 3).

 DTC_FIg 3.jpeg

The more the coach is open to that awareness-field, the more he or she can hold that subtle spaciousness for the coach-client dyad. In that generous mirror, it becomes easier to allow what needs to be present, to arise, and unfold in the here-and-now.

Transformation is then neither private to the client, nor driven by the coach, but unfolding naturally in the coaching relationship itself. Transformation is an innocent outcome of the evolutionary connectedness of me and you as local expressions of a common source – an egoless ‘I’/’eye’ animating the ‘we’ implicit in our shared presence.

Transformation then happens naturally, because it is the nature of the Nature that is embodying us both in an Unfolding that, however powerful for the client, is as radical for the coach, who is nourished and transformed too.

In surrendering to the field and being-embodying it, the coach is coached by the coaching itself in how to coach beyond usual mind-separateness, both during the session, and outside, as separateness gradually releases its grip.

And that is the unasked-for side-benefit of the coaching path. Our transformational and deep transformational work is both nurtured by, and contributing to, the great awakening that third-order learning implies. The goal lies in the way.

Such claims may sound far-fetched. But all deep change and growth has roots in some loosening of the illusion of separateness and limitation in a glimpse of freedom prior to self-definition. It may seem distant, but it is never remote. Little events of life are always ready to provide a glimpse – a graced landscape, a dawn, the sea, a piece of music, a birth, death, or glance in the eyes of a loved one. Any moment can rend the veil of reasonableness in a selfless moment, replete with the lightness and emptiness of being. In coaching, as in life, as Paul Valéry put it: ‘Each atom of silence/Is the chance for a ripe fruit’ (‘Chaque atome de silence/Est la chance d’un fruit mur!’).[iv]

 

Knowing, Not-Knowing

How do we support development from outcome- or performance-based coaching, to transformational, and thence to deep transformational coaching?

What struck me in the coaching sessions I was mentoring was the tendency to remain in a rational realm in which few fresh surprises came to client or coach. Such coaching remained anchored in the ‘known’. For coaching to be transformational, we need to cast off from the safe shoals of what we already know into the uncertain waters of ‘not knowing’.

Not knowing presupposes a willing suspension of belief (to reverse Coleridge’s phrase) in which we release the familiar and obvious to rest in a state of quiet wondering, open to new answer and insight.[v]

We may need to nudge both ourselves and the client towards such not-knowing, allowing old certainties to soften, giving space for the new to arise. 

 

Unknowing

Knowing can provide a springboard to not-knowing. And not-knowing can yield new knowing, fresh and true. This complementary relationship flowers when both knowing and not-knowing arise and unfold within a deeper proto-awareness mystics have called ‘Unknowing’.

As Wordsworth suggests, when ‘we are laid asleep/ In body, and become a living soul’, then ‘with an eye made quiet by the power/ Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,/ We see into the life of things.’[vi] In Unknowing, powerful new knowing appears. If, in our coaching, we can follow ‘that serene and blessed mood,/ In which the affections gently lead us on,’ we, too, see into ‘the life of things’. Then not-knowing yields precious insight hitherto hidden to both coach and client (Figure 4).

DTC_Fig 4.jpeg

Systemic Transformational Coaching

But what of the collective? Does the relationship among outcome-focused, transformational, and deep transformational coaching also have a collective dimension?

Hawkins and Smith suggest that within an organization, individual coaching ideally dovetails with the developmental needs of that organization.[vii]

Given the key patterns needing to shift within the organization, what single shift, here and now, in the client would be transformational, for both client and organization?

The individual client both expresses and contributes to the patterns of the organization. So tapping into the point where client and organizational patterns meet can be transformational for both client and sponsoring organization.

For this to happen, the coach needs to have a systemic perspective, appreciating fully that the client both reflects the organization while shaping it.

 

Recently, one of my mentees asked me to review a session with a member of senior management in a company where he (coach) also had a consultant role.

His client was complaining about her co-workers and the difficulty of dealing with their emotional needs. Her relational difficulties reflected a company tendency to be task-driven, neglecting relationship.

For her to become sensitive to her own feelings and open up relationally was an important step for her development and for the transformation of the company’s relationships, both internally and with customers.

A skilled transformational coach aligns individual and corporate needs like this.

 

Systemic Deep Transformational Coaching

Does deep transformational coaching also have a collective dimension? Logically, this means third order or triple loop learning organizationally, reflected and facilitated through such learning in the individual client.

It may be difficult to imagine, but the implications are radical, even revolutionary, fulfilling Ghandi’s injunction to ‘be the change’ we want to create.

Triple-loop learning organizationally is rare. It presumes a radical realignment of the whole organization. We are not just dealing with an adjustment of a particular organizational belief, value, standard, or behaviour. Nor with a realigning of corporate identity. Rather we are envisaging a collective realignment of the whole framework of separation and connectedness underpinning the organization’s existence.

Full third-order learning means the organization refocusing as a localized expression of the unifying source of the greater whole.

If third-order learning involves a transcending of individual self-boundaries, organizationally it means an embodied realization that all parts of the organization are interlocking expressions of one Being and that being is not separate or distinct from the natural, commercial, human, and cosmic environment it permeates.

Such an organization does not pay lip-service to ecology. Its very existence is predicated on mutual interdependence within a field expressing itself in each and all. Such an organization is sensitive to the total ecology of its own unfolding within the greater unfolding.

An organization like this is intrinsically wise, constantly using its sensitivity to collective awareness to fine-tune its sense of direction within that unfolding.

The periodic councils of the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, the conclaves for selecting a new pope, and Quaker meetings provide some examples of attempts to draw on a deeper collective intelligence.

But till now, we have few, if any, organizations consistently operating with that level of wisdom. And that is an astonishing lack. It is a major factor in the collective challenges we face as we continue to fracture wholeness with our divided selves.

However, this does not mean there is no place yet for systemic deep transformational coaching. Just as third-order perspectives facilitate transformational work in coaching, so third-order perspectives can facilitate transformational shifts in organizations.

From a systemic deep transformational perspective, we are particularly interested in the deeper organizational tendencies that express its basic epistemological premises as to its own nature – how it conceives itself as an organization, how it separates itself, and how it views its relationship with what it takes to be not-self or ‘outside’ self.

For consultant or coach, the key question is: how does this organization conceive itself in its separateness and connectedness to its context? All its beliefs, values, and practices ultimately come from this and hold it in place.

For the coach to work with the individual client from this perspective, the question is: how are the deep patterns and assumptions of my client in his sense of self-in-the-world an expression of those in the company? And how might the unfolding of our coaching conversation engender a radical shift in the client’s embodied sense of self in a way that profoundly stirs the field of which he is part? 

To work like that, the coach needs to have experienced and integrated some measure of third-order learning. He can rest in that simple Unknowing awareness reflecting all aspects of his personal life – thoughts, feelings, habits. He is at home in that simple awareness beyond differences and distinctions.

His work with a client becomes a context for a kind of transmission from coach to client field, in which their co-identity is felt in the body too.

Every direct realization then in the coaching crucible creates a frisson in the corporate or organizational field. And every individual instant of connected awareness enlivens the collective field in remarkable ways. Then miracles happen.

And our work moves in this direction, the more we allow it to undo and transform us in the process – as our deep commitment and complete surrender to what is unfolding grow and converge.

 

 

Peter Wrycza, PhD, PCC

Deep Transformational Coach, Certified Coach Supervisor, Mentor Coach
Founder of Nirarta Centre for Living Awareness in Bali

Founder of the International Academy for Deep Transformation, offering two ICF ACTP diplomas in Transformational and Deep Transformation Coaching and training in mentor coaching.

www.transformationalacademy.com
www.awareness-bali.com

Note: This article, originally published in Coaching Today in July 2014; 11: 11-15, was revised in August 2015

 

References

[i]  The Logical Categories of Learning and Communication. Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York, Ballantine Books,1972: 279-306

[ii] Crawford, E. Making and Mistaking Reality: What Is Emotional Education? Interchange: A Quarterly Review of Education. 2005; 36 (1-2): 49-72.

[iii] Coaching, Mentoring, and Organizational Consultancy. McGraw-Hill, London; 2006: 33

[iv] Valéry, P. Palme. In Oeuvres I. Paris, Pléiade; 1957: 155

[v] Coleridge, S. T. Biographia Literaria – Or Biographical Sketches Of My Literary Life And Opinions Vol. II. London, R. Fenner; 1817: 2

[vi] Wordsworth, W. Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey. In Poetical Works, Oxford, London; 1950: 164

[vii] See 3 above, p. 31

 

 

Coaching, Mentor Coaching, and Coaching Supervision

 

Developing People Who Develop People:

Coaching, Mentor Coaching, and Coaching Supervision

 

A Natural Progression

This article, originally published in Coaching Today in July 2015, develops ideas first introduced to readers of that journal a year earlier.[i]

While that first article explored what makes coaching truly transformational, I would like to show here how very similar principles apply to coach development, both in the progression from coaching to mentoring and supervision, and in the process of coach training and credentialing.

For ten years, while training coaches in the Academy I had founded in Indonesia and Russia, I had wanted, without success, to add mentoring and supervision to our programmes. Finally, in September 2012, I began training as a supervisor myself, initiating an 18-month journey, fuelled by one question: how do mentoring and coaching supervision fit together?

From the outset, I understood that supervision provides ‘reflective practice’ to support the overall development of the coach, while mentor-coaching is skill-focused, ideal for new coaches and those seeking to hone skills for a higher credential. But it took another 18 months to fully appreciate this difference.

I kept wondering about the right relationship of mentor coaching and supervision to each other and to coach development. Were these two distinct processes with different purposes and focuses? Or did they cover different parts of a spectrum with the one shading naturally into the other?   In this article, I share how I came to frame coaching, mentor coaching, and supervision as three essential strands for developing people. I found a natural progression through

  • being coached for personal and professional advancement
  • acquiring coaching skills to help others fulfil their aspirations,
  • mentor coaching to help coaches improve their coaching skills
  • supervision to support the growth and development of both coaches and mentor coaches.

Development

To support development, whether our own or others’, it helps to understand how that process unfolds from cradle to grave.

Individual trajectories through life may differ radically. But developmental psychologists generally concur as to the broad lines of development the majority of the population pass through, even if the higher developmental stages taken by the few are less well defined.

Essentially, we can discern three main phases: pre-conventional, conventional, and post-conventional. In the pre-conventional stages, we tend to respond to the world in a reactive or impulsive way. 

In the conventional stages, we are capable of more cognitive complexity, and understand, accept, and fit into the give and take of social interaction. In the post-conventional stages, often arising in the second half of life, we transcend the boundaries of conventional thinking, free to be and let be, living life as it suits us and allowing others to do the same.

Development and Learning

These broad phases of development are connected to the unfolding of our ability to handle cognitive complexity. Gregory Bateson’s Logical Levels of Learning illuminates this unfolding relationship through an elegant hierarchy of three distinct ways of relating to experience, in which each level provides the ability to contextualize and manage the preceding one.[ii]

We can understand these levels in terms of more encompassing orders of feedback, each allowing us to reflect on and integrate the processes of the preceding level. Essentially, these three levels touch behaviour, understanding, and the person or ‘self’. We can call these three domains of unfolding: change, learning, and growth (Figure 1).[iii]

unfolding.jpg

Change

‘Change’ denotes the simplest kind of behavioural learning, where single-order feedback lets us know whether we are achieving our goal. Are we hitting the target? Do we need to adjust our aim? Up, down or sideways?

As infants, we begin learning primarily at the change level, through trial and error. We try to do something and, from the feedback, adjust our actions until we succeed. This is how we learn to manipulate objects, feed ourselves, and walk.

Such learning remains important throughout life – whether we want to bake a cake, drive a car, or improve a golf swing. It remains important when we need to remember an appointment, someone’s name or a new word through repetition or rote learning. Simple behavioural change continues to have a role in higher-order learning.

Learning

As we become skilled at adjusting our behaviour, we discover how to do it better. We not only learn by repetition or trial and error, but by recognizing patterns and understanding how to improve our performance.

We are now learning, not only by responding to simple feedback, but by evaluating that feedback, and adjusting our response to it. In such ‘double-loop learning’, understanding is central, interpreting and evaluating what we experience. As we learn how we learn, we identify our strengths and limitations, decide what we can and can’t do, and define our very selves to boot.

Change and Learning in Coaching and Counselling

Arguably, single-loop behavioural learning is where basic performance coaching began. For example, Timothy Gallwey found that saying ‘bounce-hit’ internally reduces interfering inner dialogue and allows greater presence-to-stroke when playing tennis.[iv] Here, a simple (internal) behavioural shift enhances performance of basic strokes.

Such behavioural learning remains an important part of our results and performance-oriented profession, as we help ‘design actions’, ‘plan and set goals’, ‘manage progress and accountability’ (Figure 2). SingleLoopLearning.jpg Typically, novice coaches find it easier to focus on concrete behavioural goals to enhance performance, with single-loop learning essential in practising the foundation skills for initial credentialing.

However, beginning coaches soon realize that the client’s attitudes, values, and beliefs affect what goals can be conceived and achieved. As a coach becomes more experienced, we expect him or her not to take the client’s request at face value, but to probe the underlying motivations and convictions shaping what is desirable, permissible, or forbidden to the client. And this is where there can be an important overlap between coaching and counselling, as our work with clients becomes transformational (Figure 3).

DoubleLoop.jpeg

Growth

As we mature as coaches, our clients mature too. We find them less interested in goal setting, problem solving, and realizing coaching outcomes, and more interested in the unfolding of who and what he or she can be.

We find clients wrestling, neither with the challenge of achieving more, nor with resolving the beliefs and assumptions that frame and fence that achievement.

The questions are less about what to do, how to succeed, or next career steps, and more about who and what am I? How am I both receiving and creating this life? And what does that mean for how this life can best unfold? Not what do I want to get, but how can I serve?

In the post-conventional phases of development, there is a growing lucidity about, the whole process of making meaning, and a realization that the self unfolds itself to itself in a natural way. Client coaching questions address existential issues to do with the nature of selfhood. We touch the context of all single- and double-loop learning – the self itself.  

Such issues arise naturally in the coaching, as the coach’s own mastery and maturity grow. The developing coach, too, is also less focused on outcomes and their impediments, and more interested in the unfolding of the whole person. He or she naturally gives space for this process of becoming to ‘breathe’ in the client within and through the coaching relationship.

As the boundaries of self become more permeable to both coach and client, there is room to receive the wider transpersonal energies of life in the spaciousness of self – or even what is increasingly understood as the deeper ground of self, the space beyond all ideas of individuality.  

It seems clumsy to describe this development as ‘triple-loop learning’, but that is what is happening – not simply feedback on the success of a behaviour, nor understanding about the whys and wherefores of this feedback, but recursion to the very context of that feedback, what we have assumed about the nature of the one making and responding to that feedback. Coaches with a counselling background may well feel more comfortable in coaching that touches these deeply transformational higher orders of development (Figure 4).

TripleLoop.jpeg

From the What, to the How and the Why, to the Who

These three levels of learning and coaching correspond to a shifting focus from ‘what’, to ‘how’ and ‘why’ (or ‘why not?’), and thence to ‘who’ (Figure 5). The emphasis shifts from object or objective ‘what’, to the process of reaching the object and what might be interfering within or without the client (how and why/why not), and thence to the subject (who). In other terms, the focus shifts from the known, to the process of knowing, and thence to the knower.

DomainsUnfolding.jpeg

Coach Development and Credentialling

These three broad spheres of unfolding correspond, roughly, to the triple-level coach credentialing espoused by a number of coaching organizations.

Where new coaches have a previous counselling or therapeutic background, with substantial professional training and development, they may have already experienced a similar progressive focus on change, learning, and growth.

But where new coaches do not have this background, the more limited training on offer needs to progress them through these levels as well as possible. The approach taken by the world’s largest coaching credentialing body, the International Coach Federation (ICF) fits with this view.

In the ICF model, a new coach approaching the entry level credential (ACC) logically first acquires basic coaching behaviours, and coaches more at the behavioural level, taking the client’s request at face value, focusing on the client’s request, what to do in the coaching, and what the client needs to do to achieve the coaching outcome.

Development towards the PCC credential implies integration of basic skills, more focus on the wider implications of the client’s request, both for its possible impact and for what may support or interfere with its attainment.

With growing mastery towards the MCC credential, coaching becomes less about what the coach needs to do, and more something effortlessly happening through the coach. Coaching resembles a conversation rather than a structured process. Structure there may be, but flowing naturally and organically. There is less trying to master the process and more allowing the process to flow or unfold (Figure 6).

Credentialing.jpg

A similar relationship holds in how coaches are developed. Initially, the focus is on making sure that the coach knows what to do, and to some extent how to do it. At this stage mentor coaching, with its focus on helping the coach really refine that ‘how’ is particularly appropriate. As the coach matures, supervision supersedes mentor coaching, as we include the ‘who’, embracing the coach, the coaching, and the client.

The supervisor’s awareness becomes a receptacle for many facets of the coaching process – including the client and the client’s aspirations, and how these are impacted by the coach’s own development, as the relationship between coach and client unfolds.

As such, supervision may touch the appearance of issues at the border between coaching and therapy in the supervisee’s work with clients, as well as the parallel appearance of such issues in the relationship between supervisor and supervisee. Inevitably supervision touches the unfolding of who the coach is as a person (Figure 7).

coachdvpt.jpeg

And supervision therefore also presupposes continuing growth and maturation in the supervisor. Such growth is necessary for the supervisor to hold the space for exploring what is happening in him- or herself, as well as in coach, client, and the coaching and supervisory relationships. In holding such a space, the supervisor creates a context for the deeper wisdom of life to emerge naturally in the process of supervision. At the same time, he or she is modelling the way in which a similar flow of wisdom can become present in the space between coach and client.

This does not mean that mentor coaching is appropriate only for new coaches and supervision is only useful later, but as the coach develops the needs and emphasis shift from a greater focus on skills to a greater focus on the development of the person as a whole.    

We can summarize these broad relationships in a simple chart:

Spheres of Unfolding Bateson’s Levels Orders  of Feedback Orders of Engagement Ruling Quest-ions Cred- ential Developing Coaches
Change One Single Loop Doing Action What? Entry Coach Training
Learning Two Double Under-standing Cognition How, Why? Standard Mentor Coaching
Growth Three Triple Being Presence Who? Mastery Supervision

If these connections are valid, they suggest a natural progression from developing skills as a coach, to mentor coaching, and eventually to coaching supervision, even if not all travel the whole path. For those who do, the full path of coach development will include mentor-coach training and eventually supervisor development.

Coaching supervision programmes have developed on the margins of the main coaching organizations. And even where mentor coaching is emphasized for coach development, expectations around how mentor coaches are developed also remain relatively unformalized. There is, as yet, almost nothing for mentor coaches corresponding to the programme certification and personal credentialing of coaches. This part of the profession remains where coach development was a dozen or more years ago. A search for ‘mentor coach training’ brings up generic coaching and mentoring trainings, rather than specific mentor-coaching programmes. These appear rare, though I understand Janet Harvey offers one in the US.

Mentor-Coach Development

From my experience developing mentor coaches and training with the Coaching Supervision Academy (CSA), I believe many of the elements present in the coaching supervision training to be invaluable also for developing mentor coaches. An effective format for mentor-coach development might include:

Live Training

  1. Within the range of 5-10 days, with 6-8 days optimal, spread over at least two modules, covering the basics of mentor coaching in the first module and focusing on coach assessment in the second

Practical Experience

  1. Practising mentor coaching, between and following modules, firstly in small ‘home groups’ or ‘triads’, and then with new or even experienced practising coaches
  2. Having mentor coaching on the trainee mentor coach’s own mentoring practice (like observed coaching, but on the trainee’s mentor coaching)

Intellectual Integration

  1. Assigned reading to enrich and support the learning from the live training
  2. A case study drawn on the experience of mentoring a coach over several sessions
  3. Concluding assessment as to the mentor coach’s competence in supporting coach development through mentoring

A programme with such elements can provide a strong foundation for quality mentor coaching, as well as for development as a coach supervisor. Coaching supervision training can add further depth and complexity, as best current practice already does. This allows mentor coaching and supervision to complement each other as integral parts of a developmental framework, strengthening coaching as a genuine, maturing profession.

Should Coach Supervisors Become Mentor Coaches First?

An interesting question is whether mentor-coach development should be a prerequisite for training in coaching supervision.

My own supervision training did not presuppose mentor-coach training or experience. And the latter did not appear indispensible. I observed participants gaining and growing enormously through the training. I felt most of the coaches attending the training would make excellent supervisors and become even better coaches.

However, I found the experience I brought initially to coaching supervision somewhat lacking. In spite of ten years’ experience training and developing coaches. I felt my limited mentor-coaching experience held me back.

Developing mentors and practising mentor coaching more thoroughly with my coaches has taught me much more about the ‘how’ of coaching. And that has made me more ready to conduct supervision that embraces the coach – the who – without neglecting or ignoring the what, the how, and the why and why not of coaching.

Perhaps mentor-coaching skills are not essential for supervision, but I believe they make for a better coaching supervision.

Could Counsellors Supervise Without A Prior Coaching Trajectory?

Another interesting question is whether a counselling background might prepare one for supervising coaches.

My experience suggests that counsellors might valuably make the transition to coaching supervision with a substantive training in the latter, but this transition would be more natural and complete with some background experience in coaching and mentor coaching. A dual coach-counselling background can provide a particularly rich foundation for the holistic whole-person focus of coaching supervision.

In Conclusion

As the coaching profession matures, I suspect the logical pathway will be from client, to coach, mentor coach, and ultimately supervisor. Such progression fits closely with how we change, learn, and grow, in the unfolding of who and what we ultimately are, both individually and collectively. It fits with how we struggle pre-conventionally to find our way in the world, then jostle with the conventions of adult life, before maturing into a ripe post-conventional, self-actualizing human-being – at ease in his or her humanity, while realizing he or she is an instrument of the mysterious and sacred spirit of Life, living and breathing through each and all of us and all of this.

May 2015, this edit, August 2015  

Peter Wrycza, PhD, PCC

Person Centred Expressive Therapist, Deep Transformational Coach, Mentor Coach, and Certified Coach Supervisor (CSA). Peter is founder of Nirarta Centre for Living Awareness in Bali and founder of the International Academy for Deep Transformation, offering two ICF ACTP diplomas in Deep Transformational Coaching and training in mentor coaching.

www.transformationalacademy.com
www.awareness-bali.com

References

[i] Wrycza P. What makes coaching truly transformational? Coaching Today. 2014; 11: 11-15; Developing People who develop people: coaching, mentor coaching, and supervision, Coaching Today. 2015; 15: 22-27.

[ii] Bateson G. The logical categories of learning and communication. In steps to an ecology of mind. New York, Ballantine Books; 1972.

[iii] Ardui J. Wrycza P. When performance meets alignment: a compass for coaching and mentoring, Hertford, AuthorsOnLine; 2005.

[iv] Gallwey WT. The inner game of tennis. New York, Random House; 1974

Creativity and Leadership – Insights from East and West

In today’s competitive environment, two important qualities are generally in short supply: creativity and leadership. Yet, organizations that are more creative in their approach to business challenges enjoy an important edge. Even small companies with the vision and leadership to blaze new trails at the right time can quickly become global giants. Companies, such as Microsoft or Apple, were small business that became household names in just a few years due to a combination of creativity and leadership. Yet that combination of creativity and leadership is quite rare. Need it be so?

Some people say that ‘leaders are born, not made’, while creativity, too, is often considered a birthright for the happy few. Yet, everyone has the potential for creativity and the most surprising people can emerge as leaders at the right moment. No-one would necessarily have predicted that Lech Walesa would become an important Polish leader known throughout the world, but his willingness to heed the call of the moment drew forth exceptional qualities of leadership. Just as everyone is in some ways creative, so everyone is in some ways a leader.
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