The Language of Our Bodies

A lot of people want to know ‘What’s really new in NLP?’

While language patterns have long been one of the most popular areas of NLP, no really new linguistic models have been offered in a long time. In fact, in most cases not much has changed in language patterns or the way they’re taught in NLP since the 80’s. This week’s article by Charles Faulkner, our Director of Programs, addresses that lack with a preview of one of the elements of a new language model – and a simple way to practice using it yourself!

The Language of Our Bodies

Naturalizing NLP: A New Linguistics

by Charles Faulkner

“Cogito, ergo sum” (“I think, therefore I am”) Rene Decartes, 1637

Even today despite decades of effort to reconcile mind and body, it is still commonly believed that thinking is what separates us humans from the animals. The idea persists that our thinking is somehow immaterial, that it is somehow separate from our bodies.

In the 20th century, the renowned linguist Noam Chomsky proposed a precise transformational logic to language and thinking, while the philosopher Gregory Bateson used high level abstractions to describe language and communication. These formed the linguistic roots of NLP, and late in his life, Bateson would acknowledge the communications breakthrough Bandler and Grinder made when they employed the senses as basic units of communication.

In the years that followed, Bandler, Grinder and their students went on to describe the elements of internal representation and the deeply hypnotic nature of communication and how to use these to transform experience. Still, they clung to Chomsky’s abstract transformational grammar despite the fact that it began being abandoned in linguistics as an inadequate model as early as 1980.

The beginning of the 2nd Cognitive Revolution in linguistics was the discovery of a biological basis for thought and language. With examples including: “I’m looking forward to it.” Put it behind you.” “It’s way over my head.” “Higher values.” “Things are looking up.” “I’m feeling down.” “Too close for comfort.” “I’m in trouble.” “On top of things.” “Core beliefs,” and more, these researchers put together the “orientational metaphors” of experience.

The correspondence of this work in Cognitive Linguistics with the NLP Submodalities model is striking. It takes the various NLP lists of submodalities and makes them a coherent system. NLP presupposes everyone has a unique “Map-of-the-World.” It turns out the organizing principles of these unique maps are widely shared. By last count in Cognitive Linguistics, 57 languages share the same orientational metaphors which include: Front/Back, Up/Down, Near/Far, In/Out, On/Off, Central/Peripheral, and Deep/Shallow. Differences in languages, cultures and individuals are accounted for in part by how these various orientational metaphors (and others) are mixed together and/or valued.

How is this important? It provides a grammar of everyday experience (instead of abstract grammatical categories). Take the example, “I’m in trouble.” When you hear that, you already know there is a place (context) where the person feels “in” trouble and so there are places (contexts) where the person is “out” of trouble. You can ask a Meta-Model style question like, “Where are you ‘in’ trouble?” (or more Solution-Oriented “Where are you ‘out’ of trouble?”) without having to know about “Deletion phenomena.” Or knowing that “in” is an orientational metaphor, you could instead respond with an elaboration of that metaphor as in, “So are we talking a puddle or something a bit deeper?”

The outside world is a model for the inside world: Ask someone what they want and you might to get answers like, “To get ahead.” “Breakthrough to a new level.” “Expand my influence.” “Really connect with …” “Solidify my finances.” and more. In every case, you can now hear how deeply metaphoric these genuine desires are. Difficulties are also cast in these everyday metaphors. “It’s too much/big for us.” We’re too far down the road.” and so on. In each case, the real difficulty in the world is internally represented in ways that limit the options to that metaphoric formulation.

These metaphoric formulations have been right under our nose, so to speak. A quick reflection on them and you will realize that they are all expressions of our everyday life experience that we are applying to more abstract ideas/desires/fears in our lives. For example, our experience of a bright day becomes “a bright future.” Our experience of something big becomes the basis of “big problem/opportunity.” Our experience of looking up to parents (as a child) becomes “looking up to authorities.” and so on.

Following this insight, the next breakthrough in Cognitive Linguistics was the discovery that these metaphoric formulations are the basic categories of our experience AND our language’s grammar. The orientational metaphors are just one group of some sixteen basic metaphors known as Kinesthetic Image Schemas (KIS). This jaw stretching term will be easy for an NLPer to understand. These basic metaphors have both kinesthetic and visual representations that organize and connect a number of concepts of everyday experience.

For example in, “I’m in trouble,” the basic metaphor or KIS is Container. “In trouble” = in the Container – where the Container is the context or situation of the trouble. The person might be “in deep trouble” or “in just a little” = to depth of the Container. It might be easy to get “out” or not depending on the boundaries (sides) of the Container and/or the extent of the Container (how big it is) – which are elements of the Container schema.

Many NLP change processes involve bringing resources “into” a “problem space.” That is, bringing resources from a Container labeled ‘resources’ “into” the container labeled ‘problem.’ These Containers are different collections of our experience kept separate by these labels. The Container metaphor/KIS also describes how Context Reframing works by changing the Container (context/situation) of a difficulty for one in which that difficulty becomes a resource.

There is much more you can do when you have a grammar embedded (and embodied) in the everyday language that colleagues, clients, customers and even consultants use.

Getting to Carnegie Hall: Practice, Practice, Practice: This week’s take with you tip: Pick your favorite news reader or columnist. Listen to a bit of their news piece and identify the container metaphors they use. What questions could you ask them that would take them out of the container? What questions would change the shape of the container? What resources could they bring into that container congruent with that metaphor? What are some other, perhaps larger, container metaphors could you offer them?

Now, listen to a colleague’s language and wonder about these same things. What new possibilities present themselves?

This is just an introduction to the degree of coverage and ease of use of this approach; much more is found in the new Master Immersion Program.

(Yes, that is class as Container and “new learning” as the content in it. 😉

0 thoughts on “The Language of Our Bodies”

  1. Tom,
    Thank you so much for the insightful post last week by Charles Faulkner.
    It was truly refreshing to read a post / e-mail with practical suggestions for implementing NLP into daily practice.
    Certainly, listening closer to metaphors helps us NLP’ers practice our art more deeply.


  2. Hi Tom,
    Your article arrived at a very serindipidous time, because I have been wondering about some of these concept. Well done great work!!!!!!!!!! I really enjoyed it and forwarded it to Dr. William Horton of NFNLP and I’m sure he’ll love it also.

    Thanks Mary D.

  3. Hi Charles & Tom,

    I am doing my MFT program where the meta-model will be very helpful. I am only reading the Structure of Magic as a helpful resource.

    “Still, they clung to Chomsky’s abstract transformational grammar despite the fact that it began being abandoned in linguistics as an inadequate model as early as 1980.”

    I would like to clarify one point in the above paragraph:

    Is the meta-model still practiced today or it has been abandoned?

    Is there is any video, audio, books or articles on the new Meta-Model approach?



  4. Hi Mohamed,

    Thank you for your question.

    The Meta-Model is still practiced today with various degrees of understanding and rigor throughout NLP. The question is, what is the degree of awareness? Some time back, the mid 80s as I recall, John Grinder simplified the Meta-Model from the original 17 questions to 5 renaming it The Precision Model. (See Genie Laborde’s Influencing with Integrity.) Some time later, 2001) L. Michael Hall published his elaborated the Meta-Model in terms of his reading of Alfred Korzybski. (See his book Communication Magic.) In between, Robert Dilts reproduced the Meta-Model in at least 4 separate books, each time differently and every time with fewer questions than The Structure of Magic. Fewer questions has become the accepted norm. Many people, unfortunately, use them sporadically.

    The NLP Meta-Model was created at a specific time (mid ’70s) with a specific theory of language (GTG) for the purpose of examining therapeutic communication at that time (Perls, Satir, Erickson). Since then, several individuals with an interest in NLP and an appreciation for these limitations have created alternative organizations of the material. One of these was David Grove who developed his own Clean Language model. (David has since passed away and his work lives on.) Another is Michael Breen, who takes a predicate logic approach – encouraged by Bandler – and has produces a set of DVDs in which he explains and demonstrates his approach. I studied various grammars before deciding that embodied Cognitive Linguistics offers the most promising approach. I have recently returned from my second 6-day retreat on these ‘Meta Patterns’ of language and experience. I have not, yet, made arrangements for video recording … given the amount of personal work participants also receive.

    I hope that this is a helpful start.

    All the best,

    Charles Faulkner

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