"Metaphor mediates the interface between the conscious
and unconscious mind." David Grove
"Is there a handout?" It's a question I've asked in the
past. Usually when I've been too lazy to take down some simple
instruction the trainer has written up on the flipchart. Now the
tables were turned and someone was asking me. Did I have a handout
for this perfectly straightforward visual aid I'd developed over a
weekend of teaching? Three columns, four colours, five sub-divisions,
six or seven ...
Jack Stewart of Organisational Healing had asked me to teach
'Language for Influence and Change' on his Community NLP Practitioner
training, and I was trying to place three NLP language models - Meta,
Milton and Sleight-of-Mouth - in the context of an NLP-derived fourth
model - Metaphor - which I happen to believe is the most fundamental
and far-reaching of all. Penny Tompkins and James Lawley would be
teaching metaphoric language as part of 'Symbolic Modelling' on
Jack's first Master Practitioner training, and I'd be following that
up with an Advanced Language weekend. My Practitioner group wanted an
aide-memoire of how all this language stuff fitted together.
In 1997 I'd participated in a workshop at which Penny and James
had developed a grid relating NLP patterns to Logical Levels. I
returned to their seminal article in Rapport on Symbolic Modelling to remind myself how the diagram had evolved. Could I
adapt it by adding a bit, expanding a bit and relating the whole lot
to human need and experience? Out of this exercise grew figure 1.
The first thing to note about the model in figure 1 is that's all
it is. A model. It ain't reality. It's a convenient metaphor.
The second thing about this Language Model guide is that it goes
beyond language. Or rather, beyond 'language', as it derives from the
Latin lingua , tongue, 'that is spoken' . In NLP terms
language is an external surface structure mode of expression far
removed from our internal deep structure sensory processing and even
further removed from our internal emotional responses to reality. But
if we resurrect a 17th century alternative meaning of language as
'a means of expression otherwise than by words' and add this
to the original we can usefully deepen the meaning. Language then
becomes 'a means of expression and communication'.
In this simpler, deeper meaning there are models operating beyond
the frontiers of surface structure: the bodymind processes which aim
to integrate beyond 'language'; and David Grove's 'Clean Language', a
model designed to reach what the Meta-model can only reach for - the
deep structure of our internal neurological representations.
Indeed if you study Clean Language and metaphor therapy with
David, or with Penny and James and our research group (cost £8
including a cup of tea and a biscuit), you quickly realize that
language is a description you can apply to pretty much any means of
expression and communication - word, gesture, drawing, sound, sigh,
click, twitch or line of sight. We even pace ticks and giggles.
Clean Language, verbal and non-verbal, is used to (1) access, (2)
define and (3) develop a person's symbolic representation of their
unconscious pattern or process. An obvious use, though by no means
the only one, is in psychotherapy. As the client discovers
information about a troublesome pattern underlying their present
state, the information feeds back into the system and self-correcting
change occurs. The pattern will not perpetuate. I have witnessed
profound change in a variety of clients, from artists to the
long-term mentally disturbed (I make a distinction). Sometimes the
metaphor transforms completely, and the problem state with it. And
this transformation occurs at a deep structure level beyond words.
And as Clean Language is not just about 'language', I place the
'Metaphor Model' right up there next to 'bodymind process' on the
grid. I picture Metaphor Model with one foot in the verbal camp and
another in the non-verbal. A kind of Colossus bridging the two. To
use a metaphor. My metaphor. You find your own. (Sorry, you
get used to that kind of thing in our research group.)
And because the Metaphor Model can be used to pace a client's
fundamental patterns and processes, I'm not shy about relating it to
the higher levels of human need and experience - Spirituality,
Mission or Purpose and Identity. Just as in music a fundamental tone
is produced by the vibration of the whole of an instrument, so Clean
Language can resonate with the whole of a person's sense of
themselves. Conscious and unconscious. Physical, conceptual and
The 'levels of human experience' panel is directly inspired by
Robert Dilts' Logical Levels. 'Environment' expands to include both
our external and internal space, in the same way that we use
'kinesthetic' to mean either external or internal movement - motion
and emotion - and 'vision' to mean sight or insight.
I categorize 'Mission or Purpose' at a separate level rather than
lumping it in, as many do, with 'Spirituality'. Spirituality to me is
a sense of connectedness that subsumes all our separate and
individual senses of purpose, identity, beliefs and values. So I show
Spirituality at each end and linking all levels. There may be
a purpose to our spiritual connectedness, just as there may be a
sense of spirituality to our mission in life, but for the sake of
this model I indicate them as distinct. Remember it's only a model.
And a model is only a metaphor.
The 'roller towel' effect for the panel indicates one way you
might use it. As the graphic is a 2-dimensional representation of a
4-dimensional metaphor (3-D + time), it just happens to have stopped
here - relating the particular language models on the left to the
particular levels of experience on the right - at this point in time,
as a convenience. Of course I have chosen this particular convenience
for this particular towel, but when you've done what you have to do
you can pull it either way before drying your hands. Pull
Beliefs down to Meta level and gather information about how you
nominalize 'believing', for example. Or pull Behaviour up to Metaphor
level and ask 'That's a pull like what?'
Which brings us back to the handout. One of the Practitioner group
asked why I had printed (S)L(E)IGHT OF MOUTH that way. Some years ago
I saw a biographical note about the composer Zelenka which elegantly
identified him as (K)ein Kleiner Meister des Barocks , a
construction inviting you to think of Zelenka as either 'A Minor
Master of the Baroque' or 'No Minor Master of the Baroque' - and thus
perhaps even a Major Master. So I bracket (s)l(e)ight to indicate
subtler meanings. Dilts' name for the model derives from
'sleight-of-hand', which for some people has undertones of
manipulation, whereas the phrase actually comes from the French
legerdemain, literally 'light of hand' . I encourage
people to use it as Jo Cooper and Peter Seal of Centre NLP taught me
- with a light touch. A kind of leger-de-langue.
The connective phrases at the right of the diagram - 'which
affects', 'which defines ' etc: well, you can make up your own.
Penny Tompkins came up with the thought that 'Environment (internal
& external)' embodies 'Spirituality' - a nicer distinction
than my original conceives. And James Lawley reminded me that
'Behaviour' changes 'Environment' as well as being
conditioned by it. Indeed you could run the whole sequence
backwards and test if the connectives work in reverse. Do
'Capabilities' support or deny 'Beliefs & Values'? Does
'Environment' condition and change 'Behaviour'? How could you
develop the model?
All metaphors have a hidden element not amenable to description.
You could allow this one to mediate the interface between your
conscious and unconscious mind, as David Grove puts it, and ask it
Clean Language questions! Adopt it. Adapt it. Use it if it's useful,
and give me a credit. And don't forget to thank Penny and James, and
Robert and Rapport, and all your family and friends.
© 1998 Philip Harland
Reference: Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, 'Symbolic Modelling' Rapport 38 (1997)