Is you is - or is you ain't?


Logical Levels in Neuro-Linguistic Programming

and Process-Oriented Psychology


by Stephen Bray


[Biodata and picture of contributor will be found by clicking here]


Sometime in the mid 1980s two events occurred in close succession that apparently were to change the course of my life.

The first was a naïve comment made to some colleagues in the North West Family Therapy Trainers Group.[i]  I suggested that it would be great if we could distil the essential elements from different models of therapy, and apply that distillation, without all the philosophy within which originators of therapies embed their work. I was firmly advised to study Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP), which I undertook, both in London and Santa Cruz, California.

The second was the recurring painful experience of placing the ball of my thumb on the wooden baluster of my staircase and receiving what I experienced as a painful electric shock. At around this time I read an article about Dr. Arnold Mindell of the C.J. Jung Institute, Zurich who had apparently cured himself of a painful form of neuritis by amplifying the pain. Dr. Mindell was shortly to present in London, so I arranged to attend his workshop on Process Oriented Psychology, (POP).[ii]

During my first contact with Dr. Mindell my symptom vanished, and soon lots of things in my life changed.

At that time NLP was based upon an analysis of linguistic patterns known as the Meta Model,[iii] whereas POP considered us to be expressions of life in which symptoms may be considered as invitations to fulfil new roles and experience new awareness and behaviours. The two disciplines were presented within widely differing frames, and it seemed informative to use the perspective of one, to more deeply understand the other.

All this started to change in 1987 when Robert Dilts one of the first generation of NLP thinkers reached the conclusion that just as Einstein had attempted to create a unified field theory of physics, it might also be possible to create such a theory in respect of the pragmatics of man, mind and communication.

This model later came to be known as Dilts’ Logical Levels in NLP. The model follows Gregory Bateson’s thinking,[iv] which was itself derived from that of Bertrand Russell.[v] Whilst phenomena such as objects, or events may belong to particular classes of description, an object cannot also be the class that categorises it. For example the last platypus in the world represents the genus obnthorhynchus, but is not the genus. Or if you like the fated platypus arises as a result of his or her genetic ancestry, but is not the cause of it, rather it has arisen as a result of wider phenomena, which may be classified, and in which the last platypus is contained. Or there is a rather sad category called extinct species. The platypus is an extinct species, but is not the class of extinct species, for within that class we also find dinosaurs and even forms of flora.

When Robert Dilts first presented his logical levels of NLP he suggested a classification, or model comprised of five levels.[vi] The highest of these was Identity, ‘who you are and how you recognise yourself to be’, and the lowest Environment or ‘where you live, and what physical constraints are placed upon your mind and person’.

This very structured formulation is very different from Mindell’s POP model of life, wherein all phenomena are pregnant with the invitation to extravert unconscious processes and explore awareness further. The difference might be summarised by stating that in Dilts’ original model behaviour was predicated upon an outcome that appeared to be dictated by the person concerned, whereas in Mindell’s world there is no outcome, but simply the experience, or process of an unfolding awareness.

Mindell writes: “Insensitive egos that rigidly hold to the chronological world of cause and effect can easily destroy psychic and somatic process”, and, “Synchronicity, physiology, meditation and quantum physics all manifest a mysterious uncertainty. Bohr generalized physics’ uncertainty principle in biology. He said that if we inspect the life processes too closely then we destroy it, much as electron processes can be disturbed by experimentation aimed at producing classical information about how, when, why and exactly where.”[vii]

So in NLP it seemed as if one might pin down life into a series of outcomes that we each create deliberately, whilst in POP if one acted deliberately at all it was simply to surrender to a signal being received and go with it. For a while it seemed as if the models were irreconcilable. Then Robert Dilts began to suggest a new level that perhaps could be considered to be higher than that of personal identity. He called this level Spirit.

In the introduction to his book Tools of the Spirit[viii] Dilts writes. “According to Aldous Huxley, the central problem for humanity is the quest for grace. And as Gregory Bateson pointed out, ‘For the attainment of grace, the reasons of the heart must be integrated with the reasons of the reason’.” Dilts refers to this process as integration of the heart and the sword, or the integration of compassion and technology.

He continues: “You may say some words, then you touch the person, you ask a few questions, have the person change his or her posture, then ‘a miracle happens’, then you say a few more words, have the person shift his or her position again, and finish the steps of the technique.’ But the miracle that happened is not ultimately created or ‘caused’ by the technique. The technique is the ritual that goes around the miracle.”

According to Dilts’ current NLP publications, Spirit represents ‘Who Else? What Else? Vision and Purpose’. Spiritual experiences relate to our perception of being part of a larger system that reaches beyond us as individuals to our family, community and global systems. In POP Mindell refers to the input from such global systems as channels, and he lists synchronicities and world events as being just two of the ways in which we may come to understand who we are.

In Robert Dilts model six levels are identified:

Spirit –                  Who Else? What Else? Vision and Purpose?

Identity –               Who? Our Mission? The Shaper of Beliefs and Values

Beliefs –                   Why? Values that give rise to the motivation and permission to act, which in turn empower our strength and capabilities.

Capabilities            How? Guiding and giving direction to behavioural actions through a mental map, plan or strategy.

Behaviour –               What? Specific actions or reactions taken within the environment

Environment –          Where and When? The external opportunities or constraints upon a person

It follows from this model that an individual may live in the most splendid luxury with every convenience and opportunity at his or her disposal, but unless he or she seems to be possessed of any sense of self or purpose it would be unlikely for him or her to appear to create anything.

And someone starting with nothing but a sense of purpose has everything necessary to create a world in the manner of their choosing. This idea of course runs contrary to how many present Maslow’s ideas[ix]. We do not need to build our lives constantly from the bottom up as Maslow’s model would have us believe. Dilts’ is closer to the truth in suggesting that changing our perception at the level of Identity, or Belief must affect our Capabilities and Behaviours, and cause us to have an impact upon our Environment.

However, there is an important omission in Dilts’ classification as it presents itself here. The error comes from assuming that Spirit, or ‘What Else’ is the complete story. Must not ‘What Else’ include possibilities for removing us from the universe of objects, and therefore time, with the concomitant appearance of cause and effect? Surely ‘What Else’ and the entire hierarchy reside within an overarching of ‘As It Is’, or isn’t according to its dictate; for ‘It’ defies categorisation. And is it not ‘As It Is’ that gives rise to the appearance of all phenomena, including logical levels, NLP, POP and illusory free will?

Our experience is ‘As It Is’, which includes ‘What Else’. The ability to experience reading and writing about the theories of NLP and POP arise solely because ‘As It Is’ chooses to do so. I simply appear to sit at this keyboard, and then a miracle happens. You appear to read this twaddle and it seems that ‘It’ has happened again!


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[i] The North West Family Therapy Trainers Group ran from 1980 – 1986 under the auspices of the Church of England Children’s Society. Its members pioneered Family Therapy training throughout the Greater Manchester Region during this period.

[ii] The article printed in Human Potential Magazine and was in fact an extract from Mindell, (1985) Working with the Dreaming Body. RKP.

[iii] The Meta Model is fully presented in Bandler and Grinder (1975) The Structure of Magic Vol. 1. Science and Behaviour Books. It also is described in an abridged form in Sinclair with Bray (1998) An ABC of NLP, ASPEN.

[iv] Bateson, (1972) ‘Steps to an Ecology of Mind’. Chandler Publishing Company

[v] Whitehead and Russell, (1910-13) Principia Mathematica Vol. 3. Cambridge University Press.

[vi] When Dilts, (1993) Skills for the Future. Meta Publications, was published he writes of only five levels, although in his presentations he intimated the level of Spirit as early as 1988.

[vii] Mindell (1982), Dreambody: The Body’s Role in Revealing The Self. RKP.

[viii] Dilts, (1997), Tools of the Spirit. Meta Publications.

[ix] For a brief introduction to Maslow’s ideas refer to Nurturing Potential Vol. 2 No. 1. A fuller description of his opinions may be found in Maslow, (1971) The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. Penguin Books.