One of the ten commandments of NLP is that thou shalt not mind-read. God forbid you should see someone teetering at the side of the road and assume they’re going to cross it, when in fact they may have stopped to open a restaurant. Problem being that we humans have an inbuilt tendency to detect patterns that can be very accurate on occasion. So much so, as to present all kinds of data — including, whisper it, content — about a person’s state and intended course of action.
Let’s get sensible about this content thing, please. There are professions that are all about the accurate assessment or depiction of what goes on within and between human beings. Acting, for one. The role of an actor is to persuade an audience that they know things about the character being portrayed. There’s a character in cop drama The Shield called Billings who’s an asshole. Or rather, he seems to be an asshole. Or is that saying too much? Am I being judgemental? Perish the thought. But hey, don’t take my word for it — have a look at this, and see what you think of Billings. Or rather, of the choices that actor David Marciano who plays Billings made on the basis of the script that the writers came up with, and the intentions of the director making the episode.
Now, those choices weren’t random. They were based on a deep embodied appreciation of human behaviour. We can reasonably surmise what Billings is like on the evidence of our senses because he is conforming to principles — his (actor’s) and ours — that are hardwired. Even on the basis of the minute or so of seeing Billings in that start-of-episode sequence, you can make reasonable predictions about how Billings will act in a given situation — that’s precisely what the job of the pre-credit sequence is, and you’d have to be autistic not to get that. So how come there are so many within NLP who claim it’s futile to impose content? That to do so is to commit the sin of mind-reading?
Now, the intent of this no-content thing was to help people be clear about the gambles they were making in attributing intent to others. Problem being, the better your senses get, and the more refined your understanding of language becomes — and those are surely two of the aspects of becoming good at this NLP business — and you can indeed heighten your ability to pick up content, to perceive signal in what was formerly noise. To ignore the data that comes up in the course of an interaction on the grounds of epistemological purity is futile. A good counsellor or police interrogator does so for a living. And let’s get back to one of the tenets of NLP, the whole thing about requisite variety: the idea is to have more flexibility than the system you’re dealing with, right? So what happens when you’re interacting with someone who excels at picking up your content, and you refuse to acknowledge theirs? Answer: they will have more choices than you.
Fortunately, not all of those within NLP make such dumb pronouncements. James Tsakalos has developed a discipline predicated on the knowledge that mind-reading is a faculty that exists and can be sharpened. Oh, and by the way — the mind you’re reading is not someone else’s, it’s your own. Get that? It’s a distinction which helps to determine the difference between patterning and paranoia. And the work James has done in turning the weirdbeard theory of Spiral Dynamics into the practical toolkit of Spiral Somatics is sublime in its acknowledgement of the intuitions we have about others, and turning them into functional tools based on observable repeated patterns of interaction. In the process, James has done more to realise the promise of NLP’s utility in real world social dynamics than any other so-called NLP developer I’ve come across. Where some go to conferences and proclaim that they’ve modelled the ability to put together a decent winter wardrobe, to use one tiny sad example of where this liberating and pioneering technology has gone, James Tsakalos has created a body of work that has day to day implications across all contexts involving interaction.
Oh, and guess what? People were doing this kind of stuff way before NLP came along. Master Trainer Michael Breen‘s background includes training as an actor, which is where he came across the work of Michael Chekhov. Nephew of the playwright Anton Chekhov, Michael Chekhov”s work in acting was influenced by training with Stanislavski (who came up with The Method), and the writings of all-encompassing thinker Rudolf Steiner. Where Stanislavski’s approach emphasises going inside to draw on personal experiences resonant with what a play’s text implies, and is responsible for generations of actors ever since thinking they have permission to be moody dicks in or out of role, Chekhov went in the opposite direction. He looked at the physiology of expression, and sought the fundamental postures that contained the key to a person’s condition. This he called the psychological gesture. In NLP terms, it’s something remarkably like modelling. And Chekhov was teaching actors in Europe and then America how to approach their work this way in the 30s and 40s long before Bandler and Grinder were even born. Actors who utilise this methodology include Jack Nicholson, Anthony Hopkins, and Johnny Depp, and you can read about Chekhov’s work in his book To The Actor: On The Technique Of Acting.
Robert Anton Wilson was acutely aware of the different kinds of intelligence that we have, and made a conscious effort to refine those types that he was ‘naturally’ lacking in. A bookish kid, he was not too sharp where body language was concerned, and went and worked with an ambulance crew for a while to sharpen his somatic intelligence. Engaged in potentially dangerous situations on an ongoing basis, he soon learned some valuable distinctions about how people function, and those lessons helped shape his evolving thinking, as captured beautifully in Prometheus Rising, which — as beautifully out there as it gets — is rooted firmly in the notion of bodymind being a single unit. Wilson remains the only person ever to be declared a Cosmic Master Trainer by Richard Bandler, which alone is recommendation enough to check his work out.