Hidden Language–Part II Mark A. Chidley, Certified Master Practitioner, RRT
Readers will recall in the first part of this series I discussed deep structure as one way of understanding the hidden language that shows up so often in the work of Jon Connolly, in both live trainings and transcripts of his sessions disseminated for study within the RRT community. These conversations become transformative for people because there is so much going on underneath the surface of the spoken word that is having a beneficial and powerful effect, while sidestepping the clumsiness, potential disagreement, and poisoning that comes with proscriptive, prescriptive, or pathology focused language.
We approached deep structure looking at it as linguists have, as a series of propositions that are implicit, riding below the visible or spoken surface of the sentence the way the base of an iceberg rides below the visible tip, yet surely constituting its most potent, substantial part. This article will delve deeper into deep structure and also take a look at forming parallels through balanced forms and stringing things in a series.
I. Deep Structure
Let’s look at one familiar modality in RRT to see how this works. By now we’re familiar with Changing Internal Geography (see Level I manual).
“There was a time when you were outdoors and you saw something beyond beautiful. What was it?” The client names a cherished outdoor scene that is then linked with feeling peaceful and excited and these reasonable, expectable feeling states are immediately redefined as a peak experience of getting in touch with one’s identity or true and lasting Self. We then extend this idea through other metaphors, talking about how the body that’s here and can be touched is not the same as the body that was there at birth, yet the experiencing Self has continued in all these changing forms. We show that we’re not always in touch with this deeper Self, referencing how people have been confused about the sun’s disappearance on cloudy days, despite the fact that we know the sun is just as hot at 2 a.m. as at 2 p.m. and burns just as brightly.
Without saying so directly, weʼve posited the notion that human perception is faulty and things are often other than they seem. And that some of the biggest things in life don’t depend on our awareness for their existence and continuance. Without saying it in so many words, we push into the idea the client is not their body, but an eternal Self that is not hurt and survives all the changes of life, even physical death, even though their conscious awareness has not always been able to take this in, endorse, or even register it. The client is led along this line of thinking to where a separation opens between what has happened to the body and the inviolable, continuing Self.
But then there’s even more. At this point, Jon will sometimes tell a brief story of abuse in his own life and will hold a hand up parallel to the client’s hand after asking permission to do so. When the client gives that permission, Jon will point out (having demonstrated it) that there is mutual respect with the permission and say, “Then right now I’m closer to touching who you really are than those guys (or whoever the perpetrator was) ever got because I have your permission and you have my respect.”
This is a nice device, a sort of inverted factive predicate that assumes what appears at the end of the sentence are the controlling factors that cause what appears at the start of the sentence to be true. There are probably many other elements that allow human connection to happen, but Jon has neatly boiled it down to just two, and linked them to the idea that being touched without them equals non-touch and that people can truly connect sometimes without being physically touched at all. Without it being obvious or visible, a change has occurred. Before, the client’s abuse and identity were melded together. Now, they’re differentiated, and now there’s something else between the client and their abuse that promises to redefine closeness and possibly cancel out the abuse’s effect.
Let’s just take a step back from the surface language and look at some of the beautiful, deep structure going on in these utterances. Many others could be added, I’m sure:
You are not your body.
You are not your emotions.
You are not what’s been done to you by others.
Perception doesn’t tell the whole story.
Things can be other than what they seem.
Being touched physically without permission and respect equals non-touch
You can connect deeply with someone without being physically touched.
Permission and respect are necessary for being truly touched.
Permission and respect weren’t there then. They are now.
You and I are connecting deeply right now.
Who you really are is touching who I really am.
Who I really am is touching who you really are.
If you can connect deeply with me and I with you, then you are not damaged
You are capable of closeness
Your body may have been hurt but You weren’t
Your body and emotions went through it. You didn’t
If You didn’t go through it, You weren’t there for it. You didn’t participate
It may have happened in your vicinity, but it wasn’t about You.
If it didn’t happen to me, it didn’t happen to You
You were okay then, you are okay now.
You are okay, that stuff never got “in” You
Who you are is synonymous with or close to experiences of lasting beauty
The client’s head is swimming and his or her spirit is uplifting with all this deep structure that is never overtly stated, but rides beneath the metaphors and fills in the gaps between artful RRT utterances, so that it becomes an easy next step to go on to repeating sentence stems where the therapist and client parrot back and forth these contrasts:
He touched my body
He never touched my essence.
He hurt my feelings
He never touched who I really am
He confused my thinking
He never really touched me.
This transition from metaphorical to declarative language anchors the culmination of all the above, changing Internal geography. Taken together, the whole modality hits the client with a powerful experience that shifts them to a new paradigm, a new orientation, an experience underneath the level of words, as opposed to a cognitive exercise at the level of content of words. The shift washes off damaging, disturbing emotions, corrects implicit meanings, and redeems the client’s positive relationship to Self. Not bad for a day’s work!
II. Parallelism: Balanced Forms and Series, the Rhythm of Two’s and Three’s
Great literature and great writing is replete with pairs of things held up for consideration or contrast in two’s, or, strung together in a series of three’s. Writing that really shines doesn’t communicate through mere content, but adds the sensory enjoyment that rhythm, and the intellectual satisfaction that multiplicity of example imparts to language. These can be nouns, noun phrases, adjectives, adverbs, participle or prepositional phrases, even consonants or vowel sounds. Taking alliteration as just one example, Spiro Agnew once described the press as “Nattering naybobs of negativism”. Alliteration is an extreme example of how stringing things together catches the ear and rivets attention. When we line up two things side by side we call it a balanced form. But when we string three things together in parallel we call it a series. But note this: even if the wording becomes phrases or whole sentences, and the concepts stretch out to considerable length, the ear still catches the rhythm as it tries to follow meaning. But what also happens is the unconscious groups them together, sometimes equates them, a phenomenon not so obvious, but which gives us powerful therapueutic leverage.
I’d pause here to state, as I did in Part I, the debt of gratitude I have for the work of Brooks Landon, a professor of English at the University of Iowa, and his treatment of some of these concepts in his series “Building Great Sentences.” Professor Landon argues that the reason these forms have such deep and universal appeal is that they speak to the rhythms of life. We have two ventricles to our heart, two hemispheres in our brain, two of every major appendage. Our body houses a bi-lateral circulatory and nervous system. Armies of antiquity marched in time to drums beating a one-two, one-two rhythm. On the other hand, things in a series, arranged in threes, appeal to our sense of a wider sample and completeness. We have county, state, and federal governments. We have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. In nature there is air, earth, and water. In human development there is childhood, adulthood, and senescence. We make sense through story and stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. In logic there is major premise, minor premise, and conclusion. The YMCA aspires to unite Body, Mind, and Spirit.
Binary thought that wants to boil all things down to either/or, black or white, is everywhere. And it is countered by the urge to see more, include more, to give a more complete accounting. So the ear and the mind looks around for a trinity and is receptive to finding examples in three’s, everywhere.
So I’m taking just the briefest overview of the seductive power of balanced forms and things in a series for my purposes here of looking at how parallelism becomes a potent working force in RRT.
Let’s look at this passage of Jon’s work with Devan, a young drug addict in early recovery. The context is that Devan, while recovering from opiates, has been waffling back and forth between his commitment to abstinence and speculating on continuing to enjoy the effects of marijuana and the greater lure of the fantasy of being able to self-medicate without devastating effects necessarily happening.
To this, Jon says, “So, this one guy says, You know, what do we want to do today? I wanna go surfing.” And this other guy says, “Oh, I wanna climb a mountain.” Somebody else says, “I wanna be with my lover.” And somebody else says, “Well, I’m just gonna sit here and touch myself.” Well, or “I’m just gonna sit here and touch my brain cells with this kind of substance or that kind of substance.” And it moves you… using marijuana or using heroin puts one into that ballpark where the way he’s going to experience things isn’t by experiencing things, but by doing something to, you know, putting a chemical on his brain cells rather than engaging in something that, you know, involves living.”
Notice the parallelism of paired, balanced forms. Real life activities that give pleasure and provide interaction are paired against activities that involve self-stimulation and leave one isolated. Experiencing things through drugs through an artificially induced a state of mind, is cast as not experiencing and paired against engaging in something real, vital that is cast as living, being fully alive. Pleasure and interaction versus sel-fstimulation and isolation. Not experiencing versus fully living. Either. Or. The balanced contrast starts to chip away at Devan’s notion that he can somehow live in both worlds at once.
Devan’s core dysfunction here is his belief that switching off to a “lesser” drug will be striking a reasonable bargain with his addiction and all other problems. Further on in the transcript Jon blasts this with a series of metaphors that take this reasoning to its logical conclusions:
1) Kind of like somebody says, “I’ve had blackouts and gotten in jail and lost my license because I keep getting drunk on vodka and vodka’s caused me to do really horrible things that I regret and feel guilty about, so I wanna be able to just stick with white wine and light beer.
2) I mean, would you want that for somebody? If you have a son, and he’s 9 years old, and you say, “Son, what are you looking to do when you grow up?” And he says, Well, I wanna be able to make sure I use some kind of substance on a regular basis in order to get my mind to be calmer, that’s what I wanna be when I grow up. I really like the idea of using marijuana as a life choice and use that as the way to get satisfaction in life.” Your other son says, “Oh, me, I want to be an electrician. ‘Cause I like the idea of managing electric and power and people having light, and people having air conditioning. And I like the idea of doing something that really has value. And you talk to your first son, and he says, “Well, I wanna be, you know, using marijuana regularly in order to keep myself calm. That’s what I’d like to be, dad.” And he says, “You know, I think about it all the time. I’m trying to decide like how much of it to use. And whether or not maybe I should move to a state where it’s legal, and maybe I can get a prescription for it. Or, I’m thinking maybe it’s all right to live in a state where it’s not legal but maybe not in a state where it’s criminalized. And I’m also wondering, dad, about the idea about driving with it. I know I need to get around from place to place but maybe I should be thinking about a state where I can use it but maybe I don’t have to drive so much and maybe I could be on the bus line.
3) So, your buddy says to you, “Well you know my kid isn’t gonna get any medical attention and he’s gonna go through a whole lot of suffering.” And you say, “Geez, why?” And he says, “Well, ‘cause I took the money that I had to pay for his treatment and I lost it playing blackjack. And I just feel crappy about it.” And you say, “Dude, that’s terrible.” And he says, “Yeah, I’m just hating myself. I feel miserable about what happened. My kid’s not gonna get medical care ‘cause I put it all on blackjack. I had it. I lost it. He’s not gonna get…” And you say, “I’m so sorry. What’s the plan?” And he says, The plan is to stick with roulette. I’m not touching cards any more. I go to the casino, slots,roulette wheel, absolutely no more blackjack.” And you might be thinking, you know, man, your solution sounds a little half-assed to me.
You get the idea. Here Jon uses metaphor, with his unique imaginative verbal skill, like a bludgeon, to smash the idea that using a lesser drug could work some sort of magic bargain or that one could somehow escape the dead-ended preoccupation and wasting of life that co-occurs with addiction. But what I want to stress is that he uses a series of three metaphors that build on each other and extend in scope and seriousness. They involve complex concepts that touch on the sequelae of addiction, but Devan hears it all just fine. Devan hears this series as a progression, a reasonable sample, and accepts it as a complete representation of the future trajectory of his thinking.
From this point, Jon gets no conflict with the target, and when he tests for the belief’s presence at the end of the session, Devan says this:
“There’s no point if you feel you need it, it is an addiction. I don’t need marijuana. I may choose only to use marijuana, but there’s no, there’s no purpose in this. It clouds my um, it’s a mind altering substance point blank. It may not have caused a foreseeable problem, but if I’m dependent on it then it is a problem. I don’t need marijuana. I wanna be me, just as happy, and just as free – I’m me. You know, I’ve been doing just fine without it here. There’s no reason to return to it just ‘cause I can.”
There is a complete reversal of the thinking Devan had at the start of the session. We might say he’s now seeing the big picture, as an adult. There’s been a shift potentiated by the application of powerful RRT metaphors and concepts presented, first, in the balanced contrast of one thing against another and then, second, through a powerful, building series of three, a movie about the progression of realities that would follow.
We’ve now taken a fuller look at deep structure and the parallelism that constitute some of the invisible forms and the hidden power of language inherent in the RRT model. As we become more and more conversant with these forms, clients gain a shift in the deep recesses of inner mind relative to the upset or trouble in their lives. We have known it works for some time now, through direct experience, by sitting across from and seeing the outcomes–persons with faces resplendent, recharged, renewed. Now we know a little bit more about how and why it works. Next month I’ll wrap up this series with an article that will pull together some final thoughts and a show a couple more forms in which hidden language becomes the via royale of transformation.