The Rainbow Machine: tales from a neurolinguist's journal

by Andrew T. Austin


A note from Steve Andreas


At this point in my life, I don’t get excited about a lot of stuff, but about a year and a half ago a manuscript came across my desk that immediately got my attention.  It’s the most interesting and intriguing material I’ve come across since reading Jay Haley’s Uncommon Therapy many years ago.  Andy has both a unique sense of humor, and my admiration for the things he has “pulled off.”  You’ll begin to see what I mean in the following two sections, which are brief excerpts from the book. –Steve Andreas



Seeing Red

(An excerpt from “The Rainbow Machine,” by Andrew T. Austin, ©2007 Real People Press.)


“Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight.”

—Phyllis Diller


Even after all these years I still get surprised by the referrals I get. I mean, who would think of sending a habitual violent young offender to a hypnotist? Well, it sure is a wide and varied world, and sometimes you do find an enlightened social worker.

The referral notes were the size of a phone book, and they didn’t make pretty reading. I was advised that I might not want to see him in my own office if I had anything breakable in there. In short, I was to be very wary of him indeed, and to be afraid, very afraid.

Now this just isn’t my style. I have learned from working in various places that the existing employees all try to induct the new guy into the right way of thinking. If he doesn’t conform to the prevailing mindset, he may well find himself excluded from the team. One hospital department I consulted on had the problem of trying to change the overtly negative culture amongst the employees. As people became disgruntled and left, the management would be excited about the prospect of “new blood.” However, any attempts at remaining upbeat and positive were rapidly stomped on, as the new employees found themselves being rapidly inducted into the correct way of thinking for that department.

I always refuse to make an appointment until I can speak to the person who actually wants the appointment. A colleague has a similar rule. “It makes sure the client owns the appointment.” While I don’t know too much about this kind of ownership, I do know that when I don’t speak to the client first, they rarely turn up.

When I spoke to this kid on the telephone he asked if he could bring his mum along. I think he was a bit nervous. And he did turn up—with his mum. This kid, barely 15, and with a criminal record that would make angels weep, arrived clutching his mother as though it was his first day of school. The social worker stepped forward, and said, “This is Darren.” That kind of reminded me of real-estate agents who on showing you the kitchen say, “This is the kitchen.” We really need to do better than this. Yes, really.

So I’m dressed in my smartest and most formal suit. I sit in the office with mother, Darren and the social worker. I do the formalities and I am formal. Also, most important, I completely ignore Darren. We all talk about him as though he isn’t there. He seems comfortable with things this way.

Subsequently Mother and social worker are dismissed with instructions to return later. I’ll call them. In the meantime, “I’ll have a talk with Darren.”

I return to my office. Darren is sitting there somewhat disquieted. I remove my jacket and tie casually, and pull out a pack of cigarettes. Having lit one, I toss the packet and lighter at Darren. He catches them, watching me for a cue as to whether to light one, say something, or whatever. I give him no such cue.

“You like veal?” I ask, exhaling.

“Errr. . . huh?” He’s clearly confused.

Veal. You like it?” He shrugs. He is clearly unsure what is going on here.

“Veal, as you may be aware, comes from baby cows—do you know any baby cows?”

Now he is seriously confused, and very unsure of how to respond. There is no jocularity in my tone and no cue about how to behave. He looks at me, speechless. He’s reached that delightful, “Oh shit!” stage.

“And these baby cows, did you know that they blindfold them before they kill them?’

He shrugs.

“Yes. The baby cows die screaming, but because they are blindfolded they cannot know what they are screaming at.”

His eyes widen to the size of dinner plates.

“Now, I am a hypnotist, CLOSE YOUR EYES. . . .”

“What happens in your mind just before you lose your temper?”

Frightened people tend to understand words literally, and questions tend to bypass conscious processing altogether.

“I just see red.” He replied, eyes still very firmly closed.

Just red?” I enquire. “What else?”

“I don’t know,” He protested.

“Yes you do,” I insist, “What else?”

“I just see their face and the picture is red.”

I pull out a fresh chicken from underneath my chair and hold it in front of him. (More than a few students who have come to watch me work have expressed their surprise at such antics. “I didn’t think you actually did that kind of thing!” is a common remark.)

“Open your eyes and tell me what I am holding in front of you,” I say nicely.

He opens his eyes, blinks for moment in confusion.

“Looks like a chicken,” he states, quite correctly.

         “Now, close your eyes and see the chicken in your imagination. Can you do that?”

“Yes,” he tells me.

“Now begin, slowly at first, begin to change that picture of the chicken into the same kind of red picture as when it happens, do it—quickly now!”

My video camera was all set up and already recording. I wasn’t entirely sure that this was going to work, but I’ve learned that it’s always worth being prepared for these things just in case. It was worthwhile, because that kid opened his eyes in a blind rage, snatched that chicken out of my hands and started trying to beat it to death.

His rage lasted less than 2 minutes, but it was very clear that to be the target of that level of violence would be a very bad thing indeed. The chicken, previously killed in a humane manner, was thoroughly tenderised.

I ask him, “What happened there?’

“I just saw red,” he told me.

“You just saw red,” I echoed. “Anything else?” I ask this young man who has just spent two minutes beating a dead chicken.

“I just saw red. . . .” And then that certain special look began to appear on his face as the train of realisation pulled up at the station. He made the connection that it wasn’t the chicken that created the reaction, but rather that he did it himself. He also realized that I’d set him up.

“Shit! Fuck! Fuck! Bastard!” He said half angry, half laughing, and half something else.

“You want the chicken back?” I offered, “Or maybe you’d prefer a baby cow this time?’

“Nooooooooooooooooo!! Nooooooooooooooooooooooo!!” he exclaimed laughing.

“Blindfold?” I offered, equating him to a calf ready for slaughter.

He slumped back in the chair and began to fire a rapid series of questions about how the way he made those pictures created his anger and rage. He was very quick to realise the implications, and very quick to start to see the possibilities.

I quickly rewound the videotape and played him the recording of himself beating up the chicken. Naturally I anchored his embarrassed response by referring to him as “chicken beater.” Having him view the tape provided a nice submodality shift to the experience—now he’s watching himself beating a chicken. In viewing the ridiculous scene of himself assaulting a dead chicken, he is dissociated from the imagery and of course the imagery is smaller, making it less evocative. Additionally, since it is now on a screen, it is also two-dimensional and framed. If I’d wanted to, I could have adjusted the audio qualities, I could fast-forward or rewind it a few times, make it black and white, and so on.

“So, ‘chicken beater,’ how’s it looking?” I asked, getting him to report back from his new perspective. He was almost speechless.

This young man now has a reference experience for moving an image from associated to a dissociated perspective in a way that he can easily understand. I could have taken it further if I’d wanted to, and built in an “observer” perspective by videotaping him as he watched the first video recording. Later I could get him to watch himself reacting to watching himself beating up a chicken. I thought I’d save that for a later session if required.

I showed him further submodality chaining where we transformed irritation to boredom, boredom to excitement, belief to disbelief and so on. He was excited by this, and quickly started asking further questions as to how people can be in better control of their thinking and emotions.

We went through different techniques, questions and answers, and he started to realise that the solutions to the challenges in his life weren’t about “being in control” of his temper. He’d probably been told a lot in the past that he either lacks control, or needs to learn to control his emotions/temper etc., but they never showed him how to do it. It is really not about control, but rather about steering his thinking so that he can feel different emotions that are more useful.

From tossing him the cigarettes, to scaring him with the veal story, through to the submodality changes resulting from the camera, this one brief set of simple therapeutic manoeuvres was all that was required for him to stay out of trouble. Follow-up one year later proved that he was settled into full-time education and was doing well. There had been no serious or untoward incidents since that single session.

The chicken was subsequently cooked with lemon sauce and served with a light fluffy rice and salad.




Patching Holes

(An excerpt from “The Rainbow Machine,” by Andrew T. Austin, ©2007 Real People Press.)


Miracle:  “Specifically: An event or effect contrary to the established constitution and course of things, or a deviation from the known laws of nature; a supernatural event, or one transcending the ordinary laws by which the universe is governed.”  —Webster’s Dictionary.


I cannot help but wonder how different world history would be if Jesus had gone around boasting of his miracles. I can picture it now, Jesus by the river with his friends, regaling them with the Lazarus story for the umpteenth time, or showing off how a mere crucifixion was no match for His superior talents. The follow-up to that whole set of events might have been very different indeed. There is a certain wisdom in all holy books about keeping quiet about miracles, that really should be paid attention to.

For many in the healing professions, performing the apparently miraculous is a common affair. It is, after all, what one is paid to do. As a staff nurse in neurosurgery I had a patient with a rare condition known as a syrinx. Essentially a syrinx is a fluid-filled cavity within the spinal cord that enlarges over time and can result in devastation to that part of the spinal cord and nerve roots. Imagine a bicycle inner tube bulging through a split in an old worn tire.

A 40-year-old man had undergone various neurological investigations including a spinal tap that had unfortunately resulted in a syrinx. Repeated attempts at treating this condition had failed, and his situation was looking grim.

When I came across this gentleman he was ashen in colour, agitated and very angry. I wasn’t sure of his understanding of what he was facing or what he was experiencing, but it did not take great sensitivity to realise that it wasn’t positive.

“How you doing?” I ask him.

“Fuck off!” he growls angrily.

“No,” I replied, evenly, “I’m not fucking off.  What’s up?” I ask innocently.

What’s up?  I’m going to be fucking paralysed, that is what’s up,” he sneered.

“And how do you know that?” Now I am aware of how terribly annoying this last question can be. NLP practitioners who have recently learned the meta-model tend to ask this much too often, and not always with any thought to why they are asking it. However, on this occasion I knew exactly where I was going.

This is the sort of situation in which a colleague of mine looks around on the walls, and says, “Let me see your fortune-telling license,” to draw attention to the fact that the person is making a prediction about the future without being suitably trained and qualified.

“What?!”  My patient growled, clearly annoyed at both my continuing presence and the nature of the question. As a health care professional involved in his care, I really should know more than I appeared to know.

I asked again, “How do you know that you are going to be fucking paralysed”? His eyes go up and to the left, then up and to the right. Then back up to the left again.

“There are only so many times that you can put a patch over a punctured inner tube. When a patch doesn’t work, you can only put so many patches over the top before you ruin the fucking thing. That is how I know!” It was obvious that he had a very clear representation of this.

“I think you are wrong on that,” I say quietly. “An inner tube is not a living thing. It is black, dirty, and dead. Have you ever actually seen a living spinal cord?” I asked, as I gestured up to his right. His manner changed dramatically. Now he was attentive and curious, instead of angry. I really didn’t think it was going to be this easy.

I sketch it with my hands. “A spinal membrane is a living matrix. It lives. It is a good healthy colour, even when damaged; under a microscope the cells look beautiful. That is why I think you have the wrong picture.”  I move my hands out, as though enlarging the picture.

“Shit!” he says, a better colour coming into his face. “I had never thought about it that way.”

“That’s right,” I say, “you didn’t” and quietly walk away.


Before my long shift was over, this man was eating again and laughing and joking with the staff. Eight hours later his syrinx was found to have mysteriously vanished. Eight hours was all it took! It is a testament to the healing ability that is latent in every living organism. I cannot really claim any particular credit for this minor miracle; after all, I was simply applying something I had been taught. (Heart of the Mind, ch. 20) But at the time I was excited. This was amazing, and I just had to share it with the other staff.

A word of advice—don’t ever do this with nurses; they simply do not understand, and always love an opportunity to ridicule the strange man. Teach what is possible, but don’t claim credit for making it possible; that is bad medicine. Since this lesson, I have also learned that the best NLP masters rarely ever mention NLP when they are working out in the world. They just do it.

©2007 Real People Press. All Rights Reserved.



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