Differentiation in a State of Openness

by Amina Knowlan | April 2008

Work in teams, tribes or groups. This keeps you in touch with the reality of others. You can't be real by yourself. Self-realization requires the collective. Capacities are engendered with others through our recognition of them and likewise, we are made stronger by the love and respect of others.
Rabia Elizabeth Roberts,
Boulder, CO

WE REFER TO THE THIRD STAGE of development in a Matrix group as one of differentiation in a stage of openness. There are many layers of meaning associated with this description. A group with a well-developed Matrix practice (that includes forming and differentiating) supports an awakening, which might be thought of as a remembering. In our training and consulting contexts, we refer to the breaking the trance of separateness.

At the heart of Matrix work as it is emerging, is realizing our interconnectedness. Not establishing or creating our interconnectedness, because the fact that we are connected at levels beyond our comprehension, is indisputable. In our psyches, cultural norms, paradigms, and perhaps even in our genetically coded DNA, we are wired in the key of separation.

In a group with enough Matrix of open communication and enough capacity to work with feedback and differences in the open, we will inevitably run amok in the swirling waters of personality, biography and lineage. It is a rare individual or relationship that does not get blinded by the projections that run rampant when we are faced with the seeming threat of being loved and loving in a satisfying way.

The opportunity to show up fully and have our voice be heard and our talents utilized, often comes hand in hand with a sense of threat or risk. The completely foreign experience of being supported doesn't go down easily in the land of the Lone Ranger. The possibility that there could be enough love, enough airtime, enough recognition — even enough success or financial resources — to go around, is so dissonant with the carefully constructed realities of scarcity from our past, that it shakes the cages of those protective beliefs and behaviors.

Deb Sherer, a senior Matrix trainer, coined the phrase, "Dreaming ourselves awake," to highlight the profound work of awakening from the trance of separateness. She often points out that we are reacting to each other as if the old stories set in stone by past events are happening in present time. She uses the phrase, "We are all players in each other's stories."

In our conditioning in the cause and effect, win-lose land of being separate and alone to survive or perish, we are busy subconsciously finding — or even selecting and provoking — others to play the villains or heroes in our already scripted either-or versions of reality. We find others who fit the part, provoke the expected behavior and distort the data to support our pre-existing beliefs about how we will be treated, or what life has to offer us.

As we wake up to the level of connection and impact that we have on each other and on the group, our fundamental assumptions begin to shift. As I begin to grok that I (alone) cannot possibly know what is needed without hearing all of the other perspectives, I am beginning to relate to the wisdom of the whole. As I begin to know that my feelings or perspective cannot possibly be unnecessary, unimportant or less valuable than others', I am beginning to sit in the reality of knowing that each part and each relationship is essential to the whole.

Again and again, we begin to instinctively return to the quality of the connections or communication between us as the first and foremost assessment of how well we are functioning. Like Chinese medicine or acupuncture, the health of the organism is based on maintaining the communication between the component parts of the body.

When we begin to "dream ourselves" into the reality of our interconnectedness, I can no longer conceive of succeeding at your expense. Perhaps even more challenging, I begin to know that you (or the group) cannot realize its full potential if I am not included. This shift reverberates through all kinds of territories. If you need to change the form of our connection, I am not being abandoned or left alone without love. Love is a state of being. It is "a given," in the equation of our co-existence.

If you hold a different perspective, it does not mean that mine is wrong or invalid. If James is seemingly stuck in expressing frustration or irritation, I automatically check to see if he might be expressing some dissatisfaction that I habitually repress or ignore. A woman who is learning to intervene in her type A, hyper-drive approach to her career, doesn't need to be "fixed" or supported to change herself (as a separate entity) without others expressing their version of being trapped in the cultural paradigm of produce or perish.

As each member of a group finds his or her version of the bind or the fear of getting off the bus, the one who initially expressed her distress will find the feelings less charged and the situation less desperate. Her work is our work. We all change through her change. We "wake up" as we shape a different collective consciousness and create broader range of choice. The ramifications of shifting out of this paradigm of separateness are endless and profound. This awakening is the skeleton, the basic structure, the essence and the heart and soul of differentiation in the stage of openness.

(1) (c) Knowlan, Amina. Excerpted from "Matrix Leadership: The Art and Science of Creating Sustainable Organizations and Communities", forthcoming, 2008

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This training helped clear some minefields I had been living with around group leading for a long time - enabling me to imagine a way to share who I really am on a huge scale
— Scot M.
Introductory Workshop Participant