Listening Through Our Connection

by Amina Knowlan | January 2007

"When we get too caught up in the busyness of the world,
we lose connection with one another - and ourselves."
Jack Kornfield

At this time of year-the holy days and nights, the deep silence of winter-harkens the return of the light and invites us to listen deeply. Listen beyond our habits of separation. The following is an excerpt from a chapter on diversity from my forthcoming book on Matrix Leadership.

Listening through connection involves listening for our common humanity, listening to the other as a version of ourselves, and listening with curiosity and delight to generate greater understanding of the unique, equal, different other. In Matrix groups we are also listening for, and speaking of, the impact on our connections with each other. ... As we build bridges across our cultural differences, our personality differences or role differences, we establish another cornerstone in the possibility of functioning as interconnected human beings. As we begin to listen through the connections between us, we cultivate a ground of feeling ourselves as inter-dependent parts of a larger human family. …When our norms begin to shift to those that cultivate curiosity and dialogue we begin to create an alchemical process of harvesting the emergent, evolving whole that is greater than any of our individual intelligences. This can only be born of the dynamic relationships and tensions between our differences in relation to each other. Now we begin to participate in heretofore unimagined sustainable creativity. (1)

I AM OFTEN ASKEDI, "What is Matrix Leadership about?" Each time I respond with a different answer. Each response comes spontaneously from my sense of the person who is asking and yet speaks of the heart of the wisdom contained in the work. Its raison d'etre; its reason for being. It also speaks of my passionate commitment to continuing to develop this work.

In a phrase, the Matrix method is about realizing our inter-dependence. Learning to live and work as if we truly know that we are all connected. Awakening from the "trance of separateness," we say on our website. There are many who now ascribe to the belief that, "we are all one." Yet we live as if our survival depends on our separate existence and our affiliations with separate identities and groups. We live as if our well-being is established when we dominate over someone else or thrive at the expense of some other group. How do we learn to live and work in the reality of our connections with each other, and with that which is larger than ourselves? The Matrix model of creating sustainable, creative, satisfying groups offers a blueprint for this "how-to." (See below)

When I was thinking about writing this e-zine, I re-read a newsletter by Elias Amidon, a man I consider a colleague, friend and Sufi teacher. This is an excerpt from a recent newsletter that speaks to the "addiction" or habit of separation. I found it inspiring and timely. I offer it to you in the hopes that it will inspire us all to remember that our work is to learn to live in connection with each other. Following this excerpt, is a "readers digest" condensed version of the practices and principles that are implemented in Matrix groups to realize this level of inclusive, shared leadership and sustainability.

Leaving Our Father's House
Separation, by Elias Amidon

Four years ago at this time my wife and I were in Iraq, on the eve of the invasion. With the members of the Iraq Peace Team we were trying to bring to the attention of world media the enormous mistake the coming invasion was about to enact, and the agony that mistake would inflict on the people of Iraq and the world.

I remember feeling a sense of the inexorable, blind weight of my government's decision to attack. It seemed like a weight cast from mountains of habitual thoughts passed down through time, all of these habitual thoughts emerging from one root idea: we are separate. Separate peoples, separate nations. Our identities are fixed in separation. We take it for granted.

But this is not just an idea maintained by the Bush administration or by Western culture. It's everywhere. The Han Chinese maintain it; the Arabs in Somalia maintain it; the Québécois in Québec maintain it. Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, Turks, Greeks, Jews, Welsh, Catholics, Brahmans, Navajos, Republicans and Democrats maintain it.

It is the enormous habit of our species. Our need to associate with a particular group with a particular identity in contrast to other groups with other identities is an old addiction. We seek security inside them, inside these structures of identity passed to us from those who have gone before, structures of tribes, ideologies, ethnicities, religions, and nations. These structures are the myriad houses of our separateness-they are our father's house.

Our father's house. Each generation of us remodels that house to some extent, tears down a wall here or puts up an addition there. But the walls of the houses of our identities are always built with the same concrete of separation.

I'm not talking about the natural differences among us. Our differences are beautiful. I'm talking about how we grasp onto those differences, how we identify with them to such a degree that they divide us from each other.

This has been going on a long time, so long we believe that's the way things have to be. But do they? Is there another way to experience the human condition? ….

I am not saying we need to abandon all forms of identity. We can still be Americans or Cambodians or Manchester United fans or Episcopalians or whatever affiliations we are comfortable with. I am suggesting we need to learn to hold these affiliations very lightly. They are affiliations after all, they are not who we are, not our true belonging.

What then is our true belonging? What is outside our father's house? (2)

In Matrix groups, we implement practices and values that create sustainable capacities in any group context. The Matrix model offers a systemic, step-by-step approach to forming webs of connection that serve as the foundation for a realizing this truth of interconnection. Some of these have become hallmarks of Matrix groups. Here's the condensed version of the method.

1) We form the group by establishing person-to-person communication between each pair of people in the eyes and ears of the group. A cornerstone for open, inclusive communication.
2) We begin by establishing these connections in a ground of health. Getting to know each other as ordinary human beings who share joys and challenges, simple pastimes and passionate commitments. We search for the extraordinary in the ordinary before delving into more polarized differences or deeper emotional waters.
3) We intentionally engage in activities that access the intelligence of the body, the heart, the spirit and the mind. We seek to have the whole resonant, limbic organism available for connection and creativity.
4) We cultivate the practice of constructive feedback as an investment in the connections-as a way to stay connected and work for a larger whole. We express appreciations as well as challenges. We learn to cherish feedback as the road home-to staying connected with and through our differences. It is key to differentiating from that which no longer serves us individually or collectively.

Once a group begins to function with this level of connection between people, there is a truly a "whole" that is greater than the sum of the parts. We now have an enormously enhanced capacity to work with the developmental process of continually differentiating from "the old," in order to harvest creative, emerging intelligence.

5) We cultivate curiosity and dialogue in exploring differences. We stay open to the place where our "position" or belief can be shifted by incorporating the wisdom of someone whose experience is different. We relish suspending the need to know or agree.
6) We establish the foundation for truly shared, inclusive leadership that incorporates each person's different expression as resources.
7) We become vigilant to suppression of differences that have become systems of prejudice and oppression. We find it imperative to learn about cultural differences, including the awareness of cultural dominance.
8) We cultivate role flexibility-freedom from habitual or limiting roles in a group. Each person or subgroup gains the freedom to engage in a much fuller range of behavioral and emotional expression. A sense of freedom, liberation, satisfaction and wholeness emerges. We distribute the roles and functions in a group so that no one person or pair or subgroup is "running that energy" or that expression for the group.

With this degree of openness and fluidity in any system, the individual parts are also constantly updated. As individuals steeped in the paradigm of separateness, there is now ample support-almost a requirement-that we grow into the fullness that is now available to us. The old beliefs that stem from our experiences and beliefs that we are in fact separate are often simply transcended by the degree of support, love and connection that is available to us.

9) We cultivate relationships based in trust, love and deep mutuality. In many contexts, new forms of family, community, and work groups emerge to support the level of inter-connection that is now experienced as an embodied, present reality.
10) We shed limiting personal beliefs and habits that would have us live as if we are separate, alone, or devalued. We experience being valued and supported.
11) We live in our connection to Spirit or Source as that which is larger than our individual egos and separate sense of self. We thrive in the present moment and live with a sense of faith and possibility.

Do we achieve this state of connection in every Matrix context? Do I live out all of my days of ordinary life remembering that I am connected and loved? No. When I listen deeply, through our connections, I know we are all shepherds of life on earth as one global, human family.

Blessings and wishes for an abundant, heart-filled 2007,

Personal accounts:

"The core of MY training has been about how to stay In myself in a group. My comfortable roles have always been to become invisible, or to use my listening and personal skills to focus on the needs of others in the group. I always felt that when I was speaking, as I looked around at the faces in any group, I was getting so many "readings" off of Their faces that I quickly lost my Self. The person-to-person speaking structure has helped me. I am more selective and focused about what I want to say to just one person, and I am less likely to lose myself in the reactions of one face. It is a useful simplification/focusing discipline for me."
~ Anne Wagner, 2006 Boulder, CO Foundation Training Participant

"The Matrix model of group leadership is a radical approach to awakening new life in groups and organizations. Alive, aware groups have an increased capacity for accomplishment, creativity, flexibility, cooperation, and change. They also have a greater capacity for sustainable excellence due to the increased satisfaction and interconnectedness of their members. The model recognizes shared leadership as a social art form, embodies compassionate values, and works through techniques that increase connectedness and diversity in communication."
~Jack Spivak, Trainer

(1) Knowlan, Amina, Matrix Leadership: The Art & Science of Creating Sustainable Groups, Communities and Organizations. January, 2007, forthcoming.
(2) Amidon, Elias, "Letter from the Road, #34, The Middle East, November, 2006." Click here: Leaving Our Father's House to download the whole article.

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I have learned that our separateness is a culturally imposed illusion, and that reconnecting in full and healthy ways to others will be the most profound healing work that I could do for myself, my community, and the planet.
— Tracy
Foundation Training Participant