Matrix Groupwork

A practice of forming groups as living systems.

Matrix is a form of groupwork taught by the Matrix Leadership Institute.

Basic Principles

  1. Establish a Matrix (connection between each person with every other person in the group). This is done by sitting in a circle and talking to each other, one discussion at a time, always between two individuals, in the eyes and ears of the whole group. Each pair of people is connected thusly. If you think of the connection between two people as a pipe, this step lays down the pipe between each pair of people.
  2. Build a Ground of Health. This means we start talking as ordinary humans, rather than as wounded or angry people. We bring in what we love, what brings us alive, what is simple and true, resourced, appreciative. This builds safety and trust amongst everyone in the group, which creates resiliency when bringing in differences or strong feelings. This step makes sure all the pipes in the group are up to the energy that is running through them. Strong pipes can handle grief or trauma and distribute it (see #7). New pipes, shaky pipes, or clogged pipes need more time and connection to get healthier.
  3. Attend to the Whole. Each person tracks who they have and haven’t connected to, and who isn’t speaking as much, and is responsive to creating those connections or bringing people in. Each person also is aware of their own connection to the group, and choose to bring themselves in more if they haven’t been speaking. In NVC terms, everyone tracks and attends to needs for inclusion, connection, and participation.
  4. Access the Intelligence of the Entire Body/Mind System. We connect not just with our minds and with language but with our bodies, both physical and energetic. By mindfully bringing awareness to our entire body/mind system (body/mind/heart/spirit), we engage at a deeper level and bring our entire beings into the room. We also gain access to ways of sensing connection that go beyond the mind.
  5. Give Connecting Feedback. Humans have a huge need for data about their impact on others, and to share the impact of others actions on us. Undelivered feedback builds up and creates conflict. Matrix redefines/reclaims feedback as a vital connective activity–with some education on how to give and receive it effectively in a way that builds connection. Keys are to separate impact from intention, give people space to share their experience, and to be curious both about our differences and our similarities.
  6. Support Differentiation. We often have the urge to suppress differences within groups. Eventually this energy comes out in unhealthy ways and amplified energy of conflict. By creating a culture that supports, affirms, and explores differences, we make differences a resource that expands the intelligence of the group. Being able to be fully and freely ourselves, and be fully seen by the group, is magic.
  7. Distribute Energy. Remember those pipes? The more connected we get the more strong energies will run along the pipes between us, de-amplifying intense emotions. Grief, trauma, and other overwhelming feelings can be distributed by naming our versions of these feelings and experiencing them as a group of connected beings having a collective experience. My grief becomes our grief, and I am no longer on an island with it. This builds connection and resilience within the group and the individual.

I see Matrix as a way to create a culture that works. Our cultural norms (in Western industrialized society) do not support interconnectedness. The shorthand for this is “Island of Me” culture. Matrix brings each person off that island into connection with each other.

NVC posits that creative solutions / strategies arise naturally when people are connected. Matrix takes this further and says that leadership emerges from the group consciousness.

If I were to put it in terms of neurobiology, I would say that both NVC and Matrix establish enough safety that our reptile brains can pipe down, and both the compassion and mutuality of the limbic brain and the imagination and creativity of the frontal cortex can come fully online and commune with the other loving and intelligent brains in the room.

What also happens is spiritual connection. This feels partly limbic (timeless) and partly something else (vast, expansive). When we feel connected in as part of a larger whole, our whole system sings in a way that nothing else can give us. Jonathan Haidt gives an excellent overview of this in his Ted Talk Religion, evolution, and the ecstasy of self-transcendence.

My experience of Matrix

My first Matrix experience was deeply transformational. I experienced connection and community in a way I never had before; something closed-off and fearful in me dissolved and it felt like I came home to the connection we all share as human beings. This experience healed my life-long experience of isolation and alienation and gave me a felt experience of our unalterable interconnectedness.

My old pattern of feeling isolated dissolved, and became an awareness that my connection to others is there even when they are not physically present. It never leaves; it cannot be broken. I doubt that I will always feel this way; life happens, and I’m sure I’ll feel isolated again some day. But having experienced the deep reality of interconnection and interdependence has changed the ground on which I rest. It is no longer me against all of humanity; I am one of you.

After my first Matrix weekend, I experienced meeting strangers differently. Instead of wanting to impress people, or hide my vulnerability, I could show up with a simple and honest authenticity. Rather than feeling their “strangeness”, I felt our common humanity.

I don’t always “get” everyone right away, but it no longer scares me, because I can feel that we are part of the human family.  I no longer feel the intense suffering of experiencing that I am alone in a world of strangers and strangeness.

The other big gift for me from Matrix was understanding that my isolation and fear of strangers was actually the result of a gift for being sensitive to emotions, spiritual energy, and interpersonal dynamics. Instead of being this broken part of me I had never been able to fix, it was a gift that was my bridge to connection. This gift means I get overwhelmed sometimes and need certain kinds of self-care to stay grounded and connected to myself–but it’s not a curse, or something to “fix”.

I’ve done many workshops, and the group energy is what I keep coming back for. I love groups. Something magical happens when we get together and see each other deeply. It’s tribal, primal…our natural state.

All healing work is about deep connection, or rather, re-connection. There is a moment where we go from our “Island of Me” to being re-connected to the larger whole. Or, from experiencing ourselves as fragmented, to being aware of our innate wholeness.

The Role of Culture in Healing

I am convinced that a healthy culture supports our innate ability to feel connection, and we can create a culture of connection to heal our wounds of aloneness. There is only so far personal work can take us; to truly heal, we must heal together.