The Matrix

by Dan Joseph

There is a method of inner healing that's very common in the field of cognitive therapy. I find it to be a powerful technique, and one that's consistent with many spiritual practices.

In this month's newsletter, I'd like to present a slightly modified version of this method, and illustrate how it can be used in daily life. I call it "The Matrix."

In this practice, you create a set of columns and rows on a piece of paper — a matrix. I've outlined the format below. Then you use this matrix to reorient your thoughts and feelings.

Here is the format:

Distressing
Situation

Distressing
Feelings

Self-Critical
Thoughts

Self-Forgiving
Thoughts

       

Let me fill that in with an example.

A few seconds ago, I knocked a cup of coffee onto my computer. For me, that counts as a distressing situation. Therefore, it's a good experience to plug into the matrix.

Here is how I began to fill in the boxes:

Distressing
Situation

Distressing
Feelings

Self-Critical
Thoughts

Self-Forgiving
Thoughts

I spilled my coffee onto my computer.

Frustration
Guilt
Nervousness

 

 

In the first column, I simply described the situation.

In the second column, I made a list of some of my feelings: in this case, frustration (with myself), guilt (about my mistake), and nervousness (about the repercussions of the situation).

It can be very helpful to make this feeling-list. By naming our specific feelings, we bring them up into awareness. We become more honest. We reduce the tendency to "squash things down."

However, in this practice, we don't stop there. We use our feelings to move on to the underlying thoughts.

As I mentioned in my book Inner Healing, feelings and thoughts are like smoke and fire.

Feelings are the smoke; thoughts are the fires that give rise to the smoke. Where there's smoke, there's fire — where there are distressing feelings, there are bound to be critical or unloving thoughts underneath.

In column three, we uncover the thoughts which are fueling the feelings. Here is what I came up with:

Distressing
Situation

Distressing
Feelings

Self-Critical
Thoughts

Self-Forgiving
Thoughts

I spilled my coffee onto my computer.

Frustration
Guilt
Nervousness

That was such a dumb thing to do. I should be more careful.

My computer is probably going to break now, and it's all my fault.

People are going to laugh at me if they see how careless I am.

 

As you can see, I uncovered three sets of self-critical thoughts in column three. I probably could have come up with many more — but these were a good start. Writing them out in the matrix was extremely helpful. To be honest, I wasn't even aware of these thoughts until I wrote them out.

As I filled in this third column, the key was to realize that my feelings (in column two) were coming from my thoughts (in column three), not simply from the situation. You could say that the situation was a "trigger" for the thoughts. I'm certainly not glad that I spilled coffee on my computer. But it was the thoughts that I needed to work on now.

Let me now move on to column four — the heart of this exercise. In the final column of the matrix, you substitute self-forgiving thoughts for each of the self-attacking thoughts in column three. This is the big step. This turns the mind from self-criticism to self-forgiveness; from distress to peace.

As you do this, you can focus on simply moving in the right direction. You don't have to take a huge leap into complete forgiveness; you can take a series of little steps. Every bit of progress is helpful.

Here is what I came up with, as I made this substitution:

Distressing
Situation

Distressing
Feelings

Self-Critical
Thoughts

Self-Forgiving
Thoughts

I spilled my coffee onto my computer.

Frustration
Guilt
Nervousness

That was such a dumb thing to do. I should be more careful.

Actually, it was simply an accident. But I will be a little more careful in the future.

My computer is probably going to break now, and it's all my fault.

The computer actually seems fine. If I do need to repair the computer, it's no big deal.

People are going to laugh at me if they see how careless I am.

If people laugh at me, that's their problem. They probably make mistakes at times, too!


Those self-forgiving thoughts may not have been the "highest" thoughts in the world, but they helped me to shift my mind toward a more forgiving space.

As I did that, the feelings of frustration, guilt, and nervousness were replaced — to some degree — by a greater sense of peace and self-acceptance. That is the goal of this practice.

Priming the Pump

I find that this "cognitive restructuring" work — replacing attacking thoughts with forgiving thoughts — is like priming a pump. We locate our self-defeating thoughts, and replace them with self-accepting thoughts.

We do this mechanical work over and over until the flow of loving, forgiving thoughts begins to run on its own. There is some work to do at the beginning. But we're simply preparing our minds to receive the divine flow.

I'll write more on this subject in the future, as I consider it to be a powerful practice — and one that can be developed further. For now, let me give some suggestions for further reading. To the best of my knowledge, this type of technique — along with the greater field of cognitive therapy — was developed by Dr. Aaron Beck and Dr. Albert Ellis. Both of these individuals have written many well-received books.

In addition, the workbook of A Course in Miracles encourages this thought-restructuring work. As an example, you can take a look at Review VI (between lessons 200 and 201), paragraphs five and six.

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