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Undifferentiated Matrix

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

Excerpts about Undifferentiated Matrix

An Understanding of the Original State of the Infant

Heinz Hartmann, considered by some the “father” of ego psychology, called the original state of the infant the “undifferentiated matrix.” This matrix is taken to contain, in an undifferentiated and undeveloped form, the innate predispositions and capacities which will in time develop into the ego with its sense of separate individuality. Mahler, who studied this development by observing children in an experimental setting, called the process of ego development “separation-individuation”:

“We refer to the psychological birth of the individual as the separation-individuation process: the establishment of a sense of separation from, and relation to, a world or reality, particularly with regard to the experiences of one’s own body and to the principal representation of the world as the infant experiences it, the primary love object. Like any intrapsychic process, this one reverberates throughout the life cycle. It is never finished; it remains always active; new phases of the life cycle see new derivatives of the earliest processes still at work. But the principal psychological achievement of this process takes place in the period from about the fourth or fifth month to the thirtieth or thirty-sixth month, a period we refer to as the separation-individuation phase. [Margaret S. Mahler et al., The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant, p. 3]” The Pearl Beyond Price, pg. 23

Assuming the Nondifferentiated Aspect of Pure Being is Part of the Undifferentiated Matrix of the Neonate

We see, however, that not only for the schizoid character, but for every ego, there is a deep fear of being completely devoured and absorbed. This is not due only to difficult early object relations, as in the etiology of the schizoid character, but due to the vulnerability of primitive ego structures in the face of Being. This must be the case at the time in ego development when internalizations are just beginning to be set up. The identification with Being is still strong at this time, and these early and primitive ego structures are probably easily absorbed at times of complete letting go and relaxation. It is reasonable to assume that at such times the primitive infantile ego must experience repeated absorptions. This in turn assumes that the nondifferentiated aspect of Pure Being is part of the undifferentiated matrix of the neonate; but this seems like a most reasonable assumption in view of the universal experience of those who experience this realm of Being, that it was “always already there.” It is understandable that at such times the ego will first resort to schizoid defenses, especially those of withdrawal and isolation, not from object relations, but from the omnipresent sense of Being. This makes the schizoid sector of the personality the deepest core of ego structure. 

Existence that Lacks the Differentiation Necessary for a Sense of Identity

The child can be born with different kinds of disturbances and deficiencies such as physical inadequacy and damage or disturbances and deficiencies can be the result of the effects of prenatal life on the growing organism. The questions of whether the newborn soul already has a structure and whether it is an entity remain unanswered. We definitely know that the child is not born with a sense of being a person. But is the newborn child an entity in the sense that there is an awareness in the child of itself as an entity separate from the rest? According to Mahler, the sense of being an entity develops as part of the separation-individuation process, just as the feeling of identity does. The psychic organization, in conjunction with the physical functions, is termed the undifferentiated matrix by Hartmann, and the psychophysical matrix by Jacobson; both terms infer an existence that lacks the differentiation necessary for a sense of entity. 

Lack of Differentiation Between the Various Contents of the Matrix

The concept of the undifferentiated matrix is later enlarged to denote the lack of differentiation between, and the existence of, the constitutional factors that later differentiate into the ego, id, and superego. Thus the psychic structure exists only in potential form for the neonate. However, the emphasis is obviously on the absence of boundaries in the sense of absence of differentiation, i.e., differentiation is seen as the development of boundaries. The undifferentiated matrix is characterized by a lack of differentiation between its various contents: between inner and outer, pleasant and painful, mind and body, libido and aggression, self and other, and so on. The development of the psychic structure and hence of the self-image is seen as a process of structuralization of the mind. In fact, object relations theory is primarily an understanding of how this structure develops out of an undifferentiated state of the mind.

The Void, pg. 34

Object Relations Theory Provides Understanding of How the Ego and Sense of Identity Develop Out of the Undifferentiated Matrix

We have demonstrated that ego psychology, or what is specifically called object relations theory, contains the understanding of how the psychic structure is carved out of space, that is, out of openness and unboundedness. Object relations theory provides a clear understanding of how the ego and the sense of identity develop out of the undifferentiated matrix of the neonate by the acquisition of self-boundaries via the process of separation-individuation. The reader who is interested in more detail should consult the many good publications in ego psychology. Our concern here is to demonstrate the relationship between the self-image and space, and to show how the knowledge of ego psychology can be used for reaching the experience of space. 

The Void, pg. 37

Original State of the Self of the Infant

It is widely accepted in depth psychology that the sense of being a separate entity does not exist for the infant, but develops as part of ego development. The original state of the self of the infant is that of an undifferentiated matrix, where the various components of the self’s experience, taken for granted by the adult, like mind and body, self and other, are still not experienced separately. 

Seeing that All Aspects of Essence are Differentiations Proceeding from this Original Nondifferentiated Source

Synthesis: One can see from the perspective of the nondifferentiated Being, the Supreme reality of the oneness of existence, that all aspects of Essence are differentiations proceeding from this original nondifferentiated source. The Personal Essence is the synthesis of all differentiated aspects of Essence. This is similar to Hartmann’s concept of differentiation from the undifferentiated matrix, and his notion that the final ego development is the integration that follows such differentiation. So individuation is the integration of the results of differentiation. The incomparable pearl is the individuation on the Being level. It is a new synthesis, which in a sense creates a personal Being from the impersonality of the nondifferentiated Being. 

Some of the Qualities of the Undifferentiated Matrix are Identical with those of Space

It is interesting that the practicing period is, for the toddler, an experience of expansion and joy, just as in the course of the rediscovery and experience of space. It is also interesting that some of the qualities of the undifferentiated matrix are identical with those of space: for instance, the absence of differentiation between inner and outer and between mind and body. However, we are not suggesting here that the neonate experiences itself as space in the same way an adult experiences his mind as space; we are only pointing out the qualities of spaciousness and openness in the concept of the undifferentiated matrix. Most likely, the perceptual apparatus of the neonate is not developed enough to experience the undifferentiated matrix as space. 

The Void, pg. 36

Structure Development from the Matrix is a Structuralization of Space Through Differentiation

We see here that Tarthang, in his discussion of space, regards boundaries both as bounding surfaces, as we do, and also as partitioning surfaces. In fact, space can be regarded as the absence of partitioning boundaries, as Tarthang Tulku sees it, and hence also as an absence of differentiation. This sheds more light on our previous discussion of space as it relates to Hartmann’s concept of the “undifferentiated matrix” and clarifies how structure development from the matrix is a structuralization of space through differentiation. Not only does space correct the distortion of body-image and dissolve the psychological boundaries of the self-image, it ultimately dissolves the self-image as a rigid structure bounding experience. This provides a hint regarding the ontological truth about self-image. Since we see that space makes the body-image objective and realistic, i.e., correcting it according to objective reality, we can assume that it also corrects the self-image according to objective reality. That is, ontologically, self-image is simply boundaries frozen in space, frozen by their cathexis with libidinal energy. When the cathexis is undone, the boundaries dissolve into empty space, which is what actually exists as the nature of the mind. Therefore, we can say that pursuing psychodynamic understanding of the self-image all the way to the end will leave us with, among other things, a real and objective body-image and the experience of the mind as open space. 

The Void, pg. 52

The Infant’s Initial Experience of Itself

Our concept of primary self-realization has elements of both the concept of primary narcissism and the idea of the undifferentiated matrix. The infant’s initial experience of itself appears to be a state of equilibrium of consciousness, characterized by a sense of perfection, wholeness, innocence, bliss, and purity of being. This is all easily acceptable to the ordinary observer, and also to the psychological observer; it is within the view of prevalent psychoanalytic theory. We add to these observations our own: The fabric of this consciousness is presence, which presents itself through continuously changing forms. Since the process of ego development involves construction of and identification with conceptual structures, it is reasonable to assume that the sense of wholeness and perfection is most complete in earliest infancy, but diminishes as the infant develops. 

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