Design Principles

for Wholing and Healing


Design Principle:

Eco-Awakening

The roots of our current crises lie in our illusion of being separate from Earth. Eco-awakening is the process of becoming viscerally aware of our deep belonging to Earth Community, no more or less than every other creature. It is re-membering our inherent entanglement in the wider web of Life. It is the sweet relief marking the end of this illusion-of-separation - the wounding from which creates Modernity’s power-over culture.

Eco-awakening is a way of understanding and experiencing ourselves as intimately participatory with Earth and all beings. It is not something that happens once and is finished. Nor is it a certificate or badge of having arrived anywhere. And whilst nature connection practices, and spending time in the wild can be gateways to eco-awakening, they are not in and of themselves the same as this paradigm-shifting process.

At its essence, it is a fundamental shift in worldview and way of being in and experiencing the world. It is a very visceral and embodied expansion in consciousness from human- to eco-centric. It is such a complete shift that it is often not possible to continue participating in the world in the same way as what activist elder Joanna Macy calls ‘business-as-usual’.

Rather than making us superficially happier or more effective in our current approach to activism or change-making, eco-awakening has as its goal, the humbling force of true belonging to and radical reciprocal participation in the wider web of Life and Earth community. This radical expansion in perspective tends to unfathomably revolutionise our activism and change-making.

If we continue to source our ways forward from the human-centric power-over consciousness that created our current crises, little will change. Instead, we must lovingly commit to cultivating embodied eco-awakening through practices that feed our actions and theories of change with this eco-centric wisdom. It is for this reason that eco-awakening is essential in navigating our current socio-ecological collapse - and to the deep cultural transformation it is demanding of us. 

Starter Culture's approach to change, and everything we do, is deeply informed by this foundational process of eco-awakening: the fundamental inner movement from human-centric to eco-centric awareness.

For support around the process of eco-awakening check out our programs, mentoring and the Offerings section more generally. To be the first to hear about our latest offerings you can sign up to our newsletter here.

* The term eco-awakening was coined by Bill Plotkin of Animas Valley Institute, a dear friend and ally to Starter Culture.


Design Principle:

Earth-based Wholing and Healing

Somewhat miraculously us humans were each born inherently whole  - with the capacity for a healthy, embodied and fully alive personal expression of human creative potential. We are each endowed with access to a panoply of innate inner resources that support psychological wellness and reciprocal relationality with Earth community. Contrary to the emphasis that much of our culture puts on our wounding, a 'wholing' approach places the emphasis on what is resilient about us, rather than what is broken. This does not mean we ignore the very real wounding of oppression, violence and trauma. Indeed, being trauma-attuned is one of our Vital Ingredients - and essential to navigating our way through these times of such rupture.

Through cultivating our Four Facets of Wholeness we re-member the innate Earth-based Wholeness we were born with, that deepest part of us which is larger than our wounds and always unbroken. This nature-based map of the psyche, developed by Bill Plotkin, aligns with the four directions of the compass and nature's four seasonal cycles: North/ Winter = Nurturing Generative Adult, East/ Spring = Innocent Sage, South/ Summer = Wild Belonging One, West/ Autumn = Dark Muse/Beloved.

We wander the inner landscape of this Earth-based ‘map of the psyche’ through practices like dream work, wanders on the land, authentic movement and inner dialogue, deep imagination journeys and expressive arts. Through these practices we reclaim these inherent human strengths, capabilities and sensibilities essential to the transformational journey of composting the power-over culture residing within us into the relational cultures our world is longing for through us.

Healing is the process of integrating, welcoming home and loving all parts of ourselves, especially those we have outcast and are ashamed of, or those that are wounded or continue to try to protect us with old childhood survival strategies. We sometimes call this self healing, because we want to point to the fact that while some healing can only be done with others in relationship, there is a kind of healing that we have to do for ourselves. This self-healing work starts with the cultivation of the part of us capable of being an inner-parent to the young wounded parts of us that are in such dire need of love and support. Self-healing requires us to seek support to cultivate this inner-parent part of ourselves (see below). Through this we learn how to be there for and tend our own inner children, and honor and acknowledge the protective parts we have developed that seek to ensure these young ones do not feel pain. These young parts of us feel abandoned and/or exiled because they have not been cared for and/or bad things have happened to them. You can read more here about how these protective parts of us are both fed by and feasted on power-over culture.

If we do not tend to these wounded parts of ourselves - and their protector parts , together they will tyrannize our lives and our relationships with others. Self-healing is an invitation into radical self-responsibility for the cultivation of our resources and capacities to love and care for ourselves.

Self-healing also includes finding therapists, friends, peer groups, communities, workshops, courses and other external resources to feed us with the relational care, co-regulation and healing we need. Cultivating this relational support can be a messy process because so much of our wounding has happened in relationships, and particularly within early attachment  (the time of life from 0-4 when we attach to our primary caregivers).

Moving towards these relationships as and from our ‘adultness’ and not from our wounded children, or their protectors, will radically enhance the quality of these relationships. And yet the paradox is that this tends to be very challenging without support to cultivate this ‘adultness’. This is why it is vital that we are all able to access professional support from those with the requisite experience and skills.

Whether we are aware of it or not, most if not all of us born into modernity, and its mistaken belief of separation from Earth (and Life) at the core of our culture, have developed wounding around a sense of not belonging, not being welcome, not fitting in and there generally being something wrong with or not good enough about us. This means we all have protective strategies around how we move towards (or don’t move towards) relationships, groups and professionals (therapists, body workers etc) that are an essential part of our healing process.

This is also why it is essential that more funding be made available for earth-centric inner-led change, so that this support can be made accessible to those without the financial means to afford market rates. (See our report Supporting a Hidden Movement: Why Fund Inner-led Change?)

Together, wholing and self-healing support us to cultivate the resources needed to open to our grief, anger, rage, sorrow, joy, resentment, despair, love, gratitude and horror of what it is to be alive in these times, when species extinction is well and truly upon us, social and ecological collapse is increasingly rife and the continuation of our own species now appears to lie in the balance.

Cultivating our capacity to allow these emotions to move through our bodies and be digested and transformed is essential for composting power-over culture; that is, the initiatory journey of these times. Without this capacity to allow and transform our emotions we will continue to act out our culturally conditioned protective strategies in our attempts to avoid the pain of feeling the impacts of acting out power-over culture. The old life, the old power-over ways of being (personal and collective) must die and be composted so as to feed the new life that is longing to be born as and through us. Whether as what we call an individual or as what we call the collective, these wholing and healing practices are essential for our toolkit to dismantle the house of power-over culture within and without.

For support around earth-based wholing and healing check out our programs, mentoring and the Offerings section more generally. To be the first to hear about our latest offerings you can sign up to our newsletter here.

For Further Reading see our pages on: Trauma, Mental Health, Burnout, Shadow Work, and The Four Facets of Wholeness


Design Principle:

Healing and Transforming Civilisation Trauma

So much of what we are currently up against as a species is a result of what we call ‘civilisation trauma’. That is, the personal and collective trauma that results over time from the power-over culture that has permeated our lives for thousands of years. It is this civilisation trauma that has given way to the consumerist lifestyles, corporate led-capitalism, extractive industries and divisive political systems - that have led to our current state of social and ecological crises and collapse.

In recent years trauma has been revealing itself more and more within our groups, organisations and community spaces. When trauma is not attuned and related with it has a pretty tenacious tendency to monopolise and derail our change work through an unconscious acting out of the protective strategies that unprocessed trauma creates. This then perpetuates a vicious cycle amplifying our protective strategies in response other peoples' strategies, in an attempt to avoid the pain they evoke. And so it continues.

Much of what we consider normal behaviour within our groups, organisations, families and communities then, is actually unconscious strategies seeking to protect us from feeling emotions that young parts of us fear will overwhelm us. This is what we mean when we say civilisation trauma is the collective waters we are swimming in.

These trauma-induced protective strategies are the building blocks of power-over culture - obvious symptoms of which are burnout, destructive conflict and unhealthy group and power dynamics. It is our widespread lack of ability to attune and relate with trauma that prevents its transformative potential from unfolding - and instead leads to the unhealthy group dynamics that are more and more undermining our efforts to co-create a healthier more just world. It's vital then that we remember that trauma itself is not a problem - it’s our lack of ability to relate with it in healthy, regenerative ways that leads to it being so destructive. And it is understandable that so few of us are able to attune with trauma since it has only started to reveal itself so unabashedly since the advent of covid and associated lockdowns. And similarly it's only been in the last few years that support around trauma has become more widely available.

When we are able to access support and tools that enable us to experience an embodied awareness of what this trauma feels like in our bodies, we start to develop resilience around it and an ability to attune and relate with this. Which is to say, we grow the capacity to hold ourselves through intense experiences and then release the shock waves of it, in reverence and with patience and trust in relation to trauma’s half-life and the time it takes for the energy of a big trigger to move through us physically and emotionally. Cultivating resilience then means becoming more able to resource and repair in the aftermath of experiences of intense wounding and/or relational rupture, either as one-off, and/or as repeated incidents/ patterns that become complex trauma over time and across generations.

Healthy cultures are trauma-attuned in that they have a commitment to more and more learning how to create the conditions that support everyone, and especially those through whom trauma is already unravelling itself, to come into relationship with what adversity and trauma viscerally feel like in our bodies. Becoming trauma attuned means developing ways of being and relating with trauma, our own and others, that enable it to be gently met and transformed. This often looks like simply slowing down and making space for our emotions and embodied felt sense to be included in the conversation, alongside activities that support us to drop down into our bodies and hearts so that we can actually feel what is going on inside us beyond the dominance of our strategic minds, frantic busyness or whatever other protective strategies we have (understandably) developed to push our trauma down.

For example starting with silence, a guided meditation or movement followed by a group check-in around how we are each feeling in this particular moment. This is at least part of what helps a space be “safe enough” - and by safety we mean the conditions that allow us to experience enough safety in our nervous systems for the social engagement part of them to come on line.

The culture of our groups and society at large plays a big role in the degree to which we are able to cultivate this resilience in the face of adversity and trauma - be that within our groups, organisations, families, schools, places of worship, work or play, or our legal and health care systems. Currently our socio-economic context defines whether we have access to good quality professional trauma support or not. This is one of the greatest barriers to addressing systemic injustice and the suffering it causes, since healing and transforming trauma lie at the heart of co-liberation.  See our report Supporting a Hidden Movement: Why Fund Inner-led Change for more on this.

It’s also important to remember that trauma is currently a buzzword that can paradoxically trap us in the Drama Triangle's psychological patterns of Victim/Perpetrator/Rescuer. Another of trauma’s paradoxes is that as well as trapping us into its addictive energetic state, it also traps us into obsessive thinking, talking about and centring trauma. As an antidote to this it is important to centre the processes of wholing and healing which support Life's reparative impulse - whilst recognising the importance of attuning to trauma as it shows up in us and our groups, organisations and communities, and recognising civilisation trauma as the root cause of our current crisis.

In fact, we believe that civilisation trauma, and the wounding it causes, is in fact Life’s sacred impulse to alchemise power-over into relational culture, in that it shows us the way to our most tender hearts and vulnerable sensitivities as well as our internalised strategies of protection: the only way to heal and transform trauma is through cultivating relationality. There from the crack of the wound grows our most unique gifts for the world. Rather than trauma defining us and becoming the next way that consumerist culture defines non/personhood, what if we were to refuse the complete healing of the wound so that our gifts might continue to pour out into the world? What if we were to counter-culturally and ritually dance on the ashes of the story that only certain broken people have trauma, and that they need fixing (so as to become a functional cog in the consumerist works)? Let us birth a new story of civilisation trauma as blessing/curse coaxing us to learn to dream with Earth from our place of longing for the largest conversation we are capable of having with Life.

For support around healing and transforming civilisation trauma check out our programs, mentoring and the Offerings section more generally. To be the first to hear about our latest offerings you can sign up to our newsletter here.

For Further Reading, see our page on: Anger and Frustration


Design Principle:

Embodiment

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Our bodies are where both healing from, and wounding by power-over culture happens. Growing up in modernity, most if not all of us developed protective strategies to shut off from our bodies so as to avoid feeling intense emotions that we feared would overwhelm us. Numbing, freezing, distracting, addiction, spiritual bypassing and tension are all examples of common ‘escapist’ protective strategies.


And whilst consumerism, screens, food and sex might be less obviously harmful than certain substance addictions, the key role these protective strategies cause in our current crises is undeniable.

When we don’t fully feel our emotions they get stuck in our bodies and cause all sorts of physical and emotional dis-ease. This is why embodiment is both an essential, and oft overlooked, component of the healing and wholing process. Talking about our wounding is simply not enough.

When we are not able to allow big emotions to flow through us they get stuck in our bodies as unprocessed trauma. What we call trauma then is effectively emotional energy that has become stuck in the body and attached to particular stories and beliefs about what causes these big emotions. Erkhart Tolle called this our Pain Body. We then develop protective strategies like numbing, distraction and tension in a loving attempt to stop us from feeling the pain of the trauma.

The nervous system acts as the conductor of this wild orchestra of feelings, physical sensation and memory. Mentally understanding the various parts of our psyche is only a beginning, albeit a necessary one, that brings top-down 'limbic' healing of mental to physical processing. However, bottom up transformation is essential, which means physically embodying the energy and the feelings of the wounded part of us that our protective strategies are seeking to protect. This bottom up healing happens through a somatic process called Vagus Nerve toning. This combination of top-down 'limbic re-wiring', with bottom-up somatic processes, is how the symphony of our body, heart and mind can be conducted skillfully by our nervous systems to heal and transform trauma and co-liberate us from the protective strategies that perpetuate powers-over culture.

When we do this, the energy held in our Pain Body can release and move through our whole body and heart, releasing emotions and tension and liberating us from the stories and beliefs we have attached to them. Without engaging in this kind of process, the energy of our wounding remains stuck in our body and our feelings remain frozen - which means our protective strategies continue to run the show. No matter how much ‘parts work’ we do, unless we have access to the felt embodied sense of our body and the trauma that is stored there (in all of us, accumulated over thousands of years of civilisation trauma), and a capacity to allow it to move through us, we will remain stuck in the shallow loop station of the drama triangle and at the mercy of our culturally conditioned protective strategies.

We are only able to cultivate healthy group culture when we recognise the vital role of embodiment and somatic practices within co-liberation from the protective strategies that perpetuate power-over culture. These protective strategies are what fuel our cultures of burnout, destructive conflict, and harmful group and power dynamics. Turning towards and learning to attune with and transform our trauma is crucial to co-creating relational cultures - as is integrating embodied practices like dance, song and play.

For support around embodiment check out our programs, mentoring and the Offerings section more generally. To be the first to hear about our latest offerings you can sign up to our newsletter here.

For more reading and further resources check out our page on Transforming Trauma.


Design Principle:

Trust and Safety

We talk a lot these days about psychological safety. This makes sense since authentic relating, and the community building, healing, compassion, care, joy, generosity of heart, creativity, playfulness and all round cultural repair that it supports, require a certain level of safety within our nervous systems and hearts.

However, the concept of safety can be overused. It is easy, for example, for those of us who have been privileged by the dominant culture to slip into unknowingly demanding that others provide us with safety. We do this through acts of unconscious entitlement in what we might call ‘policing’ each other or 'calling each other out'. Or by unconsciously presuming that others 'should' meet our particular needs around psychological safety. We might also lean on the notion of safety as a way of avoiding the discomfort that expanding beyond power-over consciousness requires.

Psychological safety results when enough people in a group are able to stay close to themselves, to vulnerably and courageously share their experience and to welcome others in their experience, even when it is strikingly different to our own. Welcoming someone else's experience, perspective or needs when they appear, to parts of us, to be contradicting or threatening our own, tends to instantly activate our power-over protective strategies. This often happens so quickly that we are not even aware of it. This is because Civilisation Trauma has significantly eroded our ability as a species to healthily track and relate with our nervous systems. This is why psychological safety is so elusive in our groups, organisations and across most relationships.

Staying close to ourselves when relating with others involves tracking what is going on in our inner world and sharing this with vulnerability, courage and care. Tracking our inner world involves noticing what is happening in our nervous system - and how this is impacting our body, heart and mind. It also involves noticing which of our protective strategies are showing up in reaction to what is happening in our nervous system and finding generative ways to relate and respond.

Learning to track our nervous system is the first step towards being able to identify when we have become activated into nervous system states that biologically prevent us from relating in healthy, regenerative and compassionate ways. It is these same nervous system states that block our creativity and joy and prevent us from supporting Life's emergent transformative potential. This is because tracking our nervous system is what supports us to detect when we are acting out power-over protective strategies. And it is these conditioned behaviours that take us out of a creative flow state that supports healthy regenerative relating. It is also our nervous system that lets us know how we are impacting others, and signals to us when we might need to take more care in our relating or communication. This is what we mean by emotional attunement: to be able to attune with the feelings and needs of others, we first need to be able to track and attune with our own feelings and needs.

Psychological safety then is largely a product of our relationship with our nervous system. Which means that to a large extent psychological safety itself is invisible. And what matters is that we do our best to create conditions that support everyone to be able to stay close themselves and relate from this emotionally attuned place.

The key to a healthy relationship with our nervous system is a process called 'regulation'. Being able to track the state of our nervous system is the first step. Next we need to learn how to create the conditions that will support our nervous system to move flexibly between different states of arousal in response to stressors. This means that when we encounter a change in our environment, like a stressful situation, we can adapt, so that rather than unconsciously defaulting to our power-over protective strategies to avoid feeling the discomfort of the activation in our nervous system, we are able to shift into a nervous system state that supports emotional attunement and healthy relating infused with compassion, care and creativity.

The term co-regulation refers to the invisible conversation that is constantly happening between nervous systems as one big collective nervous system - that we like to call the Golden Web of Life. When we are able to stay close to ourselves and our nervous systems, we can start to co-regulate with others, which is where the healing really happens. The self-soothing that happens as we learn to regulate our nervous system is the starting point in being able to co-regulate with others. As we become more and more adept at regulating our own nervous system we become more able to stay regulated whilst being around those with more dysregulated nervous systems. This provides the opportunity for those with more dysregulated nervous systems to co-regulate with those who have a relatively more regulated nervous system. This means that healing our own nervous system is a precious gift to any relationship or group we are part of as it automatically supports the collective nervous system, and the individuals within it.

What we are talking about here is akin to becoming Trauma~Attuned - as distinct from becoming Trauma Informed. Becoming trauma informed tends to refer to the intellectual process of learning about trauma and how it plays out in individuals, relationships and groups. In contrast, becoming trauma-attuned means we commit to being allies with those through whom civilisation trauma is revealing itself, by committing to actively turn towards healing our own nervous system and learning to co/regulate and emotionally attune as and when trauma reveals itself in our groups, organisations, communities, families - and across all relationships.

As we become trauma-attuned we are able to relate with unprocessed trauma as it inevitably reveals itself in our in our groups and relationships. When we have not done the work that supports us to being able to (co)regulate and become trauma-attuned, we are not able to meet unprocessed trauma - and the big or intense emotions/ energies that it tends to show up as, with the emotional attunement, compassion and care that is needed for co-regulation and for the trauma to gently discharge and find resolution. Becoming trauma~attuned allows us to respond to trauma, as it reveals itself through others and ourselves, with compassion, care and creativity rather than reacting with our own unconscious protective strategies that lovingly seek to help us avoid feeling the fear that unprocessed trauma activates in our own nervous system.

How do you react when there are big intense emotions or energy in the room? If we are not able to respond with compassion, care and creativity (rather than, for example, the common protective strategies of ignoring, avoiding, rescuing, people pleasing, blaming or making wrong) this is a good indicator that our nervous system has gone into overwhelm. If we want to help cultivate psychological safety in our groups and relationships then, we need to find support to learn how to co/regulate our nervous system, become emotionally and trauma~attuned.

Psychological safety then is contingent on the extent to which a group, and particularly those holding the space, are trauma~attuned and able to relate and attune with unprocessed trauma as it inevitably reveals itself. Understanding and relating with our nervous systems and becoming trauma-attuned therefore gives us a useful lens through which to look at what we call psychological safety.

We cannot, of course, speak of safety without speaking of privilege and the very real truth that some folx are not in safe places and are not met compassionately when they speak up. In relational culture, we centre the kind of welcome that each of us needs to be able to feel seen and heard without fear of punishment. We encourage the kind of risk taking in which vulnerability builds trust and safety. And we encourage and support those with privilege to take responsibility for how power-over culture shows up through us and to do the work of composting this into resilient ways of relating with the pain and suffering caused by the systems that granted us this unearned privilege.

Trust is deeply interwoven with our capacity to cultivate safety, express emotional vulnerability, and engage in generative rupture and repair. Trust takes time to deepen and will inevitably be tested and broken - offering, although not guaranteeing the opportunity for generative repair. The capacity to rebuild or deepen trust by moving through conflict generatively and compassionately is a measure of our inner and outer resources - and how able we are to access support around this. Designing for transformative conflict and repair practices when rupture occurs, allows us to create the conditions where trust may grow.

If at all possible, we urge you to get external support from someone with experience around transformative conflict both to help your group co-create a Rupture and Repair process and to provide support as and when conflict arises. This is because, contrary to belief, the more trust and safety we create the more conflict shows up - and with any luck the more able we are to navigate it transformatively in ways that deepen trust and safety.

Our trust in many aspects of modernity, in Life and in each other, has been deeply shaken, over time, by power-over culture and its wars, inequality, poverty, unhealthy conflict, polarising politics, historic and ongoing racism and oppression, and more recently pandemics, enforced lock-downs and increasingly draconian law enforcement. This means our current existence and feeling of trust and safety in life as we know it is wobbly, to say the least. Being alive in these times then is bringing ever more violence, fear, rage, grief, despair, helplessness, confusion, freeze states and more - through a variety of protective strategies that are becoming ever more normalised within our dominant culture.

It is devastating then that perhaps the most vital ingredient there is for transforming our power-over paradigm into healthy relational cultures, is an embodied sense of Primal Trust in Life itself. Primal Trust resides in the nervous system - which some call the Soul Nerve or the Golden Web of Life. Needless to say it is a whole lot easier to trust Life if life has been relatively safe and generous for us. This is the devastating truth of the Law of Attraction - like does attract like, and that quite frankly sucks for those of us Life has been less generous to this time around. It is healing and transforming civilisation trauma that sits at the heart of the possibility of going beyond the Law of Attraction and its tragic perpetuation of systemic injustice. Note that what we are referring to as the Law of Attraction flies in the face of the, quite frankly, deeply irritating and offensive popular culture view of the Law of Attraction and its alleged power to give you the shiny new car, glitzy handbag or red hot hubby you always dreamed of!

How we tend to our collective nervous system, and the shadows and wounds civilisation trauma has caused within each of us, is an essential aspect of the cultural transformation and justice that the world is longing for through us. In the absence of playing our part in healing our collective nervous system, we repeat the pattern of power-over and take our place in the drama triangle again and again, trying to control the way things will unfold or others' actions. Without playing our part in this collective healing, we will further solidify the us/them structures that lead to war and violence of all kinds in response to the uncertainty of these times. Without leaning into the Golden Web of Life we will further undermine our Primal Trust and the cultural healing, transformation and justice it fundamentally enables.

How might those of us socio-historically privileged with a relatively more easeful relationship with trusting Life help remove the financial barriers that prevent those who most need it from accessing support to heal their nervous systems and to access the Primal Trust in life that underpins our individual and collective wellbeing and a moving towards relational cultures committed to justice and equity?

Are you willing to actively invest in healing your own nervous system and becoming trauma~attuned to help heal our collective nervous system, in allyship with those whom civilisation trauma is currently revealing itself?

How might we each move a little closer to trusting Life and the larger Life-Death-Life cycle whilst also tending to the very real needs for safety and trust that arise on a daily basis?

This grappling sits at the core our approach to change and the Vital Ingredients that feed it. And this is why we are so committed to finding ways to make support around inner-led change and the healing of civilisation trauma available to all regardless of financial context in our commitment to supporting the healing of our collective nervous system and the Primal Trust this evokes.

For support around cultivating more trust and safety and your group or organisation check out our programs, mentoring and the Offerings section more generally. To be the first to hear about our latest offerings you can sign up to our newsletter here.

* We learned the term Primal Trust from physical therapist and nervous system genius Cathleen King who founded the organisation Primal Trust to support those with chronic illness through a potent approach to healing the nervous system.