#236 Wild shamanic theatre and becoming embodied: with Jessica BOckler of the ALEF Trust

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This week’s guest, Jessica Bockler is one of those people who sparks every fibre of my being – and I hope in yours, too.

Jessica is an applied theatre practitioner and transpersonal psychologist who co-founded the Alef Trust a globally-conscious non-profit organisation offering online graduate education programmes, and open learning courses for people who want really to step into what Indy Johar so beautifully calls the emergent edge of Inter-Becoming. Jessica is integral to the Nurturing the Fields of Change Programme that brings people together from diverse walks of life to create an emerging community of practice around change – and she’s Programme Director for the Trust’s academic programmes in Consciousness, Spirituality and Transpersonal Psychology.

She teaches on a range of topics, bringing spiritual perspectives to activism and social change – so you can begin to see why I find her work so enthralling. She stands at that nexus where transpersonal psychology meets shamanic practice, where being and becoming are an art and a practice in themselves, grounded in modern science – not the reductive, Head Mind science of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but twentyfirst century science where complexity and systems thinking lie at the heart of all we do, where we recognise that only by becoming fully present in the moment, can we access the whole, vast intelligence of the All That Is and find what is ours to do.

Jessica brings all this into being in social prescribing programmes, in theatre, in change facilitation, in the MSc at Liverpool John Moores University and in her daily life and she shares it in the conversation you’re about to hear – including a clip of one of her own practices, that is solid podcasting gold. If you’re interested in finding out how we can access our own inner intelligence and build with others to co-create the foundations of that more flourishing future we’d be proud to leave behind, then this is the podcast for you.

In Conversation

Manda: Hey people, welcome to Accidental Gods. To the podcast where we believe that another world is still possible and that if we all work together, there is time to build a future that we would be proud to leave to the generations that come after us. I’m Manda Scott, your host and fellow traveller on this journey into possibility. And once in a while I come across someone whose life’s work lights up every fire in my being. Jessica Buckler is one of these and she is this week’s guest. Jessica is an applied theatre practitioner and yes, we will hear what this is, but she is so much more than this. She’s a transpersonal psychologist who co-founded the Alef Trust, which, as you will hear, is a globally conscious non-profit offering online graduate education programs and open learning courses for people who really want to step into what Indy Johar so beautifully calls the emergent edge of inter becoming. Jessica is also integral to the Nurturing the Fields of Change program that brings together people from really diverse walks of life to create an emergent community of practice built around change. She’s also the program leader for the Alef Trust’s master’s program in Consciousness, spirituality and Transpersonal Psychology. And doesn’t that sound like something that would be fun to do? She teaches a range of modules bringing spiritual perspectives to activism and social change. So all in all, you can see why I find her work so enthralling.

Manda: Jessica stands at that nexus where neuropsychology meets shamanic practice. Where being and becoming are an art and a practice in themselves. Grounded in modern science, not the reductive head mind science of the 19th and 20th centuries, but today’s 21st century science, where complexity and systems thinking lie at the heart of all we do. Where we recognise that only by becoming fully present in the moment can we access the whole vast intelligence of the all that is and find what is ours to do within this. Jessica brings all this great breadth and depth of thinking and being to social prescribing programs, to theatre, to the MSC at Liverpool’s John Moore University and in her own daily life. And she shares all of this in the conversation you’re about to hear, including a clip of one of her own practices that is solid podcasting gold. If you are at all interested in finding out how we can access our own inner intelligence and build with others similarly inspired, to co-create the foundations of that more flourishing future we would be proud to leave behind, then this is absolutely the podcast for you. So people of the podcast, please welcome Jessica Bockler of the Alef Trust.

Manda: Jessica, welcome to the Accidental Gods podcast. How are you and where are you this sunny May morning?

Jessica: Thank you Manda. It’s a pleasure to be here. I’m in my home, which is in the northwest of England on the Wirral, which is a kind of peninsula not far away from Liverpool, and it’s a sort of cloudy day, a little bit blustery outside. And I was going to say I feel quite differently, actually, this morning. I feel sunny. But there’s a lot going on at the same time. So maybe blustery captures something of what’s alive, in my experience. Yeah. Thank you.

Manda: The turbulence of these times. Yes. We are only about three hours south of you and we have beautiful sun. I will send you some of our sunniness. So you are one of the co-founders of the Alef Trust, which I found through the wonders of LinkedIn. Actually, sometimes social media actually works in a useful way, and it seemed to me so inspiring on so many levels. So I’m really grateful to be able to unpick all those levels with you today. Can you, as a start, tell us what the Aleph Trust is and how you came to be one of the co-founders, and we’ll explore from there.

Jessica: Thank you for the question, Manda. The Alef Trust is a global learning provider. We work in higher education, but also in community development. And within those fields, we really weave together different cross-disciplinary explorations. So we work in consciousness studies, we explore ecology, we explore fields of psychology associated with spirituality and personal growth. And we also build community programs that are all about exploring human transformation. So this may be within the arts, it may be within the health sector. More recently, we’ve worked a lot in social change and supporting people who are interested in building projects and initiatives around the world, wherever they are, to bring about the more beautiful world that we all long for, in the words of Charles Eisenstein. So that’s from sort of looking from the outside, in a nutshell. But really, what’s at the core of Alef Trust is a kind of deeper spiritual or esoteric orientation. And I can explain that best by looking at the name Alef. Alef trust. Why Alef trust? When people hear that, they think, oh, they’re some kind of legal trust. And that’s not at all the case, we’re a social enterprise; everything we’re doing is in service of the greater good, the greater whole. So the name Alef Trust actually comes from the letter Alef. And the letter Alef, well, you can find it in the Hebrew scripts, but it also goes back to the Proto-sinaitic alphabet. And within that, in the sort of hieroglyphic alphabet, it’s the symbol of an ox, right? With the horns pointing upwards towards the heavens. So we’re talking here about a letter that represents a connection to the divine, to the kind of primordial creative energy that initiates the process of creation. And in Alef Trust, we really want to be in service of that. And we trust in that. We trust in this divine, in this higher creative energy that informs everything that happens in our world. So we bring ourselves into alignment with that.

Manda: That is so amazing. Right. I love it. And you trust and it is a trust. There’s so many layers to this. And I’m guessing that was not an accident. Goodness. So for orientation, because there are so many layers of this, what you are doing is is so Thrutopian. It sounds to me you’re right at what Indy Johar calls the inter becoming emergent edge of how we need to be in order to emerge into a new system. And you’re doing it so much under the radar of the general media, and the general narratives that are locking us into ‘there is no alternative’. And you’re working at the point where the alternative is not only possible, it’s actually happening. How did you, Jessica, come to be one of the co-founders of this? Give us a little bit of your history that gave you the depth and understanding to know that Alef comes from an ox and it’s a primordial creative force, but also to know that you could bring spirituality and creativity and social work and all of the other things that you do into a container and make it work.

Jessica: So a little bit then about the story, and it’s really a story of synchronicity and of following what is unfolding and of trusting in what is unfolding. I’m from Germany originally, and I came to the UK some 25 years ago to study acting and directing at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts. And that was only the beginning of the journey. The kind of exploration for me has been one of discovering what is creativity and how can a creative life path empower people. Empower me, give me a deeper sense of self, who I am, how I show up in the world, what I bring to the world, my sense of purpose and connection to the wider world. But also then how is creativity in service of others in terms of their healing and their personal unfolding? This took me into working in community arts here in the UK, working in arts and health. I set up one of the longest standing adsum prescribing programs that is still running here in the UK today. And from there, well, I always had an interest in consciousness studies, spirituality and psychology, so I wanted to bridge deeper into that field. To really get to grips with the psychosomatics of creativity, what happens when we’re creative, how does creativity help us in our daily lives? And that took me into a master’s degree in transpersonal psychology, and then later on, a PhD at combining all these fields, looking at the kind of creative vehicle, particularly theatrical practices, movement work, voice work. Looking at those practices through psychological lenses to discern, okay, when we’re creative, what really happens?

Jessica: And it feels a little bit like Alice going into Wonderland, right? And this tunnel that I’m going into and this wonderland I’m exploring has got so many branches and so many dimensions, that it’s been an ongoing exploration ever since. And it has led to the establishment of the Alef Trust. Because it was through these studies, through these explorations, that I met Les Lancaster, who is the other co-founding director of the Alef Trust. He is a professor of psychology, he has been immersed in exploring consciousness studies and mysticism for decades, and he was based at Liverpool John Moores University. And this is where we met. And it was after some years that that Les felt he wanted to step out of the mainstream university sector and really explore these areas of interests we were converging there. Creativity and application on the one hand, that’s what I was bringing to the table, and he was coming with the depth of knowledge and insight in consciousness studies and mysticism. And we brought these two together in the founding of the Alef Trust, which is now a global learning provider catering for students from some 40 plus countries. And we’re independent. So we are validated actually by Liverpool John Moores University, but the programs we’re running through our faculty who are also people worldwide, some 35 members of staff, they’re broadly stitching together this beautiful tapestry of creative practices, integrative practices, integral psychology, ecopsychology, consciousness studies, mysticism, shamanism, you name it. All these things are dancing. All these threads are dancing together in the Alef community.

Manda: Thank you. You’ve got an MSC coming up in consciousness, spirituality and transpersonal psychology. And if I could mine a few extra minutes out of every day, I would so want to do that, it sounds so inspiring. We’ll park that one for another time, there are so many threads in this that I want to unpick. Let’s head back a little bit. You said that you were working in arts and prescribing. Tell us a little bit more about what that is and how it works and what the potential is.

Jessica: Yes. So this is a field which has really grown up in the UK now, which is wonderful to see. The central idea behind social prescribing is that we don’t need to rely on medication alone to tend to mental health conditions like depression, stress or anxiety. That these are in a way natural states that we don’t want to medicate. People get depressed or stressed or anxious about any number of things, and we don’t want to just reach for a pill in order to medicate and kind of tranquillise ourselves. Which is what the medical system has been leaning towards. So social prescribing is saying there are other determinants for our mental health, such as the dynamics in the family, what’s happening in our work lives, what’s happening in culture more widely. And we we can tend to ourselves and we can nurture well-being and health between us by drawing on the arts, drawing on physical activity, sport, looking at our diet. And really coming together in community in order to alleviate stress and come back home to ourselves and engender more positive states of being. So we do that specifically through Arts On Prescription, drawing on many different types of media, from visual arts to working with clay, working with natural materials, creative writing. But we also weave in mindfulness as a way of bringing people together in groups where they feel grounded, they co-regulate, they self-regulate their nervous systems. They’re in a space that feels calm and grounding, centring, and from there we play. In our in our team, we have a team of artists who deliver this work in the north west of England. So it’s a local service.

Manda: And the local medics, the general practitioners know that this exists. And are they, this is very UK centric, but I’m guessing that this actually does happen around the world. Do the various forms of either the NHS here or health insurance around the world recognise this and fund it? Because it seems to me that the pharmaceutical industry has pretty much captured medicine and also defined what is allowed to be considered a treatment modality. But this is getting through, clearly, or you wouldn’t be doing it.

Jessica: Yes, it’s been a journey. So I would say I’ve observed that field now for the past 25 years. And to begin with, you could see pockets of practice where there was a kind of local champion in the NHS, or maybe the local council who understood the work and was able to tap funding and then set up a project that would run for a number of years. That’s what I’ve seen and that’s what I’ve experienced as well, with the work that I have looked after and that I’ve been involved in. But then over the years, gradually, the sort of evidence base has become stronger and more and more people have been talking about it, writing about it, showcasing the benefits and telling the stories. And so what I’ve seen in the UK is that there is now a much more national orientation towards social prescribing. There’s a social prescribing academy, there is a network of practitioners, there are social prescribing link workers. And so within the NHS and within the local councils in public health, there is much greater awareness now of the of the benefits of this kind of work. And so it’s getting easier, but it’s by no means available everywhere in every part of the country and around the world. Often people refer to it as lifestyle medicine, right? They might talk about yoga or they might talk about the impact of diet. Sometimes there’s more of an integrative approach towards it, but it’s still very much in pockets of practice, I would say. Yeah.

Manda: Right. So we need to create the vision that this is a complex system. People are complex systems within a complex system and they need a holistic view. I remember when I was down at Schumacher, we went to visit Tamar Grow Local, who were just on the Cornish side of the River Tamar. And they’re a farming group. They set up originally because they realised that people were reducing the price of their honey at the farm gate, to the point where it was costing less to buy than it cost to make, and that perhaps if they all got together, they could at least agree on a price that wasn’t that. And now it’s huge. And he was delivering social prescribing of boxes of food that they had grown. So mostly organic, definitely here are actual carrots and actual potatoes. And they had reckoned in the local council, Plymouth Council, that they were getting a 17 to 1 return. So for every pound they spent on one of these boxes, they were getting £17 of return. And the gentleman who was speaking to us, Simon, said he didn’t necessarily trust the numbers on that because you can make the numbers be what you want. But he had an email from one of the people who had been prescribed, a single mother with a couple of kids who said it’s like Christmas when the box arrives, every morning, the kids are running down the stairs to see what it is.

Manda: And also part of the prescribing was you have the boxes on the condition that you go along to learn how to cook with this stuff that you’ve very likely not encountered before. And she was getting this huge social benefit as a result. And it seems such an obvious thing to do, that we are in the middle of a mental health epidemic because the system is breaking down and people don’t have the support networks that we have evolved to have. And that if you can help bring those and give people that sense of creativity, I want to come back then, because social prescribing isn’t just boxes of food or local choirs. I’m imagining that go and sing in a choir, and you have that amazing sense that people get when they sing together. But creativity is an arm in and of itself. And you have done masters and PhDs in the neuropsychology, neurophysiology of spirituality and creativity together. And this makes my whole brain light up. So I don’t know how much we can edit the highlights. It could become very geeky, and I would be very excited and we would lose most of the listeners. So if it becomes a bit geeky, we’ll unpick things. Tell me what you can of the neuropsychology of creativity and how we can understand it for ourselves and bring it into our lives. Does that make sense as a question?

Jessica: Yes it does. I don’t want to talk about the brain and what happens in the brain, but rather I’d like to really talk about what is it that happens in consciousness? So there’s something when we’re creative, that we can talk about entering into flow states for example, looking at the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, that’s been written about quite extensively now. But we can also talk about entering trance states, or we can talk about opening the gating mechanisms of consciousness, de-automatising our perception, our behaviour, our thinking. So when we’re creative, there is this opening of the aperture of our awareness. In daily life, when we engage in whatever it is that we’re doing, we’re quite on autopilot. That’s a normal state of consciousness, we do things in a habituated way. And that helps us to function in daily life. If that wasn’t the case, we’d be constantly preoccupied with, you know, how do I pick up this glass of water? How do I put one foot in front of the other? So we need the automatisation, it helps us to function. But, and there’s a lot of research around this now, automatisation is beneficial, it enables us to function, but it also means that we lose a sense of what it is that we’re doing or why we’re doing it. Like, it’s not just motor behaviour that is automatised, it’s thinking and perception. We no longer see things.

Jessica: Just to give you one example, when we drive a car from maybe our home to a place that we often visit. We all know this. We get in the car, we then get wrapped up in our thoughts a little bit, and we get to this other place and we think, how did I get there? It’s almost as if we weren’t paying attention. We were, but our automated systems were taking over, getting us from A to B. So the creative process and not just creativity, but contemplative practices, martial arts systems, they can all help us come back to the moment and open the aperture of our perception and enable us to think and feel afresh in the moment. And that is the critical piece. So we want to get past Automatisation back into a freer state, a liberated state of consciousness, where we then have much broader options available to us. Where we can suddenly see more, our perspectives open. We can look at things through multiple lenses from multiple angles and we can make fresh choices again, in terms of mindfulness, right? We no longer just react to circumstances, but we enter into that space where we have a moment’s pause. Spaciousness opens up, and we can choose how to respond to a situation or a circumstance. So that’s not framing it in terms of the brain, but more in terms of what does it mean for us in our daily living. Creativity can open us up, and give us a broader way of looking at the world and of responding to the world.

Manda: Brilliant. I would quite like to have looked at the brain a bit, but I am guessing I’m probably the only one. So let’s stay with this because this feels really generative. So you’ve said creativity, martial arts, contemplative practice, anything that brings us fully into the present moment. And in the way that I view the world, I would say this is bringing us out of head mind and into heart mind, and that our heart mind is also the part that connects to the web of life. I find that when I can rest on the knife edge of the moment, really come into that place of absolute balance, of being fully present, and have got my head into a sense that it doesn’t know what’s coming next. That kind of wow, this is amazing, I wonder what happens now. There’s a sense then that the world becomes much sharper and more crystalline, and the colours become more saturated, and I become much more aware of my place in the mesh of life. And from that, definitely, creativity flows. In your work, particularly in theatre, you seem to be bringing that kind of emergence in the moment to creative production. Particularly of dramatic actions in which you tend to have, in the old style, a stage with people on it and people in the audience watching. And there is the notorious fourth wall that basically keeps the two separate. Take us into creativity in theatre and how you can get to that emergent in the moment process that is genuinely creative, in a theatrical setting.

Jessica: I love that question and it’s got so many elements to it. One of my teachers used to say it’s about making the body all eyes. There’s something about these practices taking us out of a sort of head centred awareness and bringing us, you mentioned the kind of heart intelligence and heart space, but I would say it’s full body. It’s really being in the moment and inhabiting the body in the moment. Every part of our body comes alive in these practices that I’ve been exploring for a couple of decades now. And the context within which I’ve been exploring are not just traditional performance craft, where you have an audience and you’re putting on a show, if you will. But really also performance ensembles that have kind of worked in more esoteric contexts, contexts that are more about inner development, inner work. So for example, I’ve worked with actor groups that pursue something they call para theatre. Para theatre comes from the work of the Polish director Jerzy Grotowski, who himself was interested in ritual, who went to India, for example, to explore the martial art Kalaripayattu. He also explored yoga and a number of other ritual traditions and he brought those practices back into the rehearsal room with his actors. And we’re talking about Poland in the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s. He took those practices and then he explored with his ensemble, what is it about the theatrical vehicle or the practices that can help us become more present to ourselves, to our inner creative process, to our inner life? And that means the body, but it also means, the soul, the spirit and the ensemble. Because it’s a relational space, right, in theatre.

Jessica: So those practices evolved over decades, and people trained with Grotowski, took the ideas from para theatre. I haven’t defined yet what that is. Para theatre is actually a form of theatre where there are only doers or actors and there is no audience. So if you were to enter into the rehearsal room, you would see an ensemble, people working with each other but also on their inner process. And they would be engaged in a kind of collective dreaming, that’s how I would describe it. Looking from the outside in, it’s kind of hard to understand because it isn’t made for an audience. So it’s people in a way, engaging in something like authentic movement, authentic voice work. They’re they’re moving, they’re sounding, they’re exploring a theme together, maybe. And through that, something is created between them that is serving something often beyond the ego. Something beyond the individual person. Maybe getting in touch almost with a deeper aspect of reality, whether we might want to frame that in terms of nature, getting in touch with the wisdom of nature, or we might frame it in terms of being in touch with soul or spirit, communicating on an archetypal level. All those things are playing out. Yeah.

Manda: Yeah. Wow. And you have experienced these and worked with them. I’m wondering if there’s a way we can give the listeners a sense, because we’re almost there, but a sense of how it is to be inside this. Because it feels to me, listening to you, that this is a transformative process. And I am sitting here really confused that the world is in the state it’s in, when there are obviously quite a large number of people who have gone through this transformative process. And why have we not emerged into a new system? Because it sounds like this is absolutely the emergent edge of inter becoming. And it’s self-aware as that. You’re not luring people into it sideways and not telling them, which sometimes happens, I think, in some other practices of oh, and by the way we’ve got as an extra, you might become self-aware and you might actually connect to the web of life or whatever you want to call the All That Is. This is explicitly that. I don’t know how we would do this. I don’t even know it’s possible. But is there a way to give people a sense of how this feels from the inside? Then I suppose we automatically have an audience. Maybe it won’t work.

Jessica: Yeah, yeah. As an aside, I actually have journals where I kept a lot of notes on some of the processes, because this is part of my PhD, right? So I’ve been making mini audio recordings, Manda, of some of the experiences that I’ve gone through, for example, becoming the mountain, becoming the landscape. I wonder whether we could use an audio segment from that?

Manda: That sounds absolutely extraordinary. So if you are happy to share something, definitely let’s go with that. So people, what you are about to hear is a recording from Jessica as part of her PhD and part of her process. Which sounds like a brilliant way of helping us to understand what it feels like. Here we go.

Jessica: I Am Mountain; a short story exploring nature through the body. Entering our rehearsal space, I come home again to body and mind, emotions and energies circulating within and between us. An ensemble of actors all ready to play, to channel what wants to presence itself through us. In our dreaming process, exploring our deeper nature. Warming up I’m ready to dream, ready to remember the larger body in which I dwell. Nature. As I attune to my inner landscape, feeling the body more deeply, inner images rise from the ground like mist. Today I am a strong wooden sailing ship moving with the mood swings of the ocean. My blood, my arms, my sails, fight their battles with wind and sea. My wooden body weathers, I grow older. My sales fray. My hull creaks and cracks. Seawater seeps into my wooden flesh and bones. Softening in movement, slowing down, I begin to disintegrate. My wood melts into the ocean. I sink down, melt onto the ground, the studio floor, the seabed. The sea rises and falls with the breath. Air and water wither me. I sink, sink, sink into the ground. Become one with soil and rock and land. I have a stone body now. Still, unmoving.

Jessica: Months become years and I begin to grow once more, with wind and sun and water. I am shaped into a mount. A hill. A mountain. Years pass as my body ripples and shudders in space, and I shed rocks and trees and boulders like old skin. My stone body weathers once more. It morphs with the changing of the seasons, the tide of the elements. A ceaseless, unending change. Every moment, a little death. Every movement, every impulse, a new birth. As mountain I see centuries pass in the blink of an eye. And the human that I still am, dreaming, realises that mountains are never still but ceaselessly quiver with the changing of the seasons. As mountain, I am alive. Moving, unchanging in my being.

Jessica: So this work really is about. Being in touch with all our multiple intelligences. Stepping beyond the rational intellect and listening into our emotions. Listening into our soma, our body, which connects us to the body of earth and cosmos at large. We are not separate, we are nature. And that means that we can, through these creative practices, get in touch with information that exists beyond the individual ego, right? The individual self that can feel so separate from the world. Once we get past the filtering mechanism, the gating mechanism that reduces our consciousness down to this singular experience of ‘I’ in the moment doing x, y, z.

Jessica: When we open that, then all that information, all this wisdom becomes available to us. Nature based wisdom, wisdom from cosmos, from the earth. So what these practices are really about in a way, some people perceive them as kind of shamanic practices, some might might conceptualise them in terms of a depth psychological process. That we’re getting in touch with material that is housed in the collective unconscious. And it’s the collective unconscious, not just of humanity, but of all life on Earth. So we can feel into other beings, other ways of being, whether that is being a tree, a shrub, a flower. Or whether that is becoming like one of our pets, being a dog or a bird or an elephant or a spider. We can feel into these ways of being and dwell in them and let that way of being then inform us more in our daily life. It’s beautiful, it’s empowering, it’s energising, it’s uplifting. And it gives that real sense of being enmeshed, entangled in this beautiful web of life that exists here on Earth.

Manda: This is so beautiful. I’m so impressed that this is happening. And I’m wondering how this changes people. Perhaps you or perhaps you have experiences of other people, because it seems to me that once one opens the gates and knows that it is possible to do so, it becomes pretty much an addictive process. I want to exist in that space more than I want to exist in the automated everything done by habit space. And it gives me a sense of being and belonging, which I would say neurophysiologically is part of what gives us well-being and resilience and a sense that we are here for a purpose, and that we know what that purpose is and we can allow it to unfold. And it brings us to the edges of activism. And I know that as part of your bio that you’re bringing spirituality into activism. So can you talk to us a little bit about the changes you have seen in people, without necessarily naming any, over the last 25 years? And what are your experiences of the world that you inhabit and where you could see it going?

Jessica: Mhm. It’s such a beautiful question and I feel a lot of emotions around it. Because on the one hand I have witnessed how people change, how they come home to themselves and more fully inhabit themselves. And it doesn’t just mean that they become calmer or more integrated, more adjusted to the world out there, to a dysfunctional society. No. They come alive in themselves and they return home to themselves. It’s like an awakening experience, right? And this is now happening in many different contexts, that people are awakening to this deeper reality. But then often, and this is where my frustration comes in, often people are then thwarted. They can’t take that creative evolutionary impulse that they’re feeling and fully unfold it because they find themselves in circumstances and situations that are inhibiting. Our culture isn’t fully permitting what wants to unfold in each and every single one of us. We are still caught up in cogni-centrism, valuing what’s happening in the head and not understanding and fully valuing what is available through these other intelligences. And so our ways of working, our ways of collaborating and relating to one another, leave out a lot of wisdom and intelligence. Our education system has focussed on cogni-centrism, has focussed on developing the rational aspects of ourselves. And so the emotional, the spiritual, the somatic dimensions are often underdeveloped. They have been repressed and as a result there’s wounding there as well.

Jessica: And we need to heal those wounds as well as permit the awakening experiences. If we don’t heal the wounds, then we’re in danger of spiritually bypassing, right? We can’t just sit down and meditate and hope that will bring us enlightenment and solve all the problems of this world. We do need the trauma work, the therapeutic healing. And we need those those practices that are about meditation and awakening. Ken Wilber has written about this and other integral psychologists; we need to grow up, so that means we need to attend to our psychological maturation. We need to wake up, that has to do with our spiritual maturation. But we also need to clean up, meaning we need to integrate shadow aspects, repressed elements that we haven’t tended to on individual and collective levels. Because that shadow material is not just the individual, but it is also the collective. And then we need to show up and be of service in the world, following the calling that we each have. So all of that said, what I have become incredibly passionate about is building ecosystems for transformation, where people are given the opportunity to be together in community and to be supported, to be seen, so that they don’t find themselves alone on the journey of transformation. That to me is critical right now. Yeah.

Manda: Yes. So tell us what some of these ecosystems of transformation look and feel like, because this is how the showing up happens. You give people the space to do the growing up and the cleaning up, and then you give them a framework in which showing up has relevance and allows one to survive in the midst of a system in breakdown. What does it look and feel like? How does it work?

Jessica: So I can give one example and that is our Nurturing the Fields of Change community. This is an online community which we operate through Alef Trust. It’s accessed by people who are working on processes of change wherever they are in the world. So that they come from some 30, 40 countries and they are all active in different ecosystems. So they might be working in education, they might be working in social services or therapeutic services somewhere, or they might be in the police force or the army. Actually a lot of them also work in sustainability and climate change, trying to address the climate crisis. What we’re doing is we’re coming together online, this is an online community, and we are meeting in spaces that are giving space to compassionate presencing. Sitting with the questions of our time. How to be with these crises, how to address these challenges. So we have themes in our sessions, but not answers as such. We may draw on some frameworks, there are a lot of frameworks out there, a lot of practice pathways and ways to understand and conceptualise change and how to bring about change. But really what we’re trying to do is more to sit with not knowing, and then to access these multiple intelligences, to let them come to the fore, to let them guide us  listening to the emerging answers. So it’s sort of cultivating this space between us that is about collective presencing, collective listening and then noticing what wants to happen from there. It’s a very emergent space.

Manda: Totally. This is complexity in action, I love it. So many questions arising. So the first one that bubbled up for me was, do you have any politicians at any level of the governance system in any nation involved in this?

Jessica: Not that I’m aware of, I would so love that. I would so love that. One of the challenges that I find is how to language this, quite frankly how to sell this to people. How to help people understand that this is worthwhile to do, right. Because when I say to someone who’s busy, ‘hey, come and sit in a space where we tend to not knowing’, they’ll look at me and they’ll go, what? I haven’t got time for that. I need a framework. Tell me how to get from A to B with these steps. And I’m saying to people, no, that’s not the answer. That’s part of the problem.

Manda: Exactly. That’s linear thinking.

Jessica: What we need is the breathing space. Yeah, exactly.

Manda: Yes. It should be compulsory for every MP. Ah gosh. How do we make that happen? Or every politician around the world to get their heads around complexity. Because exactly as you’re saying, we know linear thinking is how we got here and only by sitting in this emergent space are we going to be able to begin to find complex answers to complex systems.

Jessica: Yeah. And we try to put words to that, all the time I’m working on how to language this, how to bring this across to people who don’t understand complexity science, who are maybe not so into psychology. How to make it accessible. Now one phrase I use is active receptivity. And again, that sounds quite obscure, but in some ways it’s quite simple. It means we don’t just sit on a meditation cushion and notice what’s occurring in our experience, but we take that direct noticing, that direct experiencing and then channel that into action. So it’s sort of paying attention to what is in my experience, noticing that, and then following through. What am I being called to do here? But every moment, every step of the way to then listen again, listen: what’s the feedback, what’s coming back? And then act from there. So it’s this constantly being in relationship with the emerging moment that’s critical.

Manda: Yes. This is what shamanic practice is. And this is, I think, why it takes 10 to 20 years for people to become grounded fully in this. Because the continual listening and hearing the authentic voices of what I would call our heart mind and you would call something bigger. One of my early teachers said ‘our head mind will whisper. That’s what it thinks it needs to do to take back control’. That it’s very easy to get lost in projections of what I think I would like to do, what parts of myself that are perhaps hooked into parental judgements or societal judgements, or any other origins of head based stuff, can quite easily hijack actions. How do you personally keep coming back to the place of absolute authenticity and connection to the All That Is, so that your actions arise from there?

Jessica: Hmm. A vital question, and it’s an ongoing challenge because life is busy and demanding in so many ways. The only way I can stay in touch with all the things that we’re talking about here, is by embracing a body of practices that nurture me day in, day out. So the way that unfolds for me personally is that in the mornings I embrace a non-dual meditation practice which brings me back. It’s embodied, it brings me back to the body. I return to feeling into the body and inhabiting the body as much as I can. I then flow from there, often into movement. So it might be a yoga practice or it might be more expressive movement. In my studio space, I dance, I move, I go with the flow of what my body needs in the moment. That might take me outside for a walk, getting in touch with the earth, coming back to my local forest. That’s a space I live in, practically. It’s a part of my home. Returning back home to earth, touching the ground, touching, connecting with the trees, feeling into the root network and the mycelium beneath the ground. It’s so energising, and it helps me perpetually to recalibrate what it is that I’m doing. It doesn’t mean that I can’t get lost in thought. I do get lost in thought. It happens to all of us. We’re human. But it’s this coming back, you know, knowing what practices help us to come back, that is really, really critical. So I try to do that every day as much as possible in between tasks, even. I do something, I write some emails, and then I roll around on the floor a bit, quite honestly, or step outside and take a breathing space in nature. Or do a little bit of singing, working with a chant or a song that energises me.

Manda: Fantastic. So we’re back to co-regulation and grounding and connecting, and I know you didn’t want to talk about the brain, which is probably very wise, although I still kind of sneakily want to, but that once we have built the neural networks that exist, or the consciousness if you like; conscious pathways that take us to this place; we know the way back. And the more we do it, the stronger they become and the more familiar we become with the feeling of being in that fully embodied in the moment emergent space. And then it becomes easier to return. Would you say that is true for you also?

Jessica: Definitely, yes. Things become easier with practice and over time. And I found that when there is a setback, when I’ve just got an incredibly busy schedule, I’m travelling and I’m out of my normal rhythm, then practices can get sidelined very easily. But what helps me stay in touch with them are these really small micro practices, practice little and often. That’s better than trying to put an hour aside in order to go deeply into a practice. Of course, it’s brilliant if you can, but to remain anchored and connected little and often is incredibly effective. And when you look at the science of behaviour change, it’s these small practices little and often, establishing these behavioural loops that sustains a practice. So it’s funny because in a way we want to open up our habits, become de-automatised. But then having habits, good habits, is also incredibly helpful. We just want to be habituated in the right ways.

Manda: Yes, totally. You have just explained the entirety of the Accidental Gods program, the membership program, of let’s build the habits that serve us, the habits that bring us into awareness rather than the stuff that we don’t even know that we’re doing habitually because it’s become unconscious. And I think the habits you’re talking about, the habits we’re trying to help people build, are conscious habits. And there’s a real difference between the unconsciousness of get in the car, arrive at work, and you have absolutely no idea how you got there, because your habitual thinking processes were just spinning around the usual loops; and a fully aware I’ve just switched the kettle on, I’ve got however long it takes to boil and I’m going to become more grounded. I’m going to connect. I’m going to wash my hands under the tap and really connect with the water. Whatever it is that we’re doing, it’s beautiful. I’m so happy that there are people coming into this work from so many different directions. We’re heading down the line towards the top of the hour. I have so many questions, Jessica. We could talk for hours and I have no doubt we’ll come back. But I’m really interested, you’ve been doing this for 25 years,  probably longer, but consciously for 25 years. What changes are you seeing that give you hope that this is spreading? If any. That this is anchoring in the world, that people are being able to bring this into their places of work or their communities of place or purpose or passion.

Jessica: Thank you for that question. It’s an important question because we can all get really worn out by looking at the mainstream media, seeing such enormous regressive forces at play in the world today. So what gives me hope and a sense of a forward momentum is dwelling with people, spending time with people around the world. And I see more and more of them in different networks, in different communities who are embracing these different ways of being. Spending time with them, sitting in circle with them and playing together. I find that incredibly enlivening and energising. And this can be online as well as in person. Working online does give us the opportunity to be in touch with people whom we may never otherwise connect with, right? So even just within Alef Trust, but I’m also talking about wider networks that I’ve seen grow up, for example around the United Nations, the Conscious Food Systems Alliance, the Inner Green Deal, the Inner Development Goals Initiative. All these networks and there are many more. The work of Joanna macy, for example, or the groups that have come into being around Charles Eisenstein.

Jessica: There’s just so many now, which are really doing wonderful work. So what’s inspiring me is spending time in these networks, sitting in circle with people, hearing their stories and seeing them, witnessing them bringing these different ways of being into the world, working in different communities and on different projects. And within Alef Trust, we’ve been so lucky, we’ve received some grant funding and we’ve been able to pay it forward to also initiate projects that are serving various causes around the world. We’ve got projects in India, in Pakistan, here in the UK. And they are looking at pollution, they’re looking at poverty, they’re looking at working with marginalised children that have been displaced as a result of the war in Ukraine. Also a project which is working on investing permaculture with inner work. So I’m jumping around, but there are so many beautiful examples and projects that are alive that are happening, and that is what energises me day to day. That’s what I come back to.

Manda: I want to know more about all of these. Tell me more. Tell us a little bit about the permaculture and inner work. We’re heading towards the top of the hour, but we have to hear about this.

Jessica: So this is a project, a research project that we are supporting, nurturing at the moment. And essentially it’s a collaboration with the British Permaculture Association and taking their diploma course and building into it; looking at the curriculum and building into it an aspect of inner work. Tending to ourselves in order to then see what is the impact on a design process that is informed by permaculture principles, which are beautiful but a little bit more outer oriented. So we want to marry up the inner work with being of service to agriculture and working with the land in more integrative ways. Yeah.

Manda: Oh, now I have something else that I want to do! I’d kind of like to know about the kids in Ukraine, the children who’ve been displaced, tell us a little bit about what’s happening there?

Jessica: So this is a project that’s actually happening in Ireland. So again, what is happening through Alef trust is that we’re constellating these projects. And there is a beautiful woman who works in Ireland through a language education school, who is tapping into and bringing together the local community in one area, which has received an influx of young people from Ukraine. They’ve come there, they’ve found themselves there as refugees of war. And she’s working within that local community through integrative arts, through again nature based practices, to enable these young people to come back home to themselves whilst they are displaced and finding themselves in a community that that is foreign to them, that is alien to them. So she’s working with local young people and the young people from Ukraine, weaving them together through integrative arts based, nature based practices. Yeah.

Manda: Wow. And bringing in all of the principles of spirituality and connectivity and presencing and grounding and co-regulation that you’ve already been speaking of.

Jessica: Yes. That’s right.

Manda: That sounds so, so rich. We are running out of time. Can you tell us a little bit about the master’s degree that you’ve got coming up in consciousness, spirituality and transpersonal psychology. And then tell us if people want to become more involved in the Alef trust, and goodness, I would imagine everybody listening will; how they can do that.

Jessica: Sure. So the master’s program is at the core of our provision. It’s a three year long journey and it essentially weaves together the fields of consciousness studies, spirituality and transpersonal psychology, with option for specialisations in areas such as ecopsychology, creativity, mindfulness, integrative medicine. There are those specialisations. And people go on a three year journey with us, exploring their own mindsets, exploring the nature of consciousness, attending to themselves through a module that is all about integrative practice. So people build their own integrative practice schedule, which they then enact over the course of a year. And they are in a supportive community there, witnessing each other on the journey. That’s year one.

Jessica: Year two then is oriented towards application, bringing this into the world. So we have modules that explore what does it mean to take transpersonal practices and bringing them into the world? What are the ethical implications of working with altered states of consciousness, for example? It all sounds very beautiful, but there’s also an edge there in terms of what it can elicit within people. So we have to take care of one another when we work with these very potent practices. And year three of the degree program is very much oriented towards research. So you do this work in the world, what are the effects generated? And that is year three. The students go on a research journey. The program starts in in September. So applications are open right now. And all you need to do is to go to our website and find the MSC page there, and you can click through to our contact form.

Manda: I will definitely put it in the show notes. Is this an online MSC or is it in person? People have to be in Liverpool?

Jessica: It’s completely online, so you can do this programme from around the world, wherever you are. Yes.

Manda: Fantastic. And then the Alef Trust, I will again put the link in the show notes. But tell us a little bit about the ways people could become involved in your nurturing the fields of change or any other aspect.

Jessica: So there are multiple ways to get involved actually, and also to find out more and to kind of sample this work if you’re interested in that. The Nurturing the Fields of Change community is open all year round. Again, if you go to the Alef Trust website, you’ll find the sign up links under the relevant section. But also we have a major conference coming up in Oxford in early September, including pre-conference workshops where you can actually explore embodied imagination for social change. And the conference itself weaves together all these themes that we’ve explored in this conversation, Manda. Because it is about creative bridges. Tending to psyche and soul through research and through practice. So we have a four day conference event where we are inviting in people from lots of different fields, giving keynote presentations on cognitive neuroscience, psychedelics, integrative practice for social change. What does it mean to engage in sacred or transpersonal education? We’re weaving together lots of different themes. And this is happening in Oxford later on this year. So you just go to the conference website.

Manda: 4th to 8th of September. I just I just found it. I’m supposed to be in Nairn at a literary festival on the fifth. Darn. We’ll work it out somehow. Right. That’s glorious. I will put links to everything in the show notes and anything else that you want to send, it will all go there. This is so rich, so beautiful. I’m sure we will have more to talk about at a later date on the podcast, but in the meantime, Jessica, huge thanks for all that you are and do and thank you for coming on to the Accidental Gods podcast.

Jessica: Thank you for having me Manda. It’s been a pleasure.

Manda: And that’s it for another week. Huge thanks to Jessica, as I said, for all that she is and does. I have put a bunch of links in the show notes. Please do go and explore them. Have a look at the Alef Trust. Have a look at the many courses that they run. Because it’s not just the MSC, they have some absolutely fascinating short courses running over between 10 and 15 weeks, and all of them look completely fascinating and inspiring. And then there’s the Nurturing The Fields of Change, that sense of being part of a community that gets complex systems thinking, gets the methods of change, wants to share different practices out there in the real world. This is how we make change happen. This is how we balance right on the razor’s edge at that emergent edge of inter becoming. It’s so inspiring. I was so pleased to have found Jessica and to be able to talk with her. So head off, you can find the show notes at, and go to the podcasting page and click on the podcast for this week. Or you go to whatever app you use, find the episode and then look at the show notes there. And if you’re there, please give us five stars in a review. It genuinely changes the way that we show up in the world.

Manda: It helps other people to find us, and if they can find us, then they know that they’re not alone in seeing that the current system is breaking apart and wanting to be part of building something better. Part of what will get us there is understanding that we are all connected and that we can all work together. So whatever you do, please share this episode. And that apart, we will be back next week with another conversation.

Manda: Enormous thanks to Caro C for the music at the head and foot. To Alan Lowell’s of Airtight Studios for the production. To Anne Thomas for the transcripts. To Faith Tilleray for all of the work behind the scenes and for the conversations that keep us moving forwards. And as ever, enormous thanks to you for listening. Seriously, if you know of anybody else who wants to understand that we are not alone, that there are well founded practices to find that way of balancing on the knife edge of the moment and connecting to the all that is, to connecting into the wider intelligence of the web of life, so that we can find our place, so that we can find what is ours to do and do it wholeheartedly, full heartedly, strong heartedly, clear heartedly; please share this link. And that’s it for now. See you next week. Thank you and goodbye.

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