Tapestry Thinking for Flourishing Futures

January 31, 2023

A compelling concept woven throughout the recent 2022 Nova Annual Conference was “tapestry thinking” and ways we can embrace this idea to help people, places, and the planet flourish. Here we highlight just a few presentations from our amazing speakers to inspire you!

Susan Prescott, Director of the Nova Network and creative quilt-maker of the online event, sets the scene for a gathering that focuses on finding new ways to restore balance in both natural and human-made systems. 

Susan says solutions to our planetary dilemmas lie in understanding the complex symbiotic connections of all things, from the microscopic to the macro, and that the human heart is key as we seek unity, connection, inspiration, and love.

In her keynote address, Nalini Nadkarni, Professor of Biology at the University of Utah, takes us on her journey as an ecologist who has successfully woven the threads of recreational, spiritual, and social justice values into her quest to improve planetary health. 

She shares five insightful practices we can adopt to embrace tapestry thinking in our own lives, and asks: who else sits at the loom? Nalini believes the answer lies within all of us, and that we can interweave understandings and interactions with humility to create a tapestry of care for our planet — creating something “complex, connected, useful, strong, and beautiful.”  

African Indigenous Knowledge Systems practitioner Rutendo Ngara urges the integration of Indigenous and Western knowledge as she shares lessons from the weaver bird, from fractals woven into African artifacts, and from the Niger River that “defies efficiency to create life and biodiversity.” 

Rutendo advocates for what she terms “cognitive justice” — the rights of different traditions of knowledge to co-exist without duress. She demonstrates how the principles of ubuntu and sankifa capture the essence of human connections and the link between the past and the future — a systems thinking approach that can address the challenges of our time.

Monica Gagliano, Research Associate Professor of Evolutionary Ecology and Director of the Biological Intelligence Lab at Southern Cross University, weaves together her thoughts on the connections between trees (her speciality), truth, and trust. She discusses the paradox of modern science that seeks truth while falsely asserting we can be objective and separate from the natural systems we observe. 

Monica argues that the Earth is not fragile, it is we humans that are a fragile species who must remember our place in the universe. We are not apart from the Earth, we are “made of her,” and the “Earth problem” is an alarm bell going off suggesting we need to both behave and “be here” differently.

Looking at the relational webs in which we’re entangled and enmeshed, Blake Poland, professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, shares the “relational turn perspective” that views processes as “constitutive rather than derivative” of entities (like bodies, trees, rocks) and how this way of thinking can further sustainability science. 

Blake believes “radical interconnectedness” and lessons from Indigenous knowledge, feminist perspectives, and the ethics of care would further our work to protect people and the planet. Beyond feeling mere obligation, his suggestion that we bring an “attitude of savoring and delight” to our work toward a sustainable future is a sure remedy for feelings of discouragement about current planetary health problems.

Where have you witnessed “tapestry thinking”? What threads have you been weaving that could lead to better health for all beings and systems? We’d love to hear about it on the Nova Integration Hub! Join us there to connect with others and share your thoughts and ideas.

Healing is facilitated through safety, persistence, and trust.

  • Persistence: “People did not simply progress through this sequence and experience healing. The healing journey was a recursive, back and forth process. They found helpers, used the skills/resources that those helpers provided, found other helpers that provided more resources and used those skills and resources. As this process continued, people experienced a gradual amelioration of their suffering. Although many despaired at times, all demonstrated the quality of persistence—they refused to give up.”
  • Safety & Trust: “To connect to helpers, it was essential for people to feel safe in those relationships and able to trust that the person would be a helper and not a barrier to healing. Persons whose wounds included a violation of trust were especially careful about testing the safety of new relationships.”

Resources support us as we heal. They include reframing, responsibility, and positivity. “Making connections enabled participants to acquire and refine resources and skills that were essential in their healing journey. People also brought their own personal strengths to the journey.”

  • Reframing: “A particularly important skill was the ability to reframe—that is to look at suffering through a different lens.” This does NOT mean minimizing trauma or pain, but rather it often means the opposite: understanding what happened was wrong, unfair, or uncontrollable and that we are not to blame for it.
  • Responsibility: While we don’t have control over what happened to us, we are the only ones who can help ourselves heal. “A third essential resource that people acquired or refined was the ability to take an appropriate amount of responsibility for their healing journeys. They participated actively in the process of healing. Once again, some participants already had developed this skill, and some acquired or refined it from their helpers.”
  • Positivity: “Another resource that people acquired or refined during their healing journey was choose to be positive—that is to have some optimism about their situation.” People have varying predispositions to positivity. In the study, positivity was important in helping people heal. This doesn’t mean a toxic positivity, but rather simply finding some good in life and feeling hopeful about our situations.

“Connection to others was an essential part of all the healing journeys.” Humans are social creatures, and even the most introverted of us need close relationships. Friends and family add meaning and value to life and help support us, in good times and bad. 

When we experience relational trauma, relationships can feel scary, but reestablishing safety and trust in relationships is where the healing happens. (To be clear, we do not mean reestablishing safety and trust with abusers, but rather finding other healing relationships.) 

“When safety and trust had been established, people were able to connect with helpers. The nature of the behaviours of helpers that fostered healing ranged from small acts of kindness to unconditional love.”

  • “Moving from being wounded, through suffering to healing, is possible. It is facilitated by developing safe, trusting relationships and by positive reframing that moves through the weight of responsibility to the ability to respond.”
  • “Relationships with health professionals were among these but were not necessarily any more important to the healing journey than other kinds of helpers, which included family members, friends, spirituality and their God, pets, support groups, administrators, case workers and supervisors.”

Healing probably means different things to different people, but one definition that emerged from the study is: “The re-establishment of a sense of integrity and wholeness.” 

Healing was an emergent property that resulted from each individuals’ complex healing journey, a result of bridged connections between resources and relationships. “…they gradually found relief from suffering and began to exhibit emergent characteristics: a sense of hope, self-acceptance, and a desire to help others—the immediate precursors to healing.”

 In varying degrees, “they were able to transcend their suffering and in some sense to flourish.” 

  • Helping Others: We find meaning in helping others. “Understanding that suffering gives the strength and experience to help others in similar situations.”
  • Hope: We begin to have hope that we will not always feel this bad. A Crohn’s patient said, “I think gradually I realized that I was going to feel better. I did have days when I actually didn’t vomit, when I did feel better. And I think gradually I came to believe that maybe I could have a normal life again.”
  • Self-Acceptance: We see our inherent value and understand that we are not to blame for our suffering. A participant living with HIV said, “I’m really proud of myself. I think that now I still want to live. I don’t want to die, and I really love myself a lot. I have a lot of comfort in myself.”

Suffering is the ongoing pain from wounding. 

There is some debate about whether people always experience suffering on the path to healing.

Wounding happens when we experience physical or emotional harm. It can stem from chronic illness or by physical or psychological trauma for which we do not have the tools to cope, or a combination of those factors. 

“The degree and quality of suffering experienced by each individual is framed by contextual factors that include personal characteristics, timing of their initial or ongoing wounding in the developmental life cycle and prior and current relationships.”

Characteristics: How predisposed someone may be to wounding/how many tools and resources someone may have to deal with trauma/illness.

Lifestages: Developmental timing plays an important role in the impact of trauma — young children often do not have the same resources as older adults.

Relationships: Relationships can provide solace and support for those suffering, while lack of healthy relationships can prolong suffering.