Jennifer’s Story: How TheContactProject was Born

I can remember the day, and the place I was sitting in 2006 when it came to me: I wrote down “The Contact Project” on a slip of paper and, as they say, the rest is history.

For a decade, our team has been working with businesses, institutes, governments, communities, and civil society organizations around the world–helping them to build human capacity for global change.

In retrospect, it was as if my whole life had aligned to lead me to that moment.

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I spent my childhood surrounded by redwoods, on a meditation cushion. I came to understand embodied cognition–the mind-body connection–from an early age. My mom was a massage therapist, which gave me yet another vantage point from which to view that connection.

This led to a lifetime love of yoga, Buddhism, contemplative practices and my own career in massage therapy. I spent my days working directly with the physical aspects of the body. Throughout this time, I saw and felt that mind-body connection more deeply than ever: in others. Every day, as I worked on the bodies of my clients, I witnessed how trauma was stored, saw and felt how ailments manifested physically.

I started thinking about the way a massage therapist touches the body, how we need to be able to listen to the muscle tissue, to really understand and respect the individual experience and context for each individual. The way we need to have patience–because techniques to release trauma from muscles that have become frozen can take time. And above all, the process requires respect. A reverence for the patient, their body, and the process.

Ultimately, these precepts–listening, patience, and respect–became the core tenets of TheContactProject’s Engaged Identity approach.

Then, I thought about all that we can do, as healers, to create this supportive container for release and healing in other ways. Sometimes touching the body is not available. Can we “massage” from a distance–through speech, for example?

This inquiry led me to seek a better understanding of the way these dynamics play out between human beings. So at 37, I went back to school to study Buddhist psychology and Peace Studies. From there, the work began to shift: from individuals to peace and conflict in groups. I double majored in trauma and organizational leadership.

During my research on the U.S.-Mexico border, engaging with different stakeholders there, I began to develop a new context for relationships, communities, and solution building. I was learning how listening, patience, and respect was affecting an area experiencing conflict. The research took on a life of its own–and doors began to open.

I later spent several years working in northeastern Nigeria. This time was formative–both for me and for our work. I was profoundly struck by how this work was changing people–from heads of security organizations to community members and leaders. They were becoming better fathers, better husbands, better leaders. Better individuals.

These powerful shifts were happening on a personal level, and they directly attributed this growth to their experience with this work. Profound shifts were happening in an active conflict zone with multiple diversity and bias issues–tribal, ethnic, religious, and gender based.

To hear that kind of change come based on what would be considered a small exposure to this work.

It got me thinking: how do we create spaces and experience where people can find themselves…to find some of this resonance within. Where identity doesn’t limit them, but is instead embraced as dynamic, complex, and malleable. A way to develop human adaptive capacity.

We are a species. And as a species, we need adaptive capacities. We need to be able to adapt, not just physically, but also mentally and spiritually because of the consciousness that we hold–and because the only constant in our ever-evolving, dynamic lives, is change.

I wanted to bring the work out of the organizational and see if we could help more people create some spaciousness and strength (adaptive capacity), with a robust understanding of the complexity that is you, that changes with life.

I’ve had people respond to this with things like: “Listen, I’m Maorian. Nothing changes this.”

And my response is: “That’s right–I totally agree with you. But your relationship with being Maori has changed over time. When you were 7, you had a different relationship with that part of your identity. And you still have a dynamic relationship to that identity. Sure, we are married, mothers, sisters, friends, lovers, etc., but it’s our relationship with how we identify ourselves that’s at issue here. There is still room for movement and growth and curiosity and understanding.

As I take a step back to witness where we’ve been and where we’re going, I really feel that in a lot of ways, we’ve come full circle. This renewed focus on individual experiences is what this whole endeavor was going to be a decade ago.

Had it not developed this way, I wouldn’t appreciate it as deeply as I do now.

I’ve worked with people who’ve faced conflict and trauma and a degree of challenge most of us may never know. And as I’ve seen how this work continues to impact their lives, if we can have that kind of effect in those situations–what can we do with someone whose challenges may not be so life threatening? Who may be faces dis-ease or malaise or a pervasive sense of discontentment. If we could use this work to open that up a little bit.

The Contact Project leads with the belief that the solution to our world’s most complex challenges begins at an individual level. Our Learning Journeys embody this belief by beginning with individuals–and embracing every aspect of the human experience holistically: physical, spiritual, emotional. And we hope you will join us.

Originally published at on October 13, 2017.