Meet Laura Pastorini

Hannah Scharmer
Field of the Future Blog
8 min readJul 10, 2020


You might recognize Laura Pastorini from her work with Social Presencing Theater (SPT) and Theory U application, learning, and development in Latin America and Spain. Laura works mainly in the public sector as a facilitator, coach and consultant for governments, social and educational programs and NGOs. Laura develops integrative, interdisciplinary and cross-cutting approaches to working with people, with a strong focus on embodied practice. As a social and visual anthropologist, with a Master’s in Mental Health for Social Sciences and as a Master Trainer in Systemic Constellations, Laura approaches the human being in its multiple dimensions, from the individual to the social and environment dimension. She applies different systemic and phenomenological methodologies for personal, organizational and social transformation.

Laura focusses on awareness-based transformation processes, collaborative and ecosystemic leadership, team building, conflict handling, participatory diagnosis and dynamics, multi stakeholder articulation, community and institutional strengthening, experiential learning, and qualitative action- and practice-research.

Arriving at the Presencing Institute

Laura first learned about Theory U from colleagues in her home country: Uruguay. In the fall of 2012, Laura participated in the International Organizational Constellations Training Intensive (IOCTI) in the Basque Country. When the translator for the event failed to show up, Laura met Arawana Hayashi by taking over the role of the translator. Smiling, Laura remembers how “I couldn’t translate only with my words… I was translating her with my whole body, following her movements.” Through embodied translation, Laura first encountered SPT. The practice and methodology of SPT was “love at first sight” for Laura.

Laura (right), with Arawana Hayashi (center) and Ricardo Dutra (left)

In this way, Laura’s first encounter with Theory U and SPT was through the body. Now, Laura still finds herself using the body and the practice of embodiment as her way of teaching Theory U, which she does, in part, through university courses.

Grounding Theory U Work in Latin America

Workshop with high-school students of Izamal to co-create a performance

Laura, Arawana, Ricardo Dutra and a team of SPT practitioners and researchers are currently involved in “a beautiful experiment,” working with La Vaca Independiente, a non-profit organization in Mexico that focuses on art in education for social transformation. They meet every February to develop prototypes that La Vaca Independiente can then use over the course of the coming year in the communities they work with. Most recently, this work took place in the Mayan community of Izamal in Yucatan, with high school students. Laura explains that the project is a participatory, interactive process “where we applied all the methodologies that we were using on ourselves and with the educators and then brought them into the community, to work with the kids.”

Working with the high school students in Yucatan

The SPT methodology allowed for “them to see and sense themselves.” The participants were asked to embody and identify where they felt “stuck”, both in school and in the community. From those “stuck” embodiments, little performative pieces called “Moments” were created, based in the Tectonic Theatre methodology. Then the pieces were mirrored back by the students and by the educators and facilitators, who were equally immersed in the reflective and creative instances. At the end, they all co-created a performance with those “Moments” and performed it for the whole community in the square of Izamal.

Performance in the square of Izamal, Yucatan

This was a “very healing process. These are communities that suffer from inequity, violence, not only structural but also very visible violence” and discrimination. For Laura, a significant element of this process was “this moment of merging, where we as facilitators become part of the process and systems that we work with.”

The importance of this moment was summarized by Laura when she reflected that “if you want to transform a system, you have to be open to your own transformation.”

Performance in the square of Izamal, Yucatan

How a Single Leaf Can Contain an Entire Ecosystem

To be open to one’s own transformation, whether as a facilitator, a leader, or an organization, is a moment of “bending the beam, or turning the camera onto ourselves.” Laura smiles when she says that “this doesn’t mean that we have to be illuminated people, or that we now have to do yoga and meditation everyday, which is very good, but it’s not about that.” Rather, it is about being aware of oneself. In this way, “turning the beam makes you go inward, and there you connect not only with your individual self, but you always connect with your collective self.”

If we understand ourselves to be fractals or “antennas of the system”, then turning our gaze back onto ourselves means to also connect with that larger system of which we are a part of. It is just like “how every single leaf of a tree in the woods informs us about the whole ecosystem… and that is what we are.”

So “if we can connect with ourselves, if we can look at ourselves with honesty, curiosity, with an open heart and an open will, and welcome whatever comes, then we are connecting to the source of everything.” This connection is always a collective one, meaning “when you go inwards, you touch your humanity.” Laura emphasizes that “this is accessible for every single human being because there are no illuminated people that can do this better than others…we all have the chance to access that because this is naturally given to us.”

What may make this process difficult are the walls and barriers that we, collectively, have built. Laura goes on by explaining that “these blocks that usually come from collective or individual trauma, where every single personal trauma is always connected to cultural and social trauma.”

Cultivating the Soil of Trust

To work with trauma first requires compassion, which for Laura, “also means not judging… it means completely accepting the reality of the other and completely accepting the way the other behaves and thinks.” Dealing with trauma requires courage and trust, because “courage can only be an impulse if we have a basis of trust to hold that impulse.” For Laura, facilitating and holding space means“building and cultivating this soil of trust for people to take risks.”

Letting go process at the Technical University in Uruguay

But Laura also remembers moments in which this soil of trust was fostered by the participants themselves. For example, when she was working on a year-long transformation journey with the Technological University in Uruguay, “we did a little ritual, where the participants had to write on a little slip of paper what they wanted to let go of.” The idea of the ritual was to then for the team members to burn these pieces of paper collectively, to allow them to let go. Laura remembers how “one of the participants said: what? I cannot burn this paper…I cannot let go of this because this is what protects me!” In this moment of spontaneous honesty, a collective holding space opened up, where “we just stood in silence as, one-by-one, his team members came up to him and said, we will help you let go, we will help you burn this paper.” The facilitators simply held the space for this and “completely trusted that he could let go of what he needed to let go of.” This example provides an insight into how Laura understands her role as a facilitator and coach: namely to “create the space for courage, trust, and compassion.”

The Body as the Site for Healing

In her work supporting teams that work with gender violence, and supporting people who have directly suffered from gender violence, Laura observed how “bodies that have suffered aggression are very vulnerable and defensive bodies.” Laura remembers when working with a group of women who had suffered abuse, the embodied work had to be introduced very slowly and safely. It was the practice of Case Clinic, a methodology which supports participants in accessing their own wisdom and responding to immediate challenges, that prompted a shift in the group. Laura remembers how “in this moment, where they could see and feel what another woman was feeling in her own body, a huge shift occurred… it was the moment where the barriers broke down.” After doing the Case Clinic, what the participants realized was that “they had discovered a new woman in every woman who had been through that experience… they had discovered each other.”

What this means is that when we go back to the body, for example through embodied practices, we open that opportunity for self-healing. And “self-healing means not only personal healing, but also means healing together and recognizing this common wound.”

Laura also understands the body as a site for democractic work. She reflects on how, at times, when working with marginalized communities merely through dialogue and conversation, natural leaders or people with formalized education might feel more confident to step up and therefore excluding others. But, when working with embodied practices, the ability to participate becomes much more inclusive and accessible.

Midwives Association “Nacer mejor” Practicing SPT, Uruguay

The body is a place where “you integrate everything…the brain, the mental, emotional and spiritual side of a person as well as action.” In this way, “we are nature, we don’t have bodies, we live in our bodies and we are bodies, and this is our nature.” This means that, when we connect to our bodies, we are connecting to nature. And “our nature, our body, knows the way.” So we can let our body inform us “not only about ourselves, but also about the systems and social bodies that we are a part of.”

And so, by practicing embodied work, for example the methodologies of SPT, we can “discover and make visible the dynamics of our systems, dynamics which are underlying the results we create, and find better ways of being in these systems, and of being human.”

Honoring Ourselves as Human Beings

When Laura looks into the future, she emphasizes our need for a more respectful and compassionate society. She highlights the attentional violence she sees in the world, which takes the form of separating “us” from “them,” and is a question of how attention is directed. In our current moment, Laura sees this as one of the most important areas to ground our attention in, namely “structural violence, and asking ourselves how we can become a more inclusive, aware, respectful, and compassionate society.” Shifting into this direction in a “real ego-to-eco shift” would mean “honoring ourselves as human beings without needing to feel ashamed of being who we are, but rather feeling proud of who we are.” Now more than ever, when we face our darkest side, we need to unconditionally see and hold our higher possibility of what humanity is capable of, “not doubting ourselves, not judging ourselves, but trusting ourselves as vehicles for whatever wants to emerge.” Our source knows the way.

Video of the interview*:

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*Please note that, due to technical problems, the video is audio only.