On Integrating Trauma in the Presencing Cycle

Antoinette Klatzky
Field of the Future Blog
8 min readSep 18, 2023

Over the last few months, I stopped writing. In fact, it’s been almost one full year since I published anything on Medium. In many ways, I also took a social media fast. Over this time, thanks to my work with the Eileen Fisher Foundation, I’ve been taking notes, diving deep into my own learning and growth, and cultivating the inner space and resourcing I have needed to strengthen my own capacities.

A peaceful moment from June 2023 trip to Juneau, AK with JumpScale and Spruce Root

This article will address one of the topics I have been sitting with — what takes us out of Presencing? A few years ago Otto Scharmer, Kelvy Bird and Presencing Institute colleagues shared a framework for building a container in a facilitated group experience. In order to experience a moment of Presencing, we need to build layered capacities to see, hold, and sense. Establishing containers can help develop what we call ‘generative social fields.’ A social field is what emerges when relationships are established among people. A generative social field is a social field in which there is enough space for something new to be created. We establish what we call architectures of connection. Over the last year two years, I have been curious: What happens when we are not able to hold this container for ourselves or as groups? What is the architecture of separation that keeps us perpetuating trauma cycles?

What is Presencing?

First, let’s start with what is Presencing? The word Presencing is a blend of the words Presence and Sensing. My colleague, teacher and friend, Otto Scharmer — Senior Lecturer at MIT and Founding Chair of the Presencing Institute — describes the process “Presencing, the blending of sensing and presence, means to connect from the Source of the highest future possibility and to bring it into the now. Presencing happens when our perception begins to happen from the source of our emerging future.” (Theory U, Ch 11). So, what does that mean? To be fully present in the moment means the mind is not somewhere in the past or the future and our whole Mind-Heart-Body is in full alignment.

And Absencing?

One great description of what takes us out of Presencing, is the Absencing cycle as described in Theory U. We go through a process of Denial, De-Sensing, Absencing, Blaming and Self-Destruction. Often, these behaviors can lead to trauma and violence that we inflict on ourselves or others. These behaviors lead to repeating patterns or cycles of violence, often stemming from deep hurts that happened long ago.

Presencing Institute’s Presencing Absencing Cycle

Exploring Trauma Cycles

Over the last few years, I have been working with Thomas Hübl and his team, exploring Timeless Wisdom and Healing Collective Trauma. I have found that welcoming an exploration of the Absencing cycle more deeply, within myself, my family system, and my cultural communities has given me great personal healing and great insight into the disruption, polarization and othering happening in the nation, region and our world.

While this is not a comprehensive overview, here are a few insights:

There is Wisdom in Absencing: If activating a container for Presencing establishes Architectures of Connection, an Absencing cycle establishes Architectures of Separation. We describe Architectures of Separation, where we distance ourselves from each other, from ourselves, and also from nature. Where is the wisdom in this? In the world of psychology there is a frame that can help us: the Freudian “defense mechanisms,” later built on by Lazarus and Folkman as “coping mechanisms,” are defined by Jason Hreha as “the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral strategies that individuals employ to manage, adapt to, or alleviate the stress and negative emotions arising from challenging, demanding, or adverse situations” (Hreha). Day to day, we employ coping mechanisms to address situations large and small. Often, it is only due to intelligent coping strategies that we can move through intense or difficult situations. When we become aware of these strategies, and the good reasons we may have developed and used them, we can see the wisdom in absencing. We can see the wisdom in numbing (denial) or dissociating (de-sensing), defending (blaming or worse). Hübl says, “I can say it’s a dysfunction or I can say it’s a function that saved me.”

What we feel in the personal also lives in the collective: What we feel, or don’t feel, occurs on the level of the personal and systemic at the same time. Peter Senge, author of the Fifth Discipline, said, “What’s most systemic is personal and interpersonal.” We have developed collective coping mechanisms. Many of our societies have gone into a collective absencing cycle, binge-watching the collective Netflix (TikTok etc) when it seems too difficult to feel the pain of our planet, our people. I think there is an older coping mechanism (collective absencing) at work. I believe this is a much longer arc of a running absencing cycle — people running from persecution to ‘new’ lands, brutally killing each other in an attempt to ‘explore’ and ‘expand Westward’ in a search for Freedom, Peace and Joy. It is time to open up a shared awareness of these collective coping mechanisms, the cycles that we kept perpetuating (or perpetrating).

Letting Go may take a lot more than a moment of stillness: In our attempts to develop shared awareness, in group facilitated settings (with Presencing Institute, Eileen Fisher Foundation and others), we often invite in a moment of stillness or meditation to presence what is happening. I often host ‘moments of stillness’ at the beginning of meetings or in online spaces. I was recently invited to make a 30 second clip to share on TikTok/IG Reels. I think that what we need now may start there but is much bigger than a 30 second meditation clip. The Master Presencing practitioner, Founder of Social Presencing Theater and Buddhist Teacher, Arawana Hayashi shares, “When we can collectively stay with that feeling of deep sadness, we can feel the power of that as a motive force for change. The key here is to stay with that feeling without trying to push it away, rationalize it, pathologize it, or judge it.” I am curious now to examine, what will it take on a collective level— to stay with the feelings that are coming up, to stay with the collective grief — the anger, the fear, the sadness — and to be with them long enough for us to integrate these old hurts.

Embodiment is Intelligence: I think the spaces we need to fully feel, fully integrate and fully heal, are not going to happen in AI, computer/internet, or even in the mind. Whole person intelligence is embodied. We need to turn all the body senses online (it helps as a metaphor!) and find alignment and attunement with each other to begin to calibrate. I’m excited to read Thomas Hubl’s new book, ‘Attuned: Practicing Interdependence to Heal Our Trauma―and Our World,’ and explore the stories and tools he shares there. In the meantime, some of the work I’ve been doing to explore this embodied experience of integration has been with the Social Arts. Working with Arawana Hayashi, diving into a deep Presencing practice of letting the body guide the movement — finding the Art of a True Move. And, developing the Generative Sound practice with my beloved (new!) husband, Edinson R-Castaño. Together, we are building on our joint work with the Eileen Fisher Leadership Institute and exploring: tuning in with groups, levels of listening through the beat of the drum, and building on work we’ve done with the outstanding Toni Moya Latorre on group shifts in musical improvisation.

Edinson hosts a Generative Sound workshop during Movalogue ’23 photo by David Hasbury

Integration and Presencing

Presencing lives in the art of letting go and letting come. The brief moment of space, of nothingness. Following a period of seeing and sensing, we experience a space, a space between what was and what will be. What has occurred and what will occur. This spaciousness is where all creation lives.

When we experience a moment of pain and hurt, we often freeze or block off a part of ourselves. That part becomes stunted and doesn’t continue growing. Those experiences continue to play on a loop somewhere, often re-emerging when we are stressed or pushing ourselves to our maximum capacity. I’ve noticed it in myself, even as — and especially when — I am reaching my fullest potential, the old loops show up, the shadows make themselves known. When I can stop and be with those un-integrated loops, or shadows; when I can invite them in, listen and learn from them, I begin to integrate them. I recognize the place these traumatic experiences or moments live in me as lessons and as gifts that have made me who I am. As we integrate these parts of our past, we stop living in continuously perpetuating loops (what Hübl calls the past). We can move on, continue to grow, and have more capacity for the world around us.

In my recent experience, this deep integration is part of the Presencing cycle. It’s the part that reminds us that Presencing and Absencing are non-linear and often overlapping. When I have experienced this integration, I have felt a reconnection — to my inner self and to the world around me. I am not subtly driven by underlying forces or old coping mechanisms. I can (more often!) be aware of these old patterns when they come up and I can make a conscious choice. Imagine if we lived in a world in which we were connected, aligned, attuned with one another and had a shared awareness of our impacts on the world of which we are custodians.

Resources for this article:

Thank you to Rachel Hentsch and Sheila Klatzky for their input and edits.