Nicky’s Story

Bridging and weaving back into wholeness the divided, the broken and the wounded

Leaving the known behind

I am born at home in Sanderstead, Surrey and I spent the first years of my life in England moving three times as the family followed my father in his assignments as a doctoral student in physics. In 1966, when I was seven, we moved to Geneva, Switzerland where my father was offered a position at Cern, the European nuclear research centre. This was my first experience in shifting paradigms when I found myself in a new context with little bearings to find my way around. Resilience and determination to make sense of what I was experiencing as total chaos kicked in, and I made it. I spent the next forty years in Geneva. I went to university there, got married, and held several positions in higher education.

Mid-life crisis? No, an awakening!

Just before my fiftieth birthday, I felt the urge to step out of the life I had built for myself. A genuine full-blown mid-life crisis! I was sitting on a beach on Marie Galante, a small island near to Guadeloupe, looking out at the ocean when I suddenly knew that I had to walk away from my life as it was. It felt like a case of life or death. My life was killing me. I needed to save myself. I took the call seriously and set off on what I thought would be a cosmetic operation implementing a few changes here and there. I left my safe job at the University of Geneva, walked out of 25 years of marriage, and moved out of Geneva. Of course, I got much more than I had bargained for, and the simple task turned out to be a spiritual quest, a path I have consented to walk forever. Furthermore, with hindsight, I can see the invisible weaving in the background that pushed me to walk my path with more consciousness and to follow my soul’s purpose in this life.

My expanding curiosity about how we learn

From an early age, I have been fascinated about how we learn and the conditions that support deep learning and help us go through radical changes. This inquiry in understanding how our minds operate was the first part of my journey. I trained as a Piagetian educational psychologist at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. My first job was with severely mentally disabled adults being released from psychiatric hospitals to be housed in more caring-minded homes. This turning point in care and treatment of the mentally disabled offered me my first opportunity to observe changes in institutional development with the inevitable resistances. I was also faced with having to find ways to empower adults with severe learning disabilities coming from deprived environments.

Shifting from discipline-based teaching to interdisciplinary approaches

After several years of field work in challenging contexts, I decided to go back to university to do a PhD on interdisciplinarity in higher education. I felt the need to build bridges between what I perceived as a fragmented world, boxed into disciplines, languages, social mentalities, cultural environments, etc. This inquiry into interdisciplinary approaches evolved into a philosophical quest around wholeness and connectedness. My doctoral research looked into the efforts of academics to develop interdisciplinary teaching practices in environments more anxious to maintain disciplinary boundaries. The case studies gave me a wonderful opportunity to understand how academics design their teaching and how students learn (or not) from these new contexts.

Reforming higher education, stepping into the 21st century

As a result of my doctoral work, I was asked to set up the first teaching and learning centre for the University of Geneva. Shortly after, in 1999, the Bologna Declaration was signed launching major reforms in higher education all over Europe. Yet again I found myself in the midst of a huge reform that led to major changes in leadership, organisational development and provision of higher education. Exciting but also challenging times for those who resented the changes to come or for those who suddenly found themselves in the turmoil of institutional reforms. My work on academic development unfolded in this context and I was able to explore shifts in academic identity, pedagogical philosophy and professional development. I actively took part in shaping the landscape of higher education in Switzerland. I was very keen to provide support for academics having to reluctantly restructure their curricula and teaching practices according to the new framework. It also involved building up the teaching and learning capacities in higher education, establishing centres for university teaching in higher educations institutions, advocating and promoting educational and academic development. I became a leading figure in this domain in French-speaking contexts representing Switzerland in European contexts.

Embodying new forms of leadership, and falling over

After ten years of work, I felt the need to take on more responsibilities in crafting innovative higher education by accepting leadership positions. I started by restructuring a research and development institute in a newly founded HEI before being asked to hold the position of rector of the teacher education university in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. During the three year I was there, I was faced with a very challenging experience in change management with strong, sometimes violent oppositions. This gave me ample opportunities to dive into the issues of leadership and organisational development where I could see that the outer changes would only be possible through inner changes in mind-set. The circumstances required that I focussed on resistances to change trying to overcome them in a supportive and helpful way rather than feeding into the divides and the battlefield realities. These difficult times helped me review my former classical training in cognitive and behavioural psychology, and to open up to new inputs regarding transformational work and healing coming from positive psychology, system thinking and collective trauma healing.

Picking myself up, and learning

I left Switzerland for France in 2013 when I was asked to come back to the field of university teaching and to set up an Institute for innovative teaching and learning. I was able to draw both on my previous experiences and my new insights into transformational work to experiment with creative thinking and stepping out of the boundaries. Gradually my work took a new direction supporting people, communities and organisations to shift and engage collectively in meaningful and socially responsible projects letting go of old paradigms of thought and action. Although the changes were welcome and embraced by many, we did experience strong resistances to change that were activating fears of what was coming from outside. At the time, the terrorist attacks in France only crystallised the polarised position opening up a rift intensifying fundamentalism and religious repression. The innovative momentum was stopped abruptly when more traditional perspectives came back in force and I was asked to leave.

Picking myself up another time, and setting myself free

When I had completed my mission in Strasbourg, I decided it was time for me to set up my own line of work, and to align both my spiritual quest and my scientific journey. In 2016, I met John during a workshop in Findhorn on higher consciousness and healing the whole. We immediately sensed that we were called to share our inquiries and to journey on together. After a road trip of several weeks that took us from Strasbourg to Assynt in Northern Scotland, we finally landed our shared purpose; creating and holding a place for retreats and transformational work, living in wholeness and connecting to the source. Yggdrasil Living Wholeness was birthed during 2017.

Integrating what has been previously separated

My inquiry started out by exploring the meaning and purpose of interdisciplinarity, as I wanted to build bridges across the cultural, scientific and linguistic divides I was experiencing. I felt called to bring together what seemed fragmented and separate, a very uncomfortable place for me to stand in and to get a sense of who I am and what my work could be. The metaphor of building bridges was interesting and certainly helped me in the early stages of my journey. Only, as I went along, I became aware that through focussing on building bridges I was also maintaining the separations, crystallising them in their social and cultural structures, desperately wanting to sense the unity overarching the separateness. It often felt like being a sheep dog trying to round up a scattered herd of undisciplined sheep. My transformational journey bought me to the conclusion that I needed to shift in my metaphors. The former “building bridges” morphed into the image of “weaving together” (i.e. in a collective space) to form a tartan at the heart of which rests undivided wholeness.

Currently I am focussing on developing leadership skills and working with women in key leadership roles. The purpose here is to inquiry into new models of leadership that go beyond gender divides, bringing more harmony and collectiveness to human endeavours.