12. Creating Community (Anchored Book Club)

We are at the end of our exploration of Anchored by Deb Dana. Creating community is an appropriate place to finish.

The autonomic nervous system is heavily influenced by the social engagement system. This has evolved with humans (and other mammals) as a foundational source of safety in our survival strategy.

Self-regulation begets co-regulation and co-regulation teaches self-regulation. We cannot experience a truly regulated nervous system if we never experience social engagement with other living beings. We are wired for that connection.

Deep Listening and Autonomic Connection

There is a lot of talk about deep and empathic listening. We can only truly listen to another person in that way from a place of ventral safety and regulation. Where our sole intention is to be present and connect, nervous system to nervous system.

We provide the much-needed experience of being welcomed, seen, and listened to when we listen to someone without preconceived notions or agendas, without thinking about how we will respond or can help them. We can only offer this connection from an anchor in ventral safety, and we can only receive it from another person who offers that ventral experience to us.

Dana shares words from Gary Whited, who says, “Listening, when it opens and we’re feeling safe enough, leads toward connection with other people. But it doesn’t stop there. It is also the vehicle and the medium for connecting with everything around us. When our listening truly becomes reciprocal, we respond back and forth through call and response within the immense interconnected web we call the universe that surrounds us and holds us always. Our listening opens through numerous portals. We think of it commonly as an auditory phenomenon, yet it passes through other portals as well. We listen with our ears, yes, but we also listen with our eyes, our minds, our hearts, our touch, and upstream from all sensations and perceptions we listen with our autonomic nervous system.”

Autonomic Conversations

The nervous system is at work inside us as individuals and in connection with the nervous systems around us. We have “autonomic conversations” with ourselves and others as we participate and create community in the world around us. This means we subconsciously transmit and receive energy and information.

Our nervous system plays a crucial role in creating community. When we emit a sense of safety, other nervous systems perceive it as an ‘autonomic invitation’ to connect. Conversely, when our nervous system is in a state of protection, it sends out signals of danger, which other nervous systems instinctively pick up on and respond to.

It’s funny to consider how our nervous system is constantly communicating. In every moment, we send and receive autonomic cues of welcome or warning. This reminds us why attending to the autonomic information we send out into the world is so important.

Exploration: Rupture and Repair

Login to listen to the sound anchor:

Dana describes “moments of missing” in relationships. When we move out of regulation, we might experience misatunement and disconnection. When noticed, named, and repaired, these normal ruptures can lead to relational depth and growth. They are a key element in creating healthy communities However, when ruptures go unnoticed and unnamed, they linger below the surface of awareness, shaping our relationship stories.

How does your nervous system let you know that a rupture has occurred?

In the sound anchor exercise, we explore this question and consider relationships where ruptures have gone unrecognised.

When ruptures remain unnamed and unspoken, they can impact the whole relationship and sit in the nervous system whenever we attempt to connect with the other person. The rupture’s presence can hinder our ability to come into connection. As Dana says, when we get the message of misatunement and don’t share it, it sits in our system and is unavailable for repair and reconnection.

Repairing The Rupture

After noticing, naming, and sharing a rupture, we must take the final step of repairing it to move into healing. If we don’t make the repair, we stay disconnected and alienated. The nature of repair is different for every situation, and the path toward it is “guided by our nervous system.”

Sometimes, a heartfelt apology is needed. At other times, actions rather than words are needed to repair the rupture. It may require collaboration and planning for a change of direction, or it might require taking responsibility and setting an intention to do things differently. There is no one right way to repair. Our nervous system will indicate whether or not a particular path is the right one.

Dana shares another essential element to bear in mind through this process. Noticing, naming, and repairing don’t always happen simultaneously. Sometimes, the repair must come later because we can only make it from an anchor in the ventral connection. It might take several conversations if we notice ourselves moving out of connection as we figure out the best way forward. Or it might be that we are ready to begin the repair, but the other person isn’t autonomically receptive to the offer. In this case, we can name the rupture and offer to explore repairing when they feel ready.

Conclusion – A More Regulated Community

Dana concludes Anchored by reminding us that each of us is on a quest to become active operators of our nervous system and skilful at anchoring in ventral regulation. The nervous system is at the heart of human experience, shaping and being shaped in every moment. Research increasingly supports the idea that how we perceive our world impacts our genetic makeup, which means that the cues of safety and danger we take in through our neuroception shape our biology.

Dana leaves us with hope for our collective future. She says that when more of us learn to be responsible for our own regulation and are equipped to travel the autonomic pathways of connection, we both shape our own pathways and consequently shape the pathways in our global community. In the experience of finding our way to being anchored in ventral safety and offering that welcome to others, we begin to change the world one nervous system at a time.