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“Yes” and “No” in Constellations

In constellations we work a lot with the energy of “Yes” and of “No.” Both are seen as important movements in the constant exchange of give and take that happens within any system. Increasing our capacity for “Yes” to the life energy that is our birthright helps us open to the gifts and resources in our lineage. Outside of the home, the “Yes” supports the unfolding of our talents and gifts, letting in success, grounding the creative lightning bolt of “Yes” in the work we do in the world and in society. 

La Virgin Dormida, Linda Monsivais

Yes and No

There is a place inside
That knows what it feels like to say “Yes” to life
Once we find it
And take in that new vista
There is no unseeing it

Even though there may be parts of the inner chorus that say,
“No thanks,
We’re going back to sleep now”
Shutting down sense of sight, sound, smell, taste, touch
“We’re going back to playing dead”

We don’t fight them
We take rest
Thank them for their No
So emphatic! So steadfast in their loyalty!
And when we meet in our dreams maybe say to them  
“I see you; I hold a place for you in my heart”

This saying “Yes” to life
and to my place,
Nothing more, nothing less,
Becomes the way I honor you

There is a “Yes”
Now even to you, the saint, the sinner, the outcast, the forgotten one
To your life, your death, the fate that only you could carry
You too belong

Truth and Reconciliation in Constellations

One of the things that is so hopeful and inspiring about constellations is that as you sit in the circle over the course of an evening or weekend workshop, watching a series of constellations, with different families, and different stories, you start to see that they have a particular rhythm.

Lourdes Sanchez, Geos

In the opening configuration, when representatives first stand for different aspects of the situation, it often looks completely stuck and impossible.  “How are we ever going to get out of this one…” And then as the representatives continue to stand, usually in silence, it is as if a map starts to unfurl, showing the way back to the time and place where this particular trouble was kicked up in the first place. And somehow once we make our way to that place, we know what to do: see this, acknowledge that, honor someone or something. It is a kind of acupressure of the collective conscience. When we touch the right meridians, the relief for those standing as representatives is obvious. There is a perceptible calm even in the outer circle witnessing the process.

As you start to catch on to these rhythms, you see that there is a formula for truth and reconciliation in constellations that makes them energizing and life giving. And somehow it all looks easier and more straightforward than you thought it would be: if there was a place of forgetting, we go back and remember; if there was a place of perpetration, we go back and place responsibility where it belongs. There may be tears, but even the tears have a kind of accuracy to them. They are well-placed; it is the kind of sad that once you grieve, it is complete. Afterwards there is a kind of glow that is hard to name. Call it Freedom. Emancipation. Amazement. Call it “Wow.”
 

At the coffee breaks between constellations, many of us attending workshops can’t help but wonder, if this is the kind of relief that is possible for families, could a similar process be used for the cultural wounds in our society today? In the U.S. we have not yet known large-scale truth and reconciliation. And by now it has been so long, we hardly know where to start. With the heartbreak of immigration and leaving one’s homeland and loved ones under duress? With the enslavement of Africans, building an entire economy on the riches of slave labor, and the horrendous repeats of racial discrimination that followed? With the first fences put up on land that natives had been living in deep relationship with for thousands of years, then attempting to destroy native people and culture, and build a new society on top of the wreckage?  

Andres Amador, Sand Murals

For many people looking to right old wrongs, as an activist, or social justice warrior, it is not long before we feel like we are doing it all wrong, putting our foot in our mouths, not knowing how to stop being part of the problem. As we start down the road of “fighting for others,” we often find places where we too are feeling victimized by an oppressive system. It’s become so painfully obvious that as a society we keep perpetuating the same historical wounds, in spite of ourselves and our best intentions. This is the definition of a wicked problem; the fact that you are woven into the web makes it harder to see a way out of.

There are signs of hope that we are starting to thaw out from a collective frozenness. In constellations there are many people now working to heal the patterns that remain, by entering through the avenues of their personal family lines. This is the most effective method we know of in the constellations community so far — doing the work of cultural healing by starting locally.

Even so it does not keep constellators from continuing to experiment on how we might use techniques from constellations for healing on a more macro level. When we come up with a ceremony, a ritual, a group process that might possibly change the source code in the central server, you are most definitely invited. In the meantime, I will share here the constellations method of truth and reconciliation that has been working so well for inner truth and reconciliation, for individuals and for families.

1. Listen and see

Listen deeply; know the story in its many layers. Find the truth of the situation. Try to find who or what forces contributed.

2. Acknowledge

Come to a common understanding about what has been found. Certain events and aspects merit particular acknowledgement. Life and death matter quite a lot.

Who lived. In what order was each one born: first this one, then that one.
Who died.
If someone was killed, who was responsible.
Who gave.
Who benefitted.
Who took something that was not theirs.
Whose life was able to continue as a consequence.
What was secreted away.

Sometimes there are things that have been hidden for generations. Often this happens for good reason. At the time, it would have brought on too much shame or difficulty; or it was simply too much for the heart to bear. We are stronger now and with time on our side, have capacity to look at and acknowledge these things.

Jesse Draxler, Misophonia

3. Honor

Getting all of these details straight takes some effort. As you start putting them back into order, getting the timeline straight, that in itself is an honoring that engages your emotions. It is not done in a way that is rote or formulaic, it is a ritual of remembrance. Sometimes there are words used to honor that are said with presence, in a ceremonial way. These are words of esteem that the group conscience can hear.

“I lived and you died.”
“I benefitted from your labor.”
“My family benefitted.”
“My family member’s life was able to continue as a consequence.”

For the honoring to be complete, you feel it in your body. You are calm. Although you are remembering something about the past, you are doing it very much in the present moment. You may find a posture of honoring that feels authentic, bringing the hands to the heart, folding them into prayer, or a bowing of the head. Find a place inside where you experience sincerity; sometimes no words are even necessary.

Lourdes Sanchez, Geos

4. Make reasonable restitutions that all parties are satisfied with

It will look different for each situation. It could be symbolic; it could be monetary. If it’s possible to give back what has been taken, now is the time. It could be a solemn vow to move forward in a new way. This is a practice of reparations, but to say that it is simply a cash payout, is to make it too small.

The amazing part is, after you have seen and acknowledged in a deep way, the fact that we are actually interconnected awakens something in the system, which is constantly seeking for balance. The seeing and honoring has a way of activating a creative life force to spontaneously help find what is needed. A creative solution comes, that is appropriate for the current time and place. It brings peace to the system.

Some words that may come along on the winds of reconciliation are:
“I make the solemn vow to do it differently now.”
“I remember you.”
“I will carry you in my heart.”

You know you have found the right thing when it feels right to the one who took and to the one who was taken from. We check with all parties and if it doesn’t feel right, there is more seeing acknowledging to do.

Philip Kirk, Towards Light

It’s not just about forgiveness

In the West there is a moral commandment to “forgive and forget” and so out of habit, we often reach for forgiveness. The problem with forgiveness is that it often comes too early in the process. When people try to be selfless, putting themselves aside and only understanding the one who wronged them, they abandon their own pain and distress. Forgetting becomes another exclusion. For a complete reconciliation, the pain cannot be excluded. The pain is valued as a messenger for what is needed to rebalance the scales. If one person has taken something, the responsibility for what they did needs to stay with them.

In constellations this is often the game changer. And the surprise is that it can be very straightforward for the person who has taken more than their share to accept responsibility. Because on some level they know and feel the imbalance too. Returning that responsibility to them, becomes a kind of honoring that is restorative.
 So it is not about simply saying “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you.” Even though these words might come out along the way these are not the words that bring about a spontaneous unraveling of generations of wounding. The potency, the thing that has transformative power, is doing each step of the process.

It is really beautiful work, full of surprises and awe.
Come join us sometime.

 

References

Francesca Mason Boring, Connecting to Our Ancestral Past: Healing through Family Constellations, Ceremony, and Ritual  

Bert Hellinger, Peace Begins in the Soul. 2013.

John L. Payne, The Healing of Individuals, Families, and Nations. 2005.

Bertold Ulsamer, The Healing Power of the Past: A New Approach to Healing Family Wounds. 2005.  

Lourdes Sanchez, Color Abstract #5

How Constellations Work: Representative Perception

Constellations is known as technique to finds “a way out of no way,” as the process has helped many people find relief from old blocks that seemed calcified and unmoveable. Constellations are particularly well-suited to address conditions that have been chronic; for states of mind that have been present “for as long as I can remember”; and for issues that otherwise don’t seem to make any sense.

As the work has evolved over the last decades, each practitioner may take a slightly different approach, refining the process through working phenomenologically, and observing what brings about change for people. What is common to all practitioners of family and systemic constellations is the use of “representative perception.”
Betty Busby Quilt

How constellations are set up


The first step in setting up a constellation, is to get an understanding of the current situation. We look at any situation from a holistic, systemic perspective, starting from the assumption that no person or situation exists in a vacuum, but always has a number of causes and conditions holding it in place.

The technique we use to understand the current situation is to place representatives of the situation. Traditionally this is done in a group, but can also be done in a private setting with a facilitator; individually as a meditation; or in many other ways.

In a group setting a person may want to look, say at their relationship with their grandfather. A facilitator would then ask the person to choose someone in the circle to represent themselves and someone else to represent their grandfather. The person with the questions place these two representatives in the middle of the circle.

Without any special talents or background information, anyone has the capacity to stand as a representative. Representatives are frequently asked to represent family members of a person’s system, but can also stand for other aspects of a system, like a person’s original homeland or a physical or emotional symptom they are experiencing. The representatives usually do not know anything about the person’s history and this is by design. As they are placed, they are asked to simply rely on their capacity to resonate. This is not a special skill that anyone needs to be taught. All of us know what it’s like to walk into someone’s home and have either a good feeling or a bad feeling. We all have had the experience of meeting someone and immediately feeling either drawn to or repulsed by them. This is the type of resonance we are using in constellations.

As the two representatives stand in relation to each other, they become aware of sensation, sound, feelings. They begin to recognize some sensations as distinct or slightly exaggerated. Very often they get a sense for spatial relationships — how near or far away they want to stand from the other representative or which way they want to be looking. We call this representative perception, and this is the main technique we use in constellations.

Camillo Golgi, Cerebellum of a Rabbit, 1882

The representatives maintain ordinary consciousness and awareness. They don’t have to try or concentrate. If the person has an estranged relationship with their grandfather, the person representing the grandfather may be drawn to stand on the edge of the circle looking off in the distance. Through perceptions that come into the awareness for the representatives, a story begins to unfold that tells about dynamics of the situation that are beneath the surface. The mental image that the person walks around with unconsciously is “out-pictured.”

As the representatives stay present, more information flows in, and there is often movement towards resolution. This often happens spontaneously; sometimes no words are needed. Other times the facilitator might suggest an additional representative that can serve as a support. In this way the system works towards reconfiguring, and showing a new picture of how things could be.

Often the way information comes through is metaphorical. The representative makes a gesture that is meaningful to the person bringing the question, that only they could know. Constellations can be like potent haikus. The gaze of awareness is sent back to the moment in time that needs it most. Private winks from the ancestors come through on a regular basis

How does it work?

So how does it work? How is it that virtually anybody can come in off the street, form a circle of people who don’t know each other, and get such specific information? How can the people standing in representation possibly know?

While there are several theories, the truth is we don’t actually know for sure. We only know that it does work and take as our evidence the way it has helped many people resolve longstanding and chronic issues that are emotional, physical, financial, practical. These processes are most definitely able to effect the world of hard matter.

There are currently three prevailing theories for how representative perception works, some new, and some ancient:

  1. The Knowing Field
  2. Morphic Resonance
  3. The Universal Indigenous Field
Julie Dodd

The Knowing Field

The term we used most often in constellations, the “Knowing Field” was coined by German physician and early constellations facilitator, Dr. Albrecht Mahr. He suggested that the field carries information from one’s ancestors to their descendants in the present. He contends that the Knowing Field also can carry information from the ancestors to representatives in a constellation. (1999)

It is as if there is a vault of information that is opened when someone brings a question to a group of people. Sitting in a circle, the group of people creates a field, and anyone who is invited to stand in that field can access certain information from the vault. As a working definition this is a term that has stuck, even though there is not a lot of explanation about how it works — only that it does work.

Cross section of a tree

Morphic Fields

Evolutionary biologist Rupert Sheldrake developed the theory of morphic fields through observations found in nature. Morphic fields are organizing fields of animal and human behaviors, mental activities, and/or social and cultural systems. They contain memories that are built up and shaped by the influences of previous generations. Morphic fields surround morphic units, and are established by the repetition of thoughts or actions. To explain these phenomena, Sheldrake references a series of experiments that defied the laws conventional biology and physics. (1981)

When morphic units are new, they take some time to become established. To use a metaphor from nature, the creation of new morphic units can be like sledding down a hill. After a fresh snowfall, the first time you try to sled down the hill there is friction; the sled doesn’t know where to go and moves unpredictably. But after a few runs, grooves are formed more deeply in the snow. Sheldrake claims that all patterns in nature are formed in a similar way over time, through habit and repetition. New patterns come in to form (are “in-formed”). Similarly once a new morphic unit is established for the first time, subsequent morphic fields for similar units form very easily. As the morphic field becomes more established, morphic resonance is the feedback mechanism that carries “information” from the past to the present, and then to the future (Sheldrake, 1981).

A person’s personality, relationships, and family system are a composite of these morphic units. Any one of these units can be seen as a hologram. When you stand as a representative in a person’s family system, you are interacting with and creating a living picture of that hologram through morphic resonance. Even though you are perceiving and showing one small piece, at the same time it is showing something of the whole.

When we develop a new picture of how things could be through the constellation process, we are creating new grooves in the snow for the first time. It is setting up a new pattern; re-coding the hologram of that family pattern. The individual bringing the question can sled down the hill through those new grooves more easily after it is constellated. They often experience a new sense of possibility, as do the other members of a family system, even if they are not present at the constellation.

Betty Busby quilt

The Universal Indigenous Field

When Francesca Mason Boring saw constellations for the first time, she quickly recognized that practitioners were working with the “universal indigenous field” that traditional cultures have always relied upon, including in her own Shoshone upbringing.

In her trainings on “Constellations as Ceremony,” she explains that indigenous cultures all over the world take it as a given that there is an oracular source that can be consulted for wisdom, healing, and practical guidance. It has been consulted since the beginning of humankind to heal the sick; to know how to feed the community; which plants to harvest and when; and how to organize the community. Every culture has developed technologies to interact with this source. In some indigenous culture there is even debate about what is more real — the dreamtime or the world we encounter in waking life.

“Within the framework of Native tradition, the ancestors can be understood as existing parallel to us. They are dead, but they are not gone. They are a resource, and if there is a ceremony or ritual that has worked for them in the past, it is not beyond them to share it. So, although it may occur in this moment for the first time in recent history, it is not new… Some of the elements may seem ethnocentric at first glance, but with deeper investigation, one encountered the universal indigene.” (Mason Boring, 2012)

As Francesca is known for saying, “we all come from the tent.” In traditional cultures there may be elders or medicine people in the community who are particularly adept at drawing wisdom and knowledge from this fountain of knowledge. But in fact all members of the community know something about it; they know how to use the herbs and remedies based on the advice from their mothers and grandmothers. When they awake from a strong dream they pay attention and listen to its message. They may have a practice of going on a vision quest or a shamanic journey for guidance.

In the practice of Constellations as Ceremony, there is an assumption that each person in the circle is a healer and a teacher. All we need is to be in a human body; our body’s capacity to resonate is the doorway to this universal source of knowledge and wisdom.

“The circle of participants is a circle of healers. Based upon the circles in the sweat lodge, talking circles in many Native traditions, each person is respected as a healer, someone who has been called to the circle by the ancestors.” (Mason Boring, 2012)

Taken in this way, the practice of constellations can help to repair the connection to indigenous ways of knowing that were severed in the Cartesian revolution. In the West, interacting with the Knowing Field may look like a new discovery, and has been very skillfully presented in a way that is palatable to western sensibilities, wearing many of the same garments of western psychology. When looked at in light of the Universal Indigenous Field, we can see how it is drawing on technologies that are ancient and native to human capacities.

This perhaps explains why when people see constellations for the first time, they seem common sense and obvious. And why anybody can stand in the Field for a constellation, and are able to represent. On some level we all know that we live in a symbolically potent universe; and know how to interpret the signs.

In the closing picture of a constellation, when we see a new possibility has been opened, it can be seen as similar to the response that comes at the end of a vision quest in the indigenous tradition. As in a vision quest, the vision may take time to unfold, but something new has certainly been set in motion.

So while how constellations works remains a mystery, for many reasons we can be grateful that the modern practice of constellations has popularized these ancient technologies, and made relevant for our times.

References

Rupert Sheldrake, A New Science of Life, 1981.

Francesca Mason Boring, Connecting to Our Ancestral Past, 2012.

Icones of Japanese algae, 1912