Dear White Friends in Constellations and Healing Spaces

By Alissa Fleet

It is extra hard to be a black or brown body in the United States right now. As a white bodied facilitator I am usually zoomed out watching as new movements unfold. But what I am seeing now is that silence is complicity with the status quo, and so wanted to share some of the guidance that is personally feeding me these days from systemic work.

One of the reasons I have been so drawn to constellations is the enormous possibilities for truth and reconciliation I see, both on a personal and collective level. It is not too soon to start looking at the spaces where significant racial healing work could take place. And so in a spirit of respect for my beloved white-bodied brothers and sisters, I offer these invitations on how we might de-center the whiteness in healing spaces. Because as we are hearing, the shift in perspective that is needed will be ours to do.

1. Do it all wrong.

Mess up. Put your foot in your mouth over and over. Make all of the mistakes. We will not get it right the first time.

It is going to take a while, but we are here for it. The time to do the deepest, most lasting healing work may not be when centuries of historical trauma are as enflamed as they are now.

I can see in myself that even my urge to fix it, “do something” is an expression of my whiteness and being from the class of people who have historically been permitted to be captains of the ship and dictating its direction. Part of this is about letting go of doing it right and doing it perfectly.

2. Acknowledge what is

This is always a first step. Name what you see: When it’s all white people in a healing circle, on a panel, standing at the front of a room, name it. My own circles are disproportionately white and I wish they were more diverse.

Start asking the uncomfortable questions about why that is. What are my blind spots? What are my biases? Whoever did the original installation of those biases likely did so for good reason that may not longer be necessary.

3. Be ready to say “I benefitted.”

In systemic work we are always keeping an eye on where the balance of taking and giving rests — of life energy, of money, of love.

Once you identify an imbalance, there is a new stance you may find: “I benefitted.” These words have a kind of magic that open up a possibility where the balance can be restored. It is not as hard as you think it will be; and the places it can take you are more than worth it.

There must be some reason me and my dearest white brothers and sisters have not yet waded all the way in on the most beautiful work of truth and reconciliation. For some it has been because it felt really big, almost too big to make sense out of. From afar it seemed like it would be too painful to approach; or that if we did, it would mean needing to look into the eyes of a guilt that would be too hard to bear. Looking through a systemic worldview, we can pull apart the pieces into something more manageable.

Humans have a finely developed sixth sense that intuitively knows “I took more; I benefitted.”  Or “I gave more; others are benefitted from me.” We see this in micro and macro forms all day long — in love and family relationships, in everyday transactions. We know what is a good price and we know when we’ve been ripped off. Taking has its place in the yin and yang of life, but when the taking has run wild, everybody knows it.

The feeling of guilt is nothing more than knowing you are on the “taking” side of the imbalance. Seeing the imbalance alone actually sets something new in motion and makes it more possible to rebalance the scales. Living systems are constantly seeking for homeostasis, and so in the seeing you get the creative support of winds that will aid in the rebalancing.

So if when thinking about systemic racism, you recognize a feeling of guilt, look bravely into it. It is a turning point. Simply being able to say, “I benefitted,” is a very good beginning.

And if all of the racial inequity that is becoming revealed right now is a topic that is moving you deeply, consider that there could be an echo of an unacknowledged taker or one who was taken from in your own family system. Either from your lifetime or from a previous generation. 


4. Don’t ask our black and brown friends to hold it all

Do not place the burden of asking the black and brown friends in the room to be the spokesperson, on behalf of all who have been oppressed, forgotten, excluded. Not only is it exhausting, but you miss the precious opportunity to discover the unique perspectives, beliefs, and practices of the multi-faceted person standing before you.

As white bodies we are starting to get the message that it’s time to be more actively engaged. What this could look like in constellations is to be aware of a tendency to ask people of color to represent the outsider, the enslaved person, the most oppressed one. Consider the possibility of inviting a white friend to have the chance to experience these representations.


5. Lift up women and men of color facilitators

We will all benefit from seeing more women and men of color at the front of the room, leading workshops, in charge of healing spaces. Celebrate and find ways to support the ones who are putting their work out.

For the many who will be coming to heal from racial injustice, it will mean they will not have to second-guess what the race consciousness of the facilitator is. And whether the questions on their heart can be held with care.

6. Reclaim the sources of strength in your ancestry

We need to be well-grounded and rooted to do this work. Many white friends are alienated from the indigenous sources of strength in their own ancestry. At one point every culture had medicine people who knew how to interpret sickness or imbalance, go into nature to find the right herbs to take, and sing the songs that were needed. The intentional exiling of this knowledge from the Western world is an ancient devastation. It is one of the reasons many people with white ancestry like myself travel afar, embed ourselves in foreign lands, and ask the indigenous of that place to heal them.

I encourage my white friends to start retracing the routes back to the indigenous knowing in their own ancestry, where there are untold riches. Find and reclaim the lost arts that are yours. Doing so has a way of showing yet another dimension on what remains unhealed in your own consciousness: the ones who were silenced; what was stolen; the ones who took; the ones who were taken from. And how this may be informing the way you relate to current systems of oppression.

I wish you joy and connection in this most amazing work that I believe may be the path to freedom for all.

 

References

Resmaa Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies. 2017.

“Yes” and “No” in Constellations

By Alissa Fleet

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

By Alissa Fleet

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
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