“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.



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

Mysteries of Belonging

Watching a family constellation often feels like seeing a great mystery unfold. There is almost always a missing piece, and when it is discovered, it has the quality of finding a piece of the puzzle that was hiding in plain sight.

What gives constellations the quality of being obvious and ordinary is that we are always looking for simple truths. Their discovery is punctuated by simple sentences that have a way of moving mountains: “You are part of my family.” “You came first.” “You gave, and I benefitted.”

We find our way to these truths by following the Orders of Love developed by Bert Hellinger, which describe how life energy moves through a system. These Orders are most obvious when applied to a family system, but are so universal that they can reliably be applied to any living system.

Kenojuak Ashevak

The Orders of Love

Living among multi-generational families as a missionary in South Africa, Bert Hellinger observed basic governing principles operating in family systems. Over time he found that these principles also applied for families he worked with in post-WWII Germany, and as the work grew, in most every other culture around the world.

In traditional psychotherapy, we usually investigate an issue or symptom, assuming that it is unique to our own lives and our personal psyches. We often attempt to trace the source back to events in our early childhood. In Family Constellations we zoom out and take a holistic approach, looking at ourselves as a member of a mutli-generational family system. No matter what the nature of our family relationships may be today, or whether we personally had contact with members from previous generations, the family we come from has bearing on who we are in the world. We carry patterns from our family system around with us like a hologram, and these effect how much we feel supported and can thrive in the world, and in what circumstances we feel held back.

The Orders of Love describe what homeostasis looks like in a family system, what puts a system out of balance, and how other members of the system unconsciously try to bring the system back into balance. Hellinger named  these principles the “Orders of Love” because they describe what circumstances encourage or prevent love from moving freely through a family system.

The Orders of Love are:

1. It all belongs. Everyone in the family system has a right to belong to the system, always.
2. All who belong must be given their place. Each member of the family system has a right place.
3. There needs to be a balance of giving and receiving in relationships.

Vibrant Owl, Kenojuak Ashevak

It all belongs

This first Order of Love, “It all belongs,” seems like the most obvious. It means that everyone in the family system has a right to belong to the system. However it is surprisingly easy to exclude or forget about someone in a family, either consciously or unconsciously. There are the obvious times when a family forcibly attempts to erase people from memory — the black sheep, the outlaw, or the cantankerous aunt or uncle everyone would just assume forget about. Just as common there are premature deaths, first loves, first husbands and wives, and babies who pass only briefly through the threshold of this world. Many times these losses are too much for the heart to bear and so people in the family put them out of their awareness and try to move on.

All of these people belong to a family system, even when family members attempt to banish them from memory. The family consciousness knows when a person has gone missing. When a person is cast out, actively excluded or passively unacknowledged, the family system will attempt to bring attention to the one who is missing. Even if the person is effectively cast out for one generation, we often see that a child born into later generations, unconsciously adopts their traits or behaviors. They may mimic a form of hiding themselves, or hide an important aspect of themselves. The work then is to see, remember, and acknowledge the original missing person. This gets love flowing again and can change everything.

Raven Shapes, Kenojuak Ashevak

All who belong must be given their place

For all the members of a family system, there is an order that can be represented based on time. For example parents come before children; the first child comes before the second, and so on. If there have been multiple spouses or significant relationships, the first spouse comes before the second spouse, etc.

This is another principle that may seem obvious and common sense. It is simply stating “what is true.” But when members of the system are not given their place, things can really go haywire. They subconsciously become confused about where their place is, who is who, and they may fight with the one that is “taking” their place.

For example if the first child in a family dies prematurely, and another child comes later, the first child still needs to be acknowledged as the firstborn.
Many things can become resolved by acknowledging the first child who died early — or any family member where there is confusion about their order.

People who have been confused about their order feel a sense of empowerment in finding their place. They often have a sense of recovering something that has been missing all of their lives; a sense of finding a place that is more authentic than they have ever experienced.

Ravens Protecting Owl, Kenojuak Ashevak

There needs to be a balance of giving and receiving

When someone gives to you, there is a natural tendency to want to give something back — and maybe even a little more than what they gave to you. When a person takes too much, or takes something they are not entitled to, the system knows there is a deficit, and will attempt to make up for it in some way.

This is not a new discovery, but a very old one. In its most basic form, Hellinger describes the evolutionary impulse to keep giving life energy in the way parents pass life down to their children. Children feel the importance of this gift and naturally feel compelled to do just about anything for their parents in order to give back. Subconsciously out of love they may try to “help” their parents by sharing in their struggles. They hold a stance of “I’ll carry the burden for you…” in an attempt to repay them. This leads to imbalances that we often see in family constellations, as there is nothing children can do directly for their parents to repay their feeling of indebtedness.

From a systemic perspective, the best way for children go “give back” is to say those most important words, “Thank you,” and to let life keep moving through them — through their own offspring or through their creative works in the world. Living into the fullness of the life energy and gifts we were given is a big way to restore balance.

Hellinger stresses that the Orders of Love are not rigid rules and should not be applied in a rigid way. They are the guide that a facilitator checks after a constellation is set up and the first image emerges: “Who or what has been excluded?” “Who is not taking their place in the system?” “Where is the balance of giving and taking out of balance?” The Orders of Love are the map that we follow to find our way back to that the missing piece that changes everything.

Interwoven Owl, Kenojuak Ashevak

“People often treat these orders
as if they were opinions
Which may be adopted or not
And changed at will.

But they are given to us as they are.
They have effects independent of our understanding.
They are not created, they can only be discovered.
We can only recognize the orders from their effects,
In the same way we are aware of the existence of soul and consciousness only by their effects upon us.”
Bert Hellinger, Supporting Love, 2001