I first experienced soul retrieval at Daan van Kampenhout’s training in Mexico City. As part of his teaching on Systemic Ritual he presented this concept to the group. I have met the concept before in my basic shamanic training but had a vague idea of how this could be practiced. We were to think of the times in our lives where some powerful, if not traumatising, events occurred and then use stones to represent the soul parts that were still there in those times and events. Being witnessed by a partner we were to set an intention to call those soul parts back and to use our voice to do it – singing, talking, humming. I have set up two soul parts that I believed were missing since I moved countries several times as a child, and breathing them back into my body brought quiet peace and a sense of completeness.
Soul retrieval is one of the core practices in traditional and modern shamanism. Description and details may vary depending on cultural context and background teaching but in its essence it is a belief that a person’s soul (or several souls in some cultures) could split into pieces and leave the body for various reasons. Most of the time, it will come back and reconnect but in times of great fear, threat, challenge and pain a part of the soul might choose to remain in dreamworld – the realm that we go to in our dreams, the other world, the other dimension – whatever you call it – the place deemed safer and more pleasant for the soul.
If soul loss occurs it may lead to physical and mental illness, a sense of dullness of life, as if something is missing and nothing is the same as it used to be. The colours are not as bright, the laughter is not as sincere and nothing seems to be able to change it – no matter what healing practices and therapy you do.
Traditionally, if I am to summarise this healing practice, when a practitioner senses soul loss, she would journey on behalf of the person to her guides and spirit helpers to get help in finding the missing part of the soul. Her guides would quickly locate it and bring her there. After some negotiation – mainly explaining what happened and that the threat/situation has shifted and the person is generally in a better state – a practitioner brings the missing soul part back to the person’s body.
My experience at Daan’s training, using stone representatives for the missing soul parts, and me doing my own work to call them back and integrate them, led me to using this practice in my constellation work. Two years later there is hardly a workshop without doing some soul retrieval.
A soul retrieval constellation has some ritualistic feel to it and often I am also using a drum to accompany the process, but we are still using representation and sentences to achieve resolution and bring the soul back. After we set up the soul part, the guide or spirit helper, sometimes the dreamworld or the initial event of separation, I usually ask the issue-holder to do the journey themselves and talk to their missing soul directly. This creates a sense of ownership and embodied experience of reconnecting with the soul part, of recognising how their current reality and situation improved since the soul went missing and also how they are incomplete without it. Making a promise to take care of the soul creates new sense of bonding with it, and responsibility to be more self-aware and caring.
On this journey I am always accompanying the issue holder, together with their guide, providing necessary sentences for resolution, asking them to sing their favourite childhood song or singing myself to emphasise the dreamworld state of the process. Sometimes, when I sense the tendency in an issue holder to drift off and disconnect, I introduce clear boundaries between our world and dream reality and only allow short periods for journeying in and out.
This work is highly symbolic, which I explain to the group or in a private session. What we do in soul retrieval constellation affects the psyche as much as it affects the spirit and it very much depends on one’s background and belief system, which one they would prefer to notice.
We all experience soul loss at some point in our lives. Probably many times. We might go on for years not noticing life becoming more and more dull, and attributing it to various factors in our environment. Mostly soul loss is not dangerous but is limiting, we don’t enjoy life the way we could be. But sometimes we might end up entrusting bits of our soul to loved ones who are gone, which then systemically shows up as a desire to follow the departed one into death. In fact, one is following their own soul part, that stayed with that person. In such constellations, doing soul retrieval is vital to one’s survival. It is very resourceful to us saying ‘yes’ to life and letting go of those who want to be let go of.
As a result of such work, often almost immediately, the person feels more alive and vibrant, sees everything around them in brighter colours, breathes deeper. Long term, their energy levels increase, they feel more themselves, life seems easier and more manageable and there is an overall sense of flow.
Aleksandra is a London based systemic constellations and systemic ritual practitioner. She has a life long curiosity about ways to improve life, find purpose, bring positive change, meaning and healing. This took her first into law, then into working with an international charity focused on social change starting with personal change. Following her heart and her path she trained with some world renowned teachers in systemic family constellations, systemic and shamanic rituals in Europe and Mexico. Aleksandra is now holding regular groups and private sessions in London and internationally as well as offering tailored rituals and ceremonies for important life events and healing.
‘Coco’ is a new animated feature by Pixar and it has just won the Oscars!
Ancestors. Blessings. The relationship between the living and the dead. Hidden loyalties. Family secrets. Entanglements and resolutions. This wonderful, beautifully made animation is full of systemic wisdom about belonging, place and movement of families through the ever flowing river of time. A delightful magical watch for constellators and children alike!
Keeping a family strongly linked from one generation to the next gives all members a sense of history, belonging and connection to one’s roots. Some families are particularly good at doing this. Brought together by shared history, values and goals, they practice inclusion, transparency and sharing as some of the ways to stay rooted, connected and strong.
‘Keeping the Family Tree Alive’ is an article from the New York Times that looks at such families, describing traditions and practices that can be of use and inspiration to us all.
The Harmony Conference, hosted by the Sustainable Food Trust in July, was a wonderful event inspired by the Prince of Wales’ book “Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World”.
The conference discussed how Harmony principles manifest in food, agriculture, education, health and music. Films were made of the many fascinating sessions – including Gaye Donaldson’s presentation with Nick Mayhew entitled “Reconciling Systemic Discord”.
This three-day symposium will provide a wide-ranging exploration of the effects of trauma in personal, social and environmental systems. We will learn about the neurobiology of trauma and how constellation work can heal our brains; we will explore personal trauma and examine how, as practitioners, we can work safely with unresolved traumatic issues in a variety of settings and situations; we will look at resilience and resourcing of both client and facilitator; we will learn about social traumatology and symptomatic pattern repetitions, which manifest trans-generationally, and we include addiction and the relationship with early and intergenerational trauma.
When we remember that Nature came first. When we acknowledge that we are not the first ones to solve anything and that Nature has already got all the answers that we are looking for. When we stand in our right place in a long line of organisms and get in touch with the Elders of Nature that have been here on this planet far longer than we have. When we begin to see Life as a source from which everything comes and open up to receive. When order is restored in this way, Nature begins to pass on its wisdom to us in ways that support Life.
Biomimicry is a new discipline that seeks to take design advice from Nature, asking a simple question “How does Nature solve this?’ while attuning to solutions where Life Creates Conditions Conducive to Life. Listen to Janine Benyus talk about Biomimicry in action and check out www.biomimicry.net and www.asknature.org to find out more.
Here is the latest science exploring the unseen source of self-organising systems, resonance and the continuously emerging reality of a deeply connected universe. In systemic constellation work this phenomenon is frequently referred to as the Field. This documentary offers new scientific insights into how the Field seems to operate, offering a glimpse into the invisible backdrop of a constellation.
“What if you were connected to everyone in the world. How would your life change? What if you could see the patterns. See the beauty. New ideas in science deepen your connection to nature, to the stars and to each other. Learn to see the world differently.”
You can watch the full documentary via Vimeo on demand here
Research is increasingly demonstrating that children benefit greatly from being deeply embedded in knowledge about their family roots. The more children are familiar with their family history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more confident and successful they are likely to become.
In this short new interview Albrecht Mahr shares his insights, thoughts and understanding about systemic constellations work. A must watch for anyone interested in the history, practice and evolution of constellations.
As technological advances offer more and more options for families on how to bring a child into the world, a new area of challenges is emerging for couples and families. What does one do with frozen embryos once they are no longer medically needed? What options are there? What do people struggle with and choose to do? How does one make peace with a decision to let a frozen embryo thaw? What inspires parents to agree to their frozen embryo being adopted or to donate it to scientific research? Laura Bell discusses the fate of frozen embryos and the evolution of medical, legal, financial and emotional implications of assisted conception fertility practices.
“I need to talk to you,” my 90-year-old mother announced in a stern tone usually reserved for reprimanding a child.
Visiting her in Florida, I noticed increasing balance problems and short-term memory lapses, early signs of Lewy body dementia. She perched on the bench of the organ my father had learned to play in retirement.
And she began to recite, like someone eager to have her past documented by an oral historian:
“I grew up in an orphanage. My mother didn’t want me.”
I froze — eager to listen, afraid of what she’d reveal.
“My father had tuberculosis and went to a sanitarium,” she continued. “After he died, my mother couldn’t afford to keep me at home. I went into the orphanage when I was 18 months old. I stayed until I was 15. Then I moved back home, where I lived until I married Daddy. I resented my mother.”
I was incredulous. At 53, I was hearing details of her past for the first time. She was a widow, recently surviving a heart attack. I was married with a teenage daughter. Mom had always been private, lapsing into Yiddish whenever she didn’t want me to understand. She’d dribbled out a few facts over the years: My grandmother left Russia after a broken love affair, fleeing to Ellis Island at the age of 17 — alone and penniless. My mother was raised in poverty in Jersey City. Occasionally I overheard the word “orphanage” in hushed tones. I didn’t dare to pry. She didn’t invite questions. Until now.
“When I was 7 they brought me into a room in the orphanage and said, ‘These are your older brothers.’ I didn’t even know I had brothers.”
Mother swallowed, took a breath. “My mother was supposed to visit once a month. But months would pass and she wouldn’t show up.” Her lips quivered. “I never had a mother. Never even had a doll.”
Suddenly I realized why she criticized me for buying my daughter too many toys. “Did your mother work?” I asked.
“She was so poor, she made and sold gin during Prohibition.”
No wonder Mother never drank. I started to tremble. As anxious as I felt diving deeper into her past, I knew this might be the only opportunity to discover why she’d been so distant, running away from friendships and intimacy. Her failing health compelled her to share memories of institutionalization with someone who’d remember.
“I’m stronger than you are,” she had often boasted when I was growing up, proud that she never even took a Tylenol. I was a sensitive child. She called my outbursts “crocodile tears.”
Now I watched real tears stream down the cheeks of the stoic stranger who’d never invited me to sit in her lap. Suddenly she hugged me. I could feel her shoulder blades in her diminutive frame. I fell into a back-and-forth rocking rhythm. I’d cradled my daughter — but never the woman who’d given birth to me.
Together we cried, for ourselves and for each other. Our embrace ended awkwardly, as if we’d been caught misbehaving.
“I once told my mother she didn’t love me,” Mother blurted. “She was shocked.”
Avoiding her gaze, I didn’t admit I’d wanted to accuse her of the same thing. As a child I’d often felt neglected, left alone at the age of 8, not understanding why Mom ran off to art classes rather than spend time with me. Chiseling sculptures eased her anxieties. My father called it “nervous energy,” but she was trying to keep the trauma she held inside from exploding. If I disagreed with her, she washed my mouth out with soap. Once she hit my face so hard for speaking back to her, my gums bled. When I wanted to major in journalism, she said, “You don’t have any talent.”
We spent our lives disappointing each other. I yearned for someone to praise and inspire me, but so did she. We both needed a good mother. She was always protecting herself from the scars of her early abandonment.
Now she confessed, “When I put my mother in a home, it was on the same grounds as my orphanage. Imagine how I felt each time I visited.”
I couldn’t. All I remembered was taking my grandmother out for ice cream on Sundays. How could my mother have kept such an anguished secret from me all those years? Not a word during the car ride from Brooklyn to Jersey City and back. As if we were any mother and daughter visiting an octogenarian in any nursing home. My mother had kept her secret from me all these years — until she suspected that soon it might be too late.
“Don’t ever put me in a home,” she said, sounding desperate.
“I won’t,” I promised, suggesting that she might live with me someday. Even though my city apartment couldn’t house all of us.
“My mother said two women should never share the same kitchen,” Mom insisted.
My secret: I was relieved. But now that I knew who she really was, I hoped my anger would become tempered with compassion.
Her outpouring was over as quickly as it began. Neither of us brought it up again. As she became frailer, I flew to Florida more often. I escorted her to the movies, where she’d fall asleep, mouth agape, waking up during the credits, remarking, “What a great film!” In a dressing room in Bloomingdale’s, I helped her find a brassiere, trying to fasten the hooks with the finesse of a lingerie saleswoman. Hiding her embarrassment, she stared at us in the mirror and said, “You’ve become my mother.”
One night as I made her favorite dinner of salmon, broccoli and sweet potatoes, she asked, “Did I ever hit you?”
“You never hit me,” I lied. What was the point of rehashing that now?
“Was I a bad mother? No one taught me how.”
“You weren’t a bad mother.”
I did my best to appear strong in front of her. I’d soak a package of tissues with tears in the airport every time I left.
She grew to depend on me, becoming less harsh and critical the more I consulted with her doctors and monitored her medications. I was her caretaker. My older brother was unavailable, and my other brother had died at the age of 46 from lung cancer. Fortunately, Mom had a long-term insurance policy to cover the cost of having round-the-clock aides. I borrowed money to make up for my lost income as a freelancer. I brushed her hair. Played Go Fish with oversize cards designed for a child. Sang “Happy Birthday” when she no longer knew me.
For the last two years of her life, she was bedridden with advanced Lewy body dementia and a broken hip. Her eyes were closed most of the time, her body shuddering from jerky, involuntary movements. At least she wasn’t aware that her hands were sheathed in gloves to calm her, or how she was sedated to allow caretakers to bathe her and change her diapers.
She never even knew I kept my promise and didn’t put her in a nursing home. But I knew. It had been a challenge, yet her death left me with few regrets and no guilt. I hadn’t abandoned her as she’d feared, the way her mother had so long ago. The decision to move a parent into a nursing home is always excruciatingly difficult, but it was out of the question for me. I understood how essential it was for my mother to die at home. In her house. On her terms.
Condolence cards from friends kept emphasizing that after the initial grief subsides, memories of a dying parent become softened with earlier, less painful images. After the funeral, I kept reliving the conversation my mother had initiated six years before.
At the time I feared that my promise not to put her in a home would be a burden full of old resentments. Yet if she hadn’t revealed who she was and why, I would have missed the unexpected pleasure of getting closer to her.
A month after she died, I faced the emotional task of cleaning out her apartment. In an envelope titled “to be opened only after my death,” I found a tape she’d recorded.
“I grew up in an orphanage,” my mother’s voice began, and once again I listened.
I made copies of the tape to distribute to her eight grandchildren, grateful that they could finally hear her story in her own words. Just as Mom had chosen how to die, she had determined how to share her legacy.”
“Emerging trends in psychotherapy are now beginning to point beyond the traumas of the individual to include traumatic events in the family and social history as a part of the whole picture. Tragedies varying in type and intensity—such as abandonment, suicide and war, or the early death of a child, parent, or sibling—can send shock waves of distress cascading from one generation to the next. Recent developments in the fields of cellular biology, neurobiology, epigenetics, and developmental psychology underscore the importance of exploring at least three generations of family history in order to understand the mechanism behind patterns of trauma and suffering that repeat.”
“Throughout this series, we watch these women age, undergoing life’s most humbling experience… With each passing year, the sisters seem to present more of a united front. Earlier assertions of their individuality — the arms folded across the chest, the standing apart — give way to a literal leaning on one another, as if independence is no longer such a concern…”
This was a customary greeting between friends in Japan, a recognition that what we reject is as important as what we embrace. I walk with my shadow behind me, sometimes ahead, and often to the side. It is my capricious companion: visible, then hidden, amorphous. A shadow is never created in darkness. It is born of light. We can be blind to it and blinded by it. Our shadow asks us to look at what we don’t want to see. If we refuse to face our shadow, it will project itself on someone else so we have no choice but to engage.”
“When we’re still young, many of us are determined to be different from our parents. We say we’ll never make our children suffer. But when we grow up we tend to behave just like our parents, and we make others suffer because, like our ancestors, we don’t know how to handle the energies we’ve inherited. We’ve received many positive and negative seeds from our parents and ancestors. They transmitted their habit to us because they didn’t know how to transform it.”
In this moving video, John Cummings, talks about his journey of creating the first memorial museum in the United States dedicated entirely to slavery – www.whitneyplantation.com
“The Whitney Plantation near Wallace, Louisiana, is the first and only U.S. museum and memorial to slavery. While other museums may include slavery in their exhibits, the Whitney Plantation is the first of its kind to focus primarily on the institution. John Cummings, a 78-year-old white southerner, has spent 16 years and more than $8 million of his own fortune to build the project, which opened in December of last year.
Cummings, a successful trial attorney, developed the museum with the help of his full-time director of research, Ibrahima Seck. The duo hope to educate people on the realities of slavery in its time and its impact in the United States today. “The history of this country is rooted in slavery,” says Seck. “If you don’t understand the source of the problem, how can you solve it?”
to love life, to love it even when you have no stomach for it and everything you’ve held dear crumbles like burnt paper in your hands, your throat filled with the silt of it. When grief sits with you, its tropical heat thickening the air, heavy as water more fit for gills than lungs; when grief weights you like your own flesh only more of it, an obesity of grief, you think: “How can a body withstand this?” Then you hold life like a face between your palms, a plain face, no charming smile, no violet eyes, and you say: “Yes, I will take you I will love you, again.”
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
These aren’t my hips, breasts, calves, skin, or hair. The curves swallowing me whole, the sagging, the structure, and the shape, don’t belong only to me. They don’t tell my story.
My body tells the story of all the pieces of women who made me; an amalgamation of my ancestry. I am a patchwork quilt of evolution built from the genetics of women who lived remarkably unremarkable lives.
These hips, that can hold two hands between them, and do not fit into this modern world, come from two families full of twins. The jutting swell of my hips were designed to seat a child on each, carry baskets full of food, and swing with purpose to denote the seriousness of my intent. My hips were worn by the peasants in the Highlands of Scotland and valleys of Ireland all the way through my great-grandmother carrying and caring for her six daughters. These hips have purpose.
From peasant hips come sturdy legs, thighs that touch, and thick ankles that only in the last century have been seen in daylight. They look out-of-place in a world of shorts and small skirts, but never doubt their strength. Heels may be challenging, but they can wrap around a horse and ride for days. Never underestimate their sturdiness, children can cling to these legs and animals can run between without losing balance; their stoutness is but a small price to pay. On these legs my grandmother donned her sneakers with her suit, and commuted to the Pentagon every day, tucked them out of sight behind her desk, and typed up top defence secrets. They may not be pretty, but they did their job.
The skin so fair that my friends once described it as “the other other white meat,” has never once agreed with the sunshine. It hails from cloudy temperate climates where the sun rarely shines but the grass is always green. It flushes scarlet in anger, happiness, tears, shyness, and calm. The blood vessels which burst and scatter flecks of red across deathly white skin, and the rosacea which ruddies my cheeks and sends me floundering for lotions and potions is an inheritance straight from the British Isles from which we came. For centuries this skin has fallen victim to the sun; it’s been freckled and aged with liver spots, weathered and leathered, and succumbed to disease. I suppose no one ever told the little girls who came before me, while they read them stories about fair maidens, that their lily-white skin would kill them in the end.
These aren’t my breasts in the mirror, that fall out of tops and break my back. Instead I see them filling out shapeless rough-spun dresses as they feed the sheep and cows or wrapped tight with too-thin cloaks sailing over the Atlantic to a new world. They’re sitting higher than gravity allows, bustled tight with hints of lace as they heave, anxiously awaiting news from the front; or covered in tweed and cardigans on their way to be the first woman in the family to have a college degree. These were the breasts that have sweat over the stove each morning making breakfast, pillowed the heads of crying children, and enamoured and offended men in equal parts. They’ve been weighing down my ancestors for centuries during times when it was already hard enough to stand up straight as a woman.
This body, with its piecemeal parts torn from history may not be beautiful. It may never walk runways, win races, or be the idealized version of womanliness. It is the body of the women who came before me, who used it day in and day out, who needed its strength and curves, and fell to its frailties. It lived through and made histories and brought forth the next generation even when it felt like it couldn’t go on.
Looking into the mirror, I see those women, how they survived, thrived, and died.
The Fallen of World War II is an interactive documentary that illustrates the human cost of World War II. Created by Neil Halloran, this 15-minute data visualization uses cinematic storytelling techniques to show viewers the staggering numbers of people who perished during WWII. Categorised by country and type of death, a clear picture emerges of all the missing ones.
may the tide that is entering even now the lip of our understanding carry you out beyond the face of fear may you kiss the wind then turn from it certain that it will love your back may you open your eyes to water water waving forever and may you in your innocence sail through this to that
“The day my mother died I wrote in my journal, “A serious misfortune of my life has arrived.” I suffered for more than one year after the passing away of my mother. But one night, in the highlands of Vietnam, I was sleeping in the hut in my hermitage. I dreamed of my mother. I saw myself sitting with her, and we were having a wonderful talk. She looked young and beautiful, her hair flowing down. It was so pleasant to sit there and talk to her as if she had never died. When I woke up it was about two in the morning, and I felt very strongly that I had never lost my mother. The impression that my mother was still with me was very clear. I understood then that the idea of having lost my mother was just an idea. It was obvious in that moment that my mother is always alive in me.
I opened the door and went outside. The entire hillside was bathed in moonlight. It was a hill covered with tea plants, and my hut was set behind the temple halfway up. Walking slowly in the moonlight through the rows of tea plants, I noticed my mother was still with me. She was the moonlight caressing me as she had done so often, very tender, very sweet… wonderful! Each time my feet touched the earth I knew my mother was there with me. I knew this body was not mine but a living continuation of my mother and my father and my grandparents and great-grandparents. Of all my ancestors. Those feet that I saw as “my” feet were actually “our” feet. Together my mother and I were leaving footprints in the damp soil.
From that moment on, the idea that I had lost my mother no longer existed. All I had to do was look at the palm of my hand, feel the breeze on my face or the earth under my feet to remember that my mother is always with me, available at any time.”
Do not try to save the whole world or do anything grandiose. Instead, create a clearing in the dense forest of your life and wait there patiently, until the song that is your life falls into your own cupped hands and you recognize and greet it. Only then will you know how to give yourself to this world so worth of rescue.
May the sun bring you new energy by day. May the moon softly restore you by night. May the rain wash away your worries. May the breeze blow new strength into your being. May you walk gently through the world and know it’s beauty all the days of your life.
Amy Bombay is an assistant professor of psychiatry doing research on heightened predisposition to psychological distress among Indigenous population of Canada as well as other places around the world. Similarly to other studies in this field, Bambay’s research indicates that trauma travels from one generation to the next.
How can you know, as we interact today What I can handle? What I need? I’m right here – here with you Aware of myself, what’s happening inside.
If you feel moved, to react in a certain way Stop first, to ask yourself, what it is you need Are you feeling uneasy? Afraid of my pain? Who is it you want to comfort? Yourself or me? . . . . What I need Is for you to just be With me if you can Without doing a thing . . . . Let me feel what’s inside Give me space to cry and grieve Waves of sadness wash over me It feels overwhelming, even to me
Eventually Spent by the forces of emotion within The seas begin to calm Smaller sets swell, then too subside
Quiet inside Feeling at peace . . . . I know who I am I know what I need Be with what is Allow what is to be . . . . Don’t try to distract, fix or heal me When you do those things I don’t feel seen If you want me to feel loved, if you really care for me Please ask me what I need
In this short video Bert Hellinger talks about the art of phenomenological observation and how it can be used to reach deep insights in systemic work.
For those of you who prefer reading, we include a transcript of the video. Please see below.
‘The deep insight cannot be acquired. Not by learning. The deep insight is given to us. It shows. You can’t grasp it. It suddenly shows. There is a certain procedure by which we reach the deeper insight. The essential insight. What is essential can never be observed. The essential things are beyond the things that can be observed. It’s beyond observation. The basic procedure for acquiring this special knowledge is what I call the phenomenological approach. But forget this word. It means you gain knowledge by a certain giving up. So instead of grasping, you take a step back and you expose yourself to a situation. For instance, you expose yourself to a client. Coming up, you don’t look at the client. Only a little bit. You expose yourself, exactly as that person is. Or you expose yourself to a situation as it is. Or you expose yourself to a certain truth. Something that is called a truth. For instance, you expose yourself to what is said about God. Just expose yourself. And you have no intention and no fear. And you wait. And suddenly an insight is given to you. It shows. Outside. Not inside. Outside. Suddenly you grasp a connection. An essential connection. And that is the kind of knowledge that supports this kind of work.’ Bert Hellinger
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”
“In the desert there is everything and there is nothing. Stay curious. Know where you are — your biological address. Get to know your neighbours — plants, creatures, who lives there, who died there, who is blessed, cursed, what is absent or in danger or in need of your help. Pay attention to the weather, to what breaks your heart, to what lifts your heart. Write it down.”
Katy and Justin Patten had four children, but only two survived. They asked a photographer to create a complete family photo capturing their late children at the age they would have been at the time of the shot. The result is a deeply touching image of their family soul.
“All through autumn we hear a double voice: one says everything is ripe; the other says everything is dying. The paradox is exquisite. We feel what the Japanese call ‘aware’ – an almost untranslatable word meaning something like ‘beauty tinged with sadness.’ “
Here is a beautiful example of how a deep sincere inclusion in a family is capable of touching so many hearts. What a difference it makes to fully see someone, to acknowledge them, to give them a place. This is systemic wisdom in action. A movement that supports love in a family field.
Much has been said about the eternal and untouchable nature of love, its tidal ungovernable forces and its emergence from beyond the ordinary, but love may find its fullest, most imagined and most courageous form when it leaves the abstractions and safety of the timeless, the eternal and the untouchable to make its promises amidst the fears, vulnerabilities and disappearances of our difficult, touchable and time bound world. To love and to witness love in the face of possible loss and to find the mystery of love’s promise in the shadow of that loss, in the shadow of the ordinary and in the shadow of our own inevitable disappearance may be where the eternal source of all of our origins stands most fully in awe of the consequences of everything it has set in motion.
Dear friend, when you see A look of anguish on my face Eyes gazing intently Brusqueness in my pace Jaw firmly clenched Shoulders held tight Tears of sadness or frustration Words of anger, malice, spite. Please find the words to tell me What it is you see And remind me, once again To be gentle with me
This video documents new research findings on ways that genes of children of Holocaust survivors mirror the epigenetic stress imprints of their parents, despite the fact that they had no direct experience of the stress. This brings to light further scientific evidence of epigenetic mechanisms of trauma transmission from one generation to the next.
Here is a recent media review of ongoing research into epigenetic inheritance. The emerging scientific findings continue to demonstrate how environmental impact on genes carries trauma and stress from one generation to the next.
‘The deeper our faith, the more doubt we must endure; the deeper our hope, the more prone we are to despair; the deeper our love, the more pain its loss will bring: these are a few of the paradoxes we must hold as human beings. If we refuse to hold them in the hopes of living without doubt, despair, and pain, we also find ourselves living without faith, hope, and love.’
To realise a couple relationship, three things are needed. Each of them is important and not one may take the place of the other.
2. The sexual relationship
The first thing is the sexual relationship. It´s achievement is an essential condition for the couple relationship to be ordered towards the sexual relationship. Everything actually depends on it, for life cannot continue but through the sexual relationship.
In the sexual relationship, love and life come to their most. It is the ultimate stage of our development. In the sexual relationship, the love that is expressed is instinctual by nature and has the most powerful strength we know.
Life is oriented toward this transmission and it is consummated when it is realised.
For this reason, this strength that is behind the authentic life force is, of course, the most spiritual force, the most elevated -I say it to you like this, like an image-, it is the most like God.
In it is revealed, in the most perceptible manner, the greatest there is in the world: the Divine.
Precisely, the fact that we give ourselves to this force through instinct, shows it expressed as if coming from outside of us, surpassing us.
Therefore it is necessary in a couple relationship that sexual love is realised first of all.
3. The love of the heart
Then another element is added.
It is the love of the heart.
Sexual love is better realised if it comes from the love of the heart, if the sexual love means also the realisation of the love of the heart.
The love of the heart implies personal work.
Sexuality may exist without love, and this form of love may exist without sexuality.
Both, sexual love and the love of the heart, are personal realizations.
4. Life in common.
Now one other element is added: life in common. Life in common may exist without sexuality. Sometimes, it may exist without love. We see, for instance, couples that remain together when in truth they do not love each other anymore in the depth of their hearts. But life together is precious. It is also necessary to learn how is this life in common accomplished.
When these three elements, sexual love, the love of the heart, and life in common, come together, with all they entail (give-and-take, mutual help and support), the couple relationship succeeds, and we can grow with this relationship. 5. Love that lasts
The love that can be achieved is a human love, close to the ordinary. This love acknowledges that we need other people, that without others, we wither. When we acknowledge this mutually, we give something to the other and we take something from him. We are happy to receive and we are happy to be able to give, continuing this exchange of “giving” and “taking” in mutual respect, with a benevolence that wishes that the other, like ourselves, is well. It is then when we have understood what it means to love humanly.
This love starts with the Man-Woman relationship.
The rest of relationships will be born out of this love. It is the base of all human relationships and we are pushed toward it irresistibly. Because the man, to be whole, needs the woman, and the woman, to be whole, needs the man. This strong desire is what brings them together. This strong desire, that some call “instinct” with despise, is the most powerful movement of life. It is the one that prolongs life.
For this reason, this attraction and this longing are deeply linked to the Source of Life. When we acknowledge this and when we are in this love, we become One with this Source of Life.
This love and this attraction bring us together with the fullness of life. The person who lets this love guide her, feels exhilarated. From this longing, from this love, emerges the greatest happiness, and also the deepest pain. With it, we grow. He who abandons himself to this love, overflows with it after a while. This love goes beyond the couple relationship, for instance, when children are born out of it.
This love is an extension of the love parents have for their children. And this love children receive turns back to the parents. It is in this way how children grow, until they themselves look for a man or a woman, and the stream of life continues flowing through them. Where love starts, it increasingly encompasses more. It also reaches others, but only if we have experimented it in ourselves in a human manner and we have acknowledged it.
In this sense, the great love is ordinary. This love is strong and lasts.
When a man and a woman meet for the first time, they often feel attracted to each other irresistibly. They see each other as individuals: you and me.
But behind the man there is also his mother, his father, his grandparents and his brothers and sisters, and everything that has taken place in his family -all a system.
I have an image: the whole system that is behind the man waits for the woman, not only him. The same is true for the woman. When he looks at the woman he must know that, behind her, there is her father, her mother, her grandparents and brothers and sisters, a complete system. This system waits for the man.
Both systems expect to be able perhaps to conclude something that was left unresolved in the past. For this reason, the man’s system does not only look at the woman. It looks also at her family system.
Both systems enter a community of fate and want to solve perhaps something specific in this community, to solve it at last.
Therefore, there is no relationship between two people as we often imagine it. A relationship between two is a dream. We are all attached to a field, to a greater family. If someone in the family of the man or the woman has been excluded, such as former partners or a disabled child, or there is someone the family has felt ashamed of, the excluded member of the family is present in the new relationship and in the new family. Because of this, both the man and the woman shall include again the excluded member of the family in the new family. Only then will they feel free in their relationship.
7. Love and order in a couple.
From love and order, which is the most valuable, the most important? Which comes first? Many belief that if they love enough, everything will find its place. Many parents, for example, think that if they love their children enough, the children will develop as they imagine. However, they are often disappointed despite their love. Apparently, love alone is not enough.
Love needs to be integrated in an order. Order precedes love. This is what we see in nature: a tree grows as per an order in it contained. It is not possible to change that. Only within that order can the tree grow. The same happens with love and human relationships: love can only flourish within an order. This order is a precondition, a prerequisite to love. When we know something of the orders of love, our relationships and our love have greater chances of expanding fully.
The first order of love in a couple needs that the man and the woman consider each other equal, even if they are different. When they acknowledge this, their love has greater chances of succeeding.
The second order consists of the balance between give and take. When one of the two has to give more, the relationship is altered. It needs of this balance. When the condition of this harmonization between giving and taking happens with love, one in the couple, when receiving from the other, gives back a little more than the equivalent. This is how exchange grows between them, and happiness for both of them, at the same time.
This need for compensation is also true for the negative. When one in a couple hurts the other, the need to return the hurt also emerges in the other. She feels hurt. From there emerges her belief of having a right to hurt him in return. This need is irresistible. Many of those who have suffered an injustice feel the right to cause the same.
Something more is added to the need for compensation: the feeling that having been hurt gives me special rights. Then one gives himself authority not only to return the hurt, but to increase it. Whoever receives it, in the same way, will return it with some more. This is how an exchange of hurt grows in a relationship. In this kind of relationship, instead of happiness, unhappiness increases. We may know the quality of a relationship by whether the exchange of giving and taking is located in the negative or the positive.
The question is: What would be the solution here? The solution would be to move from exchange in the negative to exchange in the positive again. But how can this be achieved? There is a secret: one takes revenge on the other with love. This means that one hurts the other, but a little less than what one has received. Then the exchange in the negative stops and a give and take on the good mode may start again.
This is an important element of the orders of love. If we know it, and then we apply it, many things in families may change for the good.
One other order of love needs attention, since forgetting it has far reaching consequences. A woman who feels superior to her mother cannot appreciate men. She cannot understand them either, nor does she need them in the end. Generally, when she feels superior to her mother, this means “I am the best wife for my father”. She already has her man, and does not need any other. How does a little girl come to be a woman, to be able to have esteem for a man and take him? By placing herself beside her mother, as the small one of the two.
Obviously, this is also valid for men: a man who does not have esteem for his father and thinks that he is better for his mother, cannot appreciate a woman. He already has his and does not need another one. How does a male come to be a man, to have esteem for a woman and take her? By placing himself beside his father, as the small one of the two. This is how a man learns with his father to have consideration for the woman, and a woman learns with her mother to have consideration for the man.
What happens when a man, “mummy’s boy”, marries a woman who is a “daddy’s girl”? The mummy’s boy is not available for his wife and the daddy’s girl is not available for her husband. They have little esteem for each other. It is for this reason that the order in their family of origin has to be achieved first, until the man is able to take his father and the woman, her mother.
The wonderful thing is that vulnerability becomes the door to intimacy, to being ourselves, to being real, to being where we are. But for that to happen, we have to be willing to be vulnerable to what is. Being vulnerable means that our soul is open for things to arise in it. It is not defended. If it has walls, it is preventing things from arising; it is not allowing the dynamism of our Being to transform our condition. This means that it will only transform in ways that don’t feel threatening—in other words, ways that are familiar to us. But being vulnerable allows our soul to transform into something new and unfamiliar, and that at first is scary—which means we will feel undefended.
In his brilliant TED Talk Johann Hari explains eloquently why he believes the mainstream thinking about addiction to be wrong. Rooted in disconnection and lack of solid bonding, addiction, viewed in this light, becomes an adaptation to the environment reflecting sharply the addict’s struggle to be present in their often difficult life. And so the healing for an addict lies in reconnection, in rebuilding a safe supportive environment for a person to thrive in, to live a meaningful, purposeful and connected life.
Systemic constellation work offers a beautiful methodology to do exactly this: to reconnect an individual back to the full context of their origins, history and life, so as to create and reinforce a deeply connected way of being, supported by the various human systems to which they belong.
Practice helps us develop mastery and skill. Yet it is the heart element of our practice that makes our work meaningful and alive.
‘The Potter’ is a short animation by Josh Burton about the art of working from the heart. It also shows a beautiful relationship between a teacher and his apprentice, an essential connection through which knowledge is passed on.
Systemic constellation work consistently demonstrates how a bond of love between two people can have a lasting impact on family systems to which they belong.
This video is a beautiful example of a lasting human bond. It captures an unexpected meeting between former lovers who haven’t seen each other for many years. When their eyes meet it becomes clear how deeply they remain bonded through everything they once shared.
In this video Bert Hellinger talks about the ‘Art of Helping’ and the ways of seeing the difference between taking the wrong place and taking the place of greatest strength in our intention to help.
The video is in English with Spanish translation. For those who prefer to read, there is a full transcript below.
“Good morning. Now we can start with the work. And in the beginning I would like to say something about the orders of helping. Or perhaps better, the art of helping. Now all people actually are eager to help other people. We can see that if you ask somebody when you have lost your way ‘Where is the right street?’ people just rush to tell you. They like to help you. And whenever somebody is in a real need and then asks for help, we like to help as far as we can. Now, the greatest helpers of all are of course our parents. Parents want to help their children and children, as a rule, can rely completely on their parents for help. When we help others we feel good. If nobody needs our help, we feel lonely. Mutual helping connects us. Now, this is everyday helping.
Now, when we want to help in a professional way, we have to behave differently and even those who are not professionals can learn much if they know something about good professional help. Good helping presupposes that you respect the person you want to help. And very often if you have some need and you express it and people rush to help you, you feel uneasy very often. Because they are not just helping, they are intruding. The main purpose is not that they help you. They help themselves. They enjoy helping. And make use of you for their satisfaction. There was a famous Saint in France. His name was Vincent… He was founding many institutions to help poor people and one day he told a friend ‘If they want to help you, be careful.’ See, you can observe this. If a person is very ill and close to death, people worry about that person. And that dying person has to worry about those who worry about him. They help because they cannot face his illness and his close death. Then they cover up their fear by helping.
Now, many professional helpers help too much. In a way some helpers behave as if they could change the destiny of a person. And in this way they behave actually like children. Children, small children especially, want to do everything to save their mother and their father. We can see that in family constellations. They want to take over from their mother and their father a destiny. And sometimes they say ‘It’s better that I am ill than you, my dear mother.’ Or they even say ‘It’s better that I die than you, my dear mother.’ But their attempts to help to save their parents always fail. And that is an experience that is very painful but they do not give up. When they have grown up they want to help other people, just as they wanted to help their parents as a child. So they are on the look out for people who would need their help and then they rush in like children. And then develops a very strange relationship between the helper and the person he wants to help. Now, if we look at this, who of the two, the client and the helper, is in charge? Who behaves like a child and who must behave like a mother or a father? The helper behaves like a child and this relationship, therapeutic relationship, must fail. How ineffective this kind of helping can be, you can just see when you check how long does a therapy take. Some people go to therapy for 30 years. And what is the result? They have wasted their life. Helping in such a way is irresponsible. Therefore when we want to have the strength to help, we must first give up to help our parents. We look at our father and our mother and say ‘You are great and I am small’ ‘I honour you as great and I remain the child.’ In this way the child can separate from the parents and when it grows up and has to help other people, it no longer has to behave like a child. And the helper says to the client ‘You are big and I am small.’ He can say this, if he does not only look at the client but looks beyond the client to his or her parents and respects them.
Now when we are talking about the orders of love, we can see that there is a certain hierarchy in a system. In a system, in a family system, the parents come first and the child comes second, because the parents were there first and the children came later. That is the hierarchy according to the time of entering a system. Now if a client comes to us and asks for help, we enter this system. The therapist and helper becomes part of this system. Now, if we look at the system according to the orders of love. Who comes first? The parents, of course. And who comes second? The client. And who comes last? The helper. Now, many helpers behave quite in the opposite way. They think they are great and they behave in a superior way and then the order for them is ‘First come I, as a therapist. Then you, as a client. And in the last place, the parents.’ So the whole system is turned upside down and this helping must fail. Now, much of the learning we do here consists of perceiving when we take up the wrong place when we help and to find the place where we have the greatest strength to help.”
‘Chinese Daughters’ is a touching documentary about little Chinese girls who, due to China’s one-child policy, ended up in orphanages in their home country and were later adopted into American families. With support of their adoptive families, the girls begin to face the harsh reality of their difficult beginnings from a very young age. Their lives, equally made up of blessings and unimaginable losses, unfold differently for each one. Yet at the heart of each life is a longing for the birth family, the lost heritage and the missing Chinese roots.
This short New York Times Documentary shows a story of two soldiers from opposing sides who in the heart of war saw the human essence in each other beneath the label of enemies that greater circumstances required them to be. A touching story of one man saving another, the lasting bond of mutual belonging resulting from this act and mysterious movements of the Field reuniting the men across space and time so that the debt of a saved life could be repaid.
Last night as I was sleeping, I dreamt—marvelous error!— that a spring was breaking out in my heart. I said: Along which secret aqueduct, Oh water, are you coming to me, water of a new life that I have never drunk?
Last night as I was sleeping, I dreamt—marvelous error!— that I had a beehive here inside my heart. And the golden bees were making white combs and sweet honey from my old failures.
Last night as I was sleeping, I dreamt—marvelous error!— that a fiery sun was giving light inside my heart. It was fiery because I felt warmth as from a hearth, and sun because it gave light and brought tears to my eyes.
Last night as I slept, I dreamt—marvelous error!— that it was God I had here inside my heart.
Here is a story of how wolves can change rivers. It illustrates beautifully how one input into a living ecosystem can alter all other elements involved. This is very similar to how systemic constellations work, where a fresh input into a human system can create a renewed balance for all members who belong.
In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake, coming back to this life from the other more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world where everything began, there is a small opening into the new day which closes the moment you begin your plans.
What you can plan is too small for you to live. What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough for the vitality hidden in your sleep.
To be human is to become visible while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others. To remember the other world in this world is to live in your true inheritance.
You are not a troubled guest on this earth, you are not an accident amidst other accidents you were invited from another and greater night than the one from which you have just emerged.
Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window toward the mountain presence of everything that can be what urgency calls you to your one love? What shape waits in the seed of you to grow and spread its branches against a future sky?
Is it waiting in the fertile sea? In the trees beyond the house? In the life you can imagine for yourself? In the open and lovely white page on the writing desk?
Joseph Campbell is famous for his work on ancient mythology, particularly the myth of the Hero’s Journey, which this short Ted-Ed video animates.
This journey, when viewed as a cycle, can somewhat be also applied to the journey followed in a constellation. With the help of a constellator, an issue holder (hero) goes on an adventure into a ‘special world’ of his inner images. He faces his deepest truths (monsters), goes through trials, receives new insights and resolutions, with which he then returns to the ‘ordinary world’, transformed.
You are me, and I am you. Isn’t it obvious that we “inter-are”? You cultivate the flower in yourself, so that I will be beautiful. I transform the garbage in myself, so that you will not have to suffer. I support you; you support me. I am in this world to offer you peace; You are in this world to bring me joy.
Lying, thinking Last night How to find my soul a home Where water is not thirsty And bread loaf is not stone I came up with one thing And I don’t believe I’m wrong That nobody, But nobody Can make it out here alone.
Alone, all alone Nobody, but nobody Can make it out here alone.
There are some millionaires With money they can’t use Their wives run round like banshees Their children sing the blues They’ve got expensive doctors To cure their hearts of stone. But nobody No, nobody Can make it out here alone.
Alone, all alone Nobody, but nobody Can make it out here alone.
Now if you listen closely I’ll tell you what I know Storm clouds are gathering The wind is gonna blow The race of man is suffering And I can hear the moan, ‘Cause nobody, But nobody Can make it out here alone.
Alone, all alone Nobody, but nobody Can make it out here alone.
Gustavo Germano captures on camera the painful landscape of absent family members in Argentina and Brazil following political dictatorships in both countries in the second half of the 20th century. In this photography project Ausencias (Absences), Germano revisits each family’s history by recreating photographs from the past without those that disappeared.
Here is a powerful visual record of the missing ones in a family field.
You can read an interview with Gustavo Germano about this project here.
Here is afascinating article from the New York Times on what Edward Ball calls ‘Slavery’s Enduring Resonance.’ Ball demonstrates how the echo of slavery still seems to be alarmingly loud in America’s present. Transgenerational whispers from the presenting past.
Houshi Ryokan is the oldest still running family business in the world. With 1300 years of history, it has been going since 718. Following a sudden death of its 47th owner, the family finds itself in a difficult situation trying to decide who the next owner should be.
HOUSHI is a short film by Fritz Schumann. More information about it can be foundhere.
Tribal wisdom is a big component of the history of systemic family constellations. Here is an interesting article on how parenting is practised in indigenous tribes that remain intact in some parts of the world.
Jennifer Teege is the granddaughter of Amon Goeth, the notorious Nazi commandant of Plaszow concentration camp depicted in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Schindler’s List’. Yet it was entirely by chance that she discovered this truth. In the interview, that follows, Jennifer talks about her journey of discovering her family history full of secrets and echoes of a difficult past. Hers is an excellent illustration of the invisible mysterious workings of an intelligent and dynamic family field.
‘Trust yourself and your instincts; even if you go wrong in your judgement, the natural growth of your inner life will gradually, over time, lead you to other insights. Allow your verdicts their own quiet untroubled development which like all progress must come from deep within and cannot be forced or accelerated. Everything must be carried to term before it is born. To let every impression and the germ of every feeling come to completion inside, in the dark, in the unsayable, the unconscious, in what is unattainable to one’s own intellect, and to wait with deep humility and patience for the hour when a new clarity is delivered: that alone is to live as an artist, in the understanding and in one’s creative work.
These things cannot be measured by time, a year has no meaning, and ten years are nothing. To be an artist means: not to calculate and count; to grow and ripen like a tree which does not hurry the flow of its sap and stands at ease in the spring gales without fearing that no summer may follow. It will come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are simply there in their vast, quiet tranquillity, as if eternity lay before them. It is a lesson I learn every day amid hardships I am thankful for: patience is all!”
Here is an RSA Animate video of Dan Pink talking about the surprising science of what truly motivates us. Through his research Dan discovered that once people get paid enough to be able to think about work there are three motivating factors that improve performance: AUTONOMY, MASTERY and PURPOSE. Companies that flourish tend to be animated by the Purpose Model. While companies whose profit motivation gets disconnected from purpose tend not to do such great things.
In essence Dan seems to bring it down to this. Treat people like people. Pay them well. Supply them with purpose, autonomy and plenty of opportunities to practice mastery and contribution. Get out of their way and you will have an organisation that makes people financially better off as well as making the world a better place.
In this TED talk ‘The Power of Addiction and The Addiction of Power’ Gabor Mate discusses addiction challenging the typical thinking around this issue. He searches deeply for the roots and the wisdom of any addiction, arguing that we shouldn’t be asking ‘Why the addiction?’ – we should be asking ‘Why the pain?’
In this video Thich Nhat Hanh explains how we always have access to our ancestors through the practice of meditation and mindfulness in the present moment. Despite his insights being rooted in Buddhism, his vision is deeply resonant to systemic view on children’s connection to parents.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
In this informative and fascinating interview Sneh Victoria Schnabel discusses her unique way of working with constellations. She describes her method as chaos constellation, talks about working from the heart and the deep intelligence of the Field.