<![CDATA[North American Systemic Constellations - Blog]]>Sat, 18 Mar 2017 09:39:51 -0500Weebly<![CDATA[My teacher, my God]]>Sun, 12 Mar 2017 11:04:17 GMT/blog/my-teacher-or-my-god
By Suzi Tucker
What is the difference between teachers and gods? Between students and supplicants?
Well, one difference is in the level of freedom that they have. The teacher-student relationship assumes the freedom to change. In other words, when the teacher shifts his or her way of teaching or even what is being explored, the student is free to follow or to withdraw. In this freedom, the student allows himself or herself to continue to receive from what has already been learned.
The learning experience is complete with respect to the relationship to the particular teacher, but the potential unfoldings over time are limitless.  In this way, a decision to stay with a particular teacher is not actually a decision to stay, but rather it is a moment to choose anew.
And the teacher is free to build upon the original ideas — adding to, reexamining, reframing and continuing to value what has been even as he or she moves toward the new. When the insights and gathered knowledge of the past can be integrated, rather than dismissed or rejected, the backbone of the future is strengthened.

The teacher demonstrates to himself or herself the expansiveness of the intellect, the imagination, the vision. In this way, change is an easeful, natural path. The past, the ideas that emerged and were honed there, as well as all of those who listened, were touched, and showed interest can be included rather than thrown out as the future takes shape.
The god dynamic
In a god-supplicant dynamic, we see that neither one is free. The god is not free to change, as worship comes with a high price tag. Change tends to disappoint and sometimes even enrage followers. And the supplicant is not free either, as following another is usually at the expense of personal integration, which requires a level of individuation, which is a kind of separation. 
In this circumstance, both parties hold each other prisoner to their vulnerability — the need to be adored, the need to be taken care of.
The follower may have never learned that he or she had the capacity or the right to be self-directed, and so the steadiness and certainty of the god feels like a safe place. And the god may be a pioneer, but lack the confidence to refuse the “role” of god.
The teacher and student are free, because the relationship is assumed to be fluid. The god and supplicant are tethered, as the relationship relies on rigidity to hold the positions in place.
Student and teacher

I am a student and teacher who stumbled into the art of Family Constellations. Like any art, the work moves with life; it flows through the human landscape, collecting wisdom, widening in the hands and minds and hearts of each participant and becoming more deeply resonant in the all of the all.

I look back sometimes and think about what I may have said or thought then — and I wonder what was heard. I have released some ideas from the early time and I have found others. This is life evolving.
But I honor where I have been, the people who have accompanied me, the teachers whose paths I have shared for a time, and the students who have collaborated with me. I cherish the encounters that totally blew out the boundaries of the old familiar and the ones that gently pressed against my certainty.

I honor all of that, and I celebrate all of that as it resides in me. I have no need to erase that time. I could not be here without having taken every step.
As a teacher it is my responsibility to understand that I am simply a student sharing threads of a great assimilation that belongs to no one and is enriched by everyone. Attempting to erase parts of me, parts of my learning and teaching, would mean erasing all those who have walked with me and with whom I have walked.
Instead, I pick up as many gifts as my arms will hold and leave the fields of the past with great love and respect.
I have changed and we have changed, and, in this way, we are free.

About the author

Suzi Tucker will be a pre-conference presenter and featured presenter at the 2017 North American Systemic Constellations Conference  She became interested in the work of Bert Hellinger while editor-in-chief of the publishing company Zeig, Tucker and Theisen. After an active career in publishing, she co-founded the Bert Hellinger Institute USA and went on to study, teach and facilitate Family Constellations across the United States and Canada. She has contributed to chapters and articles to several books and journals; her 2014 book is Gather Enough Fireflies, and there are two new books in the works. Find more at her web site here.

Join us for the 2017 North American Systemic Constellations Conference Oct. 5-8 in Virginia Beach, Va., for health professionals, educators, business and life coaches, consultants, clergy, community activists, change makers and others interested in alternative health and innovative practices. More info here. We'd love to have you subscribe to our e-letter here.

<![CDATA[Through Family Constellations, my parents' story unraveled with depth and honor]]>Sat, 04 Mar 2017 23:12:38 GMT/blog/through-family-constellations-my-parents-story-unraveled-with-depth-and-honor
“No one knows your name until you draw your last breath.” -- Rumi

By Rosalba Stocco, MSW, RSW

When I first heard this line from Rumi, it left me dumbstruck.  What does it mean?  It can’t be true.  My family knows my name.  My friends know my name.  I knew my parents’ names.  What in the world does it mean?
“It means that people don’t really know you until after you are gone.”  That’s what Jacqueline told me.  And then the pieces fell together for me. How sad, my children will not really know me until I draw my last breath and then some?
I then thought of my parents:  Amalia Semenzin, my mother, and Luigi Cadorin, my father.  When they died 20 and 30 years ago, I really thought I knew them.  I knew them as their Canadianized youngest daughter.

Rosalba Stocco, here as the youngest one in her family immigration photograph. She says, "For nine years I was the baby of the family and then came my baby brother."

From that viewpoint, my mother was an unhappy woman focused on no debts and never going hungry.  She was the woman who told me to "be a good Catholic and go to church.”  Her best advice was to “never do what the priests do.”  She said, "Follow their teachings and while you do that, remember that the floor of hell is paved with the scalps of priests.”
So what did I do? I decided that there was no room in my life for the church or organized religion. 
As the youngest daughter raised in Canada, I saw my father as an angry alcoholic who liked my baking and Christmas.  He only spoke to me through my mother.  So my mother would tell me, “Your father says that your gym uniform is too short.”  So I decided that no man would tell me what to do, especially my brothers.  Imagine that going down in an old-fashioned Italian home.
So what did I do? You are right, I became the angry one, just like my father.
As a graduate of a social work program, my mother was an abused woman holding onto her Italian culture.  My father’s violent temper was most likely related to the abuse he experienced at the hands of his father as well as his father’s alcoholism.  So now I saw them as dysfunctional, backwards individuals who needed to be enlightened.  

Yes, I could have been accused of having a certain amount of arrogance.  A little bit of education can do that to some of us.
They were hard workers who saved their pennies for tomorrow because tomorrow there just might be a famine.  
In Italy, they sometimes went hungry.  In Canada, even though by my aunt’s standards we were entitled to food hampers, there was always enough food, wine, detergent and more in our cupboards that would last for another six months.  Because they went hungry they ensured that we would not go hungry.  
From this I learned that I better stock up and save everything that I can because tomorrow there may be no work and no food.   With this influence even on one income with long hours we paid off our first home in six years and still managed three vacations – one lasted five weeks in Italy.
All six of my parents' children believe that our mother played favorites, and of course not one of us felt as if we were her favorite.  Our father treated us all the same -- he ignored all of us equally.  However, he did say there was only one child that he would take back home in a flash—my older sister. So maybe he did play favorites.
It was only when I immersed myself in the philosophy of Systemic Constellation Work as developed by Bert Hellinger that my parents’ story unraveled with so much more depth, integrity and honor.
My parents and grandparents transformed from these backward Italian peasants who learned farming and cooking in Canada to inspirational survivors of Life’s Turbulent Forces. 
They were no longer victims and perpetrators, they became men and women who somehow by accepting the flow of the river of life managed to make something meaningful out of the cards that were dealt to them. 
My father’s Post-traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of his early life experiences, compounded by the experiences of war and immigration, overwhelmed him and all of us.  Now I carry those experiences that can be interpreted as traumatic as my initiation into my family and my tribe. 
My father almost killed every single one of his children as well as my mother – and yet did not.  Perhaps by a hair he stopped himself and we are all still alive. 
Today I understand and in my heart there is mostly compassion for my father and all of us.  Would anyone of his children have been able to endure what he did? Maybe, if we must, we likely would have.
After all, we do have the same DNA, and thus hopefully the same resilience that we can tap into when we need it.  At some level, we know that in our DNA we have an ability to survive.  I jokingly say, that I come from a healthy, strong, peasant stock.  There are no prissy princesses in our family. 
(Well, unlikely, however who knows how many generations back we may need to go to find one.)
My mother has been accused of taking us to Canada for her own selfish reasons.  Regardless as to what made her determined to come to Canada, I am most appreciative of her choice of countries to immigrate. We are much obliged to this country that we gladly and proudly call home.  None of us have a desire to return to Italy other than the odd visit. 
We are Canadians who also happen to be Italian immigrants.   And with the understanding gleamed from Systemic Constellation Work, it makes perfect sense that my grandfather’s oldest son would follow an unknown sibling to the “Americas.”  For it is in this hemisphere, that we have unknown cousins – a mystery yet unsolved.
In my first story, we were a dysfunctional family. A story where we can take the violins out and we can start to compare notes on who had the most dysfunctional family. 
In my second story, looking through the lens of a helping professional, I find all the reasons why my parents did what they did and gave them more labels.
Through the expanded work of Systemic Constellations, we are a family on a journey of discovery. 
Which makes for a better story?  And which story has more truth?

About the author
Rosalba Stocco MSW, RSW, is a board member of the North American Systemic Constellations and an individual, couples and family therapist and social worker  in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. She developed and hosted the podcast "Ancestral Roots," a series of interviews with international experts in Systemic Constellations to heighten public awareness of the breakthroughs in this field in North America.  As a Systemic Constellations facilitator and trainer, she relishes helping people discover that the most fascinating and inspiring family they will meet is their very own. Learn more about her here.

Join us for the 2017 North American Systemic Constellations Conference Oct. 5-8 in Virginia Beach, Va., for health professionals, educators, business and life coaches, consultants, clergy, community activists, change makers and others interested in alternative health and innovative practices. More info here. We'd love to have you subscribe to our e-letter here..

<![CDATA[After the Constellation course, we find the "Accidental Community"]]>Fri, 24 Feb 2017 06:00:00 GMT/blog/after-the-constellation-course-we-find-the-accidental-community
 By Suzi Tucker
So, there are lots of great teachers and courses in Family and Systemic Constellations being offered in the United States. Bert Hellinger’s early view of “let many flowers bloom” certainly has come to be.
But what happens when a beautiful circle of learning closes?
Often, the inspired student becomes the deflated entrepreneur. Suddenly on their own, some former students find that they feel isolated in their home territories or insulated in their psychotherapy, Reiki, medical, or other practices. The circle is no longer there to land in every month or two, a place where being with one another offers a sense of relief, the learning and also the invitation to be who you are full on. The circle is no longer a reliable shape with a seat for every member, no question. The circle is now an abstraction, and though some may try to keep it going informally, the challenges often overtake the momentum.
In these courses, there are the teachers and the teaching, and there is something else: the formation of what I think of as “accidental communities.”

What I mean by this is I come to every class looking forward to exploring in collaboration, to bringing what I have learned and exposing it to the light of what others know. I teach about what we call Family Constellations, which is a shorthand to me for “finding ways to live into the more of life, respectfully withdrawing from the parameters of our history (close to home and in the distance), and becoming well-prepared for the possibility of transforming what was into what can be.”
In this exploration, it seems that participants find within themselves a generosity toward parts of themselves that have been hidden and toward others because judgment is no longer so relevant. Thus, a community forms organically, not superimposed by me and not held together by a common belief, except perhaps that change is possible. In the beginning and at the close, we likely define terms differently but nothing has been sacrificed to a course requirement — and something has been added to each of our pools of wisdom.
Thus, “graduation” is a bittersweet moment. We celebrate in the context of leave-taking, but what does it mean in terms of arrival? Certification is a milestone but not the finish line. Family Constellations, like any art, requires life-long learning. Its teachers are, it can be assumed, continually informing and expanding their own art and practice.
It is a problem that the field sometimes loses very good people to professional isolation and financial challenge. The question of how we can all help each other step out from being “learners within a defined group” to “forgers of a fertile path in a larger world” is something to consider.
Those who have already made this transition can be of great service to those who are starting out, certificate in hand, in the profession and vocation of Family Constellations. Whether transitioning from other professions or embarking on a first endeavor, graduating students need to be in good company even as they step out of a class of good company. 
After some 15 years of teaching, I have created a program called the Mentorship Space for this reason: to support the brilliance and caring of students who have completed my courses or other committed courses.
It has taken this long to begin to imagine what a bridge might look like. But I also see Mentorship in a wider sense, a responsibility to ourselves that is a gift to others.  We can mentor one another, inviting regular dialogue with kindred and diverse natures to jumpstart and then galvanize creativity. Mentorship as a reciprocal adventure can protect one from the loneliness of financial struggle, insecurity, self-criticism, pessimism.
As I have seen time and again in my courses, it is especially the dissimilar connections that often hold the most potential. Would the women of my NYC Open Center course that just ended choose each other at a party? Even be at the same party? For the most part, no, and yet, their dissimilar gifts and challenges — areas of knowledge, rhythms of life, personal Family Constellations — made for a remarkably rich exchange.
We as teachers can look to building the scaffolding that is necessary for being able to successfully carry Family Constellation practice forward. It is the job of students to surpass us. Thus, it may be that we have to find new ways to really allow that. We can help ignite the possibility and then encourage the follow-through. We can continually encourage the connection among, between, and beyond ourselves that will serve them well in the future.
We as students can find each other, and find each other again. We can dedicate ourselves to gathering, to knowing ourselves not in opposition to others, but with growing confidence in the deep and open self, gatherers of more into more.  We can find mentors in every corner of the intellectual, physical, and spiritual world. We can put together our own continued education, gathering from memory into vision.
I am writing this now, in part, as people begin to make plans to attend the North American Systemic Constellations Conference Oct. 5-8 in Virginia Beach, Va. I am imagining that attendees will make a promise to themselves to embrace information and inspiration from every direction.
Even in the corners that are uncomfortable, perhaps there is a gem hidden under the rug or behind the curtain. My own critical self really bores me at this point. She has always been the least creative part and the one who ends up lonely in her instinct to separate. I am thinking that engagement across varied dimensions — as listeners, contributors, enthusiasts, gatherers — keeps us open to the “accidental communities” that can grow in the most unexpected places.

About the author

Suzi Tucker became interested in the work of Bert Hellinger while editor-in-chief of the publishing company Zeig, Tucker and Theisen. After an active career in publishing, she co-founded the Bert Hellinger Institute USA and went on to study, teach and facilitate Family Constellations across the United States and Canada. She has contributed to chapters and articles to several books and journals; her 2014 book is Gather Enough Fireflies, and there are two new books in the works. Find more at her web site here.

Join us for the 2017 North American Systemic Constellations Conference Oct. 5-8 in Virginia Beach, Va., for health professionals, educators, business and life coaches, consultants, clergy, community activists, change makers and others interested in alternative health and innovative practices. More info here. We'd love to have you subscribe to our e-letter here.

<![CDATA[4 principles to guide social justice explorations as we plan the 2017 North American conference]]>Tue, 14 Feb 2017 06:00:00 GMT/blog/4-principles-to-guide-social-justice-explorations-as-we-plan-the-2017-north-american-conference
If we reveal and facilitate these dynamics in a conscious manner, without being entangled by polarization, it’s possible to mitigate the drive to unconsciously reenact past traumas, individually, in families, and collectively in our society.”
By Harrison Snow
The U.S. election is over. We have a new president. And yet not since the American Civil War, from 1860 to 1865, and the Vietnam War, about a hundred years later, has the United States been so polarized. This polarization includes the constructs of race, as well as gender, class, country of origin, ethnicity and religion, to name a few.
However, although our public discourse is divisive, there seems to be an emerging readiness to explore social territory that has long been ignored or avoided.
The program committee for the 2017 North American Systemic Constellations Conference, scheduled Oct. 5-8 in Virginia Beach, Va., believes the conference agenda should reflect this readiness in addition to giving attention to presentations on Family and Systemic Constellations and their innovations.

Therefore, we will be giving space “to reveal and explore the hidden dynamics that underlie the pressing issues affecting us individually and collectively.”.

The vision for the 2017 conference is "Bridging the Divide: Healing the Personal and Collective Soul." Visions are made real by focused action. The programming committee is certain that if we reveal and facilitate these dynamics in a conscious manner, without being entangled by polarization, it’s possible to mitigate the drive to unconsciously reenact past traumas, individually, in families, and collectively in our society.

If we reveal and facilitate these dynamics in a conscious manner, without being entangled by polarization, it’s possible to mitigate the drive to unconsciously reenact past traumas, individually, in families, and collectively in our society.

Addressing the underlying traumas of our social dysfunctions is darn hard to do. The history of the United States is clouded with slavery, ethnic cleansing, discrimination, oppression and exclusion. Our neighbors in Canada and Mexico have their own versions of the same As we surface these collective traumas, there is always the possibility of being overwhelmed by unprocessed material and projections of the past or the present.
Our vision for the conference is aspirational. We should anticipate some bumps and even bruises in our efforts to look at and bear witness to our collective pain.
Quite frankly, constellation facilitators in North America are, for the most part, still learning how to do this skillfully. The wheels have come off as often as not. In making social justice constellations one of the tracks for the 2017 conference, along with family, organizational and nature constellations, we are treading on new ground.
There are plenty of pitfalls waiting for us. Some are known. Others may surprise even the most experienced and skilled among us. You may have seen, as I have, capable facilitators getting tripped up when the process went awry during a constellation session that focuses on a social justice issue.
Let’s consider some of those pitfalls before the conference and avoid them or be ready to mitigate their impact if they arise. We should be understanding and patient with ourselves and each other since difficult conversations can induce the survival reactions of flight, fight, freeze or forget. Until we expand our capacity and develop the competencies needed to hold the tensions and polarities that divide us addressing these issues may induce those reactions not only individually but also collectively.   
Exploring social justice topics is inherently risky. People may feel insulted, judged or marginalized -- even if that is not intended -- or overwhelmed by the feelings of re-traumatization.  
It’s regrettable, but we can’t avoid strong emotions when an emotional topic is raised. We can, however, create a safe space to hold and contain them if we stick to our systemic principles as outlined by Bert Hellinger and others.
Four principles are proposed below to help guide our social justice sessions:  

The right use of representatives.

I have been in social justice constellation sessions where the roles have been predetermined and no one can de-role from them. You walked in the door as a victim or persecutor and you walked out the door as one without a choice in the matter. The constellation space requires that we voluntary accept a role and that we ensure everyone is de-roled at the end of the constellation. Assuming we can assign roles on a permanent basis goes beyond any facilitator’s mandate or skill set.

Everyone belongs.

In an age of extremism, there is a tendency to find one’s affinity group and stay there. We don’t hear the others. We judge them. The space for relating and understanding is squeezed by the instinct to exclude or condemn.
Yet we know exclusion is not a solution. Given the liberal inclination of those organizing the conference would we be as welcoming to Trump supporters as we will be to any other group?  How about member or the Alt-right? Can we represent them and their agenda in a constellation session? Can we connect them to their hidden sources of pain, confusion and support as we would any other individual or group?
We are all in this together.

A constellation session is engaging with and the holding of sacred space. In secular terms, that space is phenomenological, not partisan. We can only walk through the door to that space with a nonpartisan frame of mind. A constellation asks us to let go of own identity and agenda and step into the shoes of someone who might be completely the opposite of what we hold dear.
The key to noticing what you notice is non-judgment and openness. In this noticing we let of our own identity and experience phenomenologically the truth of another no matter how antithetical it may be to our own.

Meeting in the field beyond right or wrong.

Reality shifts when the unseen is seen and acknowledged or included. This is true on the personal level, family or the collective levels of reality. Consensus reality naturally differs for each social group because their life experiences differ. And their life experiences differ to a great degree because of the unseen dynamics of the past that are impacting the present.
Arguing about consensus reality rarely changes anyone’s point of view. We know that yet still insist on changing others, individually or collectively, through lecturing or criticizing them.
Constellations ask us to let go of the temptation to argue our side of consensus reality and meet the “other,” as Rumi said, in a field that is beyond right or wrong. Bearing witness together and grieving over the traumas of the past happens in that field. We can’t control or even know what will emerge in that shared space, yet we can be there to bear witness together to what shows up.
No doubt there are other pointers for working effectively with charged social topics and past traumas that are energetically very much alive in our collective field. 
We hope the 2017 conference in Virginia Beach, Va., will add to the level of understanding and capacity within our community of constellation facilitators. Constellation facilitator and writer, Suzi Tucker, aptly put words to how the constellation community is called to respond the matrix of challenges we face today. According to Suzi;
"Constellations reveal, rather than create. As facilitators, we help gather what has not been seen -- subliminal dynamics, precipitating events, unnoticed resources -- shedding light on "the more" of our source and content in order to move toward "the more" in life. Bert Hellinger said, Peace begins in the soul. This is a profound moment on the planet. With every level of life at stake, every layer of healing is called forth."

We hope to present an article in The Knowing Field that will summarize lessons learned during the 2017 conference – one way we will follow up on this topic. Feel free to post your comments and suggestions about facilitating social justice constellations or other relevant topics on the constellation conference Facebook page or by commenting in the comment section under this article..

About the author

Harrison Snow is the program chair and one of the six members of the North American Systemic Constellations Conference program committee, which also includes Betsy Hostetler, Kathy Curran, Julius Jones, Carol Heil and James Shine. 
Harrison is an organizational development professional and founder of Team Building Associates in the Washington, D.C., metro area. His latest book is Confessions of a Corporate Shaman; Healing the Organizational Soul.

Join us for the 2017 North American Systemic Constellations Conference Oct. 5-8 in Virginia Beach, Va., for health professionals, educators, business and life coaches, consultants, clergy, community activists, change makers and others interested in alternative health and innovative practices. More info here. We'd love to have you subscribe to our e-letter here.

<![CDATA[The Women's March on Washington: a personal Constellation unfolds]]>Fri, 03 Feb 2017 06:00:00 GMT/blog/the-womens-march-on-washington-a-personal-constellation-unfolds
By Carolyn Zahner, LISW

Women’s voices spring up immediately upon Donald J. Trump being elected U.S. president. The energy erupts from the core of the earth and from the bottom of the ocean requiring the full surface of our planet to find its complete expression: more than five million strong worldwide..  

Would I go to our nation’s capital to march? What was my right place? I watched and listened as the leaders and organizers allowed the movement to find its right place. I sat as one sits, witnessing the unfolding of a Systemic Constellation session.

The Response: from an activist’s heart

I was born with an activist’s heart. My ancestors, the perpetrators and the victims, stand behind me, leading me and guiding me on this path. 

Yes, activism can be filled with the same perpetrator energy that one is resisting – the activist’s heart consumed with rage, blame and vindictiveness – and keeping us stuck in old loyalties that no longer serve.

It is a wise mind and open heart which asks, “How does this serve?”  Nevertheless, throughout my 60 years, I was never able to silence my activist’s heart. I was certainly encouraged to. I certainly tried. But today, I respect the necessity of embracing my activist’s heart as the core of my being-ness.  

I have studied the path of peaceful activism through such teachers as Thich Nhat Hanh, Joanna Macy and others. Through Constellation Work, I study and practice the way to be a change creator while bowing to all that is. It is my goal to remain true to my activist’s heart from a place of acceptance.

For me, accepting what is does not require a response of non-action. With my ancestors’ blessings and support, I turn to fulfill my own destiny. It is with this energy that I decided to take my place among the millions of people, led by women, to light a way forward. Ultimately, I agreed with the march’s
mission statement and unity principles. Every part of me was called to be, along with my daughter, in that powerful, unfolding field.

After contemplating the message I wanted to contribute, I decided on placing earth in the middle of it all. For without our planet, there is no point to any of this. I pull in the feminine energy of Earth/HER – for all.  I lift up the U.S. creed, “Liberty and justice – for all.” As I march, I march For All.

The Teaching: the gifts of the ancestors

When my daughter and I leave for the eight-hour drive to D.C., I am deliberate about calling in my ancestors. I decide to have no agenda, open to being in my small right place. I am deliberate about entering a peaceful place and being open to whatever teachings want to arise.

I am grateful to stay with my sister-in-law, whose home is a short walk to the march site. I follow her as we become engulfed in the swell of humanity. I have no physical orientation about where I am or what buildings are around me. We find ourselves stopped – nowhere to move – for hours. We learn that the crowds are so large we are not able to actually march.

As we stand, my experience with others is good will and peace. We enjoy each other’s signs:  the serious, sexual, funny, snarky, angry, loving signs, all included. We share where we’re from and what called us to join this march. We wait. It is enough to be there, still with each other.

I begin feeling pulled deeper into what feels like Constellations space. Something, someone is holding the space. Something is calling for my attention. Feelings of soulful peace, determination and strength flood my being.

I close my eyes, become very still, breathing deeply.  When I open my eyes I find myself gazing at an art installation I had not previously noticed. Two carved poles stand majestically at the entrance of the building near me. They appear large, luminous and closer than they actually are.

My mind’s heart whispers to the poles, “I see you. I bow to you.”

They whisper back, “We have always been here.” 

“Where am I? What is that building?” I ask those around me. I am told it is the National Museum of the American Indian
I deeply acknowledge our nation’s original wound of genocide. I acknowledge the ongoing expression of colonization as sacred lands are desecrated and the very right to exist is denied. The injustice continues as the original wound remains unseen and gaping open. I snap a photo of the poles, knowing they have more to tell me.

And then, subtly touched but profoundly changed, we are being redirected. Space to move into the march has opened. We move forward from our long wait, from our place of stillness. I march with the mantra, “We are here.”

The Return: finding meaning

Upon returning home, I send my photo to the museum, requesting information about the pole sculptures. I learn the title is::

We Were Always Here
The artist is the late Rick Bartow, a member of the Mad River Band Wiyot tribe of northwestern California. He served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and was awarded a Bronze Star for his musical service to injured soldiers. Themes of recuperation and survival can be seen in his drawings and carvings.

The artist’s description (some of which I have bolded here for emphasis) says:

“The Welcoming Bear and Raven, Healer and Rascal, sit atop the sculpture poles; one, slow and methodical, fiercely protective of her children, the other a playful, foible-filled teacher of great power. Both Bear and Raven are focused on water and salmon for serious reasons. The salmon reflect the health of the environment, in particular water, the source of all life. On each pole are repeated lower horizontal patterns that symbolize successive waves, generations following generations, an accumulation of wisdom and knowledge. The tree used for the sculptures is approximately 500 years old. The elders say that the power of the sun is stored within the tree. Essentially the tree embodies the fundamental elements of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, our sacred and precious natural resources.”
His video offers further wisdom: The sculptures are a present to America, and it is time to send these energies – the protective parent and the rascal powerful teacher – to Washington, D.C.  He states, “From inside of me, unbeknownst to me, I’m creating something that is and was and still remains.”

I cannot write about making meaning from phenomenological experience without mentioning the posters captured in my photo of the sculptures. Looking closely at the bottom of the photo I find three posters. Two posters are of vaginas; one black, one white with opposite contrast. The third poster says, “Our Bodies. Our Minds. Our Power.”
Yes, we are and were always here. It is indeed a Women’s March; the fierce protector of her children and the playful, powerful teacher. The poster color contrasts remind me of the inclusion and simultaneous exclusion that are realities in this field. “From inside me, unbeknownst to me, I’m creating something that is and was and still remains.”

Marching On: in the midst of it all   
Since the march, we’ve seen the onslaught of executive orders and protests in response. The trauma my clients are experiencing is a raw and powerful force. The difficulties with intersectionality at the march have been revealed and must find full expression. The chaos feels like it will consume before we settle into the order that is trying to find its place. What that will be, we cannot yet say.

  • May I both welcome and manifest the energies of the fiercely protective mother and the trickster teacher.  
  • May I always remember my resources are and were Always Here.
  • May I march on knowing, “From inside of me unbeknownst to me, I’m creating something that is and was and still remains.”
  • May I continue to march in love, with love, for liberty and justice for all.
My activist’s heart is blessed, strengthened and renewed. My activist’s heart marches on.

About the author

Carolyn Zahner, LISW, is a psychotherapist and Family and Systemic Constellations facilitator in Cincinnati, Ohio. During her 35-year career, she has worked in the criminal justice system, child protective services, shelters and services for abused women and rape victims, and treatment centers for addictions, which has provided her with the full experience of the depths of human suffering and despair.  Carolyn served as co-director for the 2011 U.S. Systemic Constellations Conference and as a faculty member for the Fifth North American Systemic Constellations Intensive. She has been providing constellation work since 2003. For information about her practice, click here. She provided the photographs of herself and her daughter, at top, and the pillars in the photo at left middle; the photo at right middle is from the National Museum of the American Indian.

Join us for the 2017 North American Systemic Constellations Conference Oct. 5-8 in Virginia Beach, Va., for health professionals, educators, business and life coaches, consultants, community activists, clergy, change makers and others interested in alternative health and innovative practices. More info here. We'd love to have you subscribe to our e-letter here.

<![CDATA[Healing autism, from the new perspective of Family and Systemic Constellations]]>Thu, 26 Jan 2017 06:00:00 GMT/blog/healing-autism-from-the-perspective-of-systemic-constellations
“Autism spectrum disorders can only be fully healed by restoring the self-regulation of the system and making it fully functional.”  -- Deitrich Klinghardt,  M.D.

By Jennifer Giustra-Kozek, LPC

Autism and related disorders have become pandemic in our world. Some form of autism is now observed in 1 in 55 children and is growing at a rate of more than 1,100 percent. Western medicine focuses on medication to suppress symptoms, and alternative approaches focus on treating the underlying biomedical, physical, psychological and environmental causes of autism.

However, illness not only originates in our physical body but can also originate in our energetic and spiritual body as well. So, it becomes imperative that we treat the entire person for a fuller recovery.

Systemic Constellations, sometimes known as Family Constellations, were created by Bert Hellinger, a German psychotherapist. This phenomenological method is used to uncover the source of chronic conditions, illnesses and emotional difficulties that may have roots in the inter-generational family system, rather than the individual person, and may be connected to a key stress event.

This moving and powerful work in the family’s energetic field, which is also referred to as “the knowing field,” has been used to examine the emotional factors connected to conditions such as illness, allergies, alcoholism, ADHD and autism. Some parents of autistic children have experienced profound transformations as a result of this work for themselves as well as for their families.

These children are often the recipients of unhealed trans-generational family issues because of their extraordinary energetic sensitivities.  This perpetuates their illness.

Systemic constellation work focuses deeper on the ancestral family blueprint – the family soul. Our souls carry information from one life time to the next and from one generation to the next.

Children often hold the energetic field of their ancestors. This appears especially true with children with autism, because they are super-sensitive and spiritual souls who often become unconsciously entangled with others in their family in the name of belonging or wanting to help restore balance in their family system. The purpose of a Family Constellation session is to reveal that hidden dynamic and point the way toward resolution.  And when we resolve issues in the family history, there are often magical improvements in these children.

The forgotten one

One of the participants in a group who we will call “Michelle,” has a brother with severe autism who couldn’t speak and was very self-destructive. She was afraid that he could never live a more “normal” life because he refused all biomedical treatment and other therapies offered to him. In the initial set-up, the facilitator had Michelle, her brother, and both parents of her family represented  in “the field.”

The participant representing her brother was hiding under a nearby chair and was rocking back and forth. Both parents were standing in the field, seemingly disinterested in what was going on; the sister (Michelle) kept looking down at the floor. Later in the set-up, it was revealed that the sister was looking down at a baby—a baby who had died of birth defects three generations ago and hadn’t been acknowledged or properly mourned.

In essence, the brother with autism had taken the place of the “forgotten” baby. Representatives for the great-grandparents (the forgotten baby’s parents) were brought into “the field,” and the baby was embraced by the parents and a short dialogue was exchanged. The representative for the baby reported that he felt more at ease, relaxed and became more comfortable. A healing took place that was so profound.

A year later, “Michelle” reported that her brother was starting to take a more active role in his recovery and was beginning to accept treatment.

War and mental illness

“Andrew,” a man in his twenties who was diagnosed with Asperger’s, participated in my group. He claimed that mental illness and psychosis ran in his family. He cried as he explained that he was taking multiple medications for bipolar disorder. He claimed it was difficult for him to hold down a job.  He often felt very alone. He stated that he did not have a good relationship with his parents. He said that his mom was “crazy.” The parents divorced when his was very small and he blamed himself and his issues for why they split. 

In the initial set-up of “his field,” Andrew was represented along with mental illness and his parents.   As it unfolded, it became more obvious that something profound had happened in the past. Mental illness began taking on characteristics of a war and hidden dynamics were revealing themselves.

Later in the set-up, Andrew’s representative started choking, like he was trying to catch his breath. He was mumbling, “I deserve death because I have killed others.”

It was uncovered that his great-great grandfather fought in World War I and was killed during a mustard gas attack. Andrew was doing service to the family out of deep love. He took on the feelings of the victim and the perpetrator, which caused him deep inner conflict. Hence, he was carrying the burden of mental illness and autism. In doing this soul work, Andrew was able to find resolution for himself as well as all the members of his family.

In conclusion, trans-generational traumas add to our toxic burden and predispose us to illness. Misfortune or unresolved conflict in our ancestry can create disturbances in the family field, which filter down into the psyche, nervous system and metabolic functioning. Children with health issues are particularly sensitive to such disturbances.

Therapy and biomedical interventions may even succeed better after a healing Family Constellation session with an experienced facilitator. Fortunately, it is never too late to heal wounds from the past. Constellation work is unique in that any living family member can do this intervention for the benefit of all.

About the author

Jennifer Giustra-Kozek, LPC, is a Reiki master, hypnotherapist, psychotherapist, and Family and Systemic Constellations facilitator. She writes frequently about holistic health and safe solutions for treating autism and related conditions. She is the author of the award-winning book, Healing Without Hurting: Treating ADHD, Apraxia and Autism Spectrum Disorders Naturally and Effectively without Harmful Medication. Learn more about her book and her work to spread holistic health awareness at www.healingwithouthurting.com.

Join us for the 2017 North American Systemic Constellations Conference Oct. 5-8 in Virginia Beach, Va., for health professionals, educators, executive and life coaches, consultants, community activists, change makers and others interested in alternative health and innovative practices. More info here. We'd love to have you subscribe to our e-letter here.

<![CDATA[Soul retrieval for a horse, from a constellations facilitator who works with horses]]>Mon, 16 Jan 2017 16:22:13 GMT/blog/soul-retrieval-for-a-horse-from-a-constellations-facilitator-who-works-with-horses
By Sara Fancy

Recently I was distressed to find Diva and Corazon, my two mares at Silver Horse Ranch, engaged in a violent battle. They screamed and kicked at each other relentlessly. Neither horse showed signs of backing down.

Not wanting the horses to be injured, I broke them apart, and each dispersed to other areas of the corral.

I hoped this battle would be a onetime occurrence. Up until now, Corazon and Diva had been inseparable since Corazon was integrated into this herd at the ranch nine months ago. Alas, the following day, they continued where they left off, screaming and kicking at each other with no sign of resolution. Again I broke them up, knowing this was a temporary fix.
I am a practitioner of Systemic Constellations and include one or more horses in my work with people individually and in groups. Corazon, a Mustang mare with a white heart-shaped mark on her forehead, is the newest member of the herd of eight. She had been handled aggressively, and I had been working with her to bring out her gifts and talents, particularly to support her in what she wants to do as a member of the Silver Horse herd. Of my eight horses, some love dancing and performing and some like to teach bareback and bit-less riding – and all of them are great at holding space and facilitating therapeutic sessions with people. I wrote a book about Corazon, illustrating her immediate history and information about her ancestry, called “Con a Corazon, Story of a Wild Mustang Mare.”
Later that day, I noticed Corazon standing alone. Diva was hanging with Jackie and Ruby, all three mares huddled together in the corner of the corral, not giving Corazon the option of joining them. My own childhood memories surfaced of being excluded from the gang of other girls, ostracized for being different. It broke my heart to see Corazon alone. Born and raised in the wild, Corazon was indeed different from the others.
At the same time these incidents were happening at my ranch, I was preparing to teach an overseas online student how to facilitate a soul retrieval. I needed a recipient, and I decided Corazon would make a great case study.
A soul retrieval is the act of bringing back the parts of the person’s soul that have been denied, negated or lost from the person, often due to a traumatic event. I often include soul retrieval work during a  Systemic Constellations session, which looks at what is missing or excluded from the system. A soul retrieval can be done remotely within the format of an inner shamanic journey, and it was in this way I was going to teach my student.

What follows is the transcript of the journey I did for Corazon, which involved going to the “upper world,” where I met my spiritual teacher who helped me in my healing quest for Corazon.

The healing quest

We’re in the upper world and it’s sunny. It looks like it was raining. It feels familiar, like I'm going home. There are colored leaves on the ground, and little cottages scattered along this small street. I notice there are no cars. 

I see my teacher waiting for us at his garden gate, and he takes my hand in his. His hand is warm and he’s happy to see me, and I‘m happy to see him. I introduce him to my helpers who are with me.

He’s leading us to a garden in the back; it’s very private. We’re sitting at the table now. He has a cup of tea for me, and it’s all very nice.

I tell him why I came.

‘I’m here to retrieve the parts of the soul for Corazon, my mare, to help her with what she's going through right now. She’s being excluded from the herd, violently, it’s horrible.”

He looks at me, and I feel an energetic exchange through our eyes.

He’s showing me – he’s showing me her as a foal – and she’s terrified, she’s running and running and she's by herself, and her eyes are huge. She’s probably four months old, she’s been separated from her family, her mother her siblings – her band – and there’s a helicopter hovering above.

It’s very loud. I feel tightness in my throat. She’s in shock, literally frozen in her tracks. She doesn’t understand what’s happening to her. She never sees her mother and siblings again, and she's being pushed into a corral. She’s giving up, and this is when her soul leaves – the moment she's pushed into captivity. 

I call on her ancestors: her mother, father, uncles, aunts, grandparents, her herd. I call on them to support her so she knows she came from somewhere, a strong lineage of horses who've survived through hundreds of years, on their own.

They surround her. She’s in the middle of a circle of her ancestors – hundreds and hundreds of horses. I hear their gentle nickers and deep sighs. They’re sending her love and sending her the memory of where she comes from.

She’s feeling safe, her eyes soften. She lays down in a sitting position. They tell Corazon: you will hear us coming through the vibrations of the earth and you can connect to us in this way. They are giving Corazon a tool, a way in which she can connect to them and call on them because the earth is like a drum and holds the memory.

Now she’s getting softer and warmer in her body, and her ancestors are forming a protective ring of light around her. The healing is happening for her. From their hearts they’re sending out a thread of light, hundreds and hundreds of horses sending light from their hearts to hers. She takes it in. Her eyes close. This is good – she’s getting what she needs. My teacher is telling me to let it play out. I thank my teacher for helping Corazon.


After the soul retrieval session, I go outside to see Corazon. She is happy to see me, and she allows me to blow into her body the missing parts of her soul held in a quartz crystal.

Since this journey for Corazon there has been a noticeable shift within the herd. Corazon and Diva are again best friends. With Corazon accepting her place in the herd, equilibrium has been restored. 

About the author
Sara Fancy is founder and director of Silver Horse Retreat in Ranchita, Calif. She has presented workshops at the 2013 and 2015 North American Systemic Constellations Conferences. She has contributed a chapter on horse constellations in the book Returning to Membership in Earth Community: Systemic Constellations with Nature and has written for The Knowing Field, the English-language journal for Family and Systemic Constellations. She offers transformational intensives, mentorships, trainings, retreats and private sessions. She took the photograph of Corazon, which accompanies this article.

Join us for the 2017 North American Systemic Constellations Conference Oct. 5-8 in Virginia Beach, Va., for health professionals, educators, executive and life coaches, consultants, community activists, change makers and others interested in alternative health and innovative practices. More info here. We'd love to have you subscribe to our e-letter here.

<![CDATA[The day escalators became scary and the day the mystery was solved for good]]>Fri, 13 Jan 2017 06:00:00 GMT/blog/the-day-escalators-became-scary-and-the-day-the-mystery-was-solved-for-good
By Karen Carnabucci, LCSW, TEP

For most of her life, Lucille had loved escalators – those amazing and efficient moving staircases that smoothly glided up and down in department stores, hotels and airports.  She marveled at their construction and how they made life and travel easy and convenient.
Then one day, there was nothing marvelous, easy or convenient about escalators.
She was surprised – and shocked – that escalators suddenly seemed very scary. In fact, she found herself panic stricken when she stood at the top of the smoothly running steps of an escalator.
Just the thought of placing her right foot on the first step as the stair moved downwards felt serious, like certain death.
She knew that this frozen and body-tightening experience would be called a “phobia” in the world of mental health but felt embarrassed to discuss this strange experience with anyone.

This panicky feeling was not only embarrassing, it was also awkward. She often traveled and often stood frozen at the top edge of the escalator while pedestrians hurried past. More often than not, she retreated to hunt for the stairs or the elevator, or both. They weren’t always easy to find and especially inconvenient if she was toting a cumbersome suitcase.
But most of all she was mystified.
She had used escalators for decades in stores, airports, subways, museums, hotels and other places. She couldn’t remember a single painful or difficult incident on escalators recently or as a child. If anything, escalators had been common during her travels for business and pleasure through the years.
Then one day, she and her husband were offered a gift certificate to a bed and breakfast inn in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. She breathed a sigh of relief – no escalators there! – and they drove to the inn, formerly a  copper baron’s  fancy mansion, in the small town that was the center of the highly prosperous copper mining industry in the 1800s and early 1900s.
On a whim, she had her husband decided to visit an old mining site that had been turned into a museum.
After the couple wandered through the various displays, they arrived at the main feature of the museum – the actual mine shaft where the miners descended into the darkness of the mine, going deep underground to chisel out the copper in the rocks.
The miners entered and exited the shaft by a crude kind of moving wooden stairs where men sat three abreast, shoulder to shoulder. The photo display showed actual miners -- likely immigrants from various countries of Europe -- on the steep stair, lunch buckets cradled on their laps, their faces dirty and grim.
Lucille remembered that her paternal grandfather, an immigrant from Italy, had toiled in the coal mines in western Pennsylvania in the early 1900s. She realized that the mining companies there probably used a similar mechanism to take miners into the earth.
She imagined the incredible fear that men like her grandfather and others must have felt on the first day that they were instructed to enter the mine. How terrifying it must have been for these men, used to picking lemons and olives in the bright sunlight of their homeland, to descend into pitch darkness of noise, dirt and dampness.
Because Lucille was familiar with Family Constellations and ancestral trauma, she understood that remnants of her grandfather’s terror had awakened within her.
Back home, she shared her new awareness with her constellation group and began to experience a great appreciation for the sacrifices that her immigrant grandfather, coming from a poor village, made daily to financially support his family.
The facilitator gave Lucille an opportunity to step into the field, as the space for healing work is often called, to thank the grandfather for his sacrifices and acknowledge his courage in facing his daily terror.
She was directed in a simple ritual to build upon that acknowledgement. She began to feel her tension loosen, with tears coming to her eyes. She remembered her father telling the family how his father seemed angry all the time and “was mean to us kids.” She knew that men of the grandfather's generation did not talk of embarrassment or shame and certainly did not seek out psychotherapy to discuss their feelings and troubles.
After her constellation session, she continued to repeat thoughts of appreciation and gratitude, sending them to the spirit of her grandfather. When she left for her next trip, she stepped on the escalator with ease – and a great sense of gratitude.

About the author
Karen Carnabucci, LCSW, TEP, is a board-certified psychodrama trainer and certified constellations facilitator and trainer in private practice in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. She has presented at many state and national conferences, including the 2011 and 2015 constellations conferences. She is the author of Integrating Psychodrama and Systemic Constellation Work: New Directions for Action Methods, Mind-Body Therapies and Energy Healing and other books about alternative psychotherapies and methods. Learn more about Karen and her books, programs and trainings here.

Join us for the 2017 North American Systemic Constellations Conference Oct. 5-8 in Virginia Beach, Va., for health professionals, educators, executive and life coaches, consultants, community activists, change makers and others interested in alternative health and innovative practices. More info here. We'd love to have you subscribe to our e-letter here.

<![CDATA[Family and Systemic Constellations: a method, approach, therapy or something else?]]>Wed, 04 Jan 2017 06:00:00 GMT/blog/family-constellations-a-method-approach-therapy-or-something-else
By Alemka Dauskardt, M.A. Psych

Family and Systemic Constellations are  a living and growing body of knowledge that is mostly discovered through an experiential method of inquiry.

It successfully resists any attempts to be comprehensively defined. As soon as we say anything about it, including how it came about or who “invented” it, as soon as we call it this or that way, there is a myriad of voices who offer a different perspective.

Risking that, I offer my view that Family Constellations have been developed by Bert Hellinger, a German psychotherapist, as an innovative and original approach, through synthesis of many different modalities and strands of knowledge coupled with his own phenomenological insights.

It was originally applied within a psychotherapy framework as a method of offering professional help in ameliorating some of life’s difficulties which are encountered in everyday living. At the beginning it was maybe merely a method in which unrelated persons were set up to represent family members, and through which we gained a direct insight into the dynamics operating in the system being set up.

A peculiar phenomenon which became apparent through these “set ups” was that strangers somehow picked up the information about the family members when they were set up to represent them.

This phenomenon of “representative perception,” which was informed by what was later referred to as “the knowing field” allowed us to gain insight into the particular family dynamics, the blockages and all, and then also to balance, to unblock, to restore, or to include, which often brought relief and healing.

The phenomenon of the knowing field and of the ability to gain direct knowledge about any human system through representative’s perception has become a hallmark of the constellation method which distinguishes it from any other. So, “constellations” are a method of setting up, the doing of it aptly named “constellating.”

As constellation after constellation was set up, with the same phenomena being observed, firstly by Hellinger and then many others, and in many different cultures all over the world, it became obvious that we are not only dealing with a method of therapy but also learning something important about how our relationships operate.

The universal laws of life, often called the “orders of love” started to emerge and revealed a view of most intricate, co-dependent network of interrelationships in human systems, governed by mighty forces which followed their own logic, unrelenting in pressures they exert on us. And which we are totally oblivious about. Through constellation method, we started to re-discover the ancient knowledge available to many traditional tribal cultures, all but lost for us, the inhabitants of modern world.

This knowledge, this time coming to us through the phenomenological insight gained through many constellation set ups, became intrinsic to what we today refer as the Family or Systemic Constellations approach.

It is a new body of knowledge of human relationships, which concerns the orders that operate in our relationships, the importance of systemic conscience as well as the awareness about how these are being played out in partner or parent-children relationships, relationships to our ancestors, relationship between victims and perpetrators, national conflicts and reconciliation, and relationship to the Spirit.

It allows us to look at some of the most difficult issues we as humans face in our lives and it guides our interventions. It also sometimes allows the opportunity to alleviate profound suffering.  In that it is the most powerful approach I have come across, and many others who encountered it around the world agree. Its popularity has been increasing steadily, the enthusiasm and acclaim by which it is met only matched by the controversy it also regularly elicits from more established disciplines.

Out of this experiential knowledge gained through many a constellation, the view of the world emerged which we can not ignore but by which our established worldview is deeply challenged and with it some crucial concepts that it rests on: like the very notion of good and bad, conscience, independence, freedom, free choice, rationalism and individuality, dualism of matter and non-matter, separation of body and soul – and other.

However, if we take the phenomena we observe in constellations seriously, then a whole new world opens up to us. This world is uncharted, reveals itself to us only in the next step, is mysterious, deep and powerful, limitless, conscious, living, breathing and above all – loving.

Available to us only if we approach it from below, humbly, sticking closely to the ground, with respect and no intention, only helpful if nothing is demanded. Learning how to navigate through this world requires years of learning, purification and spiritual discipline, the learning that never stops as new, ever more astonishing vistas open in front of our (closed) eyes.

So, what is a constellation? What does it mean to constellate? Who or what helps in constellations? Can it be practised within a psychotherapy or any other framework?
One can, maybe, only use “constellation method” without applying “constellation approach,” or apply “constellation approach” without adopting the “constellation world view” which lurks behind.

The question of “what is a constellation” or “what is a Family Constellation” can only be answered by individuals who are on different stages of walking the constellation path and the answer will be different for everyone. Also, constellations keep changing, growing from method into a science of human relationship into a world view.
The insights gained through constellations also reveal that the “orders of love,” whose universality and immutability we only just discovered, might be changing. In addition, the founder of the constellation approach keeps developing it further, claiming that what we have put much effort to learn so far is already superseded by new ways of family constellating.
No wonder we have difficulty explaining what it is we do when we offer constellations! No wonder every attempt among the practitioners to find this one definition of “Family Constellations” remains elusive.
This also makes Family Constellations a unique discipline, different from any other. It is in constant flux, can become known only through our own personal, individual perspective, is experiential and essentially undefinable.
If I have learned anything in my twenty-something years of “constellation contact,” it is that it always keeps me on my toes, requiring constant learning, re-learning, letting go, challenging assumptions and change. By now, I am certain there is no end to that – there is always more!

About the author
Alemka Dauskardt, MA Psych, is a Systemic Constellations practitioner in Zagreb, Croatia. She offers constellation workshops and education in Croatia and elsewhere, translates constellation literature and promotes constellation work in various ways. She is an active member of the
International Systemic Constellations Association and a regular contributor to The Knowing Field journal. She expects to attend the 2017 North American Systemic Constellations Conference. Learn more here.

Join us for the 2017 North American Systemic Constellations Conference Oct. 5-8 in Virginia Beach, Va., for health professionals, educators, executive and life coaches, consultants, community activists, change makers and others interested in alternative health and innovative practices. More info here. We'd love to have you subscribe to our e-letter here.

<![CDATA[How a non-judgmental stance helps when facilitating difficult conversations about diversity]]>Wed, 28 Dec 2016 06:00:00 GMT/blog/how-a-non-judgmental-stance-helps-when-facilitating-difficult-conversations-about-diversity
By Harrison Snow
Trauma results when an individual or group suffers a natural or man-made catastrophe.
If the suffering is strong enough, a certain amount of associated feelings and memories are repressed as a survival strategy. Trauma and its repression can occur on an individual, family, organizational or social level. The strategy of denial, repression or addiction may provide some refuge from the pain. However, the price is steep and symptoms often occur as a silent call for help.
Facilitating a discussion about diversity often raises issues about race, class, gender and criminal justice, to name a few. These topics are hugely difficult to discuss in a group because of the intensity of feelings that may emerge. Feelings and judgments can spring not only from an individual’s personal history but also from unresolved family and social trauma that has been stored in the individual and collective subconscious.

You may have seen how these discussions generate high levels of projection, intensity of feelings, judgments and a demonization of the “other.” People who are emotionally triggered by a difficult topic often no longer see or hear the person they are actually talking to. When this occurs, curiosity, openness and the ability to listen empathically are lost.
If a charged situation occurs, it is essential for the facilitator stay grounded, nonjudgmental and neutral. If the facilitator takes sides, the level of emotional safety for at least part of the group will evaporate, along with the possibility of learning. If we lose sight of our shared humanity and slip into survival mode – fight, flight or freeze – the frozen past will continue to recreate itself. Slavery, the Holocaust and the systemic abuse of groups like women and indigenous peoples are examples of traumas that still reside within one or more of those levels ranging from the individual to the collective.
The constellation process developed by Bert Hellinger, a German psychotherapist, is one way to explore the impact of the past on the present without being overwhelmed by it.
First, the process allows us to strengthen the inner sources of support the participants can draw upon. A stronger and more resilient sense of self helps the participants find more inner space and a grounded presence to speak their truth and hear the truth of others.
Second, the process enables the participants to connect with some aspect of the past that resides within their personal, family and/or social collective unconsciousness. How or why this works we don’t know. But since it does work we can make use of it to make visible an imprint of a trauma even if it occurred long ago.
Third, if we are willing to suspend our assumptions and preconceptions, even for a few minutes, it is possible to step outside our normal worldview and get the visceral sense of a worldview we might avoid, disagree with or even deplore. This is not a cognitive process. It is embodied and therefore easier to grasp through the body instead of the mind.
The closest corollary is the oft-cited injunction to walk a mile in your opponent’s shoes. Understanding is the antidote to judgment. From a place of mutual understanding, we can slip out of the predetermined roles that play out in Karpman’s Drama Triangle, which identifies the charged interactions of the victim, rescuer and persecutor. Stepping out of those roles, we step out of the trance state imposed by the triangle and see each other with new eyes.
The facilitator who is aware of the influences of his or her personal, family or group history has more capacity to respond in a conscious manner to the needs of the moment. The modus operandi of the drama triangle is to claim the role of the victim or rescuer for oneself and project the role of perpetrator on the other. Even disagreement about minor details can invoke the perception that those who hold a different opinion are in the camp of the perpetrator. Such conversations can increase the sense of social alienation by fostering judgment and exclusion that seem justified.
Topics which reflect the polarity of being right or wrong or good or bad can threaten one's sense of self, especially if that sense of self is fragile. Not talking about difficult topics, however, is not a long-term solution. One's sense of safety is always at risk because of the tension is sublimated and projected on to one’s environment. This dynamic occurs at the individual, group, family and national levels. Various political or social movements can exploit these dynamics to gain followers and wield influence.
If we explore this frozen past we are less likely to recreate it. What keeps us locked in the frozen past? Blame, shame and denial are coping mechanisms that stop the process of grieving or compassion. These same mechanisms keep people entangled with each other in the drama triangle. When the events that need grieving go back to previous generation, our minds and mental concepts fail us. Melting the frozen past comes about not through judgment but from grieving together.
Seeing with new eyes enables us to transcend the polarities that define an issue. This inner movement opens up more space in the system. Energies long trapped or forgotten are able to surface and move. That seeing and what is evoked allow something to be completed that was incomplete. In its deepest movement, the essence of peace and balance are being restored. Truth and reconciliation committees in post conflict countries to a great extent employee the same principles. We have to surface “what happened” and then bear witness without judgment.
The constellation process maps “what happened” systemically by asking what are the component parts and how do they relate to each other. Participants are asked to represent the different parts and notice how they respond to each other. Although they may have little factual knowledge of the issue, the information needed resides within the subconscious. Finding a way to acknowledge what happened, happened, can give everyone in the trauma a place to stand that protects their dignity but does not avoid responsibility.   
The doorway to the subconscious is through emotions that are rooted in the physical body. If we can tune in to what we are feeling physically and emotionally and allow it to express through us, new insights will emerge that the rational mind could not access. No matter what group we belong to or identify with we are connected to and part of the reality we are co-creating as a society.
A recent example of this process was the frustrations of the diversity specialist in a large organization. He was frustrated that the leadership team showed little interest in discussion about diversity or equal opportunity. He and others believed the leadership team was biased and unwilling to hear the concerns of those who felt disenfranchised.
How could he advance any meaningful discussion or initiative when the leadership team seemed so unreceptive? Representatives were selected and placed in physical relationship to each other for the leadership team, the coordinator and the employees.        
The facilitator noticed that the representative for the diversity specialist was not looking at the leadership team or the employees but gazed at a point several feet away. The leadership team also seemed unable to make eye contact. The employees seemed in their own world, isolated from the others.
A representative was placed in the empty spot where the specialist was looking. The representative reported that he was “old deep pain” that was yet to be looked at. It was likely this pain was in the personal or family system of the specialist. It was also possible if not probable that the pain was in the organizational and social system everyone belonged to.
The specialist was asked to point out this pain to the employees and the leadership team. He was not blaming the leaders or the employees. The pain had been around a long, long time. It needed to be seen and acknowledged. It was difficult to look at but he would do all he could to support the leadership team and the employees in looking at it without condemnation.
As these words were spoken, everyone in the group relaxed and looked at each other. They felt better and ready to relate to each other. The actual specialist shared he gained an insight from the constellation and could now see new possibilities for discussing diversity issues in his organization.

About the author
Harrison Snow is an organizational development professional and founder of
Team Building Associates in the Washington, D.C., metro area. He is the program chair for the upcoming 2017 North American Systemic Constellations Conference in Virginia Beach, Va., andwas a featured presenter at the 2015 North American Systemic Constellations Conference in San Diego. His book, Confessions of a Corporate Shaman: Healing the Organizational Soul, about using constellations in an organizational setting, was recently published by Regent Press.

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