Friday, August 3, 2012

The Bed Woman and Foster Care

The Side-by-Side Community Circle is a weekly free dinner and support group in Boston. An African American woman asked for a Constellation to help with her 21 year-old twin daughters. One is emotionally close, but lives 800 miles away. The other one lives nearby; she treats her mother with disdain. 

Eighteen years ago, the mother was arrested on drug charges. A social worker from the State Department of Family Services recommended the daughters be placed in foster care. This case worker promised after 6-12 months, if the mother successfully completed treatment, the children would be returned. The mother met these conditions. However, her daughters remained in foster care for 15 years. The mother made numerous requests and filings to terminate DFS control, all unsuccessful. In the eyes of the State, the stigma of being a teen mother, drug addict and convicted felon made her permanently unfit to care for her children. The girls were shuttled between several foster homes. They reported being abused. The twin who is estranged calls one foster mother her “real” mother. 

Crying as she spoke, the mother said her heart is bursting with love, guilt and unbearable pain. She asked us for a Constellation to melt the barriers that keep her distanced from her children. The Constellation began with the female line – daughters, mother and grandmother. Each felt the pattern of ill-will, loneliness, and disconnection. The mother recalled family lore that a great-grandmother from slavery days was a bed-woman for a plantation owner. This was a slave who provided on-demand sexual relations for the Master. When she became pregnant and gave birth, the child was given to field hands, making the baby an orphan with neither mother nor father. 

Putting in a representative for this ancestral mother and her child energized the women. I added a representative for the Master, his white wife and their son. Filling in the white great-grandchildren to the present generation, the descendants of the Master, wife and bed-woman formed two parallel lines, one black, the other white. They were related by common ancestry, but opposed in their lives and experiences. 

It became suddenly clear that we were diagramming both the extended family and the foster care system itself. Not necessarily factually, but culturally, the children of the Master and his wife became the judges, legislators, and social workers who determined the mothers descended from the bed-woman were unfit. The African American descendants suffered from profound alienation and loneliness which expressed itself in the inebriation of heroin and alcohol, teen pregnancies, abusive parenting and persistent poverty. 

The bed-woman’s children, while biologically mixed-race, were seen by all as black. The universal acceptance of this biologically false reality fuels the social insanity that is part of the foster care system. The irresolvable conflict between the inherited (genetic) consciousness that remembers the truth and the personal consciousness that denies it binds the barrier between daughters and mothers. 

This particular mother, and her mother and grandmother, had partnered with older men of higher caste who related to them as cold and distant figures of male authority. This suggested that the bed-woman’s child’s yearning for her inaccessible father remained active for many generations. 

The Constellation’s last step was to put in representatives for Mother Africa and Father Europe. 21st Century American culture is born from this primal kidnapping and rape. American society, from the extreme poverty of broken urban landscapes to the elite wealth of suburban golf courses are owned, built and populated by the children of this archetype couple. In slow silence, the representatives discovered healing movements. They suggested new possibilities for closeness and acceptance between the mother and her twin daughters. 

After the Constellation, we sat again in a circle and completed a round of personal reflections. What was most remarkable was many circle members shared painful and rarely spoken histories with foster care. These included parents whose children were put in state care, those who had been raised in foster homes, former foster parents, and a social worker who had managed cases. One after another they spoke of the pain of their experiences. This Constellation touched a deep and hidden place. We left inspired, sobered and nourished, perfectly fitting for the Community Circle.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Psychology of Trauma Symposium Herrenalb, Germany

I presented a workshop with author Alexandra Senfft at the Psychology of Trauma Symposium in Germany. 

A man asked to look at his aggression in a Constellation. Born in 1958, he works as an addiction counselor. He told us aggression festered in him and burst through in destructive outbursts.  Relationships and intimacy were difficult to sustain. At his job, he felt himself absorbing the negativity of the men he counseled.

His mother (b. 1919) was the illicit daughter of a 21 year-old German house servant and her employer, a wealthy, married German Jewish merchant. When this family maid became pregnant, the father denied paternity and fired her. The young woman was rejected by her parents out of shame. When the baby was born, she was given to an orphanage and lived there more than a year until the father paid a sum of money which enabled her mother to take her. 

The girl grew up unaware of her Jewish heritage. She only learned she was the daughter of a Jew after the War started when she was assigned to manage a girls’ organization (BDM) within the Hitler Youth. Under the Nazi racial purity laws, she had to produce her original birth certificate. Seeing it for the first time was like receiving a death sentence. If her bosses knew, she would immediately be arrested and deported to a Concentration Camp.

Her first response was an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Then, she wrote a pleading letter to her mother’s brother, Rudi Graber, who held high rank in Joseph Goebbels’ Propoganda Ministry and wrote speeches for Hitler.  

Rudi Graber saved his niece’s life by directing Baldur von Schirach to intervene and change her assignment to a nursery in Finland. With false birth papers and the protection of high ranking Nazis, she survived the War.

Near the end of the war, when Germany’s defeat appeared certain, Rudi Graber volunteered for combat on the Eastern Front. As expected, this suicidal decision resulted in his dying in battle.

The client’s mother had died in 2007. To the end, she felt bitterness towards Jews and Judaism. He described her as a complex woman, sometimes good humored and other times melancholy about the circumstances of her paternity, birth and upbringing. Like his mother and grandmother, he often struggled with dark emotions. His Jewish relatives escaped from Germany and moved to the US in the 1920s. His mother had made some attempts to contact them which were rebuffed.

Recounting this story in front the group brought tears to his eyes and those of many others. He had done much therapy of over the years, including his first Constellation more than 20 years ago. He felt the deadly conflict between Jews and Germans rage inside of him. These therapeutic interventions had not relieved his internal state of war. 

Perhaps this setting, with the support of Alexandra Senfft, the granddaughter of a hanged Nazi war criminal and me, son of a Jewish-American Army soldier, could touch the hearts he carried in his heart: Who among them dared to forgive? 

There may be no heroes in this story, but were there instances of heroism?  Our minds naturally accept some and reject others. This Constellation brought forth complex ambiguity. The uncle, Rudi Graber, who wrote speeches to justify the murderous persecution of Jews, saved his niece’s life. The wealthy grandfather, who was a victim of hateful discrimination, left his daughter in an orphanage to protect his reputation.  

I asked the client to begin with a representative for his grandfather and grandmother. Immediately, these two could be seen as existing in two separate worlds. The divide was not only between the worlds of Germans and Jews, but also males and females, and culture and creation.  
Because this workshop was held in a professional setting with a societal theme, I expanded the Constellation so it was about more than one client and one family. Gradually, the Constellation space filled with many elements.  The Jewish grandfather was joined by his wife, sons, Rabbi, and Moses to symbolize the cohesive force of Jewish tradition.  The grandmother stood with her brother and elements representing the Fatherland and German culture.  
The client’s mother remained alone in a no-woman’s-land. Her mother and German family rejected her for being the product of an illicit affair.  Her father denied her very existence. Her representative reported feeling filled with shame, anger, and despair.

I asked the client to stand in the Constellation with his mother and a representative for Aggression. Surrounded by the external elements of their tragic story, they stood in the still point where powerlessness and rage converged.  

With the representatives invited to move with their truths, the healing movement came spontaneously and unexpectedly from a surprising source. The mother's half-brother, the legitimate son of the wealthy merchant and wife, opened her heart to the child of his father’s affair. The actual man has been dead for many years, so his movement does not represent family facts and may actually contradict them.  Instead, this was understood as an expression of compassion and acceptance towards a sister who did nothing to create the circumstances of her birth.  

This simple gesture of acceptance by the Jewish brother allowed the client’s mother to move towards her own mother. The human heart is surrounded by gates that protectively close from the experience of trauma.  The closed-heartedness created by severe trauma can seem irreversible and persist for decades, even be passed on to children and grandchildren.  

The irony of this quality of closed-heartedness is it can be utterly irresistible to change and yet it can change in an instant. This is the potent effect experienced so often in Constellations.  

The Jewish son’s movement released the tension of closed-heartedness in the system, opening the floodgates of open-hearted love, compassion, and acceptance.  Even so, these movements are tempered by the limitations of culture and creation.  For example, when the representative for Moses opened his arms to the client’s mother, her response was, “Where was your acceptance when it would have done me good?”  Similarly, the Nazi uncle’s act of heroism was tempered by his crimes.

The client commented afterward that the Constellation lifted an immense burden off him.  He felt an inner happiness that was quite new and unfamiliar.  Some weeks after, he wrote me:

"I found a deep peace and harmony inside. I saw a clear answer to my struggles with "German culture," and "Intellectual behavior." They were represented in the Constellation as the energy of my cold grandmother and the Nazis. I felt empathy for my grandmother, her being alone as a young pregnant mother, denied and lied to by the Jewish family and rejected by her own mother and father. She was so alone. And my mother was the victim of her hurt and hate - because my mother always reminded her of the trauma of sexual violence, what my Jewish grandfather did to my grandmother. I am very thankful that I found a place for deep sadness and contrasting energies in my life."

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Legacy of Slavery Workshop at California Institute of Integral Studies with Belvie Rooks and Tom DeWolf

The Legacy of Slavery Workshop at California Institute of Integral Studies began the night before at a public lecture by Dr. Joy DeGruy attended by 300 people. Her topic is Post-Traumatic Slave Syndrome. She spoke for 2 hours, giving a passionately delivered, scholarly-based overview of the experiences of Africans kidnapped into slavery in the United States. One thesis is that the trauma of the African-American slavery lives on and the traumatization continues to be inflicted.

The next morning, 30 workshop participants gathered at the CIIS to continue the dialog and look at how we might individually and collectively support healing and social transformation.

Belvie Rooks, Tom DeWolf, and I were the co-workshop facilitators. Belvie and Tom had presented similar workshops in the past and invited me to join them by contributing a Constellation to the day’s experience.

The Constellation part of the workshop began about 1½ hours into the day. During the first part of the morning, I was listening and feeling the group to get a sense of where to begin. Following the DeGruy lecture, the emotions in the room were raw and somewhat tense. As a white male being invited to offer a healing process to a group largely composed of African Americans, I was aware that my offer might be met with skepticism by some and declined by others.

Before setting up the Constellation, I offered a brief introduction to contextualize the process and prepare the groups members as best I could for what might follow. Not everyone embraced me or the introduction. When I invited questions and comments, one woman offered that my language and phrasing caused her to lose interest. Another, challenged whether a healing process from Germany was appropriate for the setting. A third found my explanations lacking. There seemed to be a risk that the group members were not comfortable with moving forward. Given the larger context and people’s unfamiliarity with me and Constellations, it was to be expected.

An African American man spoke up and broke the drift towards stalemate. He offered that his spiritual practice is based on African traditions, that the workshop program said there was going to be a Constellation, and the spirits that guided him were encouraging him to speak up. This comment, and a supporting statement from Belvie Rooks, gave me permission to begin.

Listening for a theme or an image that speaks to the larger context, I heard two that felt strong. One came from a young African American woman who told about a time she was traveling by train through Peru. It was multi-hour journey and she passed the time looking at the landscape. Suddenly, she felt a strange disturbance in her body. Her emotions grew strong and dark, her heart rate increased, and she felt overcome by feelings of stress and dread. Frightened and confused, she turned to her traveling companion and asked him what she was looking at. He glanced out and said, “Those are cotton fields.” In recalling the story, she said, “Cotton is in my DNA. Even though I don’t know what it looks like, somehow my body knows.”

The other image came from Belvie. Her family history was traced in the book, The Seed of Sally Good'n. Sally Good’n was a bed woman to plantation owner Taylor Polk. Their son, Spencer Polk, was an emancipated slave who became the patriarch of a large and energetic Arkansas family. After Sally gave birth to a child with darker skin than the others she was “sold down the river,” presumably to become the sole possession of a poor white farmer. There is no record of her after that. Her heartbreak and that of her children stirred Belvie to tears when recounting her story.

The Constellation began with 3 representatives: one for the land on which the cotton grew; one for the poor Scottish American farmer; one for the slave woman. After several minutes, I added three more: one for the same piece of land a billion years earlier; one for the Scottish ancestor who stayed behind when the children left for America; one for the African mother whose child was kidnapped into slavery. Again after several minutes, I added one more representative, a person to create the beat, a heartbeat, a drum, the beat of the pulse of life.

Then, I spoke to those remaining on the outside of the circle and asked them to feel into themselves whether there was a place for them in the circle. I invited them to stand for themselves, another person, or an abstract element. Stand in for what felt true for them and belonged. Gradually, another 10 people stood up and moved into the circle. Last, I asked others – if so moved - to join the beat and create their own beats and pulses.

From there, the Constellation took on a life of its own. Each person had an individual experience and emotions. While, I did check in with them, most of what occurred happened in silence. The cotton field hated being torn apart and poisoned. The slave woman was deep in misery, but heard the rhythm of the beat to keep her alive. The Scottish farmer was working hard to survive and worked the slave without remorse. The Scottish ancestor felt abandoned and alone. A tall African American man with gray hair beat his hand on his chest; he said he wanted to stop but could not. A light-skinned African American woman said she hated the rapist father from whom she received her complexion.

The beat goes on. The beat goes on. Goes on. Goes on.

I asked people to rearrange themselves in the space by time, with the oldest elements at one end and the most recent at the other. The representatives found their places without words. The man beating his chest became the father of the slave woman. They were reunited and embraced with tears. A woman representing the Native Americans found her father in the land that was the cotton field. The Scottish and African ancestors found their daughter, the woman with the lighter complexion. Words were whispered; I stood away and did not hear them, honoring the sacred quality of the moment.

The beat rose in intensity with more people contributing sounds and percussions. Someone began to sing, followed by others. People danced. The Constellation transitioned into beat, movement, and music. Already, well past our allotted time, I brought the experience to a close.

The process continued after it ended. An African American woman who had stayed in her chair became very upset. She was speaking for herself, but also could be understood to be in resonance with the mind of the Constellation, expressing feelings that lived in her, but were much older and larger than her. She was the future, the unborn, who no one wanted to see. Two elders tended to her while I sat close by and listened. I told her that I had been looking for her the entire time, but had not recognized her because of my own blind spot. I asked her, what did she want me to know? She responded, “Just listen to me.”

Belvie Rooks is collecting comments and impressions about the workshop from participants. We will post some of them here with the permission of their authors.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How Constellations Work: Life is a Persistent Phenomenon

When we are stuck in bad situations, experiencing dark emotions, or feeling broken and alone, we take for granted that it is “I” who suffers. The many thousands of Constellations done around the world suggest this psychological model is incomplete.

There is more to us than a unique human body, personal history and mind. Yes, we are our individual selves, but we are also the sum of experiences and memories that comprise our biological lineage. Our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents, and the countless ancestors behind them literally live on in our minds and bodies.

If you are dealing with a painful circumstance or emotion that refuses to improve, it is very likely to be much older than you. Instead of dissecting the actor’s brain, we need to understand the play.

Many scientists working at the edges of knowledge acknowledge the limitations of explaining the mind in terms of classical physics. Steve Grand in his book Creation: Life and How to Make It, writes, “To understand life, mind, consciousness, and soul, I believe we have to turn our intuitive interpretation of the world inside out.”

His analysis is consistent with the body of evidence I am gathering from Constellations. Human life is a persistent phenomenon, with an enduring memory and consciousness. While I cannot do justice to his ideas in this newsletter, he convincingly asserts that intelligence, mind, and memory are a wave in motion.

We cannot define our identity though the physical matter that comprises our brains. “Recall the story of the old craftsman who was very proud of his tools, ‘I’ve had this hammer forty years,’ he’d say. ‘Of course, in its time it has had two new heads and three new handles,’”

Is it the same hammer? Are you the same person you were at age 10? Not a single atom in your body today was there two decades ago. What survives in you that breathed and loved a century ago? What parts of your creation will live on in the hearts and memories of those you touch?

We may very well be a surviving life form that grows new heads and bodies as the old parts wear out. The practical meaning of this is that if you have a problem, situation, or feeling that refuses to get better, it may not be yours. It may be a remnant of an archaic memory that is much older than you. Gaining clarity about what happened and to whom makes problems evaporate or become much lighter.

How Constellations Work: Personal & Continuous Consciousness

Experience tells us that quick fixes and near miraculous healings are illusory or patently false. Do Constellations really provide profound and lasting benefits in only one or two sessions? If they do, what is a plausible explanation for how they work?

Constellations open a portal to a domain of consciousness that is well described in First People’s traditions, but nearly eradicated within the cosmology of science and technology. Everyone who accesses the Internet lives in an electronic universe. Here, the scientific consensus is humans perceive, transmit and receive information exclusively through the senses. Within this model, mind, memory, and behavior are individually unique. Consciousness = Brain.

Tens of thousands of Constellations worldwide suggest that this model is incomplete. There is another dimension of mind, memory, and behavior that is not our personal history. We cannot access it with the thinking mind, so we are easily convinced it doesn’t exist. However, when we open up the Constellation process, we clearly perceive another layer of being.

Nesting DollsBeside our personal history and learned consciousness, we contain a continuous history and consciousness. We are not purely individuals, but also receptacles of genetic memories. Imagine a set of nesting dolls where the large outer shell is the newest incarnation containing your personal history, memory, and personality. Imbedded within are your parents, their parents, and their parents. Also resident are traces of traumatic events. The facts and stories may be lost, but the effects echo for many, many generations.

The outer layer of personal identity struggles with problems, fears, and difficult relationships. Beyond your personal history, ask the question, “Who is there with me when I feel this way?” The answer is difficult to discover by talking or thinking. With courage and focus, it can be felt in the stillness and silence of the Constellation.

Ghost in Your GenesOnce the nested individuals are perceived and their stories are felt in the body, the problems they were causing relax, release, and slowly dissolve. Freed from the burden of theGhost in Your Genes, the outer layer of personal identity moves towards positive resolution.

Are Constellations Paranormal? With Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Rupert Sheldrake

Our technological culture straddles a great philosophical chasm between world views. One embraces spiritual visions of universal connection and the other subscribes to strict materialism.

Is it possible to bridge the gap between proponents of collective consciousness and critics who insist the mind is only brain function?

I recently exchanged e-mails about Constellations, representative perception, and non-local communication with the preeminent astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

I asked whether the non-local information I perceive in Constellations has a plausible explanation. For example:
  • Standing as a client's mother, I felt the presence of an older brother who died in infancy. The client insisted his mother had only a younger brother, but a phone call with her afterward confirmed my perception.
  • Representing a client's sister, I said an obscure idiom. Shocked, the client said it was her sister's signature phrase.
I have hundreds of similar experiences, as do others who experience Constellations, whether facilitators, clients, or representatives. I understand them as normal, if poorly understood, properties of human perception. Occasionally, these are proven inaccurate, but most are on-target.

What seems commonplace to me, is far fetched or even delusional to others, including many of those engaged in the sciences. How is it possible for me simply standing and feeling for "mother" to gain awareness of her long deceased older brother?

Neil DeGrasse Tyson responded that my understanding of this phenomenon was probably faulty, i.e., these hits were gleaned from subtle cues, educated guesses, or were in normal proportion to the number of misses which I dismiss or ignore.

According to Tyson, the hypothesis that someone's detailed personal data - not resident in my brain -can be perceived or discerned in silence amounts to a claim of supernatural powers. "The laws of physics compellingly argue that we know all the ways that information can move from one point in time and space to another."

He added that in all eras, certain humans have claimed the ability to ascertain information that is not presented to the 5 senses. "The history of such claims over the past two thousand years is one of abject failure. People who claimed non-materialist accounts of the natural world have routinely failed in the face of properly conducted experiments."

The lack of credible supportive experimental data along with a well establish set of theoretical laws, lead him to be extremely skeptical that my examples are normal qualities of human perception.

How can I argue my subjective personal experience against conclusive experimental research? As he notes, "The methods and tools of science have wholly replaced our feeble five senses as tools of inquiry to the natural world. So what something looks like to your senses is no longer the measure of what is true in the physical world."

Being a left-handed, colorblind, Jewish heretic makes me well accustomed to standing 3 standard deviations from the norm. However, that means eclectic, not endowed with super powers. While these occurrences are incidental to the Constellation process, Tyson's responses give me much to weigh and consider.

I reported my exchange to another scientist whose work I respect, Rupert Sheldrake. Over the last 30 years, Sheldrake has built a large experimental database of tests of psi phenomenon that produce positive results.

He responded, "I think it’s ridiculous to pin the argument down to the well-understood laws of physics. We have no explanation even of biological morphogenesis in terms of the known laws of physics, and less understanding of consciousness. To assume that all these things will eventually be understood in terms of laws of physics is an example of promissory materialism. It’s essentially a faith position and not one you can ever refute by argument."

Sheldrake, Dean Radin, Gary Schwartz, and many other clinicians and scientists are engaged in experimentation and theory building to create the ground for these Constellation experiences to stand. An excellent source of news and debate on these questions is

I fall back to an observation from Stephen Jay Gould, "Each of us has to have a personal metaphysics. There are questions that are formally unanswerable on which nonetheless every individual must take a position in order to integrate various pieces of his life."

Science wrought to its uttermost becomes myth.

Are Constellations Alchemy?

In 1975, I studied with Prof. Betty Jo Dobbs at Northwestern University. Formerly a high school science teacher in rural Arkansas, she shocked her family by moving to Cambridge University, England, where she became a scholar of Newton's alchemy. Newton's occult papers were suppressed for 200 years until unearthed by the Cambridge economist John Maynard Keynes. After cataloging them, he wrote, "Newton was not the first of the age of reason, he was the last of the magicians."

Professor Dobbs taught that alchemy was the quest for material/spiritual transformation. Prior to Kepler, Galileo, and Newton, no one conceived these aspects could split apart and be studied separately.

After 1700, science and spirit divorced. Science became heartlessly materialistic; spiritualism devolved into superstitious naiveté.

Einstein and quantum physics solved the material side of alchemy, the transformation of elements through nuclear reactions. Dr. Dobbs believed the compelling task for humanity was to find the solution to alchemy's other side, the transformation of the human heart.

For 25 years I created and ran conflict resolution and violence prevention programs. This is how I came to Germany and the Constellation process ten years ago.

Today, I see every Constellation as an alchemical transformation. You present a problem that robs your life of joy. The Constellation reveals how the traumas that befell your grandparents weigh on your heart like lead. Transformation comes when you hear the ancestors. They mourn when you carry their burdens and rejoice when you receive their gifts.

A century after Einstein discovered the formula to build an atom bomb, in a world of unimaginable suffering, growing numbers of humans are learning to turn lead into gold. Your heart is the instrument of transformation. It absorbs your elders' sorrows and returns kindness, love, and compassion to those in your care. That is alchemy.