When we were young, my father did his best to control us as children. I guess with his wife in hospital with polio and three young children to take care of, it was all he could do to hold the family together.
Where did my father’s need to control come from? He was afraid for all of us. He had tried to control his wife. Maybe he was afraid of losing her, afraid she would find her own spirit, flourish, move away from him. His own father had been violent, trying to control his wife and children. He had 7, and 2 of them died, both females: a baby of 4 months (my namesake) and a child of 5. I have discovered from my work with constellations that extreme violence often comes from trauma, from terror and from deep grief, which for men in those days it was not OK to feel. The consequences for my grandfather were that in the end he became an excluded person and was deprived of seeing any of his children grow up, get married and have children of their own.
In the 18 years I was married to my husband we had two beautiful children. I, too, became a controlling parent. Interestingly, I wasn’t controlling in the traditional way. No, I tried to control what was happening by holding family meetings, going round asking each person what they were feeling, what did they want to happen differently in our family, negotiating ways of functioning as a family where all were involved in the decision-making. How ironic, my strong wish not to be controlling led to me being just as controlling as my father had been, only in a different way.
As my children became teenagers, I realised that trying to tightly control them wouldn’t work and I did my best to work with them, help them make their own decisions and offer guidance rather than control. Of course, they were dealing with their own difficulties by then, with their parents having divorced and a new stepmother coming on the scene.
Now as a grandmother, I have to bear the pain of watching the repetitions of some of these patterns over the generations, despite the 35 years of personal work I have done to try and heal what happened in the past.
As part of my constellations training, I teach that we cannot control what happens in a constellation. We can step in, offer an intervention and then we have to step back and let the system do what it needs to do. This is facilitation rather than authoritarian leadership. We need to assist the client to see what presents itself in front of them, without leaping to any clear conclusions, only to look for possible pointers and then to sit back and trust the flow in the field. And we need to model that for clients. They can only do what they can. Then they need to step back and let the family soul do its own work. Very often changes will come from a completely unexpected source. ‘Allow yourself to be surprised’ is a regular mantra for me in this work.
Of course, there are times if destructive energy emerges in a group, when control is absolutely necessary to maintain safety. Just as with our children we are compelled at times to step in, to stop them getting killed if they run across the road when a car is coming or when siblings become too strongly aggressive with each other.
We also learn in constellation work, that we are part of a much bigger system, that our ancestors are here with us, influencing everything that happens, that we are inextricably linked to nature, to animals, to all that is. As Charles Eisenstein calls it: inter-being. But that shift in mind-set is very hard to convey, so embedded are we as a species in the concept of dualism and individualism, ‘them and us’, of patriarchy and control, of right and wrong, of good and bad, of fighting against a virus, instead of seeing how we can work with it – building our own immunity and so on.
How can I as a facilitator sit with ‘what is’ in a constellation, help the client to stay with ‘not knowing’ and at the same time trust that what is showing itself may lead to some kind of healing in the future, not necessarily from where we expect?
Divide and Rule
Anything that tries to control, separate, set people against each other, will end with destruction. If we look back over history, we can see how frequently the ‘them and us’ philosophy has led to war and destruction and yet we continue to operate in this way.
It was Founder, Bert Hellinger’s original vision for constellation work that a ‘them and us’ would not be set up. Coming as he did from the dogma of Catholicism, he worked hard to keep the boundaries fluid, not to ‘fix’ the work with rules, standards etc., not to write anything down. Many people have attempted to control the work in that way, but overall it still flows pretty freely and there is a vast range of applications and types of facilitators of this work. Nonetheless many books have been written on the subject and many apparently ‘opposing’ points of view have been aired. Paradoxically, Bert himself ended up writing reams about his own thoughts, philosophy, and way of working.
I received many ‘gems’ from Bert Hellinger. The first was when I asked him how I could go about learning about constellation work so I could pass it to others. There was no formal training at the time. He replied: “All you need is to be at peace with your parents.” Such a profound sentence and one many people struggle with these days. I wonder what kind of world we would be living in now, if we were all at peace with our parents?
The second was “Strife and division are necessary and inevitable. My advice to you is not to comment upon the activities of others and not to allow the comments of others to affect your own activities. That way you will have peace in all you do.” I saw him modelling this attitude, particularly when he was attacked and villified by the media in Germany and eventually separated from his followers.
Editing the Knowing Field International Constellations Journal of course means I am not following this advice at all. At the same time, I can see in essence that his approach makes a lot of sense. And strife and division, ‘them and us’ mentality has quite definitely happened within the constellation field as well as surrounding it.
If we come to the present day and the wider world of Covid-19 in which we are all embedded, we see that the Governments all across the world are trying to control what happens with a virus by separating us all from each other, locking us in our homes, isolating us, isolating the virus, attempting to find a vaccination that can get rid of – destroy – the virus, whilst not seeing that in our vain attempts to control nature in this way, we also destroy people’s livelihoods, people’s immune systems, people’s need for community, for touch, for love. How many people have died in their hospital beds or nursing homes, separated from their loved ones? They tell us to wear masks. Who knows whether this protects others from the virus or not? There is a huge range of information on this too. But let’s think for a moment about the symbolism of this: don’t show your full, authentic selves; hide from each other; be afraid. The daily stream of horror stories on the mainstream media is regularly re-traumatising the masses and making them terrified of each other and of the disease.
Of course, each and every one of these people is, I’m sure, attempting to do what they believe to be ‘right’. Even Hitler had a dream, a vision of a pure society. Communism’s philosophy was based on equality for all, but look what an oppressive regime it became in most, if not all, communist countries. Democracy is claiming something very similar, and yet here we are with what is effectively a dictatorship across the world, all coming from a place of fear. This is global, collective trauma at work.
I have felt all along at a deeply intuitive level that something was amiss in what was happening. Somehow the statistics we were being given didn’t match up with the extreme measures being taken to prevent us catching a virus, which it seems (although we have no way of knowing for sure) was nowhere near as fatal as we were being led to believe. I have fears about the virus of course, but I have far greater fears for my family and friends who will take the vaccination in the firm belief that it will somehow ‘save’ them. A ‘vaccination’ which some claim should not even be defined as such.
When we were children and the chickenpox virus visited a child, we all made huge attempts to get our children to mix with them so they too, would catch the virus and build some immunity. We had measles, whooping cough, mumps, all childhood diseases that helped build our immunity as adults. Then suddenly in came vaccination for everything, and antibiotics – all attempts to control the flow of nature, but if we open our eyes and look at nature, we see that with plants and insects, disease goes for the weaker ones, those without sufficient immunity to deal with the invaders. Now, even tiny babies are being given vaccinations for all kinds of diseases in an attempt to control what happens to them.
Within my own family and with those with whom I am most closely associated through my work, I have tried to exert my influence. I have sent materials which have been translated as ‘anti-vax’, ‘anti-government’, ‘anti big Pharma’ and of course I have felt like that at times but my intention really was to influence, to convey to people: “Please don’t swallow whole what you hear and see.” “Trust your own instincts.”
“Does it feel right within your own soul to be separated from your loved ones, unable to hug them, unable to be in contact with them, when you are healthy?”
And what I have triggered is opposition, dismissal, from both friends and family and I have had to see that I am in fact powerless to do anything. As an ‘elder’ I do not have influence at all. I am simply seen as a somewhat eccentric old woman who means well, but is sadly misled and misinformed.
For most of my life I have been a searcher for ‘truth’ but of course there never is one truth. It’s my own truth I’m searching for. Never before this latest challenge with the virus and its consequences, have I been so strongly challenged to sit with ‘not knowing’. But this ‘not knowing’ is after much searching: soul searching – what rings true for me in what I’m reading, watching or hearing, not ‘fact’ searching because objective ‘facts’ are impossible to find. What do I personally relate to?
How does what I’m discovering fit with my underlying values, my underlying philosophy? And what is that actually?
How on earth can I put into words what I believe to be so? After all, belief itself fixes me firmly in one place.
How can I hold all that is, whilst still searching for my own inner truth?
How can I include those who are on such a different path to my own, particularly when those people are my family members whom I love so dearly?
How can I get across the message to sit with ‘not knowing’, without also being labelled as controlling, oppositional, dualistic?
How can I sit with my own intuitive feelings and convey that to those I love and care about, without being labelled as ‘anti this’ or ‘anti that’?
Why have I persisted, despite the rejection, dismissal and opposition to my invitations, ideas, suggestions?
I see so clearly now that this whole process fits within my philosophy for life. It makes sense of why I do the work I do, why I beaver away in the background, editing a journal, which acts as a network for the constellation population, without trying to control anything.
When my mother caught polio, she was placed in isolation. Everyone on the bus avoided sitting next to my Dad. They were afraid. Of course, this was very painful indeed for my Dad, but those people somehow instinctively moved away from him as a possible carrier.
What happened to that trust?
How come the Government can’t trust us to do what feels right for us in any given moment?
How come we can’t, as parents, trust our children to do what they need to do to take care of themselves?
Well, the bottom line for the most part is that we don’t trust ourselves. This is nowhere more clearly shown than in childbirth, where women these days are often very afraid. They hand over their power to the medical authorities and are subsequently often deeply traumatised as a result, thereby also traumatising the baby. And that initial experience then sets up an imprint for life.
Yes of course we need to offer guidance to children and if we trust them and they trust us, they will listen, they will know that we don’t say these things lightly, that if we say there is danger, that is what we mean. And of course, sometimes they have to find out the hard way.
Influence in the Wider World
So if I step back and begin to think about people in the world who seem to be able to exert influence rather than control, how do they operate?
My heart goes immediately to David Attenborough and all those who work behind the scenes with him. TV is one of the most powerful influences of course. What’s the nature of that influence? Images to start with. They speak more loudly than words every time. But also with his voice and those images, he appeals to our souls. He shows us how beautiful this planet of ours is and how every single species from the tiniest microbe, or insect has a part to play in the whole.
In his latest series called Perfect Planet (BBC I-Player) we can see the devastation of the planet, which is linked to our belief in our own supremacy. This is our patriarchal way of ruling the world: If someone or something gets in the way, kill it, destroy it – whether that be the divine feminine, weeds, a wild animal, unfriendly bacteria or a virus.
Even with the sacred spectacle of the murmurations of starlings that some of us have the privilege of witnessing each year – these amazing birds who create the most incredible shapes in the sky as they fly as one, thereby protecting themselves from predators – is now looking like it may become tainted by us as humans with our lack of sensitivity and attunement. Recently, I heard that on the BBC they were putting up drones to film these murmurations. I wonder, did anyone stop to consider the possible effect on these starlings of having these drones flying above them?
Once again, nature is seen as a spectacle ‘out there’ for us to witness as tourists, without centring ourselves, really tuning into them, quietening ourselves so we can feel the inter-being. We mostly prefer to take, to see them as entertainment, rather than a sacred gift from Nature for us to become one with, when we fully open our hearts. These murmurations may not be around for much longer. According to the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) the population of starlings has reduced by 80% over the past few years.
The Power & Wisdom of Animal
I learnt a lot about trust and accepting ‘what is’ from the pets we had when our children were young.
Firstly, we acquired two gerbils. We had no idea whether they were male or female and soon discovered we had one of each when 11 babies arrived on the scene. It was so touching to watch these creatures in this aquarium caring for their young, the Dad going round regularly and gathering up his young to put them back in the nest. On one occasion one of the babies went missing. I was concerned it had escaped from the aquarium somewhere and searched high and low for it. Then I discovered it had got caught between the feeding bowl and the side of the aquarium as the bowl had been tipped on its side by their tunneling in the sand (they are desert rats in the wild). When this tiny creature re-emerged, every single one of its siblings and its parents rallied round and started licking it. Not understanding how gerbils function, I didn’t realise that immediately after those 11 gerbils were born, the male was ready to impregnate the female once again and very soon after this, they had another 11 babies.
I went to bed that night, having nightmares about how they were all overflowing over the top of the aquarium. But when I went there in the morning, I found that they had eaten every single one of those babies from the second batch. Such is the way in the animal world of sustainability. There were too many for that container so they got rid of them. No trace was left. Of course, having pets is also very controlling. Had those gerbils been in the wild, many of them would have been eaten by birds of prey or other predator animals.
We ended up with just two female gerbils. Before she died, one of them built a tomb out of sand. I was so flabbergasted I took a photo of it. She crawled underneath it once it was finished and died. Her sister was sitting outside the tomb opening her mouth wide. (My sense was she was screaming as their sound is outside of our hearing capacity). She died just a few days later.
A few years later I acquired a cat. Within a year she had four kittens, one of which (interestingly, the one that had a difficult birth and was born breech) never left home. A few years later I went away and left my teenage son in charge of the cats. The mother went missing and when I got home, we couldn’t find her anywhere. Eventually, we discovered her hiding under a bush. Her eyes were dilated as if she were in shock and her back leg seemed to be hurting her. I laid her on our sheepskin rug.
During that time, we were visited by my daughter’s boyfriend at that time and he said he felt it was cruel to keep her there, suffering and not take her to the vet. My conscience was pricked and the next morning I took her. The vet couldn’t really see what was wrong with her leg, but gave her some painkillers. What I then saw was that she was standing on the leg that had been injured, because she could no longer feel the pain and my intuition told me that just wasn’t the best thing for her. So I didn’t give her any more painkillers. I just laid her back down on the sheepskin rug and there she stayed for seven days.
Each morning she would test her leg by standing up on it for a few seconds and then laying back down. In all that time, she didn’t eat or drink or go to the toilet. Her whole body was concentrating on healing the wound. I made a decision to trust her to know what was needed and if it was her time to die, so be it. After seven days she stood up, tested the leg once again and realising it was now fully healed, went to her food bowl and started eating again.
So once again these little creatures taught me an important lesson about trust, about working with what is, rather than against it and about surrender.– surrendering to the greater picture, even if that greater picture leads to death.
I also have learnt from horses. I have never really had much close contact with horses but what I discovered from working with Ruud Knaapen, who comes from the Netherlands and works extensively with these amazing creatures, is they have been around for 65 million years, that they have 350 degree vision and that, being prey animals, they operate as a herd. As prey animals they need each other to survive, so even when the herd is spread out across several fields they are acutely aware of each other. The protector of the herd is the stallion but for leadership they turn to the eldest mare.
Ruud did a constellation for us with two horses, asking them what we need to take care of for the future of constellation work to thrive. These horses, who had been quietly munching on grass, very slowly re-arranged themselves so they were side by side with one facing outward and one facing in. The pointer was that we may need to take care of both the outside and the inside, if constellation work was to thrive. When we got the message, they went about eating their grass once again.
Now in addition to this, I had been attacked by a horse about five years previously and that had left me very afraid of these animals. It had taken me two years to pluck up the courage to work with Ruud, even though I could see as soon as he opened his mouth that he had a very special relationship with them. And whilst preparations were taking place for this large group constellation, I made a very strong connection with one of the two horses in the pound, who was looking askance at me and very slowly and gently scraping his front hoof on the ground. Tears poured down my cheeks as I stood motionless and in my own head and heart went through the whole process of the attack: how I had stepped over a stile and over-rode my intuitive feeling that it wasn’t safe to be in that field; how I had unwittingly walked straight up to the horse and started stroking him without coming in slowly and gently from the side; how I hadn’t spotted that this was a very troubled animal by the way it was standing just staring into space and even when it started attacking me I thought it was playing until it knocked me over and kicked me in the ribs.
My friend who was with me, interestingly instead of being terrified as I was, found her aggression and lifted this animal off the ground as she pushed it off me. She then grabbed my hand and we ran down through the bushes and into the river to escape.
I saw that I was also perpetrator in this situation, without attention to the victim which had then turned perpetrator, how I hadn’t paid attention to my wiser, intuitive self.
So why am I telling you all this? I am trying to convey the essence of what is happening at the moment. We are allowing ourselves to be controlled by our Governments, by our own fears of this virus, which if what we are being told in some quarters is true, isn’t actually that fatal. We are allowing our fear to rule what happens to us and in the end of course, we will either remain compliant, beaten down and without life in our souls or we will rebel and become reckless in our belief that this virus can cause no harm. Neither of these poles is effective in the long term.
In fact, as Bayo Akomolafe said in one of his many online talks, this virus is a better climate activist than any of us humans have been over decades. Within months it has brought the whole world to a standstill and nature has begun to revive. How amazing is that?
So have we got the message?
Have we understood yet that we cannot continue as we have been with our divisive, ‘them and us’ way of being, with our belief that we are the supreme beings on the planet who can control nature, each other, a virus, the animal world?
Have we woken up to the fact that we cannot continue with exponential growth and expansion in all directions without any regard for the environment in which we live, or do we have to get to our own destruction and take many species of plant and animal with us before we wake up?
Yesterday I received my invitation to go for my vaccination against Covid-19. There it is again, the word ‘against’.
What if as a species, we could look at the virus as a supreme ‘entity’ or ‘being’ that is far wiser than we are?
What is it trying to tell us? It’s definitely had a very positive effect on the environment.
It’s also helped many people to slow down, relax, be with their families, but it has equally led to many people losing their livelihoods, becoming depressed or suicidal, lacking motivation, feeling lonely – but hold on a minute.
Is that the virus or is that the steps we’ve taken as a species to deal with it?
What if we had simply acknowledged its presence?
What if instead of separating and locking down, we had supported each other as a community, taking care of the less well, the elderly?
What might have happened?
But those ‘what ifs’ help nothing in the end. If we can actually learn from the virus this time round, we may be better prepared for next time but things haven’t really got bad enough for that. Many of us, including myself, have just transferred our busyness to our computers, our need for connection, to Zoom.
The Place of Hope
So is all lost?
Are we doomed to our own destruction, taking much of plant and animal life with us?
Or is there still hope?
David Attenborough’s series would have us believe that maybe, just maybe it is still possible for us to save both ourselves and our planet. We all have an inner feminine. We all have intuition, psychic abilities. We’ve just lost touch with them for the most part.
How different would the world be if we began to recapture that intuitive self inside all of us?
What would happen if we didn’t try and control what grows where, what illnesses we have, how our children behave, when and how we die?
And by this, I don’t mean anarchy, no control over anything, (although of course we may need to go through that chaos before finding any kind of new order). What I am referring to is containment, the holding we experience from our parents, when all is well in our world.
What would a containing government look like? It would give us the information we needed and leave us to make our own decisions. It would trust us to know what is best for us.
Very recently a few amazing films have emerged, once again demonstrating this inter-relationship: Louis Schwartzberg’s film: Fantastic Fungi and Craig Foster with his My Octopus Teacher. Then Rupert Sheldrake’s son Merlin has written a book: Entangled Life all about the immense power of fungi and their potential to heal this world that we have so nearly destroyed with our consumerist, controlling, ‘taking’ mentality. I think it very symbolic that these fungi are for the most part operating underground, as part of a massive, interlinked network with each other and with other plants.
If the David Attenborough film is to have influence, then we may still have a chance. According to this film, in some deserts, they are working with local people to re-plant millions of trees. In some of the rainforests, they are working with the few remaining indigenous tribes who have such wisdom about seeds, to replant mixed forests. In Morocco they have huge solar panels. In some countries they are erecting wind turbines to catch the endless natural resources which are so readily available to us, instead of consuming, taking and trying to fill our empty souls, empty because right back to our birth, we missed the loving container of our traumatised parents, traumatised by a birth that was controlled by a well-meaning medical profession who think giving birth is an illness that can’t be left to its own devices and traumatised by previous events like wars, emigration, secrets, tragedies that we turned our back on, by religions that moved from their beautiful loving essence to dogma and control.
So if I practice what I preach, then all that needs to happen is that I and we just return to the present, be with what is, notice what we feel and what does or doesn’t sit right with us and in line with all that we have in relation to constellation work, to stay with ‘not knowing’, to include all that is. The most difficult part of that for me is knowing when it is important to find my own inner warrior and to stand up for what feels right and true for me and others and when the greater, more peaceful movement of sitting back and acknowledging all that is, is what is required.
And there is nowhere more difficult to find that place than within my own family where my loved ones’ lives and livelihoods are at stake. I’m in the Autumn of my life but they have loads of years left and I want it to be the best it can be for them, but I have no control whatsoever over that. I just need to do and say what I can and then step back and let fate take its course.