Journal

Five Years, and a Magic Flashlight

This Spring I celebrate FIVE years as a Facilitator of Family and Systemic Constellations! I could make a long a list of adjectives to describe what it has been. Just One? EDGE. 

This work has brought me to the live edge, the space of emergence. I have learned to dive into that space, to expand into it, to turn on my capacity to see from within. So grateful!


What’s alive for you right now? What is your growing edge? Where do you want to go?  

How would having a compassionate, intuitive and skilled guide help you get there?

While I have a more public side in my group work, individuals have always found their way to me for personal coaching. Clients experience a relationship that is nourishing and creates genuine change.

What can you expect?

  • With presence and empathy, I connect deeply with the specific nature of your situation.
  • With a deeply honed intuition, I perceive hidden and misunderstood dynamics within your situation.
  • With compassion and love, I facilitate a shift in those dynamics.

What creates the shift?

I’ve used “I” several times here, simply because there is no efficient way in our language to describe what actually happens. In fact believe that the real cause of the shift is NOT AT ALL because “I” shifted it. Rather, it is the alchemy of your intention, our connection, a shared emergent awareness, and the larger consciousness of Love that actually creates the shift. “I” am just a really useful tool, like a magic flashlight, to help those things happen.

Who is this for?

This Winter, I held space for individuals seeking to understand their mysteries and challenges, and move more deeply into their personal and spiritual journeys.

My clients are committed to personal growth. They are familiar with their inner longings, and have a passionate desire to align their inner and outer worlds.

I work with my coaching clients in weekly sessions for four weeks. Each session lasts 75-90 minutes.

This Spring, I have space for four new clients. The exchange is $150 per session (four session minimum).

If you’re ready, email me at apfornes<at>gmail<dot>com. We’ll set up a time for a call and begin our journey.

With a Sunny Heart!

Alison
apfornes<at>gmail<dot>com

Incredible. Transformative. Healing. Mind-blowing. Alison has been for me a wise and intuitive guide and a powerful and loving companion as I journey into deeper and deeper knowing and loving of myself. I can think of no more important work than what she is doing and what I have been doing with her. I am immensely grateful.” – Jeff Golden

“I have worked with Alison on multiple occasions to help facilitate personal and community issues. Each time her work has brought me a shifted perspective and much needed insight, as well as facilitating a change within the system towards more love, understanding, and peace.
Sometimes the work is subtle, and sometimes it is dramatic. It is always healing and wholing. I would highly recommend constellation work and Alison’s facilitation to anyone who is willing to feel into the perspectives of another to achieve deeper levels of harmony and peace with their families and communities.”  – Kate Temple-West, katetemplewest.com

Alison’s facilitation of systemic constellations have provided incredible insights. I had hit a wall in thinking about new strategies and approaches for a challenge I was facing. In the course of 30 minutes I was able to “see” patterns, issues and avenues that I would never have understood on my own.” – Madeline Typadis-Snow

“To say that working with Alison is paradigm shifting would be an understatement: it’s paradigm exploding! This work opens realms of connection, healing, and truth that I’ve never imagined I could access, and has opened my heart and body and mind to another level of reality and possibility.” – Jessica Simkovic

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Rage, Grief and Activism

scanned from 35 mm originals
Photo:  Peter Forbes

The Constellation

I was one of a small group of facilitators invited to do a systemic constellation around racism. The facilitator, Judy Wallace, asked us to generate a list of what should be represented. With the group size we had, we decided on White Power, Black Bodies, Child, Earth, Poor White Person.

I was the one who named “black bodies”. It came out of a recognition that had been stirring for months – that the painful legacy of slavery and racism from its origins through today is defined by the dehumanizing practice of simultaneously valuing and fearing black bodies, but which in my experience was rarely spoken of.

Representing black bodies, I found myself circling the center of the room, while white power stood just outside my circle. White power had a calm but piercing attention on the other white people in the room. Both white child and poor white person were not eager to align with white power, though white power was happy to include them in his power. 

As I circled the room, I felt numb, moving forward on a momentum that was not my own. White child tried a few times to connect with me. Their energy was curious and open, though white power tried to keep them away from me. In my representation, I could see the child, but couldn’t mirror their energy.

A shift occurred when a representative for LOVE came in the field. When love arrived, the numbness of black bodies transformed into rage. I felt it rise from my belly, and into my throat like a fire. It was at this point that white child became fearful of black bodies, and ran behind white power, who offered its protection.

When the child ran to white power, I didn’t want this, but the trauma and grief in this body simply could not communicate in a way that the white child would understand. It wasn’t that the desire to make a connection wasn’t there – it simply wasn’t available as a possibility under those conditions.


We most often see the systemic trauma expressed as rage. I had a palpable experience of rage in this constellation, but really, we can see it everywhere.

On Facebook, and came across this argument about Van Jones:

“The time has passed for Van’s “Love Army” idea. How effective, exactly, do you think such an idea would have been in the American Revolution? There is a time to fight. And sometimes, the fighting isn’t pretty. When there is a preponderance of evidence that the biggest root of the Trump Base voting choice boils down to “Fear of Diversity” HOW reasonable is that? HOW can you rationalize something irrational? Or address such a person with any fact based, reasonable argument?” – FB comment in response to an article about Van Jones.

This was part of a long stream of comments this same person was making. Her frustration and anger were palpable, and FB was a useful outlet. The comment was written by a white woman, but I have seen similar expressions across the media by people of color. They express frustration at the idea that “love” and “empathy” should be considered tools for change. I understand these cries, and could easily argue on their side.

But when I step back, I recognize deep in my heart that love and empathy are not burdens for me – unless I am carrying another burden that is asking to receive the flow of love and empathy first. That burden, I believe, is unexpressed grief.

Rage and grief live together – two sides of the coin. Both need safe places for expression. In this constellation, the presence of love was able to soften my representation enough to access rage, but in that moment, I could feel it still wasn’t safe enough for the deep release that the body needed.

Any reader of this article will likely recognize their own grief at the collective and systemic trauma that runs through American society. It affects us all uniquely, and I believe this is a combination of the way in which this trauma literally lives in our bodies, and how sensitive we are to the larger collective field.

I also see that if we find ourselves unable to extend empathy and love to someone, or a group of someones, it is because we are carrying a grief that still wants attention. Grief can also be a form of loyalty. We hold onto it, not letting ourselves become soothed, for it is the way we show our connection to what has been lost.

While I have been able to find some safe spaces for grieving, it is still far too rare. The grief of systemic trauma is a unique form of pain. It is subtle, it lives in the shadows, and it seems to hide when you turn to face it. This is why each new event can activate a new round of grieving – and it needs to find expression.

My prayer is that we add “grief rituals” to our self-care practices. I believe there is an alchemy in communal grieving, and, my friends, alchemy is required for the kind of transformation our hearts desire.

 

 

About Alison: Alison Fornés, MEd, is a systemic constellations facilitator who works with parents, educators and changemakers. Her mission is to introduce people to the power of their empathic intelligence: that you have within you the capacity to change complex systems when you unlock your ability to perceive hidden dynamics. You can find more about her work at alisonfornes.com

Witch Trials, Trump Trials

img_4910I spent my snow day getting to know my new home town of Salem, MA, by reading The Salem Witch Trials Reader, by Frances Hill (author and editor).

Several hours later, I am laying on the couch with my eyes closed, trying to understand what it all means. What is the message for these times?

The trials took place in 1692, 315 years ago. The events began in January of 1692, and it was a year of terrible suffering: nearly 100 people were accused, jails overflowed with the convicted. 19 people were hanged, 1 person was pressed to death, 5 died in jail. Yet, by the following January, as if waking from a shocking dream, a newly formed superior court would reprieve the remaining accused.

What caused this? It was a confluence of many “dark” forces: a puritan and authoritarian religious culture which, by our standards today, had no protection of personal liberty, which viewed behavior only in terms of good or evil, and people as “us” or “other”; the harsh realities of colonial life; a culture of subjugation of women and anyone who wasn’t white and male (though that was no protection: several white men were among the accused and killed); and the reality of what we would call “terrorist threats” today: deadly battles between “Indians” and colonists. One historian also suggests that ergot (a fungus) may have infected the wheat, causing some of the initial physical manifestations that led to the suggestion of witchcraft. All of these things plus interpersonal grievances and grudges.

img_4912Once the episode was over, Samuel Parris, the minister of Salem Village and the lead witch hunter, would be ousted from his position in 1695. He died in 1720 without obituary or epitaph. Historians, including the author Frances Hill, consider him a sociopath: he showed no remorse, he lacked conscience and empathy. Ann Putnam, one of the accusers who was 12 at the time of the trials, stood in front of her congregation at the Salem Village church 12 years later and confessed to accusing innocent people; she died another 13 years later, and left no descendants.

In a very short time, as the colonists would be considering revolution, and the dark superstitions of Puritan culture would be replaced by the Age of Reason: the Enlightenment.

As I get up from the couch, the radio is reporting that the appeals court has rejected the Trump Administration’s bid to uphold the travel ban. I can’t help but think we are waking from our own shocking dream (even if the majority of us never went to sleep).

What I hope is that when this dark time comes to its quick end, we will be inside of our next age. I am thrilled to consider what evolves out of the Age of Reason. Maybe we have reached the Awakening.

Don’t despair, build.

We said yes, whether through courage or through naïveté, to an impossible dream, and we built something far more beautiful and mysterious than we could have planned.

Just about 10 years ago, I was a new mom and had taken a leave from my teaching job. My family and I were feeling into our new life. I was both nesting and growing roots, and my spirit was seeking community.

With this intention growing, the answer to my wish arrived in the form of a 12-page manifesto. Some folks, friends of friends, or maybe acquaintances of acquaintances, had created a vision document for intentional community, and it found it’s way to Adrian and me.

It spoke of building a genuinely diverse community; of creating new economic structures; and of living in a way that honored the earth.

At the time, we were just a couple of years into owning our house, so we weren’t ready to sell everything and move, nor was there yet a place to move to. The vision at the time existed only on paper. But we were excited by the vision and decided to take the journey to see where it would lead.

communityvision
The original community at a visioning retreat in 2010. Some of the people in this picture left the community in anger, others moved on with joy and inspiration. Many others have joined us since then. Through it all, a greater vision – perhaps one only known to our hearts – has sustained us.

Now 10 years later, and I will tell you that almost nothing come out “as we had planned.” There is no large intentional community living in our own garden of Eden.  After spending some intense retreats together, after building relationships and purchasing a building for co-housing, we experienced a big conflict that divided many of the original founders and split some people away from the group. After that conflict, the energy that held us together re-organized and it took some time to heal. There’s even healing still to be done.

And yet, we did build something that has lasted through these years. It has sustained the people in it through the richest and most challenging times we can experience: birth and death, grief and mourning, relationships beginning and ending. It has been a community of joy, music, dancing, food, celebration, friendship, support, and love. We are indeed a welcoming and diverse community.  We are also fluid: while there is a physical location around which the community orients, many of us do not live there. Instead, we are held by a larger bond.

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Some of our beautiful children, summer of 2013. May they build upon the foundation we have prepared.

I can only begin to describe what it has meant for me and my family to be part of this vision and, more importantly, part of this creation. We said yes, whether through courage or through naïveté, to an impossible dream, and we built something far more beautiful and mysterious than we could have planned.

After I became involved and started experiencing life in community, a refrain came into my thoughts: I can do anything. WE can do anything!

joyfulbirthday
Community celebrating Aries birthdays in April, 2015.

As I write this, we have just experienced a shocking presidential election. It will take some  time for us to move through this shock, and many of us will need support. (Honestly, if I were a Trump supporter and Hillary had been elected, then I would feel the same way. I bow to that truth.)

For me, it feels as if a fire has torched many of the old structures. As we sit among the embers, I make this fierce offering:

  1. Focus on what you want to build. What is your vision? If you don’t know, then this is an excellent opportunity to discover what you want. You will know you’ve found it when your heart sings. What’s key here: say what you WANT, not what you don’t want. In this election, the country was largely divided into people who were either for Trump and anti-Trump. Very few people were connected with building an alternative vision. If your energy is focused on what you don’t what, how can you manifest what you do want? Your energy is precious. Focus it wisely.
  2. Tell someone. Share it with just a few people, or share it widely. Connect with people who resonate with the vision, and share a meal with them. If you create a space for sharing dreams and getting excited, you will leave your meeting full of life, energy and creativity. Plus, here’s the secret: the friendship and community that you build around a shared vision is, ultimately, the manifestation of the vision!
  3. Allow vulnerability. When you share something you care about, it’s scary. Notice the vulnerability as it arises. Acknowledge it. As you sit with it, it WILL transform into the inner support you need to act on your dreams.
  4. Recognize fear. Fear will arise. You know you’ve met fear when you start acting on your vision, but then you get a “no” that is making excuses for why you shouldn’t. That is fear. An authentic no is not fear based, an authentic no is grounded and doesn’t make excuses (sometimes we ignore our no’s and make excuses in order to say yes, but that’s a different post). “Feel the fear and do it anyway,” as the classic book says.
  5. Stay oriented. Your body, your felt sense, is truly a compass. When you find that a thought or fear has thrown you off, practice releasing those thoughts. (Byron Katie’s The Work is an excellent tool for this process) That bad feeling you’re having is telling you that you are facing the direction of your fears instead of your dreams. That bad, depressed feeling is the sign that you are thinking a thought that is untrue for you. Re-orient towards your vision. Your vision – your personal, authentic truth – is energizing and joy giving.

Finally, I leave you with this blessing, which came to me some days ago:

“Your heart dwells in Yes!

May you have the capacity to hear,

and the courage to listen!”

thepathtopeace
As I meet more and more people who are part of my community, I know that I am on the right path.

Medicine Drum Workshop

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Make a medicine drum

Wednesday July 20, 2016, 12-4pm, Rock Tavern NY

Saturday July 23, 2016, 10am – 2pm, Location TBD

Workshop limited to 10 participants.

Cost: $100 + Materials Fee (See Which Drum, below)

The sacred process of making your own personal medicine drum takes you deep into your primal self. Your heart has a knowing. Touching parts of you that may have been hidden in this lifetime. You make tactile contact with the animal through its hide and with the sacred wood hoop, connecting to the elements of water, air, earth, fire and spirit. Using your inner wisdom to create a sacred instrument for Ceremony, Celebration, Healing and Journeying with intent, respect and honour.

Do you feel called?

The drum holds great cultural and symbolic power to Native America people. The beat of the drum is in harmony with the heartbeat of Mother Earth. The round form represents the circle of life and the whole universe and its steady strong beat is the pulse, the heart beating.

They believe the drum has a life of its own, as well as its own powerful spirit.

About Nadia

Nadia Khan Kimmie is a student of life! She started her inner journey of working with her shadow side and has been transformed through the powerful work of Family Constellations and Shamanism, of which she is an international practitioner.

She has been studying Shamanism since 2011, practicing Earth Medicine such as Vision Quest and Sweat Lodge, Wheel of Elements, Sacred Fire Ceremony and Women’s Healing circles.  She began facilitating Medicine Drum making workshops in her native South Africa, and has continued these offerings in Germany and the United States. Nadia is a natural healer and her teachings carry this essence. “All aspects of her work are based on healing and sharing the wisdom she has learned from her teachers and her own life lessons.”

Nadia trained as a Family Constellations facilitator in 2012 in South Africa, with Tanja Meyburgh of African Constellations, when she started observing how she was repeating her own family patterns and how it was manifesting in her children and witnessing the positive impact of the knowing field in her life.

She has been a lifeline councilor and in 2015 she pursued her gentle Yoga teacher training certification in California to incorporate more healing modalities into her work. Nadia is also an artist who plays with porcelain, loving that medium for its translucency and working with the light and shadow.

In her ‘previous’ life Nadia was a Managing Editor and she has a BA majoring in English.

Akehela Mitakuye Oyasin

Thank you to all my Relations


Which Drum?

Which Hide?
Drum Stick Included

ELK

When we are working in the West on the Medicine Wheel – the Water, emotions, shadow self – then Elk Medicine gives us the stamina and endurance to get through the edges, from the known to the unknown.  As we go through our fears, we expand ourselves and add more trust to our circle.  Trust is the lubricant that helps us take the “leap of faith” that leads us to unity with spirit and to a reclaiming of our original grace.

Elk is powerful medicine for healing child abuse and addictive patterns.  The Elk will bring up our unresolved grief and help purify and cleanse us through crying and grieving our sweet tears.  The vibration of Elk opens the third Chakra, the belly, where we carry our fears and undigested values that interfere with our pure will.  The Elk is a communal animal, hanging out with members of the same sex except during mating season.


DEER

When we are working on the natural laws of circulation – the circulatory system, the heart – then Deer is our Medicine.  Many of us are taught to “figure life out”, so we live in our heads with little attention to our hearts.  Deer opens the heart Chakra, teaching us to trust and to empower the feminine qualities of Love and Wisdom.

When we are healing “poverty consciousness”, the belief that there is just not enough time, money or love, drumming with Deer reminds us that we live in an abundant universe, with more than enough of everything.  Deer helps us learn the Laws of Circulation –when we feel unloved, then it is time to love others, and that love comes back many-fold.


HORSE

Horse takes us on the Shamanic Journey, keeping us in third dimensional reality so we may ride the vibration to the spirit world to get the healing we need for self and others. Horse is pure energy – like lightning, it can transport us quickly through the cracks and crevices to the other side.  Drumming with Horse will lead us to trance states and to the higher vibrations.

The medicine of Horse teaches us that true power is the wisdom found in remembering our total journey. Strength, power, endurance.
 


BUFFALO

When we seek wisdom and guidance from the Ancient Ones, the Ancestors who came before us, drumming Buffalo opens the door to that vibration.  Buffalo is associated with Wisdom and Abundance and is the source of the Sacred Pipe, as White Buffalo Calf Woman brought the Pipe to the People.  When we pray with the Pipe, we are joining the masculine Sky Energy with the feminine Earth Energy, and whatever we pray for will be given.  If we are manifesting from Spirit to Form, drumming with Buffalo is an ally in that intention, reminding us of the connection of Prayer (spirit) to Form (physical).


MOOSE

Drumming with Moose is empowering the Feminine Energies, as Moose hangs out near the water, and can stay under water for up to a minute while eating from the bottom of ponds and lakes.  Moose reminds us to go into and through the feelings and to take the nourishment available in emotional honesty.  Moose is also associated with self-esteem, learning how to get our nourishment from the inside, and spontaneity, trusting ourselves to act in the moment rather than controlling future decisions through planning results.  Moose is a great protector of the child, and working with Moose can teach us to nourish and protect the little one inside.

COW

Cows can teach us about the home and community and the joy, contentment therein. Cows aid us in realizing to be easy going and live in the moment. They show us about love and connections at work and home. Cow also may demonstrate how to eat properly. Are eating enough fruits and vegetables? Are you happy at home? Cow can teach how to make those changes that are needed to balance to the joy in your surroundings.

TO REGISTER:
Send your name, phone and email, hide and hoop size to Alison: apfornes (at) gmail (dot) com

She will confirm your workshop space and send payment information. Hide payment for the July 20 workshop due by JULY 1, 2016. Teacher payment can be made in advance or when you arrive.

Download Flyer:

drumNY(2)

Two Vulnerabilities: Fighting the Enemy, Fighting the Ally

Image: http://kidinthebackground.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/KID-IN-THE-BACKGROUND-PHOTOGRAPHY-JUSTICE-FOR-ALL-RALLY-WASHINGTON-DC-PHOTOS_3967-min.jpg

“VULNERABILITY is not a weakness, a passing indisposition, or something we can arrange to do without, vulnerability is not a choice, vulnerability is the underlying, ever present and abiding under-current of our natural state.

To run from vulnerability is to run from the essence of our nature, the attempt to be invulnerable is the vain attempt to be something we are not and most especially, to close off our understanding of the grief of others.

More seriously, refusing our vulnerability we refuse the help needed at every turn of our existence and immobilize the essential, tidal and conversational foundations of our identity.”

© May 2014 David Whyte
Excerpted from ‘VULNERABILITY’ From CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. http://www.davidwhyte.com/

I meet regularly with a small group of women. We gather together in what feels like a secret coven where we develop our superpowers. Our aim: to become more effective changemakers, or more poetically, to become midwives of a new earth community.

By day, we are systems thinkers, organizational consultants and nonprofit leaders, committed to environmental and social change. At a recent gathering, we sat working with our tools: practices that combine World Café techniques, Strategic Questioning and Systemic Constellations.

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We begin our time together in silence. When we speak, our conversation flows in a round, and is accompanied by writing and drawing on a large sheet of newsprint on the table between us. We take out objects and set up mini-constellations that guide us through the themes that emerge. We take a break, we drink tea and laugh. And then we step into the Field, constellating what has made itself present.

At a recent gathering, what made itself present for me was vulnerability. It was brought into the conversation by one of my friends who is taking a course with Brené Brown, and then stayed with me as my personal theme for the day.

This is what I saw:

As changemakers, when we take a stand against oppression, we link arms with our allies and form a line that fights for justice. To stand with our allies gives us strength. That strength is a fire born from trauma and grief, and fueled by anger and rage, and perhaps contained a bit by the language of a vision for change.

We need this strength to overcome the trauma that we experienced from our first vulnerability: being alone in the face of oppression. And the rush of solidarity in the face of a common enemy is very soothing to a heart bruised by injustice.

There’s real power in the strategy of combining forces to fight for justice – most significantly, it allows action to take the place of the fear, immobility and the emotional and psychological wariness that we experience when we face  any of the -ism’s or -phobia’s on our own. This is true, incidentally, even if we are not we are the target group. As allies, we feel great pain when our sisters and brothers are targeted.

But, if the first vulnerability is facing an outside oppressor, the second is in facing the ally we thought we could trust. The same sister or brother we stood next to quickly becomes the object of distrust or suspicion if our vulnerability is triggered. And soon, if we don’t have new tools to move through the trigger, we make enemies of our former allies.

My most recent experience of this was at an education conference. A diverse group of facilitators had gathered, standing together under the umbrella of educational justice. We were in the middle of our event, in a time crunch, and having a meeting to determine the direction of the rest of the event: a perfect recipe for making enemies of allies!

The trigger was around who speaks and who doesn’t, who takes control of the group and who steps back, who gets heard and who gets overlooked. Old patterns emerged as if they had never gone away (I say that with tongue-in-cheek. They hadn’t gone away – they were never cleared out in the first place).

Next to me sat two Latinas speaking in Spanish about the bearded white guys taking control of the meeting. On the other side of the room, a group of intimates dismissed the large group process and came up with their own strategy, and a few independent folks like me had to figure out which island to swim to. We left the meeting with a strategy that accomplished our initial goal, but we had also co-created a harmful ecosystem where distrust and frustration had taken root in the cliques and circles that were established.

I’ll just take a moment to say: You recognize this pattern, don’t you?

The second vulnerability is the same as the first. They are both about keeping safe the tender human being at the center. And it is not the vulnerability that is the problem, it is our reaction to it: the way we harden ourselves when triggered in an attempt to keep from being hurt, meanwhile closing ourselves off to the one who triggered us.

In me, the action of hardening myself to protect myself looks less like arguing with my allies and more like not sharing my full self with them for fear of being rejected.

Sitting with my sisters in the “coven meeting,” I saw this all with crystal clarity. Many other things fell into place with that seeing: recognizing that if I hold myself back to keep from being vulnerable, I hold myself back from the fullness of life; understanding that if I treat anyone as the enemy, I immediately do the very thing I accuse them of – I prevent myself from seeing the other as human, or, as David Whyte wrote, “To run from vulnerability is to…close off our understanding of the grief of others.”

When I source my strength from that of my ancestors and parents, and from others who have already been hurt many times over, I see that by shutting down when I am vulnerable, I am shutting down all that I am working towards. In response, I am learning to cultivate a more generative action: that of holding myself with tenderness as I lean in, closer to my “enemy/ally,” willing to compassionately witness and stay present in the company of both my own vulnerability and theirs.

 

 

It Begins with Conflict – My Path to Constellation Work, Part 2

(Originally published December 3, 2012)

Part 2 (Read Part 1 HERE)

Insight – to be able to see into the true nature of a situation. For this alone, the Constellation experience is invaluable.

In my case, I saw how my experience of conflict between two parties I love – the members of my community – brought up my deeply held pain around my stepfather’s death.

And in the unique context of Constellation work, having a friend represent my stepfather allowed me to contact and release the pain in way that I hadn’t in the 30 years since his passing.

That night, however, I found myself awake and still “inside the field.” I tried journaling, but the energy in my body wouldn’t dissipate.

I made my way downstairs and sat for a moment on the couch. I took a deep breath and told the Universe I was ready.

I chose a pillow to “represent” my stepfather, and I curled up with the pillow and grieved some more. Still feeling that there was more to do, I switched places with the pillow, taking my stepfather’s place.

As his representative, I found myself drawn to look past the pillow representing me, past the pillow for my brother, and off to my left. I placed a pillow to represent what I was looking at, and then quickly scooped it up and held it close.

In this moment, I learned what I had never been told: I was holding a baby – someone who had come before me and my brother. He had a child before me whom he had lost.

Holding this child, I understood that the distance between him and me originated before I was even born – that it was not the result of a little girl taking sides against him, but was rooted in his own grief, guilt and self-punishment for having lost his first child.

As I write this blog post, I also recognize with great tenderness that our hearts sought each other out: me as his new daughter to help heal his loss, he as as my new father in the absence of my biological father. We each looked to the other to soothe our heart’s pain.

I later confirmed with my mom a story that I never fully knew until now: that he had been married before my mom, and he had a daughter in that marriage. When they divorced, she remarried, the little girl was given her new father’s name, and my stepfather never saw his first daughter again.

I accept that this blog and my writing cannot properly convey the significance of this personal experience. But I don’t want to end without saying that for me, this does not end as a tragic story of death and loss.  Instead, something else lives: I feel the encompassing love of my stepfather, even as I honor his pain and his path.

In Loving Memory of Edward Schultheis (Sr)

It Begins with Conflict – My Path to Constellation Work

(Originally published November 8, 2012)
(Image: http://romeonrome.com/files/2005/08/villaPisaniMaze.jpeg)

Even though my adult mind learned it wasn’t my fault, I understood that my child’s heart perceived a direct link between my words, his tears, and his death.  The lesson was clear: when you take sides, people get hurt and die.

Members of my beloved intentional community have become divided, so I take on a role that is familiar to me: the mediator.

But when I try to engage with my friends over this divide, two things happen.

First, my brain stops working. I hear what people are saying, but I can’t process what they mean or articulate my own position. This is very unusual for me, as I am usually one who can receive and digest even emotional and intense information and respond in a thoughtful and articulate way. But in this case: complete brain fog.

Second – well, what’s wrong with me? My emotions are all over the place. With one friend in particular, no matter what she says, or how much I will myself to be calm, every conversation I have with her ends with me in tears.

It is against this backdrop that I attend my first Constellation workshop.

Participants have come with a wide range of concerns: a sick grandchild, a stressful and confusing work situation, an unhealthy and unsustainable situation at home, a couple in marriage counseling.  Each of these Constellations bring surprising revelations: the hidden and suppressed pain of the mother, the childhood death of a sister, an inherited sense of obligation to culture and family, a grandfather’s experience of loss and alienation.  All of this information comes through us, through our presence and deep listening. The resolutions, the healing movements, are supported by a palpable sense of love in the room – as if every ancestor is actually in the room, surrounding us all, sending their love and support and joy.

For me, after a day spent representing and observing, my body is tingling. I feel as if a sixth sense has been turned on.

I didn’t do any of my own Constellation work that Saturday. However, I spend the rest of the weekend aware of an urgent, pressing need inside of me to examine what I’ve been experiencing in this conflict mediation process.

I have a small three-person support group, where we engage in a practice called “Be Present,” a practice of mindful listening. I meet with them on Monday for our regular monthly meeting. I start to talk about the conflict in the community.

Staying present with myself, in this loving setting, I begin to see the connections between the community’s conflict and the guilt and sadness I’ve been carrying since I was a child. My mother and step father were always in conflict. When I was about seven years old, I was visiting him for the weekend during one of the times my parents were separated. He asked me if I loved him or my mother better. I remember sitting quietly and thinking about his question. I answered honestly, “I love mom better than you.” He broke down in tears, and I sat next to him in tremendous confusion.

A few months later, he committed suicide.  Even though my adult mind learned it wasn’t my fault, I understood that my child’s heart perceived a direct link between my words, his tears, and his death.  The lesson was clear: when you take sides, people get hurt and die.

After sharing this, I ask one of my friends to represent my father. He lays down in front of me, and a tremendous grief comes over me. I am able to experience my pain, guilt and loss in a way that I never have before. It is the first time I have ever grieved like this in the 30 years since his passing. I say to my friend, representing my father, “I am sorry.” He says to me, “you have nothing to be sorry for. You were just a little girl.”

(Read PART 2 HERE…)

Blocks as protectors.

Jean came to me about her daughter’s eating disorder (names have been changed). The daughter had recently been hospitalized and gave her mother her blessing to work with me on the issue.

As we started to move into the field of the system. A block appeared separating us from the grandparents. Even now, I can feel it like a large angel-like figure with its arms outspread, separating the daughter from her grandparents.

As I write, I honor this figure, and a great compassion flows. The role of this figure has been to protect the daughter from the abuses experienced by the mother at the hands of the grandparents.

However, it also created a very tight, claustrophobic system for the daughter.

Constellations like these have taught me that, many times, what we experience as blocks first started out as protectors. The reason we have such a hard time giving them up is because we are afraid of what will happen when we release that protection.

Here are two ways to soften this:

Close your eyes and envision yourself, your block, and what’s on the other side of the block – the money, love, safety, confidence (etc.) you have been struggling with.

Allow yourself to make contact with what’s on the other side of the block. Make contact with the flow of love and abundance and nourishment that is available to you. When you bring yourself in contact with this Source, and then return to the block, see if the block is ready to shift. Return to the sense of abundance and nourishment as often as you can, bringing it into your body.

A second approach is to deeply honor and love the protector part of yourself. Show the little one that you were protecting that you have survived, and that now you want them to experience the fullness of life with you. Say to your (little) self: I Love you! You are safe! Take time to nurture and carry this little one into your present life. Show the little one the life you are leading now, and feel yourself in your heart and the abundance of love and nourishment available to you.

In reflecting on what’s on the other side of our blocks, I am reminded of this beautiful poem by Rumi:

Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’ doesn’t make any sense.

A Message From Grandmother

(Originally published October 25, 2012)

The client, a beautiful woman and business owner, states that she wants to be able to feel more ease in dealing with men. She is aware that she has a strong negative reaction to the way men respond to her when they’re attracted to her, and that her mother advises her to dress more modestly. But the client doesn’t want to have to change who she is in order to feel comfortable in the world.

We sit together quietly, while I allow a sense of what should be Constellated to form.

I have her set up chairs to represent seven generations of women, her female ancestors.

I have her choose a man to represent “men”, he is placed to her right.

I ask her to choose a woman to represent one of her ancestors, and I ask this woman to sit in whichever chair she feels drawn to.

The client stands at the front of the Constellation, facing the women in her line.

The woman representing her ancestor sits for a moment in the third chair back, and then switches to the fourth chair back.

From there, the representative states that she feels like an empty shell, as if she’s split off, or split in two. She senses a man, probably her husband, near her.

I ask the representative to stand up and feel into the other part of herself, the part that she has split off. Here she reports feeling a lot of power, as if she has special senses and intuition. She sense that the “shell” part of herself is protecting this powerful part of herself. She looks at the man in the Constellation and feels afraid. She reports that she embodies the shell to protect herself from the man.

I bring this woman, the representative for this great-great-great-grandmother to the front, to face the client, her descendant.

I ask the client to bow to her grandmother. The client says, “I honor your suffering, and the way you protected yourself and your strengths.”

I bring another man into the field. I say, “this man represents men who are able to see [the client], and honor and respect her.”

I ask the grandmother to bless her granddaughter. She looks at the new man in the field and says to her granddaughter, “May you have strong, respectful and loving relationships with the men and women in your life.”  The grandmother is also eager to share her strengths with her granddaughter, and feels so excited to see her and communicate with her. The two look into each other’s eyes and then embrace.

We close the Constellation here.