Standing in at a Family Constellation workshop
by Robert Moore
Was it fate? Was it destiny?
The unfolding had a quality of being pre-ordained!
First there was the interview in the AHB Newsletter which led to my interest and excitement with Family Constellation work. This then led onto the theme for the Family Constellation issue of Breathe, Issue 99. Manohar wrote an article from which I learned that he and his partner Sarasi were hosting, in March 2005, a Family Constellation workshop at their centre near where I live in Devon. I knew both of these two people only as dancers at my monthly ‘dance-at…’ events.
I was, at the time, extremely busy with work, and knew that I’d have to give the workshop a miss. The day before the workshop was to begin, I arranged to meet a friend at neighbouring town I rarely visit. With 15 minutes to spare before my meeting (unusual for me to have time to spare) I called into a supermarket to buy milk. I glanced at someone in the entrance on the payphone who reminded me of Sarasi and my thoughts went on to missing the workshop. A few minutes later we passed each other again and both looked with surprise at each other, asking “Is it ... ?” It was and this, our first meeting outside of a dance floor - in a Tesco’s supermarket! Out of this ‘chance’ meeting I was offered the opportunity to come to the workshop on Friday evening and all day Sunday, unusual in itself. (I couldn’t go on Saturday because of work demands.)
At the workshop on Friday night I introduced myself and voiced my desire for something for the next issue of Breathe. I wanted participant’s views of the impact of Family Constellation work. Over the course of the weekend I discovered that participants are discouraged from sharing their experience — no sinister motives here, only that it is seen to be beneficial to ‘hold’ the experience and not dissipate it through sharing. I can understand this. However, as I was only a ‘stand in’ — a person who could be called on to represent a family member in a Constellation session — and I didn’t work on my own Constellation, I think it is OK for me to share with you my experience.
Extra-ordinary! I have probably over-used this word in describing my experience of the week end. I feel like I was shaken, stirred, turned upside down . . and more!
Participants had to do some prior research into their family background (no time for me to do that beforehand) so I got a very brief sketch of their family history. The first person to work with their Constellation on Friday evening chose three people from the group to represent mother, father and herself. She placed these people in the room where she felt it was right for them to be. The workshop leader commented on their position, placement, proximity and the place where they were looking — in this case all facing a similar direction so not looking at each other. I was called in to stand at the place where they all appeared to be looking. ‘Standing in’, the idea is to speak what thoughts and feelings are stirred. Being a representative, one is not concerned with the normal social graces and interactions; I found it liberating to speak exactly what I felt without analysis.
The Constellation experience
Engaged in this Constellation I felt that something had happened to this family, generations ago — it seemed as if it was at least 3-5 generations back, when an extremely traumatic experience happened to the family. The person whose Constellation we were working with was American of Scottish descent. This much I knew. The images coming into my mind suggested the Highland Clearances although these impressions I didn’t voice at the time. I have no way of knowing if this was accurate. However, it has left me with a view that families can carry an enormous amount of baggage. After, when I listened to the news about Iraq and Palestine, my heart sank thinking of the trauma and burdens being created in just a few places that get reported on in the world. How many centuries will it take for the impact of these current traumas to be resolved? For a long time I’ve thought the echoes of the First World War are still affecting Europe today.
A principle of Family Constellation work, as I was informed, was that as children we take on — out of love — the burden left by an unacknowledged member of the family. It would seem that Family creates a structure that determines the behaviour of the members. If a Family Member is ignored, shunned or in someway not acknowledged, this has to be compensated for. It doesn’t mean that forgetting the person alters the structure — the structure remains and those living in the family have to somehow compensate behaviourally for this missing person.
I drove home early Saturday morning as high as a kite after that Constellation — the only one of the evening. I was buzzing with excitement, energy and insight.
When I returned on Sunday the other men greeted me as a welcome reinforcement — they were exhausted from the work that had taken place the day before. On Sunday we did at least 4 Constellations (I can’t quite remember the exact number) so got to experience the intensity of the work.
As Sunday progressed and I got more the feeling of what works as a ‘stand-in’, I began to trust more the initial feelings and thoughts that arose whilst in the Constellation. During a particular Constellation, I was playing the role of a dead uncle (I often seemed to be the dead person). I knew that this person had been killed in the Second World War, shot by a sniper. Standing in for this person was immensely strong and compelling. I felt like I’d been wounded and wanted my ‘brother’ to be with me but was in a lot of distress because I was alone. One of the reasons was that I felt I stunk — I had a notion of an extremely unpleasant smell and that no-one wanted to come near me. I later learned that this person had died from gangrene. Up until this point I hadn’t really known what gangrene does to the body. I knew it was dangerous and a cause of amputation — I didn’t consciously know it was rotting!
There was other, what I found, unusual information in this Constellation. The relationship between the men — even when one of the men was played by a woman — was incredibly close. I’ve never experienced such comradeship and closeness. Again images were suggested: I was curious as to what work these men did. I thought coal mining. My sense was they relied heavily on each other. This dangerous work created a strength of bonding that was unlike anything I knew — I’ve had glimpses of it when working with a team of men in construction but nothing as strong as the feelings that overwhelmed me in this Constellation.
The Knowing Field?
I was left wondering … wondering where was this information coming from with such intensity. I still am wondering …
The workshop leader, in the closing circle wanted to say something about the ‘dead people’. I had an experience, in another Constellation, that I was surrounded by dead people. Her words were not only for me. She wanted to emphasise that our ancestors want to be acknowledged. They have an energy that is released when they are heard.
This workshop experience has had a profound impact on me. My ‘all-knowing’ cynicism has been seriously affected. For days after I was in a state of heightened awareness — the world was alive and breathing. For such a long time I have prized being clear, factual, “of this world”. I later got to see that I had wanted to live only in the world of the literal — the world where facts car be proven, where information is true, a black and white world. Through this workshop (and a subsequent one with Alberto Villoldo) I came to acknowledge the power of archetypal energies, of delving into the world of story and myth and legend where ambiguity is an essential ingredient. Now incidents with people have a different significance, there is ambiguity and a broader depth of meaning. (Oh my! Am I reverting to becoming a fluffy New Ager?)
There is a music CD many Breathe readers may know — 1 Giant Leap — it features quotations and music from people around the world. Track 2 begins with an Australian Aboriginal saying “I am the sum total of my ancestors; I carry their DNA. We are representatives of a long line of people and we cart them around everywhere …. this long line of people goes back to the beginning of time and when we meet, they meet other lines of people and we say this brings together the lines of men”.
I have a sense of understanding this now: it alludes to something of the impact on me of one session of Family Constellation work..
This article by Robert Moore, editor and publisher of Breathe, was originally published in Breathe, the International Breathwork Magazine, Issue 100.
In Issue 99, Sarasi’s partner Manohar Foster wrote ‘Family Constellation in Devon’, providing much background information. Contact us for a copy.
This article may be reproduced but only in its entirety, without edits and including the above credits.