The Greater Soul of the Family, an article on Family Constellation Work

In the spring of 1999, my friend Peg invited me to a demonstration of something called “Family Constellation Work” being presented by a visiting German facilitator named Heinz Stark.  Initially, I was not interested.  Ten years earlier I’d had a spiritual experience that hit like a tornado and spun my world around, making me sharply aware that I knew nothing–about nothing.  As a result, I was no longer capable of working with people.  I spent the next decade writing fiction and documentary material for public radio.  My husband, Milt, and I had just finished producing a 52-part native music series and I was exhausted, content with my meditation practice, and frankly, not interested in one more new model of self-development.  Added into this mix, my mother had passed on just six weeks earlier and I was struggling with grief and an odd sense of liberation following her death. .

Still, Peg persisted, wanting someone to go along with her to this demonstration.  I finally agreed out of friendship.  So, one beautiful evening we drove out Nemo Road to a pretty ranch house to meet the German man.  The living room was filled with people, many I recognized as part of the ceaselessly-seeking Black Hills community.

Heinz began by introducing him self and the originator of this work, another German named Bert Hellinger.  He then began spoke of the knowing field of the constellation, the mysterious existence of hidden orders of love, and something he called the greater soul of the family.  Cryptic language, I thought.   The constellation, he said, is a tool for making these hidden orders within the family visible.  The process begins with a brief interview between the person who wants to do a constellation and the facilitator.  (The work is based on the facts of the family and the issue at hand.)  Next, the person chooses members from the group to stand in or represent certain family members.  Finally, the person “constellates” the representatives, or moves them into the circle in relationship to one another based on an intuitive or deeper sense of the family.

The process reminded me of a psychodrama or Virginia Satir’s family reconstruction.  I was familiar with both and jokingly whispered to Peg, “Watch, I always get picked to be the mother.”  Sure enough, the first participant to set up a constellation walked straight across the room and asked me to represent her mother.  Peg and I laughed and Heinz, in his stern German way, scolded us like naughty children.

However, when the woman put her hands on my shoulders and moved me into the circle, all my comparative thinking ended.   My body was suddenly awash with feelings, sensations, and desires that, quite simply, were not mine.  The strength of these other feelings surprised me, as if someone else had stepped into my body and was gently making use of my container.  When the constellation was over, the foreign feelings left and I was myself once again.  All that remained was a tender compassion for what that mother had suffered.

My intuitive antennae were wiggling now.  Heinz explained that we have an individual soul but are also intricately linked to the larger soul of our family.  These natural orders exist beyond what the mind determines is good or bad, right or wrong.   Like the stars in the heavens, our place in the family is fixed, held by some mysterious force of belonging.  However, when events occur such as an early death or difficult fate, the family system may go out of “order” and result in “entanglement”.  In simple terms, sometimes our actions are determined by this hidden flow within families.  Depression, sadness, sickness, suicide, and violence can be related to past events, to the burdens of others within the family.

I left the demonstration that night in a spin.  Could this energetic and intricate linking and loyalty through the generations be true?  We pride ourselves on our mighty independence and yet the constellation revealed hidden and powerful dependencies. I realized my life was about to take another abrupt turn.  I would have to learn this work.

On a personal level, Heinz showed me subtle ways I kept my children from fully accepting their father (we were divorced).  He said forcing a child to choose between parents splits his or her soul.  I wanted to resist his observation and defend my actions, but I saw that he was right.  I began to adjust my bad attitude.  A week later I was out of town and got an email from my then fifteen-year-old son.  He asked, “Would it be okay with you if I worked construction with Dad this summer?”   Suddenly, I heard the unspoken question in his request.  Is it okay with you if I love my father too? I saw the bound up energy of a soul split between his loyalty to both parents.  I remembered Heinz saying, “Honor the presence of the father in the son if you want your son to do well”.  I sent an email off immediately and said yes, what a good thing it would be to work for his father.

Following the demonstration, Milt, my husband, went to the constellation workshop.  Milt was adopted, had three adopted children, and had a child adopted away from him—a veritable maze of adoption issues.  When he came home from the workshop, he went online and found his missing daughter.   Today he has a warm relationship with Susan and her three children, his grandchildren.   Later, he used the constellation to find his place in his own missing family.

When Heinz returned that fall, I asked him to teach me.  For the next year I immersed myself in the study of the deeper orders within families.  Now, five years later, what I see is still stunning, and sometimes shocking.  When we are entangled, it’s as if our life energy is being siphoned off, our spirits called away in deeper service to the family.  We may carry a burden of guilt or sadness for another–even when it is not our place to do so.  As a result, we cannot gain or maintain our strength.

Divorce, the early death of a parent, miscarriage, tragic accidents or illness, war, and immigration are just some of the happenings within families that can affect the generations to follow.  Because we cannot see these hidden entanglements, counseling and coaching often fail to make a significant change.  In the constellation, we are given access to the mysteries, to the place where love resides . . . and entanglement begins.

In the end, it is not the constellation itself that has strengthened my life and the lives of many friends and clients, but a deep shift in how we see the world.  We now see that below the visible life, there truly exists a web of love and connection linking us to our ancestral line and the strength that resides there.  When we plant two feet in this energy, we are instantly stronger, more resilient, more able to do our part to bring about the great shift the world so needs right now.   It is toward this shift I now work.

First published in 2006

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