"Happy Halloween" we say in the US. But what's the source of the happiness here? Perhaps it means "enjoy scaring or being scared." Jack-o-lanterns, lit mostly by electric diodes now, glare from the porches. Gruesome plastic monsters, zombies, nasty spiders and skeletons fill up more and more front yards.
They are all available at your nearest, nationwide chain of "Party Stores." Or even Lowes and Home Depot. Kids come 'round to feed the national obesity crisis with sugar. Before all that plastic ends up in a landfill.
True, the pumpkins are reminders of a harvest. But reaping happens many times a year now, off in giant, iPhone-managed, agribusiness farms. Who really thinks of gathering in foodstuffs from the land? Groceries come from supermarkets, obviously.
Death for us is thus largely supposed to be scary, threatening--fought off at all costs in giant mainstream hospitals. We just have our little, spider-web-draped thrill with it in late October.
"Dia de los Muertos"--a Different Holiday
Let's now contrast this grim, increasingly competitive horror contest with the "Day of the Dead" festivals in Latin America and Spain. There, the day and night are not laced with fear, but graced with remembrances of bygone relatives and close friends. Compare these images from the two cultures.
The Latin version is a time of joy, designed to keep death part of the natural cycle of life, to remember and aid beloved souls further on some spiritual journey. Maybe even help ourselves. The dead can be beautiful, voluptuous even, as opposed to macabre corpses in advanced stages of decay.
But do the Dead
Live Somehow on in Us?
Recently, however, we in this country have begun to be aware of how profoundly connected we are to the strengths and weaknesses of recent ancestors. Serious enough traumas they did not or could not process come to life again in our lives, even though it is not our fate to suffer the original damage. Still we inherit the aftereffects. They land in us via epigenetic, behavioral, and likely also psychic channels.
These are the real ghosts--these traumas re-enacting in our lives. So long as we try to ignore or repress them, we remain haunted. But ancestors also support us with inherited resilience. As Mark Wolynn's excellent book title says, all of it: "didn't start with you."
So what do these different attitudes towards the Autumn holiday have to do with family constellation work? How are they related to getting and staying well in North America? Interestingly enough, the Disney-Pixar movie "Coco" has something possibly substantial to say about this.
As I move closer to beginning the first Family Energetics Mentoring Intensive, it's a good time to look back and see how this versatile and effective healing method came into being. It's both a connected understanding of how trauma works on larger and smaller scales, and a toolset that can adapt to all of these scales. If I were younger, there would surely be a book. But, at 75, I may be a bit too relaxed to undertake that.
Why Did I Create Family Energetics (FE)
By 2014, I had learned Family Constellations (FC) over a 6 year period from a wide range of European and American teachers (14, actually). 350 hours of training in life and business coaching made me also an ICF Certified Professional Coach. I had a manageable little business and had written both HEALTH HAPPINESS AND FAMILY CONSTELLATIONS and THE FAMILY CONSTELLATION PRACTICE BUILDER. In the background remained 30 years of indigenous shamanic healing practice.
But some things troubled me. Many prominent FC facilitators were suggesting that ALL client suffering was inherited from ancestors, so that constellations alone could engineer complete recoveries. And the many who followed Hellinger closely said that FC was not a therapy and that it did not deal with trauma. I didn't buy any of that.
So I began a deep dive into the most current understandings of trauma that happens to us personally. I wanted to know much more about how it worked and what the best methods for healing it were. That's when even more interesting things started to happen.
I have a fair bit of PTSD around excessive wind and water. In all, over my 7 decades, I've been through 10 or 11 hurricanes. One or two early in my life in Houston, a couple in the Caribbean (sailing), and a bunch between Philly and Cape Cod. Then there was nearly getting killed trying to sail a small racing trimaran (3 hulls) alone to Bermuda.
Weather forecast lied then. 15 to 20 knots of wind turned into way way more. Strapped into the tiny bunk in the dark, tensing up in fear as each next stacked-up wave crashed sideways into the little boat--I was terrorized. Just praying frantically each time she would survive what were bashing, violent snap-rolls across endless oncoming crests.
Ultimately, the boat did fine. But I was seriously traumatized. I had to fly to Bermuda and help deliver a 40 ft. sloop back to the US, or I was afraid I would never go to sea again.
But I'm Also a Shaman
At the same time, I'm a shaman. My world view is animistic. In my everyday experience, planet Earth (Gaia) is a loving, nurturing consciousness. And if my longstanding passion for strong winds and the thrill of surfing big waves has also been significantly tempered by enduring the terror they can inspire--still, we humans are not listening. So Gaia has to shout and yell. We continue to doggedly destabilize what is possibly the most benevolent climate she has ever given us. She's trying wake us up before it's too late.
So I have a special relationship with big storms, and all forms of extreme weather. Big wind and wild water seem to have followed me wherever I've gone. I truly love their power and majesty. At the same time, I have experienced intimately the physical and psychological damage violent elements can do. So Gaia has talked to me, and given me the best way to wrap myself in a capsule of safety.
Staying Safe in a Major Hurricane--
How Does That Work?
"Superstorm Sandy" got very gentle around my house 12 hours before she calmed down even a couple miles away. This made the difference between trees down, basement flooded, driveway washed out--and next to no damage.
I've been told to share this method of creating safety with you here. Gaia wants you to know it. It has three steps. One is physical, one psychological, and the other is spiritual. Each one has its place. Each is important.
As a lifelong poet and songwriter, I craft and use tight, vivid affirmations both to help clear stresses and problems in myself, and to manifest better outcomes in life. I'm a survivor of pretty serious caregiver trauma, so there is at times for me a rather narrow calm state between anxiety and over-excited anticipation. Like, either too worried or too wired.
Affirmations help me a lot to manage this moderate "disregulation." I tailor and use them with my clients as well. And from time to time, people have asked me to share some of these more broadly. So I'll include a few here.
There are two primary ways in which I work with affirmations. One is high tech, and the other low tech, no tech--or maybe spiritual tech. The high tech version involves recorded auto-suggestion while drowsy or sleeping. I'll explain the process of setting that up in another blog.
The Spirit Tech Version
This is very simple and harnesses the power of breath. I create short, focused two or four line poems and repeat the first line on OutBreath One (or InBreath One, start either way), the second line on OutBreath Two, and so on if it's a four liner. The idea is to synchronize the lines with your breathing while calming yourself down, or already in a meditative state.
On the OutBreaths, I visualize sending the reality depicted in the line out to manifest in my world. On the InBreaths, I'm taking reality of the line into my body and being so that I can acknowledge and live it. So for example, a very simple affirmation for health and well-being goes like this.
I'm safe (OutBreath One)
well (InBreath One)
happy (OutBreath Two)
and loved (InBreath Two)
or I might, since the lines are very short, do it over just one breath cycle, as in
I'm safe, well (OutBreath One)
Happy, and loved (InBreath One)
As I share a few more generally useful ones below, remember please, they are designed to be used with the breath. You don't have to--but trust me, it works better.
Can't tell you how many times I've heard the "Oh I've already dealt with that" statement from clients. Sometimes I even know, by the way they say it, that it's exactly what we need to work on.
And I always tell them the same little story. Always give them the same layers model of how personalities develop and healing of deeper wounds works.
Surprisingly, it seems like many professional helper/healers are not aware of this simple way of understanding what's going on. So here it is...
Start with the Notion of Personalities as Layered
Imagine the beginning of life as the center of a circle. Around it form expanding rings of experience, learning, and yes, also at times--damage. This damage comes from overwhelm to the nervous system, is called "trauma," happens in many forms, and is inflicted these days to way too many of us.
As I've explained in recent blogs and newsletters, trauma causes "blurbacks" (or flashbacks) that overwhelm and can cause similar overwhelms to recur. Blurbacks, by the way, happen when anxious feelings from previous overwhelms attach themselves inappropriately to present circumstances.
So now, as the layers keep adding on, like the growth a tree, damage that is closely related to the original events shows up on more superficial layers. Not too different from cracks in these tree rings.
For Serious Damage--It's a "Wound System"
So let's say that in layers 5 and 6, somebody got badly abused in the family. Well that led to an expectation that love comes only with abuse. Now we see that person, around layers 12 or 13 (puberty, say), getting abused in an early relationship.
And maybe you are that person (or are working with that person) now trying to heal this much later after an abusive marriage.
Suppose it looks like the damage in this tree. Does it make sense to think all these layers will heal all at once?
For interesting and helpful answers to this question, just read on in this short article.
Where is the future anyway? Ask your average speaker of English and he’ll say, "Oh, it’s out there ahead of us still." Or perhaps, "Well, it’s not here just yet." You will also hear folks saying things like, "You’ve got your whole life in front of you," or else, of a bad experience, "Don’t worry, that’s all behind you now."
Notice the pattern here? In all these statements, the future is thought of as existing in space, and being located "in front" of us, just as the past is located "behind us." And either we are moving towards where the future is, or else we are holding still and it is moving towards us. "What kind of future are we heading towards?" you ask people.
We Think of Time as a
Kind of "Space"
In fact, almost all the ways we have of thinking about time involve "space" concepts we have transferred, by analogy, to the time domain. When measured, times are, are--you guessed it--"long," and "short." Voila! It's space language once again.
Well, fine--you may say. But so what? However interesting that may be, it's certainly got little to do with my spiritual life, my sense of fulfillment, my happiness here in this body. To which I will answer--hang on! Give me just a "very short time" and perhaps I can tie this odd observation to something very fundamental about the way you live your life.
But Time's Not Really Anywhere
To begin with, let's slip off our polarized linguistic sunglasses and take a fresh look at things. Time is obviously not literally any-where. We might say it's happening everywhere, because it is a process of change, or unfolding, that is universal in the plane of being we inhabit.
But let's begin to see this "the future's in front of me" thing for the metaphor it is. Like all metaphors, which are thought-tools, it might be very useful for some purposes while nevertheless being downright lousy for others. So the future's not really "in front of you." That's just one kind of image we use.
Indeed, linguists have found out that, in languages not related to English, speakers commonly refer to the future as being behind them, or backwards over their left shoulder. Why? Well, obviously, because you can SEE the past, IT has to be in front of you. Whereas you are blind to the future, which naturally then ends up being behind you. Once again, this whole "time as metaphorical space" thing is a thought tool, not an aspect of reality.
But if it's a "thought tool," then maybe there are different or even better ones. Let's get down to it here and look at that.
It's often first the problem we know, feel, or hear about. Whether it's our own, a client's, a loved one's, or a friend's--the facts as they present themselves are all from the problem space.
At times, of course, it makes sense to inquire even into what's wrong. You can't change what you don't know is problematic. But even though change does arise from perception of negative patterns, it makes less sense in the beginning to leave what you see and feel wrapped in that negative awareness.
Coaching or therapeutic trainings often talk about something called “the problem space.” Staying lodged in these perceptions of what’s wrong keeps us stumped somehow about how to fix it. As the saying goes, “you can’t fix the problem from within the problem space.” You have to push out of it into a wider, richer, “solution space.”
Step into the Solution
Here’s a simple process that's excellent at doing this. It produces in my experience and that of my client's and student's better positive changes faster.
First ask yourself or the other person to try to reverse the problem statement. Ask something like, “Well, if that’s what’s wrong, what would ‘right’ look like in that area?” So “I’m exhausted and scared all the time and my business is failing,” turns into something like “I’m energized, calm, and my business is booming.” This is a good start. We have at least some brushstrokes in the solution space.
This is the beginning of what I call a “desired positive change,” and my students have dubbed it the situation's “DPC.” But it’s as yet diffuse, and rather global, in one fell swoop, probably impossible. So better, faster change can benefit greatly from three further steps. I call them “focusing,” “instantiating,” and “opening to the universe.”
- We live, it seems, in the eclipsing of a world age. The older stabilities are disrupted more deeply month by month. Big tech openly plans to remake human nature with networked monopolies, wall to wall surveillance, and robotics. Their dorm-room vision is a new kind of planetary unity, but the motives are the same old profit and power. Government is gridlocked and cannot constrain the ravages of unquestioned, ever accelerating, deeply disruptive “progress.” And tribal dissension, fed by nuance-less tweets, grows daily stronger.
These and other challenges threaten our planet, really. So perhaps a couple of the big-world, fantasy epics are relevant. I think, of course, of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, but also Christopher Paolini’s more recent Inheritance Cycle. In each of them, it all comes to a head in a final, apocalyptic battle for the survival of light in the face of darkness.
What Tips the Balance?
What might interest us here is an evolution, from one story to the next, in what wins the battle. There are warriors and wizards, courage and quests, and knowledge and weapons acquired and deployed on both sides. But what central element tilts the struggle in favor of light?
Between stories, it seems as if this central element and final weapon has actually evolved from the renunciation of power to simple empathy. What sense does that make for us in our own version of planetary Armageddon?
And what if I can lay this out for you in a few words?
At the age of 20, I read Siddhartha… more than once. Herman Hesse’s short novel retold the story of the Buddha so eloquently, I thought. Sitting in the back of buses, lonely and estranged from both family and my religious upbringing, criss-crossing Europe on art history tours during a junior year abroad--I dreamed of walking the path outlined so beautifully in the book.
Somehow, like the Buddha, I would leave the family for asceticism and training. Maybe I already had. But then would come immersion in business, passion, and wealth, followed finally by that enlightened epiphany in which I saw it all as “illusion”-- and realized my essential oneness with everything. It was the classic, heroic, individual quest for unity with a transcendent Divine. I drank it in like a starving child.
But What About the Planet?
Roughly four and a half decades later, that quest remains. But progress has not come in the ways I thought it would. The grand vision absorbed in my youth had some things totally backwards. In some respects, it started me (and many others) walking more or less in the wrong direction.
Take the idea, still evident in Christianity and in Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, for instance—that Mother Earth and this life on her are really just a platform for private spiritual evolution. She’s all maya—illusion—anyway. Or worse, sinful. Get on to nirvana, or heaven, as fast as you can. That’s all that matters.
While there’s some truth to this, still, with a whole planet it crisis, it can be irresponsible, escapist, and downright dangerous. Not too long ago, it was identified as “spiritual bypass.” It can foster the attitude that we may plunder and destroy the great, nurturing ecosystem that gives us all this chance to incarnate and evolve. Or ignore it at least. How can that not matter? The traditional message—“live for the afterlife, this one’s a mess”—has turned out to be a deadly half truth. In our world, it’s one of the memes that has created the worst of the damage.
And What About Families?
But more recently, into the awareness of many healers anyway, has come another kind of reversal. Not only must the transformational pilgrim be ultimately responsible to the Mother Earth and the rest of humanity, but even the “I”--the distinct, individual seeker--is a kind of reductionist fantasy. That lone “I” is far more bound up with collective families than we in the West have tended to think.
So what does that mean for getting and staying well?
What powers the body is a very slow fire. We take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide just like the flames you sit around camping out at night. Though "antioxidants" and "free radicals" have given it something of a bad name these days--combustion still powers our cells.
But if that's true, if we are fueled by internalized oxidation, perhaps we can learn something from the life-path of that simple campfire. What if what's healthy for fire, always, but especially in its late stages, is also what's healthy for us?
I've been sitting with small fires recently on Sunday afternoons. It tunes me in to the accelerating Earth Changes. So I've been thinking about this. Especially as it relates to chronic suffering, and mainstream health care's current fetish for extreme specialization.
Nurturing the Flame-Child
The tiniest flames, like you as an infant, need special care. They need lots to learn and grow on, but also shelter. Too much oxygen, as in a strong draft, will cool them below ignition temperature and—blow them out. Dampness also cools them, because water evaporating steals lots of heat in order to become a vapor. Dampness, we might say, is like trauma in the young family. Areas of learning and growth get shut down as parts of the tinder cannot ignite.
So you start a good fire by creating a cone or teepee-like structure with three layers. The inner core is tinder. It consists of flammable materials that are dry, lightweight, and present lots of surface area. Crumpled paper, bits of cardboard, and brittle twigs up to the size of pencils work well. You make a small pile with the twigs leaning against, and above the paper.
What a Good Firestart Looks Like
The next layer of the cone has no name in English—but I call it "bonewood." It's dry sticks about the thickness of the bones in your arms or legs just long enough to lean up against the core of tinder and touch at the top. As you surround it with these, you begin to see the form of the teepee more clearly. The final layer is branches or split logs more like the thickness of your whole arm.
Let's compare creating this foundation to the perinatal period in human life. Do it well and your child is off towards a good firestart. Now what?
Halloween, Day of the Dead, and How Family Constellations Work
Family Energetics--Why, What, & How
Five Facts About Personal and Ancestral Trauma
Personality Layers--Why Some Wounds Need More Than One Healing
Solution Focus Solves the Problem
3 Steps to Safety in Extreme Weather
Power up Your Affirmations with Breath
Seed Time--or Grow a Good Future
Can Empathy Win at Armageddon?
Earth, Families, and Personal Transformation
Good Health as a Sacred Fire
Your Safety as Earth-Changes Accelerate
Karen and the Alien Hand--Why I Do Inner Family Constellations
Music, Migrations, and Health--In Tough Times
Better Private Family Constellations: The Three Session Package