"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.
A patient named Karen was being interviewed after an operation that split off the right from the left hemisphere of her brain. It was done, as it has been for decades, to cure severe epilepsy. The corpus callosum, the thick bundle of fibers connecting the two halves of the brain, is severed.
“What are you doing?” asked the doctor, shocked to see Karen’s left hand unbuttoning her blouse. “Oh my goodness,” said Karen, and she fastened the buttons again with her right hand. But the left hand followed along and just unbuttoned them once more. The doctor called his colleagues and said, “Hey, we’ve got a problem here.”
Split Brain = Split Awareness
I heard this reported on NPR, but it goes back to Nobel Prize winning work done by Roger Sperry in the fifties. In most people, the left brain controls the right side of the body, and the right brain, the left side.
By studying people who had undergone this “split brain” operation, Sperry proved that the two hemispheres had distinct jobs and even quasi-distinct consciousnesses. Sever their connection, and you often get a “secret self” that can and does do things, but cannot speak about them.
So what’s that got to do with family constellations, with recovery from personal and/or ancestrally inherited trauma? Well, actually, quite a lot.
Let’s begin by suggesting that there are two sources of trauma: the threatening overwhelms that affect your nervous system personally, and those that affected a parent or ancestor’s but were never dealt with.
After-effects of the second kind do show up in you or your clients, even though they never actually happened to you. What are we coming to understand about these? How are they similar or different?
Consider five foundational facts about them. The whole trauma response, often referred to as “fight/flight/freeze,” actually has not just three, but five stages. Think of them as “friends, fight-or-flight, freeze, and forget.” Easy to remember as the “5 F’s.”
Remember also—trauma is highly individual. One person’s experience of overwhelm is another person’s “so what”--or even triumph.
Fight? or Flight?
The limbic midbrain, triggered by what Bessel van der Kolk calls the “smoke detector” amygdala, sets in motion an array of autonomic responses. They prepare, more or less as needed, our whole organism for possibly extreme efforts to recreate safety.
All processes not immediately relevant to that are slowed down or completely stopped. These include digestion, the immune system, more rationally oriented presence of mind, and more.
Threat level detection in the brain, blood and hormone flow to muscles, everything important to choosing and carrying out actions that will recreate safety--all these become primed and super coordinated for possibly lightning fast response.
In modern life, we most often experience “fight-or-flight” more as “resist-or-evade”. It’s slower, but just as real. And we can stay in milder forms of this stage for hours, days, or years. Too bad for digestion and the immune system.
But what if the “friends/” stage comes even before “fight or flight”?
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