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?
A quarter century ago, Hellinger’s Family Constellation Work adopted, synthesized, and popularized findings of many who saw individuality as only half the story. We were bound from birth onward into group collectives. “Born to bond,” as Lynne McTaggart put it. From this perspective, we remain part of an ever-present, ancestral family system (or “soul”) that deeply influences our adult lives.
We inherit, we learned, not only some skills and strengths, but also any serious, unresolved traumas that afflicted that ancestral family. And yes, that does mean some folks are living as if they are in the holocaust or the Great Depression—even though those tragedies are not part of their present.
Trying to Flourish
With Damaged Earthly Roots
So to think, as I did, that I could just turn completely away from my family and achieve fulfillment and enlightenment as an isolated being--well, in an awful lot of instances, that may simply not be possible. Or at least it’s a lot harder. So many cases now show that the life and love of the divine Mother flow to us through the root systems of our ancestral families.
If these channels are damaged or clogged, the branches and leaves of our lives—our health, relationships, finances, and spirituality—spread into the light of Father Sun sickly and undernourished. In other words, what if the transformation the “I” seeks alone involves also a transformation of its birth and ancestral family?
But How Can You Fix Them?
Of course, the first argument that arises against this is—well, you can’t change the past, so your parents and grandparents are what they were. And the answer to that is: precisely, but what if they never accepted it? What seems to clog the familial root systems, and cause serious trouble for later descendants, is exactly denial of what they actually experienced.
Serious aspects of our recent ancestors’ fates, which they were unable or unwilling to accept, tend to resurface as problems in the lives of their descendants. Out of deep, pre-verbal bonds, echoes of the war, the lost baby, the bad marriage never accepted emerge somehow once again in a grandchild’s life. Family Constellation Work shows us, in vivid and fascinating ways, that we do have ways to help ancestors accept their fates—even after death.
How does this work? How can such a thing be? Well, the transition of souls into the light or on to their next incarnations seems actually to be in stages. Especially when they died in serious denial. Conscious, non-judgmental, loving awareness in a constellation calls in partly transitioned ancestors. It becomes possible to help them avoid reliving (in another life, that is) what they pretend did not happen in the one they just had.
Real Unity With All
There is a bi-directional healing that takes place here. The client, whose issues and family system are in focus, by doing this work, helps recent ancestors accept their fates—thereby achieving clarity and peace. As this happens, the ancestors “untangle” and pass life and love undamaged through to the client.
With the “roots” clear, so clients experience increased strength and freedom in life. They no long carry, out of blind love, unaccepted fates of their ancestors. Chronic issues of health, relationships, and business--no longer anchored in the family soul—begin to resolve.
So then, in this new notion of transformation, there are the two great reversals. As individual seekers, we are still responsible to and for the planet. And beyond that, part of what that planet has given us is a family collective that may need to transform along with us. Looking back, despite the surprises I felt over the decades in making these shifts, I see now what profound sense they make.
For enlightenment was always described as “unity with everything.”
Where exactly did we get the idea that we could achieve this unity while turning our backs on not merely the planet, but the very families that birthed us?
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