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Medicine stories: session summaries shared with permission, highlighting the ancestral origins of issues, and how family constellations can bring insight or resolution. All names have been changed.

Presenting theme: creating community & liberating self expression

Session 2, the theme of creating community is still present for Lisa. This session we get clearer what that means for her. She is not nourished by environments that revolve around drug taking or alcohol. She also describes feeling less attached with communities that have been a support to her in the past. She is looking for something new and again we explore what that might look like.

She comes up with a memory that expresses what she desires. It was a moment when a culturally diverse community of outsiders, exploded in a lively co-creation in a cafe in Greece. It began when a plate was deliberately smashed and this erupted into a free form whirl of dance and creative expression.

She recalled that – “for once I felt completely free to express myself”.

We begin the constellation here, to look at what might hold her back from this confident and free self expression.

The family constellation:

We are constellating on Skype using inner vision. I have also tuned in before the session and laid out a group of my constellation figures for my own reference. These created a scene of many children lying down with women looking on. They look as if a tragedy has taken place – “an explosion perhaps” I think.

I hold this image lightly in the background, waiting to see if it has any relevance to what Lisa brings forward through her own inner vision.

I am aware that there is a history of suicide attempts and mental illness in her mothers line. We begin travelling down this line holding a question, can we uncover the source of this pattern? The line resides in the north of England and working class origins, many of her ancestors toiled in cotton mills.

Lisa holds a great capacity for creative visualisation, she is an artist after-all, but this is also a shamanic skill too. The session progresses more as shamanic journey than family constellation, which would generally call up direct family members. She finds herself hovering outside a large building which she feels a great deal of fear about entering. I ask her if she is willing to go in.

Inside she travels through many rooms – there are horses in the basement, men tending furnaces, large sleeping areas with crisp white cotton beds – but she expresses that there is no way to escape from the atmosphere of work. Reading later about the mills I find this quote:

Arkwright built cottages for his workers, but they were built so close to the factories that … if a worker had any time off, he or she would not be in a position to get away from the environment in which they worked

The Cotton Industry and the Industrial Revolution

Finally she comes to rest in a room full of machines, women begin to file in. She sits at the machine but does not know how to operate it. Everyone begins working around her, but she finds herself stuck rigid and still, a fire of rage burning within.

This builds up till she stands up, gathers some material and sets it afire. The women gather round and add more material to it. Together they file out gathering the horses and men along the way. Eventually they are all standing outside cheering and the mill is rendered as a pile of ashes and charred old beams.


She is reminded of the Celebration card in the Osho Zen Tarot deck, and indeed this reminds me of the opening memory where we began, where an apparently destructive act unfreezes and liberates a community. We create some systemic sentences to mark this moment.

It’s interesting to note that the mills were known fire traps, the perfect storm of tinder and spark. In Lanark, Scotland for instance, of four mills built there three burnt to the ground. Additionally “a second mill using Cartwright’s machinery, opened in Manchester in 1790 but was burned to the ground by hand loom weavers within two years.” From Wikipedia – Cotton Mill

I deliberately return the constellation to her immediate family. I am aware that she carries a great burden of responsibility through care there. She has struggled, oscillating between carrying and putting down this burden, burning out in the process. We try out systemic sentences testing what is true now: “I carry this burden for you” or “I am ready to put this burden down”.

She moves into a discussion about her need to continue on whilst there are people suffering. She asks how can she enjoy herself whilst others are in pain. At present for her, the statement “this burden – of seeing and raging at the injustice – this is mine to carry” feels like the true one.

If I were working purely with family constellation paradigms, we might look for what entanglement needs to be released, to put any systemic burdens down. I wonder about the children I have laid down, in the constellation of figures I set up at the beginning.

There is a well known history of child labour in the mills: and therefore children who have carried huge burdens. The workforce was known as the “white slaves of England” – and there is a long and well documented history of struggle. I wonder what part her ancestors played in this, and how this might compel some of her own struggles.

A Tantric intervention

I have other tools in my tool box. Rather than creating another struggle – that of finding what entanglement needs to be released – I opt at this juncture to accept her inner wisdom about keeping the burden. I look instead if there is another way to frame it, one that might give her a greater sense of liberation in her ability to express herself?

For some time we dance our two hands in this way: one hand dances as the free joyous creative self expression; one hand dances as the rage at injustice that propels a rebellion. We dance each hand in turn, moving freely back and forth between the two – allowing the dance to ripple the energy, movement and feeling of each state – through her whole body.

I invite her deeper and deeper into her body, feeling the quality of these two expressions, and invite her to notice that she can move freely back and forth between them. When we embrace paradox struggle may cease as we find the “and” where before there was only “either / or”.

In the end we bring this movement of hands to a still place in the universal gesture of prayer. Prayerful hands contact the still point at the heart. Here lies witnessing presence: a still point where we can rest, from which we can move out freely and with equanimity in all directions.

God turns you from one feeling to another and teaches by means of opposites so that you will have two wings to fly with, not one

Jalaluddin Rumi, the Essential Rumi

Follow the links to read Lisa’s whole journey through family constellations:


Image courtesy of Kelly Short, via Flickr, with thanks