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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 themes

The previous sessions with Lisa have focused on her desire to create community, taking us first into her maternal line who laboured in cotton mills, a workforce known also as the “white slaves of England”.

This session opens with a new theme – that of betrayal. Funds intended for Lisa were commandeered by someone senior to her, during a phase when Lisa was unable to work. Now in a stronger place, Lisa is questioning the legality of this action and seeking redress. She says betrayal and revenge is a theme that surfaces often in her life.

As we explore this topic – and also the immanent arrival of her Father from Jamaica – one phrase leaps out at me. She recollects with great warmth “I love the spirit of the Jamaican people” – I see this recollection land like a balm in an otherwise tumultuous opening narrative.

The family constellation

Again we are using inner vision on Skype and Lisa’s vivid artistic imagination rapidly brings the constellation to life. The immanent arrival of her Father in the UK – combined with a newly presenting theme – points to exploring her paternal line for the first time and she begins opening out their stories.

We spend some time meandering through an ancestral world populated by murder and revenge; chaos feels never far from the surface. We go back to her Grandparents, the first generation born emancipated from the terrible ravages of slavery. Full freedom for her ancestors was not gained until 1838 and even then, frequent crises interspersed slowly unfolding improvement until establishing The Jamaica Constitution in 1962>>

At first, the tales that open out find no place to land: every systemic sentence I try (the usual way we would begin to weave order) seems to find no purchase. For some time I simply hang out and breathe with Lisa, bearing witness to a heritage so fragmented by trauma.

But we need to find her a resource – “somewhere for all this to land and take root” I keep thinking. Then the phrase which shone through at the beginning of the session returns to me, so I ask her to picture a place that she knows and loves from the natural landscape of Jamaica. Once she has done this I ask her to feel, greet and allow herself to fill with “the spirit of Jamaica”.

We begin to populate this place one by one with her ancestors, whom she sees standing behind her in this place that is now “the spirit of Jamaica”. Eventually I invite her to stand up, turn around, and take a deep bow to all she has seen and felt herein.

She does this very slowly and is visibly moved by the ritual. In family constellations, the bow is a way we can contact a deep sense of reverence for the spark of life that flows to us from our ancestors. Whatever has happened along the way – however traumatic – just by virtue of being alive the spark has been passed down.

Eventually Lisa turns back to face me and her visage is much lightened. She dances and moves around enjoying the spirit of Jamaica flowing to her. She appears both soft and fierce at the same time. I recall her first intention to cultivate soft feminine power in place of the fierce warrior fire she is more familiar with.

As I watch her dance I feel that in fact what she has achieved actually is to unite the two – softness and fierce strength – together. We may not have disentangled individual ancestors stories – but as in her maternal line we have found a movement through which she might experience the continuity of roots as an inner resource to return to and build upon.

Post Script: the decision to draw on a landscape to encapsulate the spirit of Jamaica was an entirely intuitive one. I didn’t realise till conducting more research the depth of significance the landscape held in the past, this article reveals more:

… runaway and rebellious slaves were resisting the European colonial system in this rugged and isolated region by creating a network of hiding places, trails, and settlements, which made up the Nanny Town Heritage Route. The mountains and the forests gave the Maroons all they needed for their survival. For many years, slaves of both Tainos and African ancestry made new lives as free people amidst the mountain biodiversity. The mountains were named as a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site in 2008 due to their biodiversity and their intangible heritage.

John Crow Mountains>>

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