A Ritual for Modern Times
I love ‘classic’ family constellations because it is a modern ritual, a ritual fashioned for a Western audience and viewed through an African lens in my work. I view it as a modern ritual based on an old tradition because that is what I see, that is what I hear and that is what I honour in the process and in the sacred journey to heal family and community!
A constellation is a ritual in community, suggests Malidoma Some Dagara Elder. In 2010 Malidoma was interviewed for an article in East Coast Villages newsletter, Ask Malidoma! Malidoma E-Village 2010…In it, he described his interest and participation in a number of systemic constellations events and he has this to say……….
What is a Community?
A community according to Malidoma Some embodies the unity of spirit, trust, openness, love and caring respect for the elder’s respect for nature and cult of the ancestors. Pg 52 Ritual, Power, Healing and Community.
When I began learning about the systemic constellation method, I immediately looked to that part of the method that most spoke to my own cultural background and would help in the expression of these angry feelings that I seemed to have carried around since childhood. I couldn’t understand where they had come from because as a 50-year-old looking back at me as a child, I couldn’t quite attribute where all this pent up anger has come from.
Gradually over time as I started doing some family research, I began to understand that some of the anger may literally ‘have been passed down’ from earlier generations. And when after 60 years of marriage my mother informed me that she had never had an argument with my father, I knew that there were some dynamics and ‘entanglements in the current system.
Even now I am seen as the ‘difficult one’ in the family. The one who ‘loses her rag!’ over seemingly over simple things, ‘Never Knowing Reasonable’ my sister states. Well, I find that all very interesting and to my mind it’s too easy an explanation so I have made it my job to explore and dig a bit deeper into what may lie behind this down the generations.
Exploring South African Roots
It is no secret that Bert Hellinger drew on his time in South Africa as a catholic priest. He opened a school and ministered to many in the Zulu community, so how could he not gain some kind of understanding about their life in the community. Embedded in the constellations method are some African family principles that I was immediately intrigued by and curious about.
After I started working with the constellations method with clients I became much clearer about the relevance of the Indigenous Wisdom in the method when working with black families and those of African heritage. In many Western societies, the nuclear family has become the norm over several generations. But in many communities in the Caribbean, in the UK and the Americas, the nuclear family is not the norm and there are many different configurations of family.
Constellations in the African Diaspora
In the UK large numbers of children were left back home as their parents came first to settle here. Later when they came there were often problems with finding a clear sense of identity. Indeed although I was brought up in a stable ‘nuclear family’ I keenly felt the loss of a Caribbean community around me growing up, And I spent many years angry and looking for a sense of identity that I couldn’t find in either a”British” or ‘Caribbean’ identity. And of course this sense of lack of identity and belonging is not unique to me or my community, it cut across race and culture and ethnicity.
Losing Touch Time after time I would start to map out a constellation and then realise that personal issues that the client came with, was related to the wider cultural environment and historical traumas of the specific African diaspora experience. So a challenge for me in working with the constellations method was to more clearly reflect the issues that affect families and communities that I work with. And this meant finding a way to integrate the Western systemic theory and Indigenous African Wisdom and make it relevant for an African diaspora community of which I am a part.
Losing Touch with an Indigenous Past
African heritage people living in a westernised society have lost touch with an indigenous past. family constellations can build on these lost traditions and by so doing help with answering questions about identity and belonging. How? Family constellations can bring in the wider ancestral legacy and extended family and community and the process can start to show people, what has been lost and how to start to regain it.
For those reasons, my approach is increasingly to frame the work as an indigenous healing therapy that is appropriate to meet the many facets of a minority black experience in a majority white culture. As a family constellations practitioner, I believe that this approach can be a starting place for healing family and community issues that arise from the trauma of an enslaved past. I will be writing about this more in blog posts, as I deepen my knowledge and skills in this profound work.
Until next time!
Sonya’s first published articles appeared in the Training and Development Methods and Coaching at Work journals in 2006. She returned to writing in 2019 with articles for the Systemic Constellations Journal, The Knowing Field and Counselling and Therapy Journal, Therapy Today. Sonya is currently writing a commissioned book, that explores Transgenerational Therapy and Ancestral Remembering in the African Diaspora.