By Karen Carnabucci, LCSW, TEP
Family Constellations help us take a look at the hidden dynamics within families so that we can resolve problems that plague our lives today. Systemic Constellations help us look at the dynamics at play in larger groups, including communities and nations.
Aware of the turmoil stirred during and after the 2016 presidential election in the United States, I decided to offer a healing group to address post-election feelings and the underlying systems that contribute to and sustain the dysfunction in our beloved country.
The group focused not on discussion or debate but on the body-based inquiry that is the hallmark of the constellation approach. In this approach, we put theory, opinions and intellectual debate aside and use mindfulness to focus on our moment-to-moment sensations and body experiences. In addition, we used elements of psychodrama including concretization, warm up and sharing.
We began with chairs set up in a circle. Behind the chair circle, more chairs were placed – two chairs side by side in each of the directions of north, south, east and west.
These outside chairs were named as ancestors – both our personal ancestors, as well as other kinds of ancestors, such as the Founding Fathers of the United States, the Native Americans, the immigrants, the suffragettes and the like.
Group members had the opportunity to make a round, sitting mindfully in the pairs of ancestor chairs and speaking aloud according to what they sensed in their body or felt surfacing within their experience of the moment. We noted body sensations, where we wanted to look and whatever other thoughts or feelings wanted to emerge. Native American images and feelings showed up, as well as disinterest, sleepiness, head tilting, stiff body, Benjamin Franklin and more.
Back in the main circle, I talked about the November election and asked people to consider that the two major presidential candidates were not only representing their ideas or the agendas of their respective parties but embodying greater forces and energies within our country and perhaps even the world.
I decided that we would represent only Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (due to the small number of people attending) and not represent the third-party candidates. There was initially some confusion, but eventually it appeared that Trump had the most energy in the “field,” as we call the set-up space.
There was a significant pain in Trump’s left forearm, eventually settling into a strong sharp pain in the left inner wrist. In representation by a group member, we learned that Trump couldn’t look at Hillary but instead appeared focused on points to the side and well beyond her.
We identified these points as possible ancestors and one of the group members was directed to stand and represent the mother or mother lineage -- the place of the feminine. In that place, the representative for mother lineage also noticed significant pain in the left forearm. Looking back at the Trump position, the mother lineage felt no connection.
Then adult Trump evolved into baby Trump, curled on the floor. Baby was frozen on his side in one spot, like a plastic doll, with no ability to make any movement, mouth frozen wide open, no voice.
The representative for mother lineage took one step back to learn if anything would change as we moved into a previous generation; this position also seemed frozen and disinterested. The representative stepped back yet one more time, and in that position felt highly startled in the body.
At the same time, Baby Trump felt a startling as well, like a small earthquake, and made a sudden jerk of movement.
We decided that this moment of “movement” with the feminine created an important shift in the system and stopped the constellation session.
Group members were then given the opportunity to return to the four sets of ancestor chairs in the four directions. Each of the four pairs of ancestors had the chance to feel and speak. This time, they expressed a greater sense of connection, more alertness and the like. Everyone agreed that there was a significant change of felt sense with more peace and less agitation.
Then, returningn to the main circle of chairs, I conducted a simple closed-eye meditation, asking people to call in their own ancestors, the ancestors of the United States as well as people of strength and inspiration who they many consider “ancestors of inspiration.” These included family members, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Shirley Chisholm, Nelson Mandela and Harriet Tubman, among others.
There were a few tears and a feeling of being more settled when we opened our eyes. A group member who brought his guitar spontaneously offered a song, "With a Little Help from My Friends," which was perfect.
There was much interest in the sign on the door that said “post-election healing group.” Many people passing through the hallway to the fair trade store that was hosting this program regretted that they could not attend due to other obligations but voiced interest and endorsement of the healing session. Even more expressed interest on Facebook.
I am committed to offering more of these programs in my community and have already heard from colleagues in various disciplines who have offered or want to offer programs as well. As with all experiential groups of this kind, the content and experience is different each time. This seems a very important healing topic and urgent need.
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