By Kate Curran, Ph.D.
The more I am involved with Family and Systemic Constellations, the more I am convinced that if we want to shift the stuck, circular, fractal dynamics of racism and other divides in our country, we must first look at our own immigrant traumas.
I write this article shortly after the incidents in Charlottesville, Va., and I know that by and large, this article will be read by a white, middle class, well-meaning audience – the immigrants and the settlers. Before we can look out and successfully affect the visible and the not-so-visible horrors of our own American situation, we must look within.
A recent constellation session about chronic pain in my shoulder and leg revealed a woman keening over her dead baby in the Irish Great Hunger, intoning “Not another one,” with death all around her.
This was terrible and important for me to see. These deaths took place in my great-grandparents’ generation; the era of the Great Hunger was from 1845 to 1852 . My grandfather and grandmother immigrated to Minnesota and had nine children. Six of the children died before the age of 25; my grandmother died when my father, her youngest, was 10. Many of us have wondered what could have happened that six children died. I now think it may easily have been out of loyalty to those before them in the Irish Great Hunger.
One great-grandfather on my mother’s side – the only not-Irish one – was involved with the native conflicts in western Minnesota during the Civil War and later fought in a Civil War battle. These natives, as we know, suffered at the hand of immigrants (settlers) themselves.
Soon after I saw the famine image, it shifted the way I saw other ancestral trauma, and indeed current oppressions going on here and elsewhere in the world.
First, I realized that there are many who have these kinds of genocides in their background, not just the Jews (I obviously knew that intellectually before, but know it now).
Secondly, these large-scale devastations still go on, and those who were victims can become perpetrators. For example, the Irish can be very “hard” people. I think it’s the 900 years of colonization, oppression, and other forms of domination. I saw it in my father, and I see it in myself. I am an Enneagram 8, with great leadership capabilities, but also an inherent tendency to bully.
As I have learned more about this shadow aspect of myself, I see that at least in part it started because I was damned if I was going to let myself be left out any more. I still find this part of myself hard to accept. Yet, I know from my training in Family and Systemic Constellations about the importance of including the perpetrator as well as the victim. I wonder about the relationship between my own ability to accept this part of myself, and my capacity to hold the space so that two sides of a polarized conflict can come together.
I need to be aware of any tendency to see one as the “good” side and the other the “bad.” As we know, they all do what they do in “good conscience,” according to some group conscience to which they belong.
Today a colleague offered her sense that part of why our current conflicts trigger us so much is that we’re still concerned for our own survival - a vestige of unprocessed trauma that for many of us includes whatever trauma and oppression pushed our forebears to come here.
The more I have become aware of my unconscious pull toward death, the more I see that my fear about my own eventual death has actually been unconscious terror left over from my ancestors’ experiences. Is it survival terror that I can project onto the “other” as causing? How can I include him or her if I get triggered and still think they might annihilate me?
There is a Hindu concept called Indra’s Net. In this story, Indra’s net is a beautiful web stretched over the sky. At each intersection, where the strands come together, there is a jewel – think of a spider web with dew at each crossing. In each jewel, all other jewels are reflected and their light amplified.
I now see each of us as a jewel on this net. The more I polish who I am - becoming who I’m meant to be and take on the work I am meant to take on - the more brightly I shine. Also, the better I am able to reflect the jewel that you are becoming as well. The net needs all of us to effect change - I can’t do your part, nor can you do mine. But we can be the best we can be where we are.
Some of the constellation practitioners that I respect the most say that they engage in projects that interest them - not that ones that will save the world but ones with this much narrower motivation. At first, I was shocked by such a seemingly self-interested motive. However, now I am relating Indra’s Net to what I’m learning about the multiplicities of oppressions and to my colleagues’ narrower statements of purpose.
Obviously, these conflicts have gone on for a long time: Irish, African, Native American, Jewish, Indian, South African - those are just the first that come to mind. There are so many more They will still go on. I can’t prevent them. I can’t save the world, but I can do what interests me, what calls me. The rest I must leave to the spirit of evolution.
Healing happens when each of us answers our own call to evolve, and each of us does what we can at our personal intersections.
Therefore, for example, one action I take today is to financially support a new public benefit corporation started by an amazing young African American woman friend of mine, designed to educate other black women to build wealth, teaching financial skills and entrepreneurship, and providing mastermind type support, among other things. This is only one step. There are also others.
But I am no longer oppressed by the magnitude of what I see, nor do I think I must fix it all. Instead I take responsibility for my own ancestral trauma, my current victimhood and perpetration. I take the actions I can, I try to shine a little brighter by doing my own work, and I hope to help polish some others’ jewels near me through constellations and other services I provide, also letting them polish me.
As we all shine brighter, perhaps the whole net glows brighter and we all heal splits together, wherever we may find them. At least, that’s how I see it now.
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