The room is filled with people. Old, young, men, women, different styles, different postures, open curious faces, closed sceptical ones, intent, cautious, waiting. Bert Hellinger sits calmly at the front of the large, airy room, the well-known smile resting comfortably on his face. We have come to this place because we all want, each for his or her own reasons, to understand something about the family constellations that are the hallmark of Bert Hellinger's Phenomenological Approach to Systemic Solutions. Simply put, the hope, however slim, is that there's a revelation just waiting for us, a key to happiness, here in this room, among these people, and that somehow it is within the power of this
man to reveal it.

But the experiences that await us at Omega may prove different than the expectations we harbour. In this workshop, as in others of his, Bert Hellinger will likely emerge as a different sort of messenger than the familiar "motivational gurus" we have come to know. His approach to healing will emerge as a different sort of paradigm.

The Therapy of No Therapy
First, when the client sits in the chair beside Hellinger, he or she learns quickly that the lifelong narrative - the lifetime of pain or sadness of loneliness or abuse or whatever - will not be requested, in fact, will not be allowed. This therapist is looking elsewhere. Beyond the tales that were permitted, perhaps many generations
back, there are matters of life and death, or of a silently agreed-upon amnesia. Hellinger is setting his sights on these cloudy areas and their muted secrets.
As he has said: "The psychotherapist may put up a new sail, but it is the same wind that blows," so access to this forgotten, ignored, or otherwise closed-off part of the system requires that traditional tools of therapy be put aside.

Here, the client is asked to select participants from the workshop to represent current family members or members of the family of origin, and to position them in spatial relationship to one another. Clients are told to choose randomly, avoiding physical similarities, including age and race. (They are asked only to stay with the same gender.)

The process is a quiet one. The client places the representatives in their positions in the constellation, moving them according to a kind of inner direction, free from preconceived notions of what the family picture should look like. The client then steps back from the constellation, allowing the story to unfold. A few minutes may pass, or many, before the movement comes to a resting place.

Because this approach waits for the subtext of the family story to come to the surface in its own time, on its own terms, because there isn't an agenda to meet, the course of a constellation cannot be predicted. Clients themselves are often stunned by the images that begin to percolate in the system. Representatives may move toward one another or away from each other, cry inconsolably or become numb, lose their balance, collapse on the floor, shake, scream, or turn away. The messages their bodies carry express hidden loyalties, schisms, and various other entanglements that left unresolved in the past, have caught the present client in an invisible net.

Sometimes generations have passed since the initial crack in the system appeared, and the subconscious efforts to fill it have taken so many forms that the current system has no vocabulary to describe its state. It became out of balance long ago. In order to function, it found ways to rebalance through the doggedly loyal efforts of subsequent family members. But these efforts are blind in nature - the initial truths obscured from view, so that the current balance is precarious at best.

Those who have taken on the task of holding up the system do so without choice and the cost to them may be very high. Illness, addiction, and lack of connection -- all of these and more are the fates they bear because they are entangled in the unfinished business of previous generations. Fate is not polite, it simply is.

Not To Struggle Is the Greatest Struggle
Very quickly, we who are watching realize that the most difficult thing that will be asked of us during these few days is to let go of our battles. A young man describes his "fight with cancer." It is a phrase we have all heard a thousand times. We nod our heads "yes"; of course, those who "fight" are the heroes. But Bert Hellinger absconds with the phrase, gently explaining that this is a mistake, that peace lies in greeting one's fate. Fighting fate doesn't prolong life. More important, it robs us of the essence in the life we have. The intervention is shocking and honest, and compassionate.

The young man's constellation pivots on this relationship - between him and his fate, whatever that may turn out to be. In embracing it, he stands stronger in his full dignity. His body and face relax. Life will continue for now.

As many issues as people come up in the three days with Bert Hellinger, but this theme of struggling against a difficult fate plays a central role in almost all of the work. A young man struggles to rise above the abuse he suffered in the past; his "battle" has defined his purpose, and Hellinger asks what he would do without it. If he were not a victim, where would he be? Struggling against fate - resistance and reticence - has become his fate. What we fight most vigorously is what we become.

Again, the constellation highlights this theme. In this instance, the client is not comforted. Rather, he appears a little hurt, a little confused, and yet, his chest seems more open as he leaves the floor, his head is held a little higher. There is a hint that something else may lie ahead, a better life, perhaps.

Others also show how "fighting fate" keeps us wedded to that very fate. The constellations build on core information to help us see, maybe for the first time, the pieces of family history that continue to fuel our current experience because they were never adequately addressed. Representatives usually bring the family picture back to a time before the client's personal memory or conscious knowledge - the part of the photo album that was never filled. If the original events, however disturbing, are brought into awareness, their hold on the future may be diffused and members of the future generations will be freer to live their own - not their predecessors’ - lives.

In other words, balance in the system can be re-established through acknowledgment of and deference to what came before, as opposed to the guileless acceptance of a child of a fate that does not belong to him or her.

Whose Constellation Is This Anyway?
It’s not only the clients who experience the constellations; those who watch are deeply affected as well. It’s not only a “viewer’s” emotion that comes up; it seems to be more of a collective resonance. Tears stream down people’s faces, laughter ripples through the crowd, and, at several points, the room itself seems to rise in a shared gasp- whatever is happening in the constellations moves inside us, the witnesses, as well. It is exhausting - and exhilarating.

With each client who sits down beside Bert Hellinger to work, the common humanity of us all becomes more apparent. Ghosts of Vietnam, demons of slavery, legacies of the Holocaust, eating disorders, marital dissolution, sexual abuse, anger, fear, sadness, wrath - all of them and more belong to all of us, and as we watch one family’s shadows take on a form and voice, we see all of our families and ourselves.

There are healing movements within the individuals and beyond that in their families. If one changes, the system changes. Then there are the meanings we each take home from Omega, meanings that foreshadow even greater possibilities for change. These themes have to do with the paradox of humility and empowerment; in bowing to the forces that came before us, from which we breathe in energy and to which we give it back, there is great individual strength and dignity.

As a young client folds herself like a child in Hellinger’s arms, her sobbing coming from a place far beyond this one tiny person, the reality makes me weak in the knees: The past is an inextricable part of who we are, and if we look at it with courage and honesty, we will not stumble under its weight. But if we don’t look, if we cannot, then the past reigns over the present and the future like a warlord, because that which we deny looms largest in our life.

Author's Bio: 

Suzi Tucker is cofounder of the Bert Hellinger Institute, USA, which launched the first trainings in this country and forged a path for many of those who are working in the States today. Formerly Editor-in-Chief of Zeig, Tucker & Theisen, Publishers, Suzi has worked closely with Bert Hellinger and Hunter Beaumont on the various books and videotapes published in the United States. She continues to work with Bert Hellinger privately as a consultant on his writing. Suzi facilitates workshops regularly and writes about the work for various publications. Her NYC Guided Learning is in its 8th year, and she is Director of the Montreal training.