At the International Centre for Wholistic Law (ICWL), we are pioneering the use of systemic constellations in legal disputes, particularly in the context of environmental issues, to accelerate societal healing and change. We are not the only ones – around the world systemic constellations are being used to look at a diverse range of issues – from national park and forest management and administration, farming issues, strategic planning for lawsuits and in the court system in Brazil, to land disputes, issues with household pets, reconnecting oneself with the Earth community and nature and in order to expand consciousness.
Born out of Bert Hellinger’s family constellations, systemic constellations and its various forms (organisational constellations, nature constellations, environmental constellations, social change constellations, past life constellations etc) are a way of directly accessing a level of information where everything is interconnected beyond time and space – what Rupert Sheldrake called the morphogenic or morphic field. Sheldrake referred to the constellation process as “the manifestation of morphic fields in action”.
Our inaugral workshop in May 2013, Evolving Earth Law – Co-creating a New Legal Paradigm, facilitated by me, Lisa Mead of the Earth Law Alliance and Stephen Busby, was well attended by both lawyers and environmental activists from as far afield as Africa and as close to home as the Falkirk anti-fracking campaign, which was our case study. You can read more about this below.
We are running another constellation workshop soon – WHOLE – Working Holistically on Legal Evolution over the weekend of January 25th -26th 2014 in Findhorn, Scotland, where once again we will be exploring environmental and legal issues through a systemic lens. This workshop is specifically aimed at those who are interested in evolving the way in which environmental and legal issues are handled in our society and who are willing to experiment with new tools.
Below I share some of my personal experiences in working with systemic constellations, as well as some of the outcomes from the Evolving Earth Law workshop.
Giving the Earth a Voice through Systemic Constellations
“When we understand the systemic laws that allow love to unfold, we may be able to help the suffering to find solutions. It’s profoundly moving to observe clients approach the Orders of Love and spontaneously melt into soft and intimate love, even after a lifetime of hate, anger and abuse”. This is a quote from Bert Hellinger’s book, ‘Love’s Hidden Symmetry’.
One of the main causes of the problems we face in our times finds its root in our fundamental disconnection from nature – not just from the natural world but from ourselves as part of nature, or from the natural order of things. Unlike our ancestors and indigenous people around the world, many have forgotten how to listen to the voice of nature that resounds within and without, distancing ourselves from the systemic laws that allow love to unfold. This allows us to persist in actions that endanger the whole, causing the vast imbalances that we experience in our world today.
When we speak of recognising natures’ rights in our legal system, one of the main criticisms is that nature cannot “speak” for itself to assert its rights in a court of law. Furthermore, any view put forward on behalf of nature by a human being who is not fully connected with nature would be coloured with an anthropocentric lens replacing one problem with another. In our modern world those that have undertaken the rigorous inner work required to achieve a level of connection that allows them to speak from the perspective of the whole are few and far between. After all, despite significant advances in our scientific paradigms to prove the radical interconnection of our world, as spoken of in all the ancient wisdom teachings, our mainstream culture still lags behind.
However, what if I told you that it is possible for us to literally hear ecosystems, animals, plants, the Earth, governments, land, etc speak in our language directly to us from their own perspective – without us doing any of this inner work? What if there was a way that you could directly experience in your body what any element, aspect or being of the natural world – including other human beings – was thinking and feeling and to be able to communicate directly with it within the context of their system? What if there was a way to expose the hidden dynamics that make governments, corporations and people behave in the ways that they do – and to be a catalyst for shifting those dynamics to something that better serves the whole? This is exactly what systemic constellations offer us.
Hellinger discovered that living systems exhibited certain relational dynamics and an inherent order. In the context of the family system he called this “Orders of Love”. He observed that when the natural order is disturbed, the system tries to adjust itself around the disorder to maintain its dynamic stability – but if the origin of the disorder is not resolved, the resultant issues continue to perpetuate themselves in subsequent generations. He discovered that it was possible to map out the key elements of a system and to catalyse the system’s ability to self-heal, by setting up and working with a representation of the system and the relevant issue. This consists of a holding circle, an issue holder and a facilitator. The facilitator asks the issue holder to choose representatives from the holding circle to represent key elements of the system relating to the issue. The constellation then unfolds naturally through a process of intensely present body/mind observation called phenomenology.
Key to systemic constellations are the phenomena of representative perceptions. This is the ability for people, acting as representatives in a system of which they have no prior information, to feel accurately in their bodies and minds the thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and motivations of the actual elements involved in that system. Very often the information that emerges may be unknown even to the client, but is later verified upon investigation. Whilst there is no doubt about the authenticity of this kind of representative experience as it happens in every constellation – even constellations done blind (where the representatives don’t know what the issue is or what they are representing) or double blind (where neither the representatives nor the facilitator know what the issue is or what is being represented by whom) – more recent research in neuroscience shows that the phenomena might be explained in terms of the functioning of “mirror neurons” – neurobiology that enables us to pick up information from another living being empathically, whether or not we are consciously aware of it.
This may also explain why the issue holder usually chooses representatives (unknown to him) who happen to have similar systemic issues. The healing that occurs usually affects all participants present. Representatives gain profound insights and undergo healing processes during the constellation that carry through to their own systems too. This is also true of the holding circle. Having walked in the skin of another, an experiential understanding far deeper than intellectual knowledge arises that takes us beyond judgement and changes the participants forever.
The same experience applies whether representing human or non-human aspects of a system, which is why this work is so valuable when looking at issues affecting the natural world. It is possible via the representative phenomenon to actually experience being a river that is polluted or land that is being fracked and to see it from the river or the land’s perspective, which is often very different to our perceptions and projected ideas about the situation!
By working with the represented system another phenomenon that regularly occurs is that healing that happens in the represented system also simultaneously occurs in the actual system that is being represented – even though the actual beings involved are often not present. I personally experienced this when I did a constellation to look into why my sister stopped talking to me for 6 months. As we were very close this situation was causing me great pain. I resolved the issue in a constellation with representatives and that same evening I received a phone call from my sister (who had no knowledge of the constellation work) as if nothing had happened between us! I have also experienced the power of the constellation method in my own life in shifting a long-standing, entrenched and seemingly intractable relational issue, with enduring and dramatic effect in all parts of the system involved, even though I was the only one aware of the work being done. All this sounds improbable in a Cartesian world – however it is highly probable if the theories of quantum mechanics in relation to the non-local, non-spatial and non-temporal nature of information are applied.
Falkirk Against Unconventional Gas Constellation
Jamie McKenzie Hamilton, the Falkirk campaign organiser presenting the issue, reported that he gained tremendous insight as a result of the work. At the time of the constellation the campaign needed new direction and the organisers were feeling despondent and burnt out. Through the process, (during which the representative for “Energy” had to leave the room twice with an urge to be sick), Jamie became reconnected with the original impulse that drew him to the cause, which somehow he had lost sight of when he found himself locked into a battle with the energy company. As a result of the constellation he stated that he could see that the energy company was simply part of a wider systemic picture and that what we are really up against is ourselves. He said that through participating in the workshop his “consiousness had expanded” and he became aware of the need to work on multiple levels. Jamie’s key insights from the constellation, in his own words, were that “(i) Whilst it was important to acknowledge the validity of our opponent’s perspective and needs, it was more important to maintain a fixed hold on the (rather abstract) perspective of the ecology during any dialogue, as any compromise position would entail harmful impacts; and (ii) that I was also a participant in the dynamics that drove our opponent and that it was very difficult to consciously reconcile that “feeling” with the one that motivated my opposition, but that the “bridge” lay in being still and silent and allowing the right next steps to emerge.”
Since the workshop the campaigners have presented over 2500 signed objections to the local council, winning them a landmark public enquiry at which the planning application will be decided. The group is also actively involved in calling for a moratorium in Scotland on fracking, which they raised at a recent SNP conference. They are currently fundraising to pay a professional team to assist them with the enquiry – to support them please go to Falkirk Against Unconventional Gas.
Wholistic Law Constellation
Another piece of work that was done during that weekend related to Wholistic Law (a legal paradigm based on restoration, reparation and healing). From this very moving piece of work it became apparent that Wholistic Law only truly comes into its own when consideration of “All Beings” is brought into the picture. Workshop participants were chosen to represent “Mainstream Law”, “Wholistic Law”, a “Change Agent” and, at the end of the constellation, “All Beings”. It was when All Beings entered the constellation that the existing system started to crumble and Wholistic Law was fully equipped to meet the situation gracefully.
It was also clear from the participant representing the Change Agent that standing in opposition to the mainstream is futile, exhausting and has no impact on the wider system. Wholistic Law only became empowered once the Change Agent let go completely to a higher power and stood as a channel through which Grace could flow, whilst deriving strength from the higher vision (the Change Agent went through a process of collapsing and then being revived by strongly connecting with the higher purpose). When the facilitator introduced a representative for “All Beings” towards the end of the constellation, the representative for “Wholistic Law” suddenly burst into tears saying “Oh, God, you’re breaking my heart…You’ve just broken my heart…” – the two embraced, then parted and bowed to the ground to honour each other. The Change Agent bowed too, as did others from the holding circle. At this point the representative for “Mainstream Law” said “I don’t really know what to make of this – I’m not sure where my place is here”. Somebody from the holding circle spontaneously bowed to the ground behind her to honour everything that Mainstream Law has been holding for us.
Starting a European Citizens Initiative for the Rights of Nature
From this I got the clear insight to start a project for bringing a European Citizens Initiative (ECI) to get the rights of nature recognised in law at EU level, which is now in progress. The ECI is a participatory democracy mechanism recognised by the EU since April 2012, which allows citizens to propose a law – provided that one million signatures across seven member states are obtained within one year the EU must consider passing the proposed law. The EU wants citizens to play a more active role in European political processes and the ECI is a powerful way of doing this. If you know anyone who would like to join the working group or support the project in any way please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you a copy of the project document.
In another constellation at a separate event, in which Kim J Wright, leader of the Integrative Law movement in the US, brought an issue, I represented an element in the system that left me with a profound experiential “knowing” in relation to the rights of nature work. This constellation was held outside and I immediately and very tangibly felt in my body the pulse of the Earth moving through me. I became intensely connected to everything that was alive and a boundless joy, serenity and invincibility filled my being. At one point another one of the representatives started to move towards me, which made me uncomfortable – instinctively I moved my gaze out towards the trees and I was instantly connected again – I said “I feel expanded when I’m looking out towards the trees because they see me for who I truly am”. After this constellation I knew in my being that we have the energy of the entire cosmos behind us – we cannot fail!! It seemed irrelevant whether the humans that don’t understand this work “see” us, as the support from the non-human world is tremendous! I felt tangibly uplifted for months – and still remember the bodily experience vividly.
For more information about our upcoming workshop on 25th & 26th January 2014, please see the workshop flyer and e-mail me at email@example.com to reserve your place early as numbers are limited. As the workshop will be held straight after the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature Conference in Ecuador, I will also be giving an update on the proceedings there and discussing the way forward with the European Citizens Initiative on the Rights of Nature. In the interests of meeting the needs of all participants, the financial contribution is by donation – we will be transparent about our costs and ask you to attune to your contribution at the end.