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spacerSneh Victoria Schnabel

Sneh Victoria Schnabel

Sneh Victoria Schnabel






Chaos Constellations

How it all began
How could I not have fallen in love with chaos, as it provided me with most surprising, most intelligent and most humorous solutions; solutions of the kind one can never think of; solutions that come when you least expect it - seemingly out of the blue, as in my first timid brush with chaos in a constellation that I was leading. We were stuck. The picture did not move; no solution was in sight and the energy was slowly seeping out of the constellation. All of a sudden, a participant who was seated in the circle got up and did an absolute "no-no": she walked straight through the constellation space in order to get something to drink from the other side of the room. The group participants (and I) held their breath in disbelief; I was ready to jump on the brazen "trespasser" ("How on earth dare you ... "), when all of a sudden I saw out of the corner of my eye that the stuck picture of the constellation had started to move. Now, that was interesting! I let the trespasser repeat the path she had just taken, this time slowly and consciously. And a sigh of relief went through the standing representatives. "She was missing!"; "We need her; without her we are not complete.". It was then easy to find the person whom we had forgotten to include. Ever since that moment, I have my eyes open for what is happening to the people "outside" the constellation and have learned to watch for signs in the whole room and even in the environment. A sudden gust of wind that opens the door, the rolling thunder coming closer, a bird mistakenly hitting the window; all of this can lead the way towards understanding and resolution.

The following is an example of how we were once helped by an incident that happened doing constellations in nature with a group of trainees. The task was to include real parts of nature as resources. I certainly will never forget how a dead bird peacefully floating in the lagoon of a nearby lake became a significant sign of love and strength. A young woman had chosen water as her resource, and for her constellation we all stood at the shore of the lake. And there it was: what first looked like a tangle of branches rocking gently on the water started to float, revealing a dead bird, wings spread wide. After the first shock, she silently cried and started talking of her father whom she had lost through a drowning accident at age eighteen, and how much she had felt, ever since, abandoned and disconnected. With the tears, came the feelings of love and connectedness, allowing her to make space in her heart for the peacefulness of the picture, and take it as a loving message from her father.

In the open
Another true eye-opener for me was a presentation during a conference in Würzburg, Germany in 2001, where, together with a group of Native Americans, I was to talk about the training that happened on their reservation. To augment the talk with experience, we had decided to add a constellation with a theme of their reservation, that had to do with the problems of having 11 different tribes living in one place - some of them having been former enemies. In the group of around 150 participants was also present an Indian elder from Canada. He honored the event with his opening prayers. Shortly before the congress, Bert Hellinger had come out with his new approach to constellation work: the movements of the soul. In this radically new way of leading constellations, he had the participants find their own space, movement and expression with a minimum of intervention from his side. Partly inspired by this - and by my own preferences - and because most of the Native Americans I worked with never felt quite at ease with a constellation leader telling them what to say or where to go, I felt the time had come to let the representatives do their own movements and find their own words. After some time of tuning in, the people who stood for the tribes started to sway, obviously having a hard time to stand. To give them strength, I placed behind each an ancestor for support. But the ancestors began to sway also, and so I placed behind the ancestors 6 people more so that each tribe was represented through 8 generations. By now we had 12 times 8 people in the center of the circle and it got pretty thick with movements; people falling, moaning, sobbing, screaming. It was chaos at its best! A person standing for the United States said: "I need blood"; someone else was getting up, spreading her arms and saying that she was spirit, being there as protection and someone else added that there was something that had to do with witches. Without understanding anything at the time, I just let it unfold. Many details seemed rather odd, but half a year later became meaningful; but what for us became visible in all that chaos was that out of the movements, a formation in the shape of a spiral started to emerge. Time was running out, and for us to give enough opportunity for people to share their experience, we stopped the constellation. It certainly had been a daunting go at something we had never done before; it did not provide visible solutions, but it showed something was in the making of becoming a shape, a form. With more time and patience we might have seen much more coming out of it, but, looking back, I am happy to have witnessed that which looked like chaos was perhaps merely the beginning of a new arrangement, a new order. The Canadian elder who had given the blessings in the beginning shook my hand to thank me for the constellation. He said that it was hard work and that it was good to now be in the open. I, myself, had many doubts, specifically about the "wanting blood" and the reference to witches. Funny enough, half a year later someone presented me with a book in which an article about the USA explained how the witch-hunts poured over to the Americas, together with the arrival of the first white people. Now, after many years of experience, I begin to understand; can see where I stumbled; did not allow the full range of emotions and movements to find their own end; and simply lacked trust in chaos. But the seed that was sown then has made it now into the open. I had to acknowledge its presence, and could not quite move back to the old ways of leading constellations.

Chaos as midwife
Coming from a thorough "education" in Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), with its rich and very creative "tools for dreamers", I have always loved to explore the interface of two different techniques. One of the great tools that NLP has developed is changing belief systems. A student had heard of someone who made constellations with belief systems. (I am sorry; I never found out who this creative genius is), and in my training group we experimented in choosing a person for each word, giving them a place in the constellation. It worked more than well - proved very powerful, in fact - and since that time I use it whenever someone seems stuck with a strong belief or conviction. Parallel to finding new interesting methods for doing constellations, I started to have constellations in which not the client chooses but the group participants themselves choose their roles. This happens not casually but after thorough investigation; do they feel called for the role, and if so, do they have “permission” to be in this role? (The piece about permission was shared with me by Francesca Mason Boring, a former student and now accomplished facilitator in her own right, a colleague and friend.) In this new set up, the group as a whole takes active part in the constellation - each individual being able to contribute, go into roles and share their insight. Looking back, I believe it started in Italy. In a group of about fifty participants, I suggested doing a constellation with a belief system that seemed to have great power over the client, hindering her to get her business started. Today I do not remember exactly her words; it was something like, "“I can never do this." Usually, when participants felt they were to be part of the coming constellation, I had them raise their hand, and it was then up to the client whom to choose. But this time I suggested a slight change, asking the participants that whoever felt called by a role to simply get up and state who they are. The group was a true Italian group; no long mulling over who feels called, has permission, and so on. In no time, many more people stood for some of the words than were needed. And I had the sudden revelation that this might be exactly right. So we had perhaps five "I"s, one "can", several "never"s, one "do" and several "this"s and even a person for "period" (the punctuation!). During the constellation, the "words" started to move into a silent picture that looked like people caught in tragedy – where death and destruction took place. In the middle of it all stood the five people for the I, all women holding onto each other - swaying, expressing nausea, fear and cold, feeling small, vulnerable, abandoned and lost. When asked if this picture had any meaning to her, the client remembered a story her mother had once told her: During the war, they had to flee by boat and she and four other little girls were taken on the first boat, separated from their families who were to follow on other boats. The route must have been stormy, and all her mother remembered were the other four girls, that they held onto each other in fear and that they all were terribly seasick. After the picture had gotten its meaning, we did not need much to remember that it ended well. (They all were reunited.) Meanwhile the "I"s" and the "never"s embraced and looked like parents upon their children, and all what was left over was "can do" and the "period". We left it at that.

A year later, I started to add voice to this kind of constellation. Now I have every participant in a constellation of a belief move around, repeating the word for what he or she stands. It adds to the chaos; puzzles the mind in ways that make it less possible to hang onto old patterns – and thus seems to help to get in touch with even deeper layers of the hidden agenda behind our predicament. It has also shown that, through movement and sound, a whole bundle of creativity can be unlocked that helps in finding amazing new ways to overcome or change a former conviction.

Interactions can be triggered, as in the following example: the words were "I am only good when I am successful". Again, we had several people standing for the same word. The representatives walked about, faster and faster, almost singing their words. Amongst them, all of a sudden, the word "unless" appeared, hardly audible. The client picked up that something was different and entered the circle, drawing closer to the source of this other word. Some of the other words seemed to disappear and the "unless" became stronger and stronger. The client now was right in the middle, herself singing with them, "unless, unless ... ", and finally clear and loud, "unless I want!". The whole group started singing with her and she stood in the center, laughing and crying and singing her new song, "unless I want".

With more and more experience of these "chaos constellations", my work changed to the point where I was looking to find a name that fits to the new gestalt, and also gives honor to its source - family constellation work. Suggestions came, among them: wisdom constellations, wild-card constellations, path-of-love constellations and so on. But no matter what name was suggested, whenever I overheard people talking about it, it became clear that "chaos constellations" it was.

The eagle constellation
I would like to end my account of chaos constellations with one that stands out in my mind as a great example of how chaos can give birth to an understanding of a different kind; the kind that seems beyond what we can comprehend with our mind; the kind that comes from our very heart and soul. It happened in Bellingham, Washington, where I was invited to lead a weekend workshop. Most of the participants had been exposed to the work more than once; some had extensive training, and some were already facilitating their own groups. We were about to do our last "piece"; it was meant to be something that could be done for and with the whole group. At the beginning of the workshop, we all were impressed by a picture on the wall that showed a photograph of an eagle. I had included this great bird in the opening ritual, in which I like to invite all the other-than-human forces and beings to help us in our work. During the three days the picture had become a strong inspiration for many. Now at the end of our workshop, it seemed a natural ending to do a constellation about us and the eagle. We started again with the "chaos dance" (meaning everybody moved about, without plan), this time in silence. After some time they all came to a standstill, having built a loosely connected longish shape. The one closest to the entrance started talking, and others followed:"I am the eyes of the eagle and I now understand how I have to look at my life to see it with clarity"; "I am the claws of the eagle, and I am sharp and I can take what is mine and keep it"; and someone, moving around outside the eagle shape said, "I am the open sky of the eagle, where he can soar high"; and someone, lying on the floor, said," I am the prey of the eagle. I now understand about surrender"; "I am the right wing", and so on. Each one had found a meaningful place, rich with insight. At the very end, after the tail feathers had spoken, I saw one person standing with closed eyes, a little further away. When I touched her on the elbow she almost jumped, so deeply had she been "entranced". She then said, "I am not the eagle, nor am I not not the eagle." While all of us stood in silence, we experienced this last constellation as a final ritual in which nothing more needed to be said or done.

A few days later, when I was back in Germany in my home town, a message from the organizer of this group reached me. One of the participants had sent a poem to her to share. He had written it some time earlier, when living on Lummi, an Island off Washington's coast, and home to the Lummi reservation.

i stand and watch.
eagle appears
one mind:
i happen to be there
eagle happens to be there
the other mind:
eagle appears
because i am there
the far mind:
i appear
because eagle is there
- Luther Allen

When we allow, not only the flow of constellations to take its course, but also the use of the sum total of all the hearts, bodies and brains present, we seem to be even better able to tap into soul-matters - not only of our family and "tribe", but of existence itself with all its aliveness in many shapes and forms. And we can feel the connectedness through direct experience. And when we feel connected, there is no one to fight. We feel at peace.

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