What is Soul?
We talk about soul frequently – in religion, philosophy, new age healing modalities. Most would agree it refers to some essential aspect of ourselves, of being alive, perhaps even of being human, yet distinct from both mind and body. And rarely do we mention “soul” in traditional therapy. I believe this is one reason therapy is often unable to truly help many of us through deeper layers of angst and unhappiness. Generally we come to therapy because we are cut off from something, even if unable to name it we feel it. We are hurting at a soul level, and all the rummaging in our heads and thoughts and feelings, cannot solve the mysteries and “fix” what ails us. So what does “Constellations” have to teach us about soul—and how can we experience this?
Bert Hellinger (see footnote), founder of the constellations work, says “anything that is alive… is directed by a creative power that guides it along to bring about something new with it.” Soul is “a force that unites what is separated and guides [or shapes] it in a certain direction.” At the individual level, our organs only work together for the body because of the force connecting and directing them. At the family level, soul is the force that unites the members of a family and guides them in a certain direction. This is the “extended soul” and can operate in families, organizations, races of people, or any bounded system. The individual soul has its source outside the self, through the family soul, to the Creative Spirit, the Source of all being. If resonance is lacking, in individual souls or within family souls, then we cannot be at peace. When we find and reunite with the “excluded one” then resonance is again restored. Ultimately the essential process of this work is reconnection with what has been separated, and so is about reconciliation and peace.
One of the characteristics of soul is that it does not tolerate exclusion. At the individual level, think of the phantom limb syndrome where people report still feeling a limb after it’s gone. At the family level, there are consequences felt in the family if a member is excluded, or even simply not taken fully. Soul is the “organ” of the family that guards belonging. Not only people can get excluded from a family soul: key events (for example a war that grandfather fought in), places (for example a homeland for an immigrant family), and other essential “parts” of a system all need to be in their right order, and reconciled if they are not.
Longings as the Gateway to Soul
How do we begin to know what these “separations” are? The longings we dare to experience are the voice of our personal soul telling us we are missing out on life. Real longings aren’t for “things” like a red car or a better paying job; they come from the places where we feel incomplete in our self and in life. Tears and aching come when we contemplate not what is wrong in our lives but what our hearts’ desire. “Longing shows us the contour of what’s missing, and allows us to take off the dressing from the place that hurts.” says Judith Hemming, international Constellations teacher. When we suppress or ignore these longings, we take actions and make choices that cause harm to others and ourselves.
What blocks our longings from our awareness and from fruition? What blocks our soul from living its full expression? This is not a question whose answer can be thought into. We have all tried. The first, and perhaps hardest, step is to go deep inside and contact the part of our self that really yearns for something. The wanting itself is very precious – it’s how we become vulnerable to life, and therefore available for full engagement with life, even when we don’t get what we yearn for. Then, the door to reconciliation opens.
What is a constellation?
For Hellinger the soul is embodied in experience; it is felt as real, and Constellations allows us this felt experience: the voice of soul is heard. We can experience not only our own soul, but also the collective soul from which our individual souls emanate. It is this collective soul that watches over all the family members, and others who are connected to it by fate, and “enforces” the Orders of Love, with consequences for all the members of the family.
A constellation is a “map” of sorts, an image of our soul focused with the laser of our deepest longing. This “map” includes the people (living and dead), places, events, and other elements most relevant to our longing. Through this map we can explore these elements: the interrelationship of people, loyalties, and the order and the blockages affecting our soul. We step into this living map, without words or stories, and experience our current place and the parts of our family system relevant to the longing, we see and feel what has become separated or blocked. We experience where Love (another word for the creative force) has become entangled love or blind love, or where it is blocked. The Orders of Love suggest to us what is absent, misaligned, unbalanced and we see how to re-order things to enrich our lives and loves. Sometimes we simply let soul guide movements that bring relief and peace to the system.
A teacher of mine once said that the answer to what causes our pain lies in the spaces between our thoughts. He was referring to meditation, but a constellation also has the potential to take us to that place between thoughts, beyond our “stories, reasons, and excuses,” to the place where soul lives, to what thinks us.
A Felt Experience of soul
This work is generally done in a group format, where the facilitator works with one person at a time to “map” a soul and it’s longing for that which is missing or misshapen. After the initial short conversation the “issue holder” “sets up” their “map” as it is experienced now, and from here there is very little talking. Representatives (other participants who agree to stand as “tuning forks” resonating with the individual soul, and also the greater soul) are placed into spatial relation to each other to create these maps. Suddenly the representatives report feelings like the people they are representing without knowing anything about them. This is not role-playing. This is a phenomenological experience. The experience shows us that there is a connection with something larger than us, that underlying web of consciousness from which all creation springs and a remarkable accuracy is seen and felt. Through the tangible knowledge gained we see both “what is” and often see or sense the beginnings of reconciliation. Then slowly, guided by the soul and this “knowing field” or “collective consciousness,” the system is brought into a new balance, where the experience is better, stronger, for all members of the system and all are in resonance with everyone else.
To experience your soul, to hear its voice, try this:
Sit comfortably and relax your breath. First think of something you want: a promotion at work, a horse, or a bicycle. You might even want it a lot. Notice where you experience the wanting, and then notice your heart center.
Now, go deeper inside, sifting away the mere wants, into your center and expose yourself to whatever arises from it and reveals itself to you. Listen closely for what is true in you. What do you long for deeply in your life? Let a full a picture emerge, let it “take you” and really feel the longing. Put yourself into its care. What do you notice at your heart center? An expansion, a softening, a sense of “Truth?” Whatever you feel, it's likely different than what you felt with a mere want. So, acknowledge that longing and hold it close; know it as the voice of your soul. Sit with this a bit, and then direct your conscious mind to let it go, to leave it in the care of your other-than-conscious-self. Over the next few days or weeks, without analyzing or brooding, just notice any changes internally or externally in relation to this longing.
*Constellations grew out of an approach pioneered by Bert Hellinger, a German systems philosopher and family therapist. Hellinger’s approach – initially called the Orders of Love – is an approach to healing that promotes constructive action and frees us and those we love from suffering. Author of over a dozen books, his newest is Rising in Love.
Darcy Cunningham is a Constellator in Maine, leading workshops nationally. She also teaches meditation and yoga, and is trained in Gestalt group and organization Systems and consults to individuals and to larger systems. www.TurningLight.org/constel.