Bert Hellinger Lectures - Omega Institute, New York June 2001
The Alpha and the Omega
Last night, when I arrived at the Omega Institute, I was a little lost. As I waited for my luggage, I decided to walk around a bit. I came across a man. He was a stranger to me, but I thought he seemed familiar. At first, I was too shy to address him. Then I realised he might be Jesus. So I asked him, "What are you looking for here?" He said, "I am looking for the Alpha."
Then I got my luggage and I lost sight of him. When I tried to find him again, he had disappeared. But because of his response, for the entire night, I thought about the Alpha. What is the Alpha?
The Alpha is the beginning, the source. What I have been looking for in my work is actually the Alpha, the source from which everything emerges, from which everything springs. Therefore, in my individual work and in my work with others, I always look to see, where is the beginning and where is the original strength?
All therapy, as I understand it, has to go to the source. For each one of us, the source is, first of all, our parents. If we are connected to our parents, we are connected to our source. A person who is separated from his or her parents is separated from his or her source. Whoever the parents are, however they behaved, they are the source of life for us. So the main thing is that we connect to them in such a way that what comes from them can flow freely to us and through us to those who follow.
I have an image of source. I am thinking of a river. It begins at its source. It wells up from the earth, and then, once it has welled up, it does not have to look for its way. It finds its way automatically because it always stays low. The progress of the river is to go to the bottom, to stay low. Its flowing is always downward, never upward. It always goes down. At the end, it finds the ocean, where it is absorbed into something greater.
Much spiritual striving aims for the peak. "Peak experiences," as they call them. But being at the peak means we are no longer connected to the source. Staying low, I think, is the actual way of being in tune with everything as it is.
Now, I have a certain feeling if I stand in front of my parents, when I stand straight in front of them. If I go down to my knees, I have a different feeling. And if I lie flat on my belly in front of them, in reverence, I have another feeling. And that is the true feeling, at the bottom. Once we lie prostrate in front of our parents with reverence, then all that comes from them can reach us freely. There is no more resistance on our part.
It does not matter how our parents are now or were as we were growing up. It does not make any difference. Life, and all that comes with life, comes to us through them. But they, too, stand in a long line. What comes to us from them comes from far away. And it goes down. All the time, it goes down. If we really see this, if we look at the origin, the source of life itself, and watch it flowing through all these generations, we can be open to what is given to us. Then there are no more accusations, no blaming in any way. We just take it, and then we may turn and let the flow of life pass through us, going on to the next generation, to our own children or, if we don't have children, to the community, to humankind as a whole. Then we are really in tune.
Family constellations actually help us to find this connection. This is the work at hand, this is the aim. If I reach this, I am in touch with the Alpha - also the Omega.
Facing the End
After working with a cancer patient, letting him face his illness and his death
You can see the difference between his strength now, compared with how he felt before.
In his situation, this is what is necessary, facing the end. If we are able to really face it, then we feel better, then we are in contact with the source of life. Because life and death belong together. We have life because others died before. The death of others has made way for our life. And if we die, life goes on to others. We make room for them. This is a circle of which we are part. We can live our lives fully if we are in tune with the end. This understanding demands from the therapist that he or she also be in tune with his or her own death and is not afraid of death personally and not afraid of the death of the client. Then they feel very calm. That is all I have to do. If I were to try anything more, I would take away from what he has experienced.
I want to say something about "soul." We have the idea in Western society that we have souls. This goes back to Greek philosophy, to a great extent, back to Plato. The idea is that we have a body, and the body embodies a soul. So the soul is imprisoned in the body. That soul does not feel happy in the body. It tends to leave the body after a while. In order to help the soul to leave, we first must save it. Have you heard about that? Saving the soul? Isn't this a strange idea, when you think about it, that we can save our souls?
When we work with family constellations, we are shown that we are connected to a greater force. This greater force is knowing, full of wisdom, and it is actively steering us toward a goal. We can see that in a family; all the members of the family act as though they are guided by the same force or by the same conscience, as though they have a common conscience. This is why we are connected with people in the past who had a special destiny or fate.
In other words, if, say, some injustice were done to them, we may now be entangled with them. How is this possible? How is it possible that the injustice done to somebody in the past will be taken up by another member of the family who never even knew the person? How can it be that the second person is compelled to redress the injustice done in the previous generation? There must be a common force at work that connects them.
I also have the idea that we can live as human beings only if we are connected at all times with something outside of us. Any exchange with the environment must be guided by something that unites us as well, the environment and us, so that we can interact in a wholesome way. Evolution is fuelled by a constant exchange and there is a guiding force that pushes evolution forward. This greater force I call soul.
When I work here, I must get into contact with that greater soul. This soul guides me so that I can be in tune with the other person. As soon as I am in tune, I can work with him or her and do exactly what is needed in the particular context. Therefore, I am not just thinking about what is right, I am not theorising about it, I find the next steps by being in tune with the person.
The soul has different dimensions. What I will allude to now are images that are meant to touch on an idea only. This is not "truth" per se, but some observations suggest that if we think in these terms or images, we understand better what is going on in therapy.
One's body is held together by a common force. The whole metabolism is directed by something that knows what is correct. It is not a blind force that directs what happens in the body. It has a certain direction. This force is the soul. A soul keeps the organs together and guides them in a certain way, so that life is preserved and continues. This is my notion of soul with regard to the body.
The family as a whole is also guided by a common soul, a family soul. We can see how far this soul actually reaches. We can discover the boundary of this soul. So, we can find out who is encompassed by and included within this family soul. Now, who belongs to the family soul? First are the children, all the children. Even the stillborn children are included in this family soul. Often, aborted children are included in it as well, even if the abortion was spontaneous, a miscarriage. Next, the parents and their brothers and sisters belong to this group, as do the grandparents, and sometimes the great- grandparents. These are the blood relatives who are included within this family soul.
In addition, there are other persons included in the family soul who are not relatives. Those who made way for somebody within that system. For instance, a former partner of a parent or grandparent, who, upon death or divorce, made a space for another person to enter the system -- our own mother or father perhaps or our own grandmother or grandfather. Those who made room belong to the family because they contributed to this particular system.
In addition, as more recent work makes clear, all the victims who suffered at the hands of one of the members of the family also belong to that system. I'll offer an example. In Sao Paulo, Brazil, we were setting up a family of a woman whose son was psychotic and a drug addict. Once we had set up the family, it became clear that he was connected to somebody who was not mentioned and was not remembered. He was looking outside. Therefore, I asked what had happened in the generations before. Then it came up that the great-grandfather was a big landowner who had kept slaves. The wealth of the family depended to a great extent on the labour and the suffering of the slaves. Then we set up about six representatives for the slaves. When they were placed, the representative of the young man showed a deep love for them. He went to them, embraced them, cried, and felt a very deep connection with them. These slaves belonged to that family system.
We also set up the great-grandfather. He had no compassion for the slaves whatsoever. And the mother also had no compassion for them. It was this drug-addicted young man who was in closest connection with them. He was moved by the family soul.
If there have been victims in the family, for instance, in Germany, the victims of the Holocaust, it is clear that these victims belong to the families. But their murderers also belong to the family system. This shows up when we set up a family of Holocaust survivors or their descendants. In their family, one member often has to represent the perpetrators. Only if the perpetrators are included can the family find peace.
What does it mean to include the perpetrators? They must be loved as human beings. We cannot exclude them in our moral righteousness. They, too, even if it sounds horrible, were following their consciences. They were bound up in their group and what they did was done in the service of their group, very often with a good conscience. Therefore, they are, in their way, no different from the victims. We can see in family constellations that the victims only find peace if the perpetrators are accepted by them on an equal basis. And the perpetrators only find peace if they lie beside their victims.
We had a constellation in Buenos Aires, Argentina, just six weeks ago. There was a man who said that he was afraid that he was a danger to his children. When he was driving, he suddenly realised that he was driving recklessly, without considering the safety of his children. He was afraid that he might cause the deaths of his own children in an accident. He was a descendent of Holocaust survivors. So we set up representatives of the victims, and we set up representatives of the perpetrators. When they were set up, he cried out loud. He was filled with pain, banging on the floor violently. His energy was the energy of a perpetrator, but he could not see the victims. It took a long time for him to be able to see them.
Eventually, he went to each of the representatives of the victims on the floor and embraced them with deep love. He then went to each of the perpetrators and stroked their cheeks with love. The perpetrators seemed to melt, becoming very soft, and the constellation ended.
After the constellation, the man sat alone on the stage. I went to him and said, "Now imagine your children standing in front of you." He looked at them and I said, "Tell them, ‚Now I care for you.'" He was able to say this sentence to them wholeheartedly now.
Do you see how they all must be included in the end? What does this show? All human beings are guided by a greater force, by something that reaches beyond them. Whatever people do, good or bad, has to be seen not only as their own responsibility (although they do have a certain responsibility), it has to be understood within the purview of that greater force.
How shall we deal with that greater force? We have to bow down in reverence and be very humble in the face of it. Then we are united with what I call the greater soul. In connection with this greater soul, we will be able to do the work here.
I want to say something about spirituality. The Omega Institute is a spiritual place, as I have learned. There is much searching for spiritual achievement. I will say something more about that search from my own perspective and drawing on my own experience.
As I mentioned this morning, the search for spiritual enlightenment often reflects the desire to reach the peak of experience. The peak is a very lonely place, a very lonely place. Few people can stand it for a long while. But once they have climbed to the peak, they are afraid to go back all the way down. To get to the peak required such great effort, they worry about what they will do at the bottom. So they remain halfway between the peak and the bottom - having nothing of either.
The greatest spiritual achievement is the most humble one. When I see people who are doing meditations for a very long time, waiting for the enlightenment, I wonder: What are they contributing to humankind? The answer comes back: Nothing.
I once spoke to a Zen master in Germany who very often went to Kyoto in Japan to participate in Zen sessions. They had a session for 10 days, meditating every day, 10 hours or more, some even 16 hours a day. He said they were full of energy afterwards. I asked what they did with that energy. He responded, "Well they go to town and enjoy themselves with geishas." I asked if that was the extent of the achievement of a session. I thought it strange, very strange.
Zen had originally been conceived as a way for warriors to learn how to fight effectively. In that context, Zen had meaning. Without it, the meditation has no meaning.
When compared with a mother who raises five children, what strength has a monk who spends his life meditating? The mother's task is truly spiritual, humble, human, at the bottom.
In addition, when people speak of spirituality, I see what they actually want to attain is -dare I say it so openly? - their mother. The longing for spirituality, for spiritual achievement, very often is the longing for the mother. What happened to Buddha actually? He lost his mother at birth. That is what happened. That was later glossed over by all kinds of stories, including that when he saw a dead person for the first time, he changed his life and left his wife and his son. But the first dead person he knew about deep down in his heart was his mother, who died in giving birth to him. If you have this in mind, you can understand his teachings about the escape from suffering. This is the teaching of a child who lost his mother at birth.
Now, I don't say that the teachings of Buddha should be disregarded. Buddhism is a great movement and it has had great effects on humankind. I don't question that in any way. Nevertheless, if you look at it from this point of view, you see that it is ordinary too. It is an ordinary human movement. I cannot see what it has to do with things beyond.
I have also observed that when people take a spiritual path and become esoterics, they often refuse to care for a child or they abandon their wife. They refuse to stand up for ordinary human achievements and responsibilities that cost something. They lift off the ground to a so- called spiritual level. But they are self-centred. They may speak about losing their ego, but what are they meditating on? On their ego, of course. And what about their wish for enlightenment? What do they want it for? For their ego, of course. There is a great deception in all this.
Now there is another spiritual path: the dark night of the soul. In Spain, St. John of the Cross was teaching about the dark night of the soul. This is spiritual training and it takes a long time. You can't exercise it or will it. It happens to you. The dark night happens to you. Once it does, you no longer know where to go. Everything is dark, and you feel desolate, without direction. But you are strong enough to hold on. And after a while, you experience the dark night of the soul.
The dark night has three parts. First, there is the dark night of the senses, in which you no longer are looking for what pleases the eye or the ear or any other sense. This is not because you might despise it in any way, as that would be a response on a different level. No, this is because you are connected with something deeper, a place where it is very still, very quiet. At this level, you no longer need to look outside or to listen for anything. This is a very big place.
In other words, the spiritual path requires cleansing, especially cleansing of all intention to reach "higher achievements." You remain at the bottom all the time.
The second part of this night is very difficult. It is the dark night of the spirit. This means you forgo your wish to know. You don't ask questions such as: "Why?" What is this?" "What is that?" "What happens afterwards?" No, you stay quite separate from this need to know.
There is yet one more part: the dark night of the will. You no longer want to achieve something. If you have a plan, for instance, you want to learn family constellations and you attend many courses, this is a good thing perhaps. But if you have a plan to change the world through them, you are cut off from the real source. If you let go of these grand plans - if you don't want to heal other people or make the world a better place, if you just stay with yourself - then another way opens up to you. You may have an impulse to take just one small step, and by following this impulse, you discover more than all of the plans in the world would have gotten you. Now you are suddenly in connection with something else, you are tuned into something greater.
So, at the end of this discussion, we are back to what I talked about this morning, the Alpha.
The other day, I was thinking about love. I imagine somebody tells another person "I love you." A husband tells his wife, a man tells a woman, "I love you." It touches the hearts of both. But does it have strength? Is the love as it is expressed at the moment strong enough to last a lifetime, even when difficulties arise? No, it is too weak.
There should be something added to this sentence. "I love you" should be followed by "and that which guides me and you." I love you - and that which guides me and you. If both partners say this, the statement has strength.
But what does it mean in real life? It means that they may be together for a while, led on the same path for a time, but then it may occur that they are led in different directions. At that moment, when they separate on one level, they both say, "I love you - and that which guides me and you." Even if there is a separation or an alienation connected with this, the love remains at a very deep level. This kind of love is the basis for respect. I respect a person when I tell her, "I love you - and that which guides me and you. I love you exactly as you are, because I see what guides you and me." And for self-respect, it is the same. I look at myself exactly as I am and say, "Yes, I love myself - and that which guides me."
With parents and children, we have the same situation. Parents look at their children and say, "I love you - and that which guides you and me." And children look at their parents and say, "I love you - and that which guides me and you." They are all individuals and yet they are connected in a very deep way.
On the very first day of this seminar, a man came to work. He has cancer and we saw his anxiety. The question for me was, "What shall I do?" I say, "I love you - and that which guides you and me." So I don't go further than my inner guidance allows me. And I agree to what is guiding him, even if it leads him to death. On that basis of deep mutual respect and love, something can flow between the client and the therapist. There is no actual difference between them. They are on the very same level all the time. And they bow to something greater.
Peace of Mind
I want to say something about peace. We sometimes speak of peace of mind. What is peace of mind?
If we agree to everything that is within us, then we find peace of mind. If we don't object to anything that is within us, we have peace of mind. And if we agree to everything within our families, to our parents, to our siblings, to our ancestors, to our fates, then we have peace of mind. If nothing is opposed to anything, we have peace of mind.
If we have peace of mind, we have peace with our family as well. If you have children and you agree to them as they are, exactly as they are, to their particular fates, to their difficulties, their talents, their special love, you have peace in the family.
If you agree to your partner in this way, as he or she is, without any wish to have him or her change, you have peace of mind. And if you have to deal with other groups that sometimes seem to be difficult or to be opposing you, and you agree to them as they are, exactly as they are, you become irresistible.
Of course, you can extend this attitude to different races, to different religions, to different nations. If you agree to all of them as they are, exactly as they are, there is no opposition anymore. You are at peace with them and they, certainly, come to be at peace with you and us.