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.
Christian/Jewish German/Jewish Healing in the Soul
By Bert Hellinger: Lecture given at the 3rd International Congress for Family and Humans Systems Constellations, Würzburg, Germany 1-4 May, 2001.
"The title of my talk is Christian/Jewish German/Jewish Healing in the Soul. What I mean by soul in this context, is the soul of Christians and the soul of the Germans. In view of the suffering of the Jewish people during the Nazi era, I am addressing this issue specifically in terms of its impact on the souls of Germans, as distinguished from Christians in general.
The Chosen and the Rejected
In the souls of both Christians and Jews, the concept of God's chosen people plays a central role. The Christians took over this image from the Jews, and subsequently identified themselves as the new chosen people. As a result, they viewed the Jewish people as a rejected people, abandoned by God. The image of a chosen people necessarily attributes to God that he prefers one group of people above others, and elevates this group over all other peoples and empowers them to rule over them in his name.
How could such an image of God find a place in our souls? Can we even talk about God here? Such a God, who chooses and abandons, is frightening, because even those chosen live in fear of being cast out at any time. These are images which come from the depths of the soul-first from the soul of each individual, and then from the great depths of that soul shared by the larger group. The images of being chosen and abandoned arise from this common soul, and are elevated to a heavenly status where they appear to lie above us as something godly, something to be feared.
Those who consider themselves chosen, identify themselves with a God who selects and rejects, and so they, too, select and reject others. In this process, they also become fearsome in the eyes of those they reject.
But what happens when other groups and other peoples also act in accordance with similar inner images? The result is clear in religious wars. Such groups are neither aware of themselves nor of any others as individual persons. Both sides behave as if possessed by a collective madness.
But in the Christian soul, there is an additional factor: Christians believe in the same God as Jews. So, Christians, in the name of the God of the Jews, see the Jewish people as rejected and robbed of their rights by this common God. The terrible dimensions such a presumption can assume was demonstrated in our time by the Nazi attempt to destroy the Jewish people as a whole.
One might raise the objection here that the Nazi leaders and the Nazi movement were not Christian in any sense of the word. We must not allow ourselves to be blinded on this point, because the Nazi sense of being chosen reflected an essentially Christian characteristic. The "Führer" felt called by providence to lead the new chosen people-in this case the image of the superior race-to world dominance and, along the way, to eliminate the previous chosen people. As distorted and blind as this may seem to us now, National Socialism, together with a large portion of the German people, drew energy for the Second World War primarily from this sense of mission. The atrocities at their hands, were, essentially, performed in the service of a godly judgement.
This sense of mission was not overcome with the collapse of the Third Reich. We see it even now in the movements of left and right wing radicals. These movements demonstrate a similar sense of mission, and as a consequence, often a blind readiness to use violence against others.
Jesus, the Christ
Still, the opposition of the old and new chosen people cannot alone explain the aversion of many Christians to the Jewish people, nor the cruelty of the pogroms and deportations. There is yet another root which seems to me to be the most important of all. This has to do with the irreconcilable difference between Jesus, the man of Nazareth, and the belief in his resurrection and ascension to the right hand of God.
For the early Christians, Jesus as a man quickly faded into the background. The image of the ascended Christ was imposed on Jesus the man until he dimmed and became unrecognizable. This allows Christians to repress the painful reality that Jesus on the cross felt abandoned by God, that the God in which he had believed did not appear.
Elie Wiesel, the noted Jewish author, reports a public hanging of a child in a concentration camp. Looking at this atrocity, someone asked, "Where is God, here?" Elie Wiesel answered, "That's him hanging there."
As Jesus on the cross cried out loudly, "My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?" someone might also have asked, "Where is God, here?" The answer would have been the same, "That's him hanging there."
The disciples couldn't bear the reality of their Jesus abandoned by his God. They fled from it through the belief in his resurrection and through the belief in Jesus as the Christ sitting at the right hand of God and in his second coming to judge the living and the dead. And yet, the man, Jesus and his human fate have not been erased by this belief in the resurrection. It lives on in the image of the Jew. Judaism, in the soul of Christians, primarily represents Jesus the man, whom the Christian, believing in the resurrection from the dead and ascendance to the right hand of the Fáther dares not see. Christians are afraid to face their God-forsaken Jesus, and their fear makes them nasty.
So, just as they turn away from Jesus the man, so do they turn against the Jews as a manifestation of the Jesus they fear, and against the God of Jesus and the Jews, whom they also fear. This is the picture I get when I look at what happens in the souls of many Christians. I'll give you an example:
An incident occurred during a course in group dynamics for very active Christians. The participants were all theologians and served in high positions in their respective churches. The group leader suggested putting an empty chair in the middle of the group, and the group members were to imagine Jesus sitting on this chair. Each person could say something to him. One participant immediately put a chair in the centre and the others began to speak to Jesus. The hatred towards Jesus erupting from the speakers was unbelievable. At one point, a participant even ran into the kitchen to get a knife, with which he then stabbed the chair. When it was over, everyone was stunned at what had come up from the depths of their soul, and they felt terribly ashamed.
The group leader, who had been deemed non-Christian by these dedicated Christians, said: "I find no guilt in this man."
If I picture Jews during their persecution in the Third Reich, and allow this image to work in me - I see them being herded together, and sent to their death. I imagine them complying without resistance, gentle and humble, and I see Jesus in them. Jesus, the man; Jesus, the Jew.
** The victims of the Holocaust were in a role conspicuously like the Christian Jesus facing the Jews. As a people, and in their behaviour, and in their fate, they embodied the behaviour and the fate of the Christian Jesus facing the Councillors and Pilot. This time, the Christians were the brutes and the Jews exemplified the characteristics of Jesus.
The same God
To return to the idea of God's "choosing", I'd like to say something about the beginnings of religion in the soul, and about what happens in the souls of Christians when they become Christians, and in the souls of Jews, when they become Jews.
A child is born into a particular family, has particular parents, within a particular extended family. The child has a particular culture, is part of a particular people, and a particular religion. The child cannot choose any of these things.
If the child takes this life as it comes to him or her, without qualifications-if the child takes this life, with everything that includes in this family-the family fate, the possibilities, the limits; the joy and the suffering-then the child is open, not only to these parents, not only to this people, not only to this particular culture, not only to this particular religion; but this child is open to God and to whatever it is that we may sense beyond this name. Taking life in this way is a religious act, it is the religious act.
Someone born into a Jewish family cannot do anything else, and may not do anything else except to begin the path to God in a Jewish way. It is the only possible way open to this person, and, therefore, the only right way. The same is true for a Christian on the Christian path. Whatever the differences in beliefs between the Christians and the Jews, they are the same when it comes to this essential religious act. This movement is independent of the contents of their religions and cannot and may not ever be relinquished, even should the person adopt a different religion later.
I'll give you an example:
There was once a young man in a course who was looking for help because he felt cut off from life. It emerged that his grandfather had been born a Jew, but this young man considered himself Christian, not Jewish. When we set up a constellation of his family, I put in five representatives next to his grandfather to represent victims of the Holocaust. The grandfather's representative spontaneously laid his head on the shoulder of the representative nearest him. After a while, he said: "This is my place." When the young man was asked to say to his grandfather, "I am also a Jew, and I remain a Jew", he could only manage to say it with great anxiety and trembling. However, once he was able to say that, he felt his own weight, for the first time in his life.
What was truly religious in this case? His identification with Christianity, or his return to his Jewish roots? The most basic religious act was his acknowledgement, "I am a Jew and I remain a Jew."
A tree cannot choose the place he grows. Yet, the place where its seed fell to earth is the right place for that tree. The same thing is true for us. The place where the parents are is the only possible place for each human being, and, therefore, the right place. Each person belongs to a people, has a language, a race, a religion, and a culture which are the only ones possible, and therefore, the right ones. When an individual agrees in the deepest sense to humbly take this from that which is greater than all individuals, and when the individual then develops appropriately, given whatever is possible, then he or she feels equal to everyone else. At the same time comes the recognition that this superior force, whatever we choose to call it, must look at us all the same. No matter how different the peoples of the world may be, they are all the same before this greatness.
Germans and Jews
Given this background, one has to ask, "How can Christians, above all the Germans, handle their guilt towards the Jews? What can they do and what must they do, to overcome this guilt and give the Jewish people a worthy place within themselves? And, how can the Jewish people handle the guilt of the Christians and the Germans?"
I have had some experiences in various courses, which indicate how a reconciliation may be possible between victims and perpetrators, and, in a larger sense, between Germans and Jews. One of the most dramatic was an experience during a course in Bern. A man set up a constellation of his present family, and then at the end he said he had to add something important - he was Jewish. I responded by setting up seven representatives of Holocaust victims, and behind them, seven representatives for the dead perpetrators. I asked the seven victims' representatives to turn and look into the eyes of the perpetrators.
After that, I did nothing more. I left their movements entirely up to them, as they developed.
Some of the perpetrators collapsed, writhing on the floor and sobbing loudly in pain and shame. The victims turned to the perpetrators and looked at them. They helped those who were on the floor to get up, held them in their arms and comforted them. Finally, there was an indescribable love which emerged between them.
One of the perpetrators was completely rigid and couldn't move in any way. I put in another person to represent the perpetrator behind the perpetrator. The first representative leaned back against this new representative and was able to relax somewhat. The man said later that he had felt like a finger on a giant hand, totally at its mercy. This was also reported by the others in this constellation. All of them, victims as well as perpetrators, felt directed but also carried by some greater force, a force whose effects were not clear.
After this constellation, I asked all the participants to send me a report of what they had experienced during the constellation. One representative of a perpetrator wrote to me:
"As you placed the seven of us behind the seven victims, I was overcome by a very strange, unpleasant feeling. I intuitively anticipated something bad, even though it wasn't yet clear to me at that time who we were representing. When you said that we were the perpetrators a cold chill ran up my spine. When the victims turned and I looked at the man opposite me, all the energy drained out of my body. I have never felt such shame in my life. I just looked at him and kept getting smaller as he kept getting bigger. I wanted nothing more than to disappear into a hole in the ground, preferably a mouse hole deep into the earth.
"Inside I was screaming " NO, NO, NO, this can't be true." I felt a need to apologize, but at the same time an inner voice told me that there was no way to apologize, nothing could be glossed over, I had to carry it all myself. The only word that I managed to get out was "please," at which point my victim took me in his arms. Without his support I would have fallen to the floor in shame. In his arms, my inner voice kept saying, "I don't deserve this, I don't deserve this at all, to be held by him." Luckily, I was able to let my tears flow. Otherwise the whole thing would have been unbearable."
"After my victim had let me go again, I felt somewhat better. I could vaguely feel the floor beneath my feet and could breathe a bit more freely. At the same time I was aware that he was only the first victim, and there were still many more victims on my conscience. Not just two or three- no, dozens or even hundreds! I strongly felt the need to look each of these victims in the eye, and so to find my own inner peace."
"As you put the super-perpetrator behind us, It was immediately clear to me that I alone had to carry the responsibility for everything I had done. There wouldn't be any relief from this perpetrator in the background. I also felt very strongly that it would have been much better to have been standing on the other side and not to have taken on this insane guilt.
"My need to look at the next victim got more intense, but in fact, the next eye contact literally threw me to the ground. I couldn't stand up any more and I wept bitterly on the floor. I was totally gone. I was only aware of your faraway voice saying, "Now come slowly back" at a great distance, and the coming back was very slow. There was still too much left undone for me, too many victims not looked at. There was still a powerful urge to bring order into this unfinished business.
"After the constellation it took me at least an hour to get fully back into myself again and to feel my full strength.
"For me it was truly one of the most difficult roles I've ever experienced in a family constellation. It was also strange the way in which crystal clear thoughts emerged in my awareness. For example, that it is impossible to push the responsibility for your own actions off onto someone else, even if I was only a small cog in the machine. After such an experience, you know there is nothing more to discuss, to argue about, or to explain. It simply is how it is."
In a constellation like this, it also becomes clear that there are no groups, in the sense of these are the victims and those are the perpetrators. There are only the individual victims and individual perpetrators. Each individual perpetrator must face the individual victims and each individual victim must face the individual perpetrators.
What becomes clear is that there is no peace for the dead victims until the dead perpetrators have taken their place next to them-until the dead perpetrators have been taken in by their victims. And, there is no peace for the perpetrators until they have lain next to their victims as equals.
If this does not take place, if it is not allowed to happen, the perpetrators will be represented by someone in a later generation. For example, as long as the perpetrators from the last war are denied a place in the souls of the Germans, they will be represented by right wing radicals. In constellations of Jewish families where there are descendants of victims of the Holocaust, I've often seen a child identified with one of those perpetrators. There is no real alternative to a reconciliation, even with the perpetrators.
In these constellations, it is also clear that entanglements are only resolved between those who are actually affected, that is, between a specific perpetrator and a specific victim. No one else can step in on their behalf, no one else has the right, the task, or the power to do so. In the constellations, the representatives of the dead victims and the dead perpetrators do not want the living interfering in their affairs. They want the living to stay out of things and they want life to go on, without being limited or burdened with memories of them. From the viewpoint of these representatives of dead people, life belongs to the living, who are free to take it.
I have a fantasy about this in terms of what effect it would have on the souls of Christians if they were to imagine Jesus dead, meeting in the realm of the dead all those who betrayed him, judged him, and executed him. When we look at them as human beings, equal as well in the face of the greater powers which control their destinies, then we have to give them our respect, although this may be a repellent thought for many of us. Above all, we have to honour and respect the greater power behind them and behind us all, as a fathomless mystery.
To submit to this mystery in this way-that is something truly religious, and human.
I did an exercise, once, in this connection, with a Jewish woman in whose family many had been murdered.
She felt called upon to reconcile the living and the dead. I had her close her eyes and go in her imagination into the realm of the dead. She stood among the six million victims of the Holocaust and looked forwards, backwards, to the left and to the right. Around the edge of this mass of six million dead, lay the dead perpetrators. Then, they all stood up, the dead victims and the dead perpetrators, and all turned towards the horizon to the east. There they saw a white light and they all bowed down before this light. The woman also bowed down with all the dead, and when she was finished she withdrew slowly, leaving the dead in memory before that which appeared on the horizon, but yet remained hidden. Then she turned from the dead and faced life again.
Sometimes the living need to face the dead, to look at them and be looked at by them-primarily, those who are guilty in respect to the dead, but also those who have gained some advantage from the terrible fate of their Jewish neighbours. In many constellations what has emerged is that those individuals who had been wronged, affected the individual souls of those who had wronged them, or the souls of those who had benefited from those wrongs, and the souls of their descendants as well.
This influence continued until the wrong was acknowledged and faced, until the victim was acknowledged as a person of equal value, respected and mourned. When this was done, the cleft could be sealed, and the terrible effects of the wrongs ceased.
In conclusion, I'll tell you a story which will take you on a journey of the soul if you wish to come along.
The Turning Point
A man was born into his family, in his homeland, into his culture. Even as a child he was told of the teacher and master, whose example was to be followed, and he felt a deep yearning to follow this man and become like him.
He joined others who thought the same way and practiced a strict discipline for many years, following this example, until he became like the master, and thought and spoke and felt and desired just as the master.
Still, he felt something was missing. So, he set out on a long journey, to seek the loneliest places and perhaps cross the ultimate boundary. He passed by an old garden, long since abandoned, where only wild roses still bloomed, and where fruit from the huge trees fell unnoticed to the ground because there was no one who wanted it. On the other side of this garden began the desert.
Soon he was surrounded by an unknown emptiness. It seemed to him that every direction was the same, and the images which sometimes appeared before him also proved to be empty. He roamed on as he felt driven, and when he had long since given up trusting his senses, he saw a spring in front of him. It bubbled out of the earth and the water soaked quickly back into the soil. As far as the water reached, however, the desert was transformed into a paradise.
As he looked around, he saw two strangers approaching. They had done just as he himself had done, and had followed the example of their master until they were like him. They, too, had made a long journey through the loneliness of the desert in hopes of crossing the final boundary. They had found, as he, the spring. All together they bent down to drink of the same water, and each believed himself to be almost at his goal. They said their names: "I have become Gautama, the Buddha."-"I have become Jesus, the Christ."-"have become Mohammed, the Prophet."
The night descended and above them, just as before, shone the stars, still unreachably remote and still. They were all silent, and one of the three knew he was closer to his master than ever before. It was as if he had a sense, for an instant, of how it had been for him as he had known helplessness, futility, and humility. And how he must have felt, too, as he knew guilt. Just beyond the silence he heard, If they could forget me, I could find peace.
The next morning he turned back and escaped out of the desert. Once again he passed by the abandoned garden and continued until he came to the garden which was his own. At his gate stood an old man, as if he had been waiting for him. The old man spoke. "One who has found his way back from such a distance as you, loves the moist earth. He knows that all that grows also dies, and when it is finished, it nourishes." The man answered, "Yes. I agree to the laws of the Earth." And he began to husband his garden."