Walking in the Shaman’s Shoes

A Transformational Walk with the Family Soul

by Francesca Mason Boring

Imagine ancient healing circles, campfires burning while wisdom teachings were given from one generation to the next. The charcoaled embers of those fires remain in the soil on every continent. The stories which were told at the fire may be embedded in our genetic memory. The legends of magic and trauma may be stored in our cellular memory. It may also be that each of us is surrounded by a ‘knowing field’ which holds the accumulative traumas and secrets of those from whom we descend.

The shaman often had the gift of ‘knowing’. The healer was able to see ancestral influences and invoke the conversation which could put wandering souls to rest. The mystery of shamanic technology even brings proven and repeatable results. Yet modern psychiatric and medical models’ “best practice” often conflict with the way of the shaman. Providing evidence that one could engage the dead in a therapeutic conversation is not a prerequisite for most Ph.D.s.

First, I acknowledge that the word shaman does not have its roots in Native American indigenous culture, the context in which I live—instead, it comes from Siberia. The terms medicine person, shaman, healer and seer have been used interchangeably in our common vernacular; academic disciplines focused on these iconic labels to catalog and debate their cultural criteria and existence.

There seems to be a modern need to reference and investigate shamans, and descriptions of shamanic states of consciousness explored by aboriginal (including Native American) traditions and spiritual practices are varied and complex. This need reflects an emergent quest for something. That something can be found in what might be called neoshamanism.

The discussion evokes more questions than answers. Let us start by exploring the shamanic state of consciousness, a term coined by anthropologist Michael Harner to refer to the particular state that a shaman must attain to be able to communicate with the spirits (1990). According to health, mind and body therapist Jeanne Achterberg (1987), the shamanic state of consciousness (SSC) is the very essence of shamanism and critical to the premise that the shaman is the past and present master of the imagination as healer.

Francesca Mason Boring, lecturer, facilitator/ trainer of Systems Constellation, enrolled Shoshone, is the author of Connecting to Our Ancestral Past: Healing through Family Constellations, Ceremony, and  Ritual (North Atlantic Books, 2012), Feather Medicine, Walking in Shoshone Dreamtime: A Family System Constellation (Llumina Press, 2004), Coyote Dance (Llumina Press, 2005), and Botschaften aus dem indigenen Feld (Carl-Auer, 2009). Fran advises and writes for The Knowing Field (London, England).   Instrumental in the development of Nature and Environmental Constellations, Constellation as Ceremony and Community Constellations, Francesca is inspired by the work of Bert Hellinger and her own indigenous teachers and elders. See www.allmyrelationsconstellations.com

As we start to explore the shaman’s world, we find that rigid rules don’t apply, and semantics become tricky. In his Encyclopedia of Native American Healing, William S. Lyon (1996) noted, “Some scholars object to the use of this term, opting to define shamanic abilities/activities as the products of several different levels/states of consciousness. For example, some shamans remember their trance possessions, while others do not” (p. 249).

Perhaps the quest for Shamanism is not a yearning for a single particular academic history or cultural atmosphere, but a holistic search for a Spirit Way. Those who look for shamanism may really be searching for what already exists within their own family ancestry and field: the echo of a universal indigenous spiritual tradition.

Back to Your Roots: The Universal Indigenous

Many people in the United States and Canada have family histories that draw on spiritual roots, traditions and ancestral blood in other lands. But modern people have a nagging sense of isolation and disconnection from their ancestors and extended family; and modern psychology, at least humanistic psychology, has been misconstrued to indicate that self-actualization is the desired spiritual life path, the aboriginal “Red Road” of living in harmony with nature, the Creator and all living beings. Urbanites, academics and displaced teens may be seeking their own connection to their ancestors and the natural world. Frustrated clerics, cynics and seekers might be in need of a legitimate vision quest.

As a Shoshone and bicultural woman, I have a sense that many of the links that modern people yearn for in the quest for a shaman are available in the therapeutic discipline of Family Constellation, when it is facilitated in a phenomenological way. The phenomenological approach in constellation work utilizes that world view which the shaman integrated with ease. It involves a way of seeing solutions using information beyond our normal objective reality. This phenomenological way of working does not involve client assessment, treatment plan and intervention. Rather, it involves waiting, listening, and allowing an organic healing movement which comes from a field beyond the cognitive mind.

Family Constellation is an orphan with many parents. Some wrestle to assign the “designer” of the method. Is this the work of Virginia Satir? Is this the work that was introduced by Bert Hellinger, a German therapist, philosopher who, with the support of many others, moved the work into international circles? Perhaps ‘Family, Human & Natural Systems Constellation’ and ‘Constellation as Ceremony’ are smooth stones that they found at the river that has been seen and recognized as a normal part of the landscape in many cultures, places and times.

Family Constellation is a therapeutic method that has gained popularity throughout Europe and many other parts of the world. It is a method by which facilitators and individuals unravel those barriers in life that people carry as a result of historical or trans-generational trauma.

The basic process is simple. According to Family Constellation pioneer Bertold Ulsamer (2003),

the person doing the constellation chooses a representative for each important member of his or her family, including a representative for him – or herself. Without any prior plan, and without speaking or explaining, the client then places the representatives in spatial relationship to one another, showing them which direction to face, but nothing more. When all the representatives have been placed, the client is again seated and remains a spectator from this point on, observing the actions and words of the course leader and the representatives. The course leader asks the representatives to pay attention to the impact of their positions on their feelings, thoughts or sensory awareness. After a short while, the course leader asks each representative for a report of his or her experience. Tensions in the family are revealed through the reports of representatives. The leader then searches for a resolution for this individual family, with continual feedback from the representatives as things change in the constellation. These resolutions seem to reflect certain orders, or patterns, which Bert Hellinger has documented over many years with this work (p. 19).

In the Knowing Field

In constellation therapy, participants often have a stunning ability to “know” things about the family system that reveal the core of an individual’s fears or symptoms. Often that core trauma had actually occurred in generations prior to the client’s birth.

In Family Constellation, participants and the facilitator are often able to “know” many specific things that help unravel unhealthy entanglements within a family system. If several generations ago, a number of ancestors had frozen to death, in a constellation, those who stood as representatives of that traumatized family (and in some instances participants who were supporting the healing of a family) might feel unusually cold.

Some representatives in the constellation might report a fear of freezing while they stand as a representative of someone in the family system. This can occur even if no one in the group knows the other representatives or their family history. In some cases, individuals who came with an issue may not even know their own family history in detail, and only later discover the traumatic event.

This history of family groups facing freezing temperatures and even mass deaths from cold was not an unusual occurrence in the past, particularly where forced migrations put people in danger. These forced migrations often resonated with a collective field of trauma; they impacted whole extended family groups or communities. People were being displaced from what was familiar, so there was the grief of leaving. Those descended from such a collective trauma may have anxieties in their lives that they cannot explain. Inexplicably, they may have an avoidance of travel, or a visceral dislike of colder landscapes; they may experience intense anxiety when preparing to leave their house. Often the echoes of these systemic traumas have been with people ever since they can remember, even before they had any life experience that could account for such a level of discomfort.

This knowing, or knowing field, previously attributed to shamans and traditional healers, seems to be available to facilitators of Family Constellation, as well as representatives of family members when they stand in to help clarify painful family dynamics. The field extends even to the participants who are seated in the workshop but not actively standing in the constellation.

The knowing demonstrates itself in many ways. Some experience knowing dreams in relation to the constellations that are about to happen. Some experience a smell that may specify a moment in the family history. For instance, someone may smell fresh-baked bread; it may be that in the family, several generations ago there lived a family of bakers who were impacted by an epidemic and suffered multiple deaths of family, loss of home and business all at once. Such a dramatic level of loss may leave a psychic footprint on subsequent generations. In one constellation regarding difficulty with relationships, several people in the circle smelled and tasted alcohol. Alcoholism had not been mentioned as a factor in the family history, but as indicated by the knowing field, it had a definite impact on the ability to trust.

Family Constellation can resolve longstanding issues that competent Western psychotherapy has not been able to impact. Utilizing the healing support of others in the group, the facilitator and the Circle formation create a healing ceremony. But the emotions evoked can be extremely powerful. Family Constellation practitioner Daan van Kampenhout (2001) analyzes this intensity:

In Family Constellations, the representatives often take on the suffering of others in a direct way. For example, if someone was never able to express grief, the representative standing in his place may shed tears and suffer the pain of mourning in his place. Every inner shift a representative makes is a step taken for someone else; the representative is doing it for the other person. Because a representative does not usually personally know the individual he represents, there is little danger of taking on the suffering out of entanglements. Besides that, the representatives are chosen by somebody else to do the job; they cannot voluntarily choose to represent a specific person. A representative takes on suffering during the constellation and afterwards, steps back into his own life, giving back the responsibility to the one he represented. Although the form of the constellation obviously differs from those of shamanic healing rituals, when suffering is taken on for others in order to help them, both constellations and old shamanic rituals make use of the same spiritual principles (p. 45).

The working model of psychotherapy that focuses on identifying pathology is very different than that of Native traditional healing. In many Native traditions, illness and distress are more often identified as teachers, something that will help us learn along the Path. Distress or lack of ease may result from someone who had died not being at peace, or the living not being willing to release the deceased to complete their journey. In a view of illness that differs greatly from the Western perspective, one can find healing without necessarily having a problem. As French psychotherapist Patrick Obissier (2003) notes, “The concept of a ‘problem’ is naturally subjective. What poses a problem to one person does not necessarily poise a problem to another. Whether something is a problem depends on cultural and ancestral predisposition” (p. 26).

Deep resonance for constellation work came easily when I read the title of one of Bert Hellinger’s many books: Acknowledging What Is. A common Shoshone expression is “It is just so.” This is just what is; this is just what is true. Not a judgment, not a diagnosis—just a statement of truth.

That all people have within their ancient roots some indigenous field allows an opening to wisdom arising within our individual family fields. Citizens of the U.S., Canada, and Australia (countries of immigrants and descendents of immigrants), still have within their knowing “fields” the motherlands that once held their ancestors blood and bones. A person may, on the surface, have no history, no roots, and no remembrance of traditions. However, within the family field, our ancestry, our genetic memory, and within our blood, there is a remembrance of old songs and ceremonies and a different way of knowing. The ancestries that refugees and transplanted peoples deny or dismiss still contain within their fields truths, teachings and secrets which can restore strength and release our sense of isolation.

Hellinger’s Movements of the Soul, or Spirit Mind

Among the pioneers of Family Constellation therapy, Bert Hellinger’s work greatly expands and hones that of earlier proponents of a similar kind of constellation work: examination of relationship through special representation, observation of dynamics in family systems, structural theory regarding family dynamics.

Hellinger was willing to bow to something that he called movement of the soul. This was a phenomenon that produced an organic movement among participants, which seemed consistently to support healing in a family system. He observed a connection between family members that was so supreme that he spoke of a family soul. Perhaps Hellinger’s willingness to include this unpredictable movement was due to a number of years working with the Zulu people in Africa (Hellinger, 2006).

In addition to the movements of the soul (also sometimes referred to as the spirit mind), Hellinger began a discussion about group conscience. Deep group loyalty is actually what many human beings have used as their barometer for good and evil; this group consensus and support actually serves as a collective conscience. Many of the horrible (and heroic) acts of humanity have been supported by some form of this group conscience. The genocide of Native Americans in the United States, slavery, the torture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib—all were approved within a group.

When it experiences a shift, this collective conscience carries severe implications for both families and individuals. At one level, the soul knows that an inhumane act has been perpetrated; however, the mind and the group conscience can be supported to such a degree that an individual uses the collective ideology as rationalization.

Sometimes, even generations later, at the level of the soul, descendents of those perpetrators attempt to make amends by unconsciously standing with the victims. Perhaps in limiting their own opportunities, perhaps in having difficulty experiencing joy, perhaps through illness, one attempts to bring back a balance, to rectify the wrongs that were done to another in good conscience under the family name. Through constellation work, the spirits of victims who are not at rest can find peace. The descendents of the perpetrators can finally step away from the family guilt and acknowledge their own human bond with both victims and perpetrators of family traumas.

Untitled ledger drawing of dance

Learning from the Ancestors

Before coming to constellation work, I was nurtured in a place of trans-generational knowing dreams. Since the age of 17, I have had dreams of ancestors. Originally, they were my ancestors preparing me for deaths of those around me. Certainly, in modern Western suburbia, this was not considered normal. A referral to psychotherapy by school administrators inspired my mother, who was from a Shoshone reservation on the Nevada/Idaho border, to send me to my maternal grandmother, who was a “dreamer.”

Now, some 40 years later, this knowing dreaming is part of my waking hours as well. It is not preceded by any chant or rattle; it is just like breathing. Now, there are times when the ancestors of others come to share some frustration or pain they had no possibility to resolve in their life. Often their only wish is that their anguish not be visited on their descendents.

When I was introduced to constellation work, I felt that the knowing field was very much the same as the place of dreams and vision I had learned so much from in my earlier life. The knowing field of Family Constellations felt very familiar to me, though sometimes shrouded with psychological verbiage and a Western worldview that wanted all the perimeters of knowing to be defined and contained.

Family Constellation, originally heavily influenced by the German nuclear family and urban dynamics, examined the inter-relationships of mother, father, grandparents and children. In Native American communities, there is a waking, walking memory that we are all connected to. What I have seen, having facilitated constellations in Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Singapore, Canada and the United States, is that at the level of the soul, we all remember how extended our family truly is. In this state, many learn to remember what it was like when we were deeply connected to the land, the animals and the trees.

Under the Tribal Tent

We all originated in the tent. We were all originally tribal. Deep in our DNA, our family field, our indigenous knowing, we remember these fierce loyalties, the certainty and reliability of bonds. Now (so distant from that place and time for some), many modern people feel adrift, and are in fact in a kind of spiritual forgetfulness. “What was that? What do I remember? What is that which I no longer consciously remember? Did I ever know?

In Family Constellations, often people are able to experience in a holographic way what it is that they have always known at the level of the soul. In a constellation, people re-member the connection between themselves and their parents, siblings and partners. They become strengthened by the gifts of their ancestors and learn to separate themselves from the traumas and limitations of their predecessors. (In constellation work, many facilitators use the term re-member to refer to the dual experience in which forgotten or excluded members of a family are brought back into the family system through remembering in a more accurate way the isolation of their trauma and the impact of their trans-generational pain on a family or descendent.)

Expanded Constellations

As Family Constellation has moved into other arenas and cultures, the work has expanded to include a systemic examination of organizational stresses and difficult dynamics in corporate systems. Organizational Constellations focuses on increasing profit, productivity and flow in a business.

Another addition to the constellation field has been the growth of Nature and Environmental Constellation, and the inclusion of nature as a resource even in some family constellations. The participation of and focus on nature in constellation work is contingent upon the facilitator being comfortable with those fields. For many who are coming from a psychotherapeutic background, or who are synthesizing constellation in a purely constructivist, structural way, the introduction of nature into a family constellation is superfluous. For other facilitators, it is a natural resource.

Kete women and children in front of birch bark tent

Melding Western and Indigenous Wisdom

Much of my work in Family Constellation is influenced by Bert Hellinger’s orders of love and his introduction of the movements of the soul. Much of my work is also influenced by Native traditions and my own learning through knowing dreams of the past 40 years, as well as the shared experience of that knowing from my grandmothers and other Native Elders who instructed me (with and without my solicitation).

Family Constellation can gently integrate the indigenous knowing fields into Western practices. We are challenged to look at the limits of our disciplines, and see where the knowing field may have the capacity to fill in the gaps. Metaphorically: ‘Constellations’ may provide a sort of reintroduction of chicken soup as good medicine rather than an ‘old wives tale.’

The wisdom traditions throughout the world have many common elements associated with shamanism or aboriginal healing methodologies that are almost universal. One such early technology is smudging. Throughout Asia, Western and Eastern Europe, the Americas, Australia and Africa, people have burned incense or herbs to honor or appease the dead and to reaffirm life and commit to living in a way that honors the ancestors. The African medicine man or shaman may burn Impepho, among a long list of plants and herbs. Some Australian aboriginal peoples may burn a combination of aromatic plants including eucalyptus and gum tree leaves. North American Native Americans and Canadian First Nations people burn white sage, sweet grass, cedar and other regional plants or herbs, depending upon their environment. Europe not long ago had its own history of burning incense made of local pitch or herbs. China, Japan, India and many East Asian cultures have a history of burning joss sticks to honor and appease the dead.

Smudging has been a universal indigenous technology, worldwide. Modern medicine, psychology and aspects of Western academia have made a concerted effort to discredit this universal tool. Fortunately, many spiritual psychologists and holistic health practitioners have begun to make room for a wider variety of belief systems and practices than their own individual immediate familial cultural tradition.

Perhaps in this universal technique lies the balm of some human knowing. It is one of those things that we can concede we may not be able to completely fathom in a cognitive way. This tool of the shaman may be used by facilitators to prepare a room or a group, or used in closing a workshop when constellation work is done in a phenomenological way, and particularly when the ethnicity of the group would indicate such a practice when working with resolving issues between the living and the dead.

Using Shamanic Elements in Constellation Work

Elements previously relegated to the field of shamanism are easily integrated when Family and other Systems Constellation are facilitated and experienced in a phenomenological manner. Aspects that have historically been identified with shamanic or spirit-way traditions present in constellation work include:

  • Incorporating the ancestors as resources
  • The participation of the natural world in healing
  • Transcending linear time during, before and after a constellation
  • Synchronicity before, during and after a constellation workshop supporting a movement
  • Field magnetics, or pulling people together with systemic dynamics in common. These field magnetics are reminiscent of the understanding of destiny. In constellation, the pattern of attraction of individuals with similar family fates is often seen. “Those two were meant to be together.”
  • Consciousness that everything is connected
  • Trusting the knowing that comes from the ancestral field
  • Helping the dead who are not at peace find rest
  • Helping the dead who are not aware of their own death to find their place with the dead
  • Helping the living bereaved to let go of the dead

These are not concepts subscribed to by all facilitators. Some state firmly that there is no magic in constellation work; it is about linear concepts regarding systemic structures that have overriding therapeutic impact on participants. Others are clear to state that synchronicity before, during and after a constellation are illusion, and nothing exceeds the impact of the experience of the constellation itself.

As with many disciplines, the facilitator’s worldview impacts both what is seen and perceived. An observation of particular structures that benefit family and human systems (such as organizational systems) is very helpful in constellation work. And there are facilitators of constellation who are able to combine awareness of systems with an easy integration of intuitive (sometimes seemingly extra-rational) knowing.

Meanwhile, multiple disciplines have found ease with this omnipresent human knowing. John Veltheim (1999) utilizes an innate healing wisdom in a multidimensional healing methodology called Body Talk. Combining kinesiology and a series of protocols, the method Body Talk is applied to introduce balance to the body, mind, spirit and emotions, enlisting the innate wisdom of the body.

The body’s morphogenetic and morphic fields are also investigated and discussed extensively by biologist Rupert Sheldrake (2003):

Morphogenetic fields are part of a larger class of fields, called morphic fields, all of which contain inherent memory given by morphic resonance… Morphic fields also underlie our perceptions, thoughts and other mental processes. The morphic fields of mental activities are called mental fields. Through mental fields, the extended mind reaches out into the environment through attention and intention, and connects with other members of social groups. These fields help explain telepathy, the sense of being stared at, clairvoyance, and psychokinesis. They may also help in the understanding of premonitions and precognitions through intentions projecting them into the future (p. 279).

Making a Place for Magic

As quickly as much of the world wakes to the universality of the knowing field and the spirit way, the seeing of the shaman, there is a push-back to squeeze the world back into a small box. We may be at an interesting juncture. Will the pathologies of psychotherapy and the Cartesian medical model rule the day, or will we really be able to open to what we begin to know works in healing? Will our institutions be fluid enough to incorporate deep, holistic healing, the healing of the shaman that nurtures body, mind and spirit, and hears the needs and interplay of the living and the dead?

Be it ritual, integral knowing, Family Constellation, releasing the dead and the pain of generations long past, appropriate medical or psychological intervention, or an intuited combination of several methodologies, how do we openly invite healing—and address the resistance of the modern status quo that rejects the efficacy of magic?

What will we be allowed to know? As parapsychology researcher and author Dean Radin (2006) states, “… consensus opinions advance through authoritative persuasion… Use of rhetorical tactics like ridicule [are] especially powerful persuaders in science, as few researchers are willing to risk their credibility and admit interest in ‘what everyone knows’ is merely superstitious nonsense” (p. 278-9). Modern man is challenged when faced with ‘mystery.’ One may feel most comfortable when faced with a miracle, to busy the mind searching for the ‘sleight of hand’.

The Constellation Vision Quest

When I experienced the knowing field in Family Constellation and identified it as an indigenous field, very soon I began to equate it to the vision quest, the consummate spiritual activity of many Native American people. Again, the term has become a modern expression that sometimes carries traditional Native American implications, and at others simply describes any exercise in the search for one’s soul and true meaning. New-age books and workshops are rife with the term, and some resources even support the concept legitimately.

In nature, there are many teachers. I remember my own elders often dating tribal stories back to “when the animals spoke.” There was a time when the horse people, the coyote people, the mouse people… everyone spoke. Almost 40 years ago, when I asked my maternal grandmother (who lived to be more than 100), “When did the animals stop speaking?” she replied casually, “They did not stop speaking. The people stopped listening.”

Facilitating Family Constellation in the knowing field, it would have been irresponsible and disrespectful not to include the resources and healing influences from my own family field: the field of knowing dreams, the ancestral field that included relatives who had spoken with the animals with ease.

There is a dusty concept of animism and shamanism that misses the core of the experience. Historical Western interpretation has at times envisioned aboriginal people in an altered state, sometimes drug induced, disconnected, and having as the result of sleep deprivation or chemical disorientation a “vision” of an animal teacher. What this misses is the reciprocity of this experience. The participant is not “visited” by an animal or nature teacher solely because of their desire for spiritual enlightenment. The teacher (some being or element of the natural word) willingly and intentionally extends him/her/itself to the student.

Native and shamanistic traditions have a long history of seeing the world in an interconnected way. In Family Constellation, working as a facilitator with the knowing field, and having met others who were drawn to learning from the natural world, it was a natural progression that in many groups I would begin to include a Nature Constellation, which in many respects echoes the experiences found in a vision quest.

Authors Larry P. Alitken and Edwin W. Haller (1990) discuss the connection that we have with all of nature—flowers, deer, the earth, all living and non-living things and the Creator. They speak of the Native American tradition of experiencing, viscerally and spiritually, other beings in a living, breathing way. In their book Two Cultures Meet: Pathways for American Indians to Medicine, they introduce in a gentle and pragmatic way, the benefit in being able to walk in the path of being connected, aware and respectful of all life.

New life emerges

Creating Connections: Nature Constellation in Action

Much of Western psychology and medicine is about the self. Symptoms and pathology are “isolated.” In the work of Bert Hellinger and the subsequent emerging phenomenological approach to constellation work, the focus is inter-relatedness. This acknowledges the connectedness of human to family, human to human in organizations, and nature to human and nature to nature. The relationship of the living to the dead is also woven deep into the fiber of many Native American and aboriginal traditions.

In some constellations, the individual knew of no person in their family who could stabilize them or support them in going forward in a positive direction in life. In these situations, Hellinger would sometimes place individual representatives for “the greater soul,” “life” or “destiny.”

Taking Family Constellation therapy into aboriginal communities, it was a natural step to place representatives for Nature, Mother Earth, a Tree, the Wind or Water. Each of these entities has its own traditional field of supporting healing and can often bring great peace to a person seeking something tactile to hold on to as a resource before and after the session.

In one type of Nature Constellation, the representative can stand within the field as an animal that invites them to stand as their representative. Instructing this type of constellation is crucial; it must be by invitation. The representative does not say, “I want to stand for a bear” and proceed to do so. Nor does the facilitator assign the roles. This vision quest requires a deep listening, waiting and seeking to discover which animal or nature being is inviting one to stand as its representative.

This constellation has deep implications. One person who was deeply stressed and exhausted was invited to stand as a representative for a deciduous tree. The individual sensed, while standing as a representative for the tree, the changing of the seasons. There was a deep sense of relief when there was the shared experience of winter. In that space, the individual described experiencing greater rest, quiet and peace in a span of a few minutes than she had gained in the past three years. In keeping with the tradition of a vision quest, many participants begin to report years later that they have continued to find teachings from a single Nature Constellation.

There are profound implications for us and for nature through constellation. The shaman steps into the animal world, and the spirit world can be heard again in the knowing field of Family and Nature Constellations. The soul can again journey to understand the interconnectedness and knowing that we have distanced ourselves from to win the mantle of being modern.

Vast Spaces

Challenges exist. Those traditions that worked with interconnectedness and vision quests had the container of communal teaching about community and responsibility. The vision quest was part of life and could inform a person how better to live with others. To attempt to integrate this concept into a Western model stretches a number of boundaries. Healing as something nurtured by a knowing field or the soul and not exclusively under the directive of a doctor or psychotherapist is not a modern Western concept. More individuals are being called to include this other venue in their soul’s journey in one form or another.

Family Constellation may be used by practitioners in many disciplines, though it is my belief that phenomenological ways of working may not be for everyone, facilitator or client. Family Constellation is not a panacea. I often tell people at the beginning of workshops that Family Constellation is not a substitute for necessary medical care. It is not a substitute for serious psychotherapy. It is not a substitute for good nutrition. It is not a substitute for prayer, and it is not a substitute for good common sense.

The shaman, medicine person or traditional healer was often understood (within those communities that long held such practices) to be assigned by the Creator to their duties, or supported by the spirit world. This licensure might be defined as grandiosity by Western thought. Our modern approach is to give license, based upon studies, and other human beings regulate that license.

In many wisdom traditions, one does not always have permission to work with an individual. Anecdotally, I have heard that the best medicine men referred at least half of their patients to other practitioners. Although many shamanic traditions had apprenticeships, the ability to work effectively in a knowing field was not something that could be assigned externally. Certainly, it was also something that could be taken away.

Humility: The Essential Ingredient

Perhaps the greatest factor in walking in the shoes of the shaman, whether as a facilitator or a participant in Family, Human, Nature, or Community Constellation, is humility as an essential ingredient.

I may be afforded an opportunity to know something that facilitates healing, but I am only a human being. As a human being, I am only part of life. I am here on the earth for a short time. I am here with all my relations: The two legged, the four legged, the six legged, the eight legged—all those who swim, crawl and fly.

Grateful that we have met on this path for a short while, I wish you a good walk, and leave you with the Great Spirit Prayer. The author is ‘Anonymous.’ The prayer is often said or read in many healing ceremonies and gatherings:

Oh, Great Spirit,
whose voice I hear in the wind,
Whose breath gives life to all the world.

Hear me;
I need your strength and wisdom.

Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever behold the red and purple sunset.

Make my hands respect the things you have made and my ears sharp to hear your voice.

Make me wise so that I may understand the things you have taught my people.

Help me to remain calm and strong in the face of all that comes towards me.

Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.

Help me seek pure thoughts and act with the intention of helping others.

Help me find compassion without empathy overwhelming me.

I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother, but to fight my greatest enemy,


Make me always ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eyes.

So when life fades, as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame.


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