Some of the deepest, darkest, stickiest sources of suffering in our life can only be understood and dissolved by ‘scaling up’ our investigation to the systemic level. We all exist as parts of systems, affecting them and being affected by them. The most important of those systems is the family. It acts as representative of larger systems like community, religion, culture and nation, but it also carries its own personality, its unique texture and flavor.
An exclusive focus on the individual in psychotherapy can lead to working on imaginary problems and attributing imaginary powers to the client. Some things are just not personal.
Perhaps, ultimately, nothing is personal, and if they were rigorously investigated, these three words could be used as a koan leading to total liberation. Ego is a constrictive mechanism that seizes content and converts it to parts of ‘me.’ Some traditions make it a path to examine literally every thing and ‘call it out’ — call it: not me, not me… This approach is sometimes called jnana yoga.
Even without resorting to such a radical approach, shifting our attention to the systemic level allows us to locate the seat of limitations and target them for resolution with accuracy, instead of engaging in doomed battles with energies that are collective in nature.
Here is an example from my life. As a European, Jewish baby boomer, I am the son of people who lived several years in terror for their lives, moment by moment. After the war ended, there was great relief and joy, but the vibrational frequency of terror did not disappear from their lives. It just went to a subconscious level. The technology to clear these energies didn’t exist in their culture. In fact, it is barely beginning to exist now. Only a few years ago did I become aware of the impact that the trauma of the Occupation had on my life.
This would just be some philosophical musing but for the important practical fact that working directly on healing the vibration of terror will not work. It might provide some relief, but to really handle it, I need to address it at the level of the family system and even of the whole culture my parents belonged to during the war and the years that followed.
Whether through group workshops or private study and reflection, developing a systemic perception is a powerful asset for serious healing work. It has an excellent synergy with the effect of teacher plants, which is largely to free us from our separating and categorizing minds and open us to dimensions of interconnectedness.
If you seek to understand those dynamics through therapy, reading, researching, journaling or meditating, your efforts will have an incubating effect. They will be the equivalent of asking the medicine to take you to those frequencies. Then, if you wish, you can untie your bonds. The method to do so is described here.
Rupert Sheldrake’s theory of morphic fields can be a good way to think about this kind of work. A psychic energy system is similar in properties to the concept of field in physics. A field obeys knowable functional laws. Any object within it is the effect of a force which is determined by the objects’s characteristics and its position in the field. It can also modify the field, as any object added to a gravitational pattern changes it. Thus statements like “I am working on healing the consequences of World War II” may sound inflated or crazy, but they can be literally true. At the vibrational level, I am not only acted upon by the collective field, I am also acting upon it.
Families, communities and cultures act as repositories for collective reactive material. The traumas of our history are ‘remembered’ in our institutions, rituals, taboos and foundational stories. In extreme healing, all of that can become grist for the mill. Keep doing this work long enough and you reach a point where it doesn’t matter any more whether the material you transform is yours or other people’s.
Whether or not it is made of content specific to the family, the collective shadow is transmitted through child-rearing. Initiation is a case in point. In traditional initiation, the child becomes a person (an adult member of the community) by undergoing a trauma (the ordeal). Without this bond of pain, the child wouldn’t be oriented as to the shared worldview and values of his/her society. In our modern cultures, initiation tends to be diluted into many lesser events, but the basic tradeoff of pain and belonging can still be found everywhere, if you look.
I believe working on family systems is indispensable if one wants to deal with the heavy stuff in one’s life. Avoiding that study is a hallmark of superficial spirituality in the myriad forms it takes.
Common themes in family systems include belonging and exclusion, secrets and shame, karmic debts and compensation, compulsive reoccurrences, propitiatory sacrifice, balance and order. More often than not, these lie behind some of our most puzzling and crippling limitations.
Bert Hellinger’s Family Constellations is a process of opening up, revealing and eventually shifting one’s experience of one’s family of origin. It is practiced in a group on behalf of one individual – a kind of collective shamanism. Other practitioners have developed approaches such as cross-generational therapy and psychogenealogy.
As with any material, the key to liberation is in understanding and releasing our own resistance. With our family of origin, this means ruthlessly spotting and dissolving any resentment, anger, guilt or other negative emotion tied to our parents (and other close family members). We must reach the point at which we are able to follow without any reservation the command to honor our mother and our father. Radical forgiveness is the strongest cleanser in this process. The goal should be a 100%, not 99%, elimination — the 1% we hold on to is enough to keep us enslaved to family drama forever. That stuff is extremely toxic — it goes without saying, but I feel better having said it.
A combination of therapy or other forms of introspection with teacher plant ceremonies will go a long way in developing that radical attitude towards our entanglements.
We are a web. Each one of us affects the whole system. This work changes the world.
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