- Bert Hellinger
- Sophie Hellinger
- Family Constellation
- Cosmic Power®
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The Hellinger sciencia® Constellations by Bert and Sophie Hellinger are mediated through the Hellinger®schule and their lecturers in the training course for “Hellinger sciencia® Constellators“ worldwide. All courses by Bert and Sophie Hellinger and the Hellinger®schule will be credited to the training course.
This is the fifth year in which you will find a meditation for every Sunday of the year. In accord with a day of rest it will take you along to a place where you can review the last week and bring something to completion. At the same time we look at what is awaiting us in the coming week, and we find the strength and the courage to put something in order in a good way.
Where do these thoughts want to lead us? They lead us into a consciousness that includes another breadth, beyond the distinctions we make between good and bad and between right and wrong. With these distinctions we separate many things, instead of bringing them together. When we succeed in thinking and acting in accord with the creative powers at work behind all oppositions, beyond the distinctions of “I here and you there”, we overcome what stood in the way of union. We find our way to another love.
Bert and Sophie Hellinger
The fate and the suffering of people with speech disorders have not received much attention in family constellations until now. All the greater was my joy then when I was invited to a two-day seminar for people with speech disorders and their helpers. I had wanted to explore for quite some time the kinds of entanglements that were hidden behind this condition, and what good solutions were possible for those afflicted with it.
My expectations were far exceeded in this course, for we saw clearly that practically all speech disorders arose from something in the family history, or were at least connected to it.
Stammering and schizophrenia
In individual cases we saw that many speech disorders had a background of an unresolved conflict in the family. A member of the family was not supposed to be included or to have a voice because this member was given away, or concealed from the others, for example. Or two family members were in opposition to each other; for instance, a perpetrator and a victim who had not reconciled. As a result, a descendent had to represent both of them at once, and neither could have their full say in this person. They canceled each other’s voices out in the person representing them and they muffled the original voice of the one who carried them. As a result, the descendent began to stutter.
Thus, it came to light that stammering often has a background similar to that of psychosis. While in schizophrenia the unresolved conflict finds its expression in the confusion, in the speech disorder the conflict is expressed in stammering.
The solution is often the same for the one who stammers as for the schizophrenic. The family members who were not reconciled are brought face to face with each other until they recognize each other and come together. When the real conflict behind the symptoms comes to light, the speech impaired or the schizophrenic people can leave the conflict where it belongs, and thereby become free of it.
Stammering in fear of an internalized person
There are other causes as well for stammering. Often one can observe that a stammerer looks to the side before the stammering starts. This person looks at an inner picture, or more precisely, at an internalized person of whom he or she is afraid. When the stammerer can openly meet this person in a constellation and honor this person, and even show acceptance and love for this person, then the stammerer can look into the person’s eyes and say clearly what he or she feels and is asking for.
Stammering because a family secret is not permitted to come to light
Sometimes stammering and other speech disorders attempt to give a voice to a family secret that wants to come to light, but of which the family is afraid. This might be the case when, for example, a child is hidden from the family. When this secret is revealed in a family constellation and clearly looked at by the family, there is no more obstruction to clear and fluent speech emerges.
Children often have speech impediments because their parents want or have to hide something. Only when the parents speak openly about the secret are the children free to leave behind the speech impediment.
I approach these problems from a systemic perspective. I see them as embedded in something larger, and from there different solutions can appear.
In psychotherapy and many helping professions, such as speech therapy, the method is that the therapists work directly with the clients. They sit opposite them. This way one can easily lose sight of the fact that the client is a member of a family. When this larger field is ignored, we quickly arrive at our limits. But as soon as we visit this larger field with the client, totally new possibilities appear. Often, it is only then that the good work of the speech therapists can unfold its full benefit to the client. The exercises are an important step toward resolution, but they remain embedded in something larger.
The systemic approach brings relief to all involved, most of all to the clients.
In this connection I would like to take you for a walk on the path away from the abyss. We do it as an inner spiritual journey. You can close your eyes for this.
We imagine our family members before us, over many generations. We imagine all of them to be present. Some of them we do not know at all. We have never heard of them. Still, they belong to us, and we belong to them.
We imagine them standing in front of us, even those we never knew. We might only perceive those people as dim shadows, unrecognizable, and yet they are there. They take each other by the hand and form a circle. We also join the circle, together with our close family members, our parents and siblings, with our partner and our children. They all look at each other; they look to the right, to the left, ahead. They look at each other with love. We also look at them and we are glad to be seen by them.
Some whose faces we did not recognize are suddenly present. We feel the effect of their presence. As we look at them and they at us, we tell each one of them: “I see you. I honor you. I love you. Please look at me too – with love.”
As we all hold hands in the circle, we sense the energy and the movement and the love of all of us being there together. We give ourselves permission to sense in a deeply heartfelt way what this love gives to us. We feel how we can let go all of a sudden. We feel how our worries fall away, and suddenly we are just there with all of them.
Peace to the dead
Many in this circle died a long time ago. But they are still there, still waiting for something perhaps, maybe for us to look at them. Now they close their eyes. They let go, as if they were sinking into the lands of the dead to remain there forever. We let them go, without any wishes or worries. We let them go without expectations, without the idea that we could still make up for something for them and for us. We sense a new freedom in us, as they have freedom from us, now.
Now only the living ones remain. For a while, they still hold hands and look at each other with love. Then their hands are letting go. All of them go their own way, on their own two feet, and yet still connected, and in this love they are free.
The question is now: How is it possible that this blind love changes into a knowing love? That it transforms into a spiritual love that achieves much more than this blind love? That it turns into a love no longer at the abyss?We go inside and sense: Are we, in some way, also grabbed by a love at the abyss? Such a love can show in an illness, or in a behavior that leads to failure, or in feelings that are out of our control, sometimes in rage, in despair, in sadness and in disappointment. We are waiting to rescue this love that is blind, beyond the abyss, into a spiritual realm, so that the love stays and the abyss is filled with this love, no longer an abyss, but turned into holding ground.
The laws of priority
This archaic conscience follows another law: According to this law, those members who arrived earlier in the family system take precedence over those who came later. Therefore, this conscience’s requisites are that those who came later do not try to take on something for an earlier one, and that a member of lower priority does not take on something for a member of higher priority. And here especially we see that a later one gives his or her love to help an earlier one.
This is love, too, another blind love. It has always the same results: It fails. Often it ends in an illness, or in a psychosis, or even in death. This blind love does not know its boundaries.
Our blind love
We go inside and sense in us: Where have we been caught, or are we still caught, in such a blind love? Perhaps we worry about someone who was there before us, and who is therefore greater than us, greater than what we can be. How does this blind love at the abyss grab us in our work? Perhaps when we want to help, where we are small and others are big, we succumb to the temptation of arrogance in our work.
How do we escape this blindness? How do we become seeing? We leave others their greatness and acknowledge our powerlessness and agree to it.
The path of purification
I come back once more to the love at the abyss as it shows in psychoses. Here most of all we can see what spiritual healing is.
Having experienced it ourselves, we have also entered this realm. In this realm maybe we can dissolve something in which we are, or were, caught.
It is clear that this path is a path of purification. The path toward the spiritual is a path of purification. On this path we let go of many ideas, especially of many ideas of power.
When we go with the movements of the spirit, we gain a degree of safety after some time. What is the safety in this path? Pure trust. Pure trust, that is all.
After the psychosis-inducing event, that means a murder within the family, in every following generation a family member has to become psychotic. This family member takes on this fate for the rest of the family. As soon as one family member has taken up the task, the family is relieved. Then they fear that this family member might get healed, and secretly they align themselves against the successful healing of the psychotic family member. The fear is that perhaps another member will have to become psychotic. We can notice this fear most clearly in the father or the mother. The member of the family who takes this fate on shows the greatest love, but only secretly.
When I offered my first seminar for psychotic clients, against considerable resistance of many psychotherapists and psychiatrists, the love of these clients touched me deeply. Therefore I called the book that I wrote about it, Love at the Abyss. That is what we can observe in psychoses. It is love at the abyss.
To the client: When this love comes to light, you know how important you were for your family and what you have taken upon yourself.
She smiles and nods.
To the group: Therefore, it does not make sense to treat the psychotic client as an individual. We have to treat the whole family and help the family as a whole.
To the client: What I did here was also for your whole family. No one has to worry about becoming psychotic because you were able to release yourself from the psychosis.
To the group: This was also about the healing of many generations.
We can observe the same situation in psychiatric institutions with many doctors and their helpers. If they were to run out of psychotic patients to treat, they might fear becoming psychotic themselves.
To the client: Does that sound familiar?
Also, often in their families there is a concealed crime against a family member. In this regard the helpers in psychiatric institutions often behave a bit like the family members of their patients. What would be the solution here?
We can’t expect these insights to be easily accepted by these institutions. The fear of the results and their consequences is far too big for that, understandably.
Exercise: The spiritual love
Hellinger to the group: I’ll do an exercise with her now. She is representing all of us as well.
To the client: Go stand there and look in this direction. You are looking at many psychiatric institutions and clinics. Then you look beyond them, way into the distance, at that spiritual force that is at work also in them, with the same kind attention and love – in all of them. Afterwards you withdraw slowly, but your gaze still remains in the same direction.
She remains standing this way.
Hellinger: Stay like this, always looking in this direction. Do not let your gaze falter in any way. Look beyond it all, with full confidence in the movement of this spirit that moves them all in the same way, as it wants to. In this, nobody is better, nobody is worse. Here there are no longer any perpetrators and victims. All of them just remain human beings in every regard.
After a while: And now you turn around to the people in this group.
She slowly turns toward the group.
Hellinger: You can look at them all now. Say to them: “Here I am…”
Client: Here I am…
The group applauds.
Hellinger: “One of you.”
Client: One of you.
She is clapping, facing the group. All join in.
Our love at the abyss
I would like to say something else about the love at the abyss. I will do it as a meditation. We can close our eyes so that we can sense in our soul what abysses our own love has reached at times.
The love of the unconscious conscience
What is this love at the abyss? Is it a spiritual love? Or is it a love so entangled that it is not even the love of the entangled person? It is a love that is driven by a need within the family – family here in a wider sense. Therefore this love is a blind love, which cannot be spiritual for this very reason. It is located elsewhere.
This love is located in the realm of the unconscious conscience. For through the work of family constellations we come to see: The family system is ruled by a power that watches over our actions like a conscience, so that the family system follows certain laws.
Goodwill for all
These laws are of two kinds. The first law is: Everyone in the family has the same right to belong. Therefore this conscience is full of goodwill for each family member. We can reenact this for ourselves in a meditation.
Imagine our family, all its members, and sense how it is with our goodwill for them. Is it the same for everyone? Are all allowed to be present in the same way? Did we exclude certain ones so much that they faded out of our memory?
For instance, we can just imagine our father and our mother. Which one of them is in the foreground and who is in the background? Now we can place them beside each other in the foreground, and we turn to them with the same goodwill for both.
Then we look at our father’s family and at our mother’s family. Which is in the foreground, which is more in the background? Internally, we move them until they’re both equally in the foreground and close to each other. Now we look at both families with the same love: Yes.
Now we look at the others who belong also; for instance, earlier partners of our parents or grandparents. We also look at those on whose loss our gain is based, our gain and our family’s gain. We place them in the foreground with all the others, with the same goodwill. In our goodwill we keep a certain distance. There is mutual respect for everyone’s personal sphere. Our goodwill is not asking for anything. It is just our attitude of goodwill for all.
Then there are some in the family, who are not mentioned, some we are ashamed of, some who are called criminals or perpetrators. We bring them equally into the foreground, together with the rest, and look at them all with the same goodwill.
This goodwill is without judgment. It is just there. In this manner it is like a divine goodwill, like God having the same goodwill toward us all as we are, without a difference. This would be goodwill in accord with the unconscious archaic conscience.
However it happened that some people in our family were excluded, rejected or forgotten, now the archaic conscience seeks restoration of the law in such a way that it takes someone else to represent the excluded person. The chosen person is innocent, from a subsequent generation, a child, a grandchild, or even further on. This archaic conscience forces a later born to show the goodwill. But it is an unconscious goodwill to which the person is driven under the influence of this archaic conscience. Such later representatives have to act like this excluded person, are driven to. They are entangled with the excluded one.
This kind of love stands at the abyss, because it is unconscious, blindly at the mercy of another force. Basically, this love is the love of the unconscious, archaic, common conscience of a family system. It is not a personal love. But seen from the whole, it is love. Those taken by it are in a movement of love, even though unconsciously so.
Hellinger to a client: What is your issue?
Client: In my family there are psychoses, and I have also been drawn into it. I was in a psychiatric hospital myself three times.
Hellinger to the group: I have worked quite often with psychoses. When I work with her now, we will get a good example for learning how to relate to psychoses differently.
Hellinger chooses a woman as a representative.
Hellinger to the group: I’ll try something now that I have never done before.
To this representative: You represent the psychosis.
The representative for the psychosis becomes restless. She turns left and right, putting her fists on her hips and looks to the ground. Then she drops her hands and takes a step forward. Again, she puts her fists on her hips. She shakes her head vehemently, looks up, bends quickly down to the ground, and tries to touch some imaginary person lying on the ground with her hands. But she straightens up again quickly.
She repeats the same movements: looking up, putting her hands on her hips, dropping them again, turning left and right restlessly. Then she puts one hand in front of her eyes, turns right and makes a movement as if rebuking someone.
Hellinger chooses a woman as a representative and asks her to stand opposite the psychosis. He tells her he does not know whom she represents.
The representative for the psychosis turns away fearfully and begins to shake. Then she slowly walks sideways, step-by-step to the other woman, pauses, and then, still sideways, moves back again, uttering timid noises, like a child.
Hellinger to the representative of the psychosis: Say to her: “Please.”
She says it in a high, whimpering, childlike voice. She is whimpering in this voice without uttering a word. She is shaking, reaches her hands out to the other representative and moves backwards again. The other woman remains in her place, unmoved.
Now the representative of the psychosis slowly walks toward the other person, and around her, crouches behind her and then stands next to her. After a while she circles around this woman. The woman turns together with her, opposite of her, with a cold look. The psychosis withdraws from her, stands opposite and always has her eyes on her. This representative backs away from the psychosis slowly, step by step.
Hellinger to this woman: Say to the psychosis: “Please.”
The psychosis withdraws further. The other woman also moves away further. After a while, this woman slowly moves toward the psychosis. But the psychosis moves back to keep the distance. After a while both walk toward each other slowly and pause, about two meters away from each other. Hellinger asks a woman to lie down on her back between them both. She represents a dead person.
The psychosis starts shaking vehemently. She goes closer to her and, shaking, she reaches her hand out to the other person on the other side of the dead one. The dead one wiggles away from the psychosis and looks to the other woman.
The psychosis slowly goes around the dead person and stands behind the woman who is now intensely looking at the dead person.
After a while the psychosis steps back and turns away, as if its work has been done. Clearly it had been its task to bring the other woman and the dead into connection. Now the psychosis has calmed down.
The other woman goes closer to the dead woman, who reaches out her hand to her. She kneels down beside her and holds her hand. With this movement the psychosis withdraws further. She goes down on her knees, sits on her heels, facing the others, and bows deeply.
Meanwhile, the other woman has lain down next to the dead one. Both look into each other’s eyes and embrace warmly. The woman begins to sob. The dead one pulls her close. They embrace even more deeply now.
The psychosis, still sitting on her heels, has now turned away completely from the other two.
What leads to psychosis?
Hellinger to the group: Now I would like to explain my experiences with psychoses a bit more closely.
A psychosis, especially in the form of schizophrenia, appears in families where a murder has occurred. Often this event lies several generations back. There is no more memory of this event, but in the spiritual field of the family, the memory remains fully intact and comes to light in the constellation.
In this constellation we could see that initially the representative of the psychosis experienced a lot of confusing emotions. When I added another person, we saw that this person and the psychosis had a connection with each other.
To the client: We do not know who this person was. Perhaps the person belongs to an earlier generation.
To the group: The psychosis and the other person were in relationship to each other, and the same keyword had meaning for both – the word “Please” from the psychosis to the other person, and the same word from her to the psychosis. The psychosis said to this other person: “Please do something,” and the person said to the psychosis: “Please help me.” The psychosis was in the service of this person.
Then they tried to come together, but it did not work, something prevented it. Suddenly, it was clear; there was a dead person between them. I asked a representative for the dead person to lie down between the two of them. As soon as the dead one lay down on the ground, and the other person was looking at the dead one, the psychosis could withdraw. She had fulfilled her task.
To the client: We could clearly see that the psychosis had completed her work.
To the group: Why does someone become psychotic? The person is simultaneously entangled with two people who oppose each other, deeply connected but not reconciled. In my experience so far, this is always about a murderer and victim. They are not yet reconciled. They are not yet reconciled with love. In this constellation they came together with love in the end. In this way what was not reconciled until now becomes finally reconciled, and the unsolved problem is resolved.
To the client: After such an occurrence in a family, a family member from every subsequent generation has to represent that which is not reconciled until the reconciliation between them actually happens. This representing family member becomes psychotic one way or another, as you probably know.
The client nods.
But they are not ill. They are searching for a solution with love. They all search for a solution in love. The psychosis seeks a solution of love. It wants to bring back together what stood apart, those people who were excluded from the family. This event was frightening and for this reason they do not want to look at it anymore.
To the group: What we saw here was a beautiful presentation of the movement of the spirit-mind and how via the help of the psychosis it guides murderer and victim back together, even after a very long separation.
To the client: Here it looks like the psychosis represented different people at the same time. But we were able to observe the function of the psychosis directly and clearly. How are you now?
Client: I feel better.
Hellinger: Now go to the representative of the psychosis and take her into your arms.
The client kneels down in front of the psychosis who is still sitting on her heels, and the client puts her hands in front of her face. Psychosis looks up and reaches out to her, but drops down her arms again after a while.
The client turns aside and looks to the ground. She bows deeply, until her head rests on the knee of the psychosis. She breaks into loud crying. After a while, she straightens up, takes her hand away from her face and looks into the eyes of the psychosis. Then she turns to one side again and looks to the ground. After a while, the psychosis slithers toward her, until she kneels next to the client. She looks at the ground with her.
The client wants to touch the back of the psychosis, but is too shy. After a while she touches the psychosis very softly, leans her head on her shoulder, and holds her arm.
A bit later the psychosis turns her head to the client, both almost touch cheeks. In that instant the psychosis pulls away and looks to the ground again.
Then the client sits opposite the psychosis and holds her hands. After a while she looks away from the psychosis and then at her again. They let go of each other’s hands. The psychosis looks to the ground again. After a while the psychosis turns around. The client sits next to her on the ground. The psychosis wants to put her hand on the client’s back, but immediately pulls it back again. They look at each other for a long time. The client puts her hand on the back of the psychosis, and they look at each other intensely. Then the psychosis looks at the ground again. The client sits back a bit further and sighs deeply.
After a while the psychosis gets up and takes a few steps. The client gets up, too. Both look at the same spot on the ground. Then they turn to each other and look into each other’s eyes, and then both take a few steps back.
Hellinger chooses two representatives and asks them to lie down on their backs in this spot.
The client turns back and looks at the two people on the ground. Both lie on their backs, their heads facing each other. They look at each other and hold hands. The client turns toward them and moves back a few steps. The psychosis does the same.
Hellinger to the client: Now look beyond those two into the distance, into the far distance.
The client looks only briefly beyond the two dead people into the distance, and then turns back to the psychosis.
Hellinger: Now also look beyond the psychosis, into the distance.
The face of the psychosis brightens up. She withdraws to the side, while the client turns away from her and toward the group.
Hellinger: Now look at everyone in the group.
She turns to the group and cries.
Hellinger to the client and the representatives: Stay as you are for a moment. I would like to explain something.
Psychoses as perpetrators, psychotics as victims
Hellinger to the group: these movements were of incredible beauty and depth. They were very precise. Nobody can invent them. Both were taken and moved by something mighty.
Now, what have we seen here? Between the client and the psychosis there was a similar process as what we saw earlier between the two women on the ground. The psychosis represented the perpetrator; the client represented the victim. The client behaved like a victim. She behaved toward the psychosis as if it was her murderer. That is exactly how the psychosis is treated in the family. The family shows the same inner attitude of exclusion and fear toward the psychosis as toward a perpetrator. They often treat the psychotic family member the way a perpetrator treats a victim. They do not realize what the psychosis carries for the family and where it wants to take the family.
In the end the psychosis wanted to be left alone. As soon as it was respected and recognized as having a vital role, even if not fully yet, it could withdraw.
To the representatives: Thank you all.
To the client: Sit here with me. How are you now?
Client: Better still.
Hellinger: That sounds pitiful.
Client: Why do you say that?
She laughs out loud.
Hellinger: That sounds better.
The woman continues laughing and looks at Hellinger.
Hellinger: Of course we have to keep in mind here that many see psychosis as something special. You would only have to say: “I am psychotic,” and people are immediately terrified. Isn’t that amazing?
The woman laughs and nods in agreement.
Hellinger: You enjoyed it, too. Of course, you did.
To the group: This is how psychotic people show that they are also identified with the perpetrator.
The client nods.
To the group: I think we have seen enough for now. That needs to settle in us.
In the next step, the child looks at those who took him or her in and provided what was necessary for survival and says to them: “You were given to me as you are. You took me under your wing when I was too much for my parents. You are father and mother for me now. You have become my parents for me. You were given to me as my second parents. I take you as you are given to me, whatever the price that it costs you and that it costs me, whatever your fate that destined you to become my new parents.”
Then the child looks beyond them to that power that holds all fates in its hand, for it wants everyone the way they are. The child bows before this all-embracing power. The child surrenders to it with love and says to it: “Yes, like this, I take my life and my fate from you. Like this, I let you carry and guide me, like this, I fulfill what you give to me and where you direct my life. Thank you.”
Where, and how, is this child now? Still given away? Still abandoned? Or does the child know the sense of being wanted and received in a miraculous way? He or she experiences being connected to his or her origin, no matter how far back it may reach. In every fiber of the child’s body there is the sense of oneness with all the ancestors and the life force – at one with the spiritual power that took all involved into its service, as they were, as they are. In the service of this power, no one was better or worse, poorer or richer. They were all equally loved, and equally in the service of life.
And so this child knows that he or she is the same as the others, equally loved and cared for. The child is there each moment, really there, in fullness and love, there with everyone together.
Everyone is equal to everyone else insofar as the lives of all people were thought and tossed into existence by the same spirit-mind. Whenever we behave as if it was up to us to decide which life is worth more or which human being has more rights, we violate this law of equality. This has far-reaching consequences for our own health and that of other family members, especially for our children and grandchildren, and sometimes also for our partner.
The consequences of such arrogance have to be borne by the one who offends, but also by others who were not involved in the events at all. The consequences affect the family as a whole, regardless of the extent to which individuals knew about the events or were involved in them.
The breach of this law of equality is one of the major causes of illnesses, but also of the difficulties that many children have that cause their parents great concern. For those who were excluded and rejected and even killed, for instance through abortion, will later be represented through other family members. The rejected ones will be represented by later members of the family, without even knowing about it.
The exclusion of earlier family members leads to entanglement with their fate. In the entangled family members we can see traits and burdens of the rejected, often also the aggression of those who were responsible for the rejection. In this way their aggression falls on later members of the family and is reflected in them. The aggression of those who rejected catches up with them in their descendents.
What is the solution then? The excluded ones are brought back to the family with love, but also with grief and regret about what occurred.
They are remembered by their names and they get their place in their family back. Suddenly we experience that we can be well again, that the children can return to good health and need not continue the aggressive behavior that endangered them and others. Suddenly they, too, have a sense of order and belonging.
Guilt and atonement
But just bringing the excluded ones back is often not enough, for those who excluded or discarded or killed them, feel guilty. That means they want to do penance for what they did; for instance, by leaving their family, too, or by becoming sick or even dying, or in others ways.
However, children will often throw themselves into the breach for their parents. They become ill or die in their parents’ place, or they commit some offences for which they are punished, and then atone not only for themselves, but also for their parents.
The spiritual level
Here the solution lies on another level, the level of the spirit-mind. On this level we acknowledge that everything that happens is moved by another force, exactly as it happens, including the fate of the excluded ones, the fate of those who feel guilty, and the fate of those who want to atone, for themselves or for others.
Then they look beyond the immediate and the near to this spiritual force that moves everything – and they submit to it. They know that the excluded ones are always included by this spiritual force. Nobody can separate them from this force, not even the guilty ones. In the face of this force, they put themselves, as well as those for whose suffering they feel responsible, into the hands of this force, humbly and at one with it.
It is only on the spiritual level that the harm is really overcome. Order can truly return, with love in order, and its effects come to an end.
The love of the spirit
Illness occurs when we deviate from the love of the spirit. Health stays and returns when we live in harmony with the love of the spirit, or, if we have lost the harmony with the spirit, when we return to it.
What I have alluded to so far about the paths leading to illnesses in families are ways of deviating from the love of the spirit that loves and wills everything as it is, because it thinks it as it is.
All that I have said so far about the paths that alleviate and heal illnesses in the family are ways of returning to the love of the spirit and to harmony with what is.
What are ways then in which we deviate from the love of the spirit?
First, illness is brought on through rejection of the parents. (This means all kinds of reproach, including the rejection of any of their burdens, difficulties and illnesses.) The rejection can take the form of accusations, especially public ones, lawsuits against the parents, or denying them help and care when they need it, and denying them support and protection of their reputation.
We can sometimes see this background in cancer patients and others with severe illnesses. Many of them would rather die than honor their mothers.
Obesity, especially in women, is often connected to rejecting one’s mother, and the same goes for lack of success in work and in our love relationships. The last two symptoms are not illnesses in the narrow sense of the word, but their consequences can be similar to those of illnesses.
The love of the spirit won’t allow us get away with rejecting our parents, no matter what our reasons are. It won’t tolerate any presumption or arrogance.
The consequences for reproaching, accusing or rejecting one’s parents apply irrespective of whether or not they appear to be justified. Here it is brought home to us in a special way that the orders operating in the realm of the spirit are different from those on the level of right and wrong, or just and unjust. What opposed health and success for both the children and their parents returns to order in the realm of the spirit.
The question is: How can we return to the love for our parents? We succeed when we meet them in a place beyond good and bad, in the realm of the spirit, with the love of the spirit.
How this can work I describe with an example of a child given up for adoption. It also allows us to experience how we can take our parents in a spiritual way, how we can learn to honor and to love them and find a way back to them. No matter the circumstances, we can do this if we have separated from them, or if we were separated from them, or even if we are still waiting for something from them that they are neither able nor permitted to give to us.
Loving our parents the spiritual way
The adopted child has his or her parents in the same essential way as other children. Like other children, the adopted child received life from these specific parents. This child belongs in this family the same as all the other members of this family. He or she is tied to this family, whatever fate may hold, and all other members of this family are affected by the fate, too. They participate in the child’s fate as if it were their fate as well. The adoption does not change anything about this in any way.
It holds true for the adopted child also that these parents were given, as they are, that they become the child’s fate, as it is ordained for this child. Any blame put on them, as if they had incurred guilt, and any further demand placed on them, results in disharmony with the spiritual force that moves both parents and child in such a manner that nothing can be different than what it is.
How then can and must an adopted child deal with fate in a spiritual way? How can and must this child deal with his or her fate in a way that allows for the acknowledgment of what is great about the demands of the special fate – to see it in a positive way, and to agree to it, as it is?
The other love
The child can visualize his or her parents, even without ever having met them. One only needs to get in touch with them inside, on the level of feeling. Then the child knows everything about them, for they are present within. They are present physically because they live on in this child. And they are also present in the soul of the child. The child has feelings like they do, carries something as they do, and is like them. The child is entangled in their fate and in the fates of their families. He or she suffers like they do, hopes like they do, and longs for healing like they do. The child feels guilty and wants to atone in the same way, even for the guilt of having given him or her away.
Like the parents, the child faces a special task: To be released from these entanglements and their consequences, the child needs to transcend the apparent severity of fate through a connection with a spiritual power. There is that movement of the spirit-mind that takes in all the family members, including the adoptive ones, and places them into service for something beyond them, through which they as well as others can grow. Adoption is heavy for all who are involved and it becomes a common fate for them, one by which they have the chance to become more human, more loving, more inclusive, humble, and great.
Meditation: the Farewell
I suggest an inner exercise that helps an adopted child to let go of the parents with love. This farewell requires two things:
First, fully accepting everything that was given to the child through the parents.
Second, completely abandoning the hope for more.
What can this exercise be like in its details? The child closes his or her eyes and sees the mother and the father. They had loved each other as man and woman. They could not help it. Whatever the circumstances, a greater force made use of them. It willed that through this love this child would receive life. So the child looks at Mother and at Father as they were taken into the service of this force.
At the same time the child looks beyond the parents, facing this force and bows deeply before it. The child feels how this force is giving its love to the child, and the gift of life, through the parents, and how this force draws the child near to it with love. In full surrender, the child consents to this force and to its movement. And the child says: “Yes, I take it from you, the whole lot, as you give it to me, through my parents, as my life. I open my heart and my soul to this gift. I hold it tight. I hold it with honor. I go with it no matter where it takes me. Thank you.”
Then the child looks at the mother, as she is, as she was taken into service by this force, and at everything that it cost her, and still does perhaps. The child says to her: “Dear mother, I take it from you, at the full price, your price and my price. It is worth any price to me, yours and mine. Thank you.
“Even though you gave me away forever, I have taken you along with me, as you are, as my mother, given to me with love by this great force. And you can still have me, too. I still belong to you. If you should ever need me, you should know: You will always be my mother, and I will always be your child.”
Then the child looks at the father, as he is, how he was taken into service by this force, and at everything that it cost him, and perhaps still does. The child says to him: “Dear father, I take it from you, at the full price, your price and my price. It is worth any price to me, yours and mine. Thank you.
“Even though you gave me away forever, I have taken you along with me, as you are, as my father, given to me by this great force with love. And you can still have me, too. I still belong to you. If you should ever need me, you should know: You will always be my father, and I will always be your child.”
Then the child looks at the mother again and tells her: “Dear mother, I see you as my mother and myself as your child. And I see you as the child of your mother and your father, how you are connected with them in love, and also with their fate and with everything that they carried with their family. Through you I am also connected with them and their fate, as they had to take it. I leave you there, whichever way it draws you there. I, too, know myself connected with them.
“But I also look beyond you all, to that force that moves you the way you move, and in whose service you are and were. I give myself to it, together with you, and I say to it: ‘Yes.’ And I say to it: ‘Thank you.’ I leave you there, as it draws you there and takes all of you to itself, with love.”
After a while the child looks at the father again and tells him: “Dear father, I see you as my father and myself as your child. And I see you as the child of your mother and your father, how you are connected with them in love, and also with their fate and with everything that they carried with their family. Through you I am also connected with them and their fate, as they had to take it. I leave you there, whichever way it draws you there. I, too, know myself connected with them.
“But I also look beyond you all, to that force that moves you the way you move, and in whose service you are and were. I give myself to it, together with you, and I say to it: ‘Yes.’ And I say to it: ‘Thank you.’ I leave you there, as it draws you there and takes you all to itself, with love.”
There is something else to remember about guilt: It passes, and it must be allowed to pass. On earth, guilt is transitory, and like everything else on earth, it is gone after some time.
Illness as vicarious penance
Members of the family or the kinship group often take upon themselves another member’s guilt and penance. So, a child or a partner might say: “Rather me than you.” Where others refuse, they take the guilt and its consequences upon themselves.
An example: During a group session a mother related that she refused her mother’s request to live with her family and sent her to an old people's home instead. The very same week, one of her daughters developed anorexia, started dressing entirely in black, and began to visit an old people's home twice a week to care for the residents. No one, not even the daughter, could see the connection.
Illness as the result of refusing to take one's parents
Another attitude that leads to severe illness is the child's refusal to take the parent with love and to honor them. Cancer patients, for example, would sometimes rather die than bow to their mother or father.
To honor one's parents is to love and accept them as they are, and to honor life is to love and accept it as it is, with beginning and end, with life and death, health and illness, with innocence and guilt. This is the central religious act. In former times we called this surrender and worship. We experience it as the ultimate renunciation, costing nothing less than everything. It is the surrender that gives all and takes all and takes all and gives all – with love. To conclude, let me tell you a philosophical story:
A monk, out seeking for the Absolute,
approached a merchant in the marketplace
and asked for alms.
The merchant glanced at him, and paused.
As he handed him what he could spare,
he addressed him with a question.
"What can it mean that you request of me
what you require for your sustenance
and yet feel free to think of me and of my trade as something low compared with you and yours?"
The monk replied:
"Compared with the Absolute that I pursue
the rest seems low indeed."
The merchant was not satisfied
and tried a second question:
"If such an Absolute exists,
it extends beyond our reach.
So how can anyone presume to seek it
as if it could be found
lying at the end of some long road?
How can anyone take possession of it
or claim a greater share of it than others?
And how, conversely, if this Absolute exists,
can anyone stray far from it
and be excluded from its will and care?"
The monk replied:
"Only those who are prepared to leave
all that is closest to them now
and willingly forego what chains them
to Here and Now
will ever reach the Absolute."
the merchant tested him with yet another thought:
"Assuming that an Absolute exists,
it must be close to everyone,
although concealed in the apparent and enduring,
just as Absence is concealed in Presence,
and Past and Future in the Here and Now.
"Compared with what is Present
and appears to us as limited and fleeting,
the Absent seems unlimited in space and time,
as do both Past and Future
compared with Here and Now.
“Yet what is Absent is revealed to us
in what is present
just as the Whence and Wither are revealed
in the Here and Now.
Like night and death
the Absent holds, unknown to us,
something that is yet to come.
and only briefly
the Absolute illuminates the Present,
as a flash of lightning in the night.
"Thus, too, the Absolute draws close to us
in what is close to us
and it illuminates the Now."
By now the monk was wondering:
"If what you say is true,
what would remain
for me and you?"
The merchant said:
"But for a little while,
the Earth would still be here."
The two sentences, "Better me than you" and "I will follow you," are spoken and accomplished by entangled children with the conviction of utter innocence. At the same time, these sentences correspond to the Christian message and the Christian example, for instance, to Christ's words in the Gospel of St. John: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends," and his exhortation to his disciples to follow him on the way of the cross and into death.
The Christian teaching of redemption through suffering and death and the example of Christian saints and heroes confirm children’s magical hope and magical belief that they can take on illness and suffering and death in someone else's place. By paying god and fate in the same currency of suffering, they hope to free others from their suffering, and to rescue them from death by dying in their place. And they also hope that if redemption is no longer possible on this earth, they will be reunited with the departed loved ones if they, like them, lose their life and (so they believe) find it again through death.
Love that heals
When such beliefs prevail, healing and redemption are beyond mere medical and therapeutic measures. They call for a religious act, a change of heart toward something greater that goes beyond magical thinking and wishing and takes its power away. Sometimes, it is possible for a doctor or therapist to pave the way for such a change of heart. But this change is not within the helper’s power and is not the outcome of a mere method; it is not cause and effect. When such a shift occurs, it demands the utmost respect and is experienced as grace.
Illness as atonement
The need to atone for guilt is another of the dynamics leading to illness, suicide, accidents and premature death. Events that were unavoidable and determined by fate are sometimes seen as though they carried a personal guilt for which some sort of atonement is required. A miscarriage or a disability, or the early death of a child might be experienced in this way. In such cases, it is more helpful to look at the deceased or disabled child with love, to face the grief that death and handicap entail, and to allow the past to be at peace.
Similarly, if something fateful occurred that benefits or saves a person or even provides life to one person while harming another, this is also experienced as guilt. When a mother dies in childbirth, her child often has difficulty fully claiming success in life. It is as if his or her failure can atone for the mother’s sacrifice.
There are other situations in which someone is genuinely responsible for causing harm, for example, when someone aborts or gives away a child, or ruthlessly demands something terrible from someone or inflicts wrong on someone else. There is a deeply rooted and widespread idea that a fateful or a personal guilt should be purged through penance, by paying for harm done to others with damage inflicted on oneself, so that one’s guilt is offset by the penance and in that way – so the idea goes – balance is established.
Such concepts and the actions that result from them, disastrous as they are for all involved, are often supported by religious doctrines and examples. We are familiar with the religious belief of suffering and dying as a way of redemption, and the purging from sin and guilt through self-inflicted punishment and pain.
Compensation through penance is misfortune doubled
Penance satisfies our blind need for compensation and balance. But when this compensation is sought through illness, accidents and death, what is really achieved? Instead of one injured person, there are two, as one death is followed by a second. Worse still, penance doubles the damage done to the victims, because the victims’ suffering becomes the cause of more suffering, and their own death brings death to more people.
And there’s more to keep in mind. Penance is cheap. As in all magical thinking and acting, so it is for the idea of penance: Salvation of others comes solely out of one’s own suffering. Therefore it can be extrapolated that one’s own suffering is all that is needed for the salvation of others. Suffering and dying alone are supposed to be sufficient. But the relationship to the others is not taken into account; the others are not seen in their pain. Their suffering is not felt; they are not included in the process, not asked what would help them, and cannot agree to something that would be good for them. They cannot bless anyone or anything. Their suffering was in vain. No good came of it. They never see pain in the eyes of the offenders. And often this is all they long for, to see the human heart in those who hurt them so that they can feel at one with them after all that occurred. The victims remain excluded.
In penance, too, like is repaid with like. As in following someone into death, here, too, action is replaced by suffering; living is replaced by dying, guilt by penance, as though suffering and dying were enough, and action and contribution did not matter. Just as when the sentences “Rather me than you” and “I follow you,” are carried out, there is even more and greater harm and suffering and death, the same is true for doing penance.
When a child’s mother dies giving birth, he or she feels guilty because the mother paid for new life with her own death. If the child tries to atone for her death by suffering, on some level he or she refuses to accept life at the price of the mother’s death. If a child commits suicide as the ultimate penance, then the disaster doubles for the mother. The child has not taken the life that the mother gave, and her love and her willingness to give her child everything are not respected or received. Her death was in vain then, and even worse, instead of the joy of one life going forward, two lives are lost in the bargain.
If we want to help a child in this situation, we must clearly be aware that in addition to the desire for atonement, the child also has the wish: "Rather me than you" and "I will follow you." We can only deal with the disastrous desire for penance in a healing way when the sentences “Rather me than you” and “I will follow you” are deeply understood and are allowed their healing effect as well.
Compensation through acceptance and reconciling action
What, then, is the appropriate solution for both the child and the mother? The child would have to say: "Mother dear, if you have paid such a high price for my life, it shall not be in vain. I will make something of my life, in memory of you and in your honor." But then the child must act constructively instead of suffering, achieve good instead of failing, and live fully instead of dying. In so doing the child becomes much more deeply united with the mother than by following her into suffering and death. By accepting and living life fully, children embrace the mother in their heart – and strength and grace flow from her to them.
Symbiotically passing away with the mother, the child is connected to her in a numb and blind way. But if, in loving memory of the mother and her death, the child achieves something that furthers life, then life itself is accepted as a great gift and its goodness is passed on to others. This child, then, is connected to the mother in a very different way, and mother remains a loving other for the child. For when the child accepts life in an active, positive way, when he or she fulfills what life has to offer, the child sees the mother clearly and carries her forth. Then mother’s love and blessing flow to the child, as the child does something special out of love for her.
Unlike compensation through atonement, which increases suffering and death, this compensation leads to happiness and health. Compensation through atonement is cheap, harmful, and fails to achieve reconciliation; compensation through positive action is valuable and bestows blessings. Then, both the mother and the child become reconciled to their fate. The good that the child does in memory of her, happens through her. Through her child, the mother participates in her child’s life and lives on.
This compensation follows the insight that our life is unique, and that, in passing it makes room for something new, and even though it is already gone, it still nourishes the present.
Doing penance instead of relating
Believing that guilt can be assuaged by suffering, we avoid facing up to the relationship with the person we have wronged. Through penance we imagine we can fix the damage by paying for it with something that we have, like money or a skill. But what can penance achieve when I have wronged a human being, when I have caused irreversible harm to the other’s body and soul, and life? Finding relief from my guilt through penance, through harming myself, is a concept that actually ignores the other person and is only focused on me. My real plan is get rid of my guilty feelings. When I truly see the other person I must realize that through penance I am trying to avoid what really needs to happen.
This is also true of guilt for which I am personally responsible. Often a mother tries to atone for an abortion or other loss of a child with a serious illness, or through ending the relationship with the father of the child and relinquishing all future relationships as well. Atonement for personal guilt often happens subconsciously, as a counter movement to conscious denial or rationalization.
Sometimes when a mother tries to atone for her child's death through her own illness and death, there is also the wish to follow the dead child, like a child wanting to follow the dead mother. But even a child who has died through the mother's guilt may still be saying: "Better me than you." So, the child’s love and willingness to die for the mother are unrecognized and in vain.
In the case of personal guilt, the solution is to replace penance with reconciliatory action. This happens when I look at the person whom I have wronged or whom I have forced to wrong others. Perhaps a mother looks at her aborted child or a father looks at his disavowed or abandoned child and says: “I am sorry” and “Now I give you a place in my heart. I will make up for it as best I can” and “You shall have a part in the good that I will do as I think of you and see you in front of me.” In this way, the guilt becomes other-centered rather than self-centered, and the good that the mother or the father or anyone else does, while holding the child in the heart, happens with and through the child. The child participates in it and remains connected to the mother or the father and their action for some time.
Often all a psychotherapist with insight can do is to bring the child's love to light and to trust the dynamic of love itself to find what is truly needed. For no matter what the child took on, it was done in good conscience and with the conviction that it was the right and noble thing. When, however, this love comes to light through the help of an understanding psychotherapist, it also becomes clear to the child that blind love can never achieve its objective.
This is the love of children that hope they can heal their loved ones, protect them from harm, atone for their guilt and snatch them from the jaws of death. Often this love even hopes to return a beloved person from the dead.
But when their blind child love is brought to light, together with their childlike hopes and desires, they may realize that all the blind love and sacrifice will inevitably fail to overcome the loved one’s suffering and fate and death. The next realization would then be the need to face fate, powerless and brave, and to agree to it all as it is.
When the objectives of a child's love and the means to achieve them are brought to light, they are frustrated, for they are rooted in magical beliefs that cannot survive in the adult world. The love, however, endures. Brought to light, the love looks for new pathways that may actually be helpful. Then the same love that caused illness is now looking for another way, a knowing solution, and it bids farewell – where fate permits – to what caused illness, with understanding and respect. Now the doctor and psychotherapist may offer a more effective direction. The guideline for receiving that direction is that the love of the child-soul is seen and acknowledged, and it goes on living, now in a freer and wider heart, turning to new and greater things.
"Me for you"
Often we find the cause for a life-threatening illness in the child’s subliminal decision: "I will go instead of you."
In the case of anorexia, the decision is: "I will go instead of you, my dear Daddy."
In the preceding example of multiple sclerosis, the child's decision was: "I will go instead of you, Mummy dear."
Similar dynamics exist in tuberculosis, and they are found operating as well behind suicide and fatal accidents.
"Even if you go, I’ll stay"
Now as these dynamics come up in the conversation with the patient: What would be the helpful and healing solution? As in any good description of a problem, the solution is also contained in it and has already begun to be worked through. It emerges when the illness-producing sentence has been brought to light, and then, standing face to face with the beloved person, and with all the power and conviction of the love that moved the client to this sentence, the client says it: "Better I go than you."
It is important that the sentence is repeated as many times as is necessary for the client to really see the beloved person as a separate individual. Notwithstanding the depth of love, the beloved person needs to be acknowledged as a separate self. Otherwise, the symbiosis and identification will remain, and the healing differentiation and separation between self and other does not come about.
Where this loving way of saying the words succeeds, it draws a line around the beloved person as well as around the individual’s self. It separates the individual’s fate from that of the beloved person.
The sentence forces its speaker to see not only his or her own love, but also the love of the beloved person. It forces the realization that what the loving person wants to do for the beloved one, making such a sacrifice, is more likely to be felt as a burden than as a relief by the beloved person.
Then it is time to say another sentence to the beloved person: “Dear father, dear mother, dear brother, dear sister – or whoever it may be – even if you go, I will stay.”
Sometimes, especially if the sentence is said for the father or the mother, the patient adds: "Mother dear, Father dear, bless me when I stay, and please wish me well even if you go."
Let me illustrate this with an example. A woman's father had two handicapped brothers; one was deaf and the other psychotic. He was systemically pulled to his brothers and to their fate, and out of loyalty to them, he could not bear to see their suffering along side his own well-being. His daughter unconsciously recognized that he was in danger and leaped into the breach. When she set up her family constellation, her representative rushed over to her father's brothers and embraced them as she was telling her father in her heart: "Father dear, I will share their misfortune with them so that you can be well." The client developed anorexia.
But what would be the solution here? The daughter would have to look at her father's brothers and then beg them, even if only in her heart: "Please bless my father if he stays with us, and please bless me if I stay with my father."
"I will follow you"
Another, earlier sentence lies behind the parents' desire to leave, which the child tries to prevent with the words: "Better me than you." It is a sentence that the parents as children may want to say to their own parents or siblings who died early or who were sick for long a time or were disabled: "I will follow you," or, more precisely: "I will follow you into your illness," or: "I will follow you into death."
Thus, in the family, the first sentence to take its effect is: "I will follow you." This is a sentence of a child, too. And, when these children grow up, their own children prevent them from implementing the words by saying: "Better me than you."
"I will go on living for a little while"
Whenever the sentence "I will follow you" comes to light as the background of fatal illness and accidents or suicide, the helpful and healing solution is, first of all, to let the child speak the words aloud. Looking into the eyes of the beloved person with all the power and conviction of the child’s love, the sentence is formulated: "Father dear, Mother dear, dear brother, dear sister – or whoever it may be, – I will follow you, even into death." Here, too, it is important that the words be repeated as often as is necessary for the person to recognize and perceive the loved ones as individuals, as separate beings in spite of all the love the child has for them. Then the child realizes that this love cannot eliminate the separation between self and beloved other, and that, just as with all human beings, he or she must recognize and accept these limits. Here again, the sentence forces the child to acknowledge his or her own love as well as feeling the love coming from the beloved person. Further it helps this person to better comprehend the underlying reality: the beloved person can bear and fulfill his or her destiny more easily when nobody else gets drawn into it by following, especially not his or her own child.
Then the child can offer the beloved dead person another sentence, the essential one that dismisses and releases the child from the fateful following: “Dear father, dear mother, dear brother, dear sister – or whoever it may be, – you are dead, I will go on living for a little while, and then I will also die.” Or: “I fulfill what is given to me, for as long as it lasts, and then I will die as well.”
When children see that one of the parents is drawn to follow someone from the family of origin into illness and death, they can free themselves when they are able to say authentically: "Father dear, Mother dear, even if you go, I stay," or "Even if you go, I honor you as my father, and I honor you as my mother. You will always be my father; you will always be my mother." Or, if one of the parents has committed suicide: "I respect your decision and bow to your fate, and I honor you as my father, and I honor you as my mother. You will always be my father, you will always be my mother, and I will always be your child."
This section traces the developments of the insights about the aspects of our family backgrounds that can make us ill and prevent healing. In the beginning we could observe the movements of the personal conscience and of our soul’s love for our family, as we saw and experienced these through family constellations. We also saw the consequences for health and illness. So, the first chapter here is about the love that makes us ill – and the love that heals.
These insights remain within the boundaries of conscience and therefore reach their limits soon. The insights about the movements of the spirit shed a light of a different kind on health and illness. The spirit moves all human beings equally, taking them into service, no matter what their fate is. The movements of spirit lead to solutions that cannot be accessed or understood from within the range of conscience.
The second part of this section is about these solutions: illness and healing from a spiritual perspective. It shows the scope of our entanglements and what delivers us up to them. The two main causes are:
1. Offences against the equal right of all to belong to their group through exclusion, and
2. Offences against the law of priority, which says that the members who came earlier have priority over those who came later. The offender is someone in a family system who rises above those who were there earlier.
I will give you some examples concerning the background of serious illnesses, how the connections come to light through family constellations, and I’ll describe paths toward healing.
The first part of this chapter: “What causes illness in families and what heals” was taken from the book: Love’s Own Truths: Bonding and Balancing in Close Relationships.
Love that brings Illness and Love that Heals
Many people have the belief that they might be able to avert an illness or even the death of others in the family by taking the suffering or the guilt of those family members upon themselves. People might get ill, or have accidents, or even kill themselves, because they (or other family members) miss some dead family members so badly that they long to be united with them through death. The following observations and insights from constellations help us to see through the ideas that provoke illness and to overcome them in a healing manner.
Family loyalty and its consequences
All family members are inexorably bound together through fate. The tie of fate is at its strongest between parents and children. It is also strong between siblings and between husband and wife. The effects are also seen between those who had to make room for others in the family and those others who took this room. This type of bond is particularly potent when there was a severe fate; for example, the children of a second marriage will have a strong connection to their father’s first wife if she died in childbirth.
Similarity and balance
These ties result in the later and weaker members of the group wanting to hold onto the earlier and stronger ones in order to prevent them from leaving or dying, or, if they have already gone, in wanting to follow them.
Strong, but often hidden, ties may exist between those who have an advantage but have a secret desire to share the fate of those with a disadvantage. Healthy children, for example, may want to become like their sick parents, and innocent later family members may want to become like guilty parents or ancestors. On some level, the healthy ones feel responsible for the sick ones, the innocent ones for the guilty ones, the happy ones for the unhappy ones, and the living for the dead.
Thus, those with an advantage over others are often willing to risk – and lose – their health, innocence, and happiness and life for the health, innocence, happiness and life of others. They hope that by renouncing their own happiness and their own lives they may save the lives and happiness of others. Often they even hope that through their sacrifice they can regain and restore the life and happiness of other family members, even when those people are long gone.
This loyalty among the members of the family and kinship manifests as a need for systemic balance between the advantages enjoyed by some and the disadvantages suffered by others, between the innocence and happiness of some and the guilt and misfortune of others, between the health of some and the illness of others, and between someone’s life and another’s death.
It is this systemic urge for balance that leads one member of the group to court misfortune when another is suffering, or that tempts one person into illness or misfortune when another is ill or guilty, or that makes someone long for death when a close member of the system dies.
Thus, within this confined community of fate, loyalty and the need for balance and compensation bring about participation in the guilt and illness and fate and death of others. It leads to attempts to pay for someone's well-being with one's own misfortune, for someone else's health with one's own illness, for someone else's innocence with one’s own guilt, and someone else's life through one's own death.
Illness follows the soul
Since the systemic need for balance and compensation literally create illness and death, illness follows our soul. Thus, in addition to medical help in the more usual sense, psychological help and care are also necessary to bring about healing, whether the medical practitioner does both, or someone else steps in to support the doctor by looking after the patient’s soul. But whereas doctors actively do all they can to cure their patients’ illnesses, psychotherapists, aware of the systemic dimension of illness, are more restrained for they stand in awe of the forces they are dealing with. It would be presumptuous to think that one could compete with these forces. So the therapists attempt, in harmony with these forces, to harmonize with the frightening fate, as an ally rather than as a rival. Here is an example.
"Better me than you"
During a group hypnotherapy session, a woman suffering from multiple sclerosis saw herself kneeling by the bed of her paralyzed mother and deciding in her heart: "Better me than you, Mummy dear. I will suffer in your place." The group was moved by the child's love and how this young woman was at peace with herself and her fate. But one participant could not bear the depth of this love that was willing to take on illness, suffering and death for her mother. So she implored the therapist, "I wish with all of my heart that you could help her!”
But how can we presume to insult the child's love by intervening in that way? Surely trying to get her to renounce her childhood promise might only increase her suffering rather than alleviate it, forcing her to hide her love and cling all the more secretly to her hope and her determination to save her beloved mother through her own suffering? Let us look at another example.
A young woman, also suffering from multiple sclerosis, set up a family constellation. There was the mother on the right of the father; opposite them stood the oldest child (the patient herself); on her left stood her younger brother, who died of heart failure at the age of 14; and to his left, the youngest child, another brother.
Following the representatives’ reports, the psychotherapist had the dead brother’s representative leave the room, which reflected the reality of his death. When he left the room, the face of the client’s representative immediately brightened up, and it was obvious that her mother was also feeling much more comfortable. Because he had observed that the representatives of both father and the younger brother also felt an urge to leave, the psychotherapist had them leave the room as well. When all the men had left the room (signifying that they had died), the mother straightened up with a relieved expression on her face, and it became clear to everyone present that she was the one who was under systemic pressure to die – for whatever reason – and that she was touched and relieved that the men in her family were ready and willing to die in her place.
Then the psychotherapist called the men back and had the mother leave the room. Immediately, all the other representatives felt liberated from the systemic pressure to take the mother's fate upon themselves, and they all felt much better.
To test the possibility that the daughter's multiple sclerosis was systemically connected with the mother's hidden belief that she should die, the therapist called the mother back into the room, placed her to the left of her husband, and placed the daughter next to her mother.
He asked the daughter to look straight into her mother's eyes and say to her with love: "Mother, I will do it for you!" As she said the words, her face grew radiant, and the systemic meaning and objective of her illness became clear to everyone. So what can doctors or psychotherapists do, and what must they take care to avoid?
What is there? Everything is there. How long has it been there? Was what is there now there before? Is everything that was, still there? When I think of it, am I here in a different way then? Am I here differently because I am here together with everything that was, and because that other thing that was, is here with me at the same time, and just as it was? Thus, something changes in me, because what was is allowed to be as it was, and I am there with it, as it was? It is there with me at the same time, as it was, without the thought or the wish that it were different or would be changed? So that really nothing about it is allowed to change? So that nothing about it is allowed to change because it is suddenly there for me, exactly as it is, exactly as it was?
In terms of my experience and being, whether or not I can experience myself together with everything else at the same time, makes the difference. This is how I arrive in my fullness, without having to act, simply because I feel and know that I am here with everything else.
Perhaps it also makes a difference to what was there, that I am here and exactly as I am, that it knows me here together with it at the same time, and that it can participate in my being there, and only because I am also there. Everything that was finds itself richer and more of itself, just because I am there also, without anything changing in it or in me.
Our being here becomes richer, as everything is allowed to be there, as it was, that it may always be as it was, and that we, too, are allowed to be there as we are, together with everything else. Together which way? With love for everything as it was and still is for us.
What is the connection with spiritual family constellations? In spiritual family constellations we can see: everything that was not allowed to be there before is allowed to be there now, exactly as it was and as it is. It is allowed to be there, together with us, as we are. When everything is allowed to be there as it was and as it is, we experience it as richness.
There are times when it is clear that something is still missing for it to be there fully and to be allowed to be there as it is.
Maybe something that separated us still needs to be mourned with our tears; maybe the painful thing that separated us is still missing from our tears. We simply cry over it, just with love, awake and present, completely present.
Everything has awareness, especially everything that is alive. Without awareness it would not know what was needed in order to stay alive and to pass life on. But this awareness extends far beyond the individual life, for it knows in which way the individual living being is connected to other living beings, mutually connected, so that they support and enhance each other’s life. But not everything that lives has the awareness of its awareness. Still, it behaves as if it does.
Where is this awareness then? Can it be in the individual living beings? Or is their awareness moved and directed by another awareness so that the awareness of the individual living being is directed together with the awareness of many other living beings? Is the awareness of the many directed toward goals that remain hidden from the individuals, and yet the individual living beings are in its service, as if they were aware of it.
We say of human beings that they have awareness. They are aware of having awareness. But does human awareness differ significantly from the awareness of other living beings? Are humans not also, to a large extent, moved and directed by an awareness that they are unaware of, even though we often behave and have to behave, as if we were aware of it?
How much do we know about our awareness? To what extent can we connect ourselves to this awareness with full awareness, and steer our course as if it was ours? Where are we taken to when we behave as if it was our own awareness at the helm and as if we had the threads of our lives in our own hands? Soon we become aware that our personal awareness is limited, and that, left to its own devices, the essential thing about life passes us by.
Wherein then lies the essential awareness, where is the all-encompassing awareness for us? We are taken by it, even in a way that we become aware of it. But we know that it goes far beyond us. It goes beyond us so far that we experience it as endless – endless in the sense that it takes us into realms where our awareness fails.
What kind of realm is it? It is a spiritual realm. For that reason alone, it is endless to us. It is a creative realm because everything there is creatively thought. That means it is thought in such a way that it is there exactly as it is thought. Everything that is there comes out of a consciousness, out of a limitless conscience, unlimited, even though it is there for us.
Where then does our path lead when we are aware of this consciousness? We go along with this consciousness, the way it thinks and moves us. We consciously go with this consciousness, give in to it, and given to it, until we experience ourselves as one with it in every regard.
What does this mean for our ordinary lives? What does it mean for our love? What does it mean for what we are doing?
We go along with everything, as it happens. We go along carefree, for we experience ourselves taken by this consciousness at all times. We go along carefree also with what happens to others and what happens to the world, because we are conscious that everything is moved by this consciousness, exactly as it is. We consciously go with this consciousness. We go creatively with this consciousness, and we are creatively moved by it.
Are we still ourselves then? Only in this conscious way of going along with this consciousness do we really become conscious of ourselves. We become conscious of how we are moved by this consciousness, moved in everything.
Does anything exist outside of this consciousness? Can there be anything else, independent of it? In the end we find out that there is only one thing left for us, that only one thing really remains with us: this consciousness.
What does “spiritual family constellations” mean? It means staying in unison with this consciousness in us and in others, in unison with the movements of this consciousness.
A bond binds together -- for instance, the bond of life between man and woman. And in various ways we also feel connected to others, for instance, to our parents and our family. In some cases, we form an association with others for a common task.
Sometimes we also form an alliance against others. The alliance against others ends when we make peace with them, when we join in a peace alliance with them: then people who were against each other are now for each other.
The question is: Are we also in connection with ourselves? Are we in connection with our body? Are we in connection with our parents? Are we in connection with our fate? And most of all are we in connection with those whom we or our family want to deny, with those whom we or our family want to forget, or have on some level already forgotten? Are we in connection with those who were concealed by our family or by us? Are we still in connection with those to whom we owe a debt, for example, previous partners or teachers or people who were there to help us when we were in need or were ill?
When we face up to these issues, we can feel how much we are missing, how much we are missing them, how much they are perhaps missing us, because we are no longer connecting with them, no longer in connection with love, with gratitude, with grief and regret. Suddenly, we feel how lonely we are without them.
What can we do to renew the connection, at least in our thoughts and in our heart? We open our hearts for them, with love.
Sometimes this is hard for us, especially when we feel guilty or indebted to them. How can we succeed in restoring the connection with them? We acknowledge that the people we dismissed or excluded continue to belong to us, and we to them. Foremost, it is this acknowledgment that will restore the connection. Through this acknowledgment, suddenly we know ourselves richer, rounder, and more whole.
Family constellations succeed where we form an alliance with the excluded and the forgotten, bringing them back into our group of belonging, and us into theirs. Sometimes, the problem in a constellation is the leader who refuses an alliance with an excluded one; for instance, when he and the client both closes their eyes to those longing to be brought back into belonging; or when the constellation leader refuses to look at the people the client has harmed.
In spiritual family constellations, it is easier to restore and once again seal the broken ties. This is so because spiritual family constellations are in tune with a movement of the spirit that moves everyone with the same love. Therefore, in the end, the essential connection, the enduring alliance, is the covenant with the spirit. We renew the ties with all who belong to us, in harmony with the same approval and care for all of them. This is a bond no one can break. Who would have the right and the might to do this? Even the broken bond remains whole and sacred for the love of the spirit.
So what connects us most deeply to all the people with whom we are and were connected through our life? The answer is this other, all-embracing, humble love. It is our covenant with the spirit and its love and our love as it is ensouled by this spirit and carried for all and everything, as it is -- the union of love.
Our expectation ceases when we remain in the moment. For everything that we expect lies beyond the moment. The expectation prevents us from staying in the moment. Through our expectation we lose it. And most of all, we lose what the moment has to give to us. The moment can give us more than we expected, for what the moment offers, we can have, and have securely.
Many expectations are joyous. But they are accompanied by the fear that they might not be fulfilled in the way we expect. Both this joy and this fear paralyze us, preventing us from opening ourselves to whatever comes however it comes. Our expectations pin us down to our ideas of what will come and of what we are prepared for. When we remain in the moment, we have what is possible for us in its totality. This way we are open for surprises and for whatever needs doing next. Only in the moment do we see what is coming. We are only open for what may be coming when we are in the moment. What are we waiting for then? Only for the next moment. It alone takes us further. It is what we can be sure to expect. With what kind of expectation? Recollected and at ease -- fortified and ready for the next moment.
Ahead of us
The creative movement is always a movement toward something new. It goes forward. Love also goes forward, and goodwill does too. Knowledge and insight go forward. The same holds true for recollection. Recollection is only possible for us toward something that comes next, and this means something that is really ahead of us, something we will have to do next. What about the moment then? It is now. But even the now is ahead of us and in front of us, in terms of time, and in terms of what is coming. The now is ahead of us and directed toward what is coming.
What about our dreams of the future and our ideas about how our future should be? Is this future actually before us, or rather behind us? For what are these imaginings based on? Are they creatively forward directed, or are they feeding on something from the past, an old expectation? Such dreams are likely to stand in the way of the really creative because they confine us to something that has not much of a future.
Only what is next can be new. Only what is right before us engages us creatively.
What about things in the past then? What about things that were left undone, or that went wrong? What about guilt and its consequences? What happens when we dwell on these things? The new, the creative, escapes us. We miss out on what takes us further.
When we really look ahead and move ahead, the past comes with us, but only when it is allowed to be past, completely in the past. For the next thing is where the past also wants to go. It wants to move forward.
What is foremost of the spirit is light and wide. The movements of the spirit become light, too, once we come into resonance with them. They release us from what drags us down, especially from what draws us into the past. We may wonder, into what past? Only into our personal past? Or also into the past of our parents and our ancestors? Maybe also into the past of our former lives, as if this past is not past yet? Or does something also pull us into the past of all human beings and into the past of the people with whom we have a connection, be it a close and intimate past, or one that draws us away from ourselves into a distant and hostile past?
Every past is taken along into the movements of the spirit-mind. Its movements are in accord with every past, as it was, including ours, but this together with every other past. Within the movements of the spirit-mind every past is right, as it was. Within them every past is also incomplete as it is still in motion. In this movement, every past – this is my image – becomes light, because it is still moving. The past becomes light also for us; it is permitted to be light for us.
How does it become light for us? If we remain within the movement of the spirit-mind, in a movement that goes on, a movement that is always going forward.
Forward to where? Into harmony with all who are moved forward with us, who are moved forward together with us. Moved to what? To harmony with the love of the spirit for everything as it is, with its past as it was, and with its completion, however it will be.
This completion is spiritual, and it is light, light even now. Why? Because it is love, pure love, even right now, in every way the love of the spirit.
What else makes us light? What was great in our past, in the past of our parents and ancestors, in the past of our own former lives, and what was great in the past of all humanity. Lightness also comes from what was great in the past of the people with whom we have a relationship, whether a close and heartfelt one or a distant and hostile one.
All this greatness is also taken along into our common future by the movements of the spirit. And it makes us light, even now, completed and rich in this harmony with the movements of the spirit.
We come into harmony with a movement that is going forward and further. So we move forward in it, too, away from something that is behind us, from something that is already past. In harmony we find calmness -- calmness that is in motion. We become calm because in this movement we succeed in something. It works out because we went along with this movement; more precisely, because we were taken along by this movement.
We do not always experience ourselves as being in harmony, for often this harmony is taking us to a place that makes us fearful. To remain in harmony requires our ultimate courage. To be in harmony demands our full surrender and complete love -- love for all as it is.
In harmony we become selfless and pure to the core. In harmony we are connected to everything, as it is. In harmony everything comes toward us, as it is. Everything opens itself for us and it changes for us, because we are in harmony with it. Only when we are in harmony with the movements of the spirit-mind in others are we also in harmony with the spirit-mind in ourselves.
On Christmas Eve I was sitting by the open fireplace watching the flames as they consumed the wood. I watched them becoming less and less, until there was only the glow of the embers left. As I was sitting there being taken along by this primordial movement, a few sentences came to me. Everything is consumed with something that it serves. Each one burns on its own. What has been burnt keeps on glowing for a long time. Before it vanishes, it may rise up. What burns, turns into ashes, and something new will come of it.
In the spiritual realm, and especially in spiritual family constellations, it all depends on how willingly we let ourselves be guided, how deeply we come into unison with a spiritual movement that takes us and to which we resign ourselves.
We experience this guidance in several ways. First, we have a flash of insight, which is given to us at the exact moment at which we have to take action; for example, knowing the next step that needs to be taken just as someone asks for our help or support.
This insight is always fresh. It is surprising and demands that we follow it as it has been given to us. Should doubt set in, we will feel abandoned immediately, let down by this guidance, and left to our own deliberations and intentions. We are thrown back to past experiences and cut off from what really counts in this situation.
In this spiritual domain, whatever we try to set into motion and to resolve on our own goes nowhere. When we are not in unison with the spirit-mind, we lack the power needed to restore order to what was in disorder, in us and in others, out of its opposition to love.
Second, we experience this guidance as clarity and strength, and we no longer need to ask advice and help from others. The guidance of the spirit-mind will stand for no one being next to it, for no assessment, no objection, no criticism.
Spirit abandons anyone wanting to stand in the way of love by opposing reunion; a movement that brings together what was in opposition.
Our real, our deepest quest is our quest for insight, for that all-encompassing knowing that counts in the end. Only this knowing remains, only this knowing unites, only this knowing is love.
On this quest we are guided. A power envelops us and takes us to a place we could not have reached on our own. Where does it ultimately take us? Is the guidance leading upwards or downwards? It always guides us downwards, there where we are connected with everything, connected with love.
Down on the ground together with many and all, we look up, we look ahead of us, and together we find our way to what transcends us, infinitely beyond us. There we finally know peace without quest, as we are taken along, securely so, knowing with certainty.
What distracts us from this quest? We are looking elsewhere for this knowledge, we are looking for other hands to hold ours, and we are looking for guidance that is transient.
Therefore, we are ultimately alone on this quest and on this path, even though we walk it with many companions -- alone with this power, with this spirit-mind, no longer seeking other knowledge or other guidance.
The spirit-mind leads us to actions, to actions of love, to actions that connect many. Even though we are in the realm of this love, in complete love, we remain in it only guided, guided a long way, guided from the depth, guided in solitude, guided in fulfillment.
Seeking and finding become one in this love. Love and knowing become one. Joy and pain become one. Taking and leaving become one here, and beginning and end become one, for all that is remains.
To have goodwill for others is a movement of love. We feel this goodwill in different ways; from human being to human being, and most strongly between a man and a woman who want to stay together for their whole lives. They’re happily connected to each other by mutual goodwill. We can also feel goodwill toward those who are strangers to us. This goodwill overcomes the strangeness, without us having to go beyond this inner attitude of goodwill, allowing us to go toward them and meet them. This goodwill brings us closer. We can learn and practice this goodwill in a broad context with the help of the spirit-mind. We come into harmony with the movements of that spirit that moves everything as it is, that wants everything as it is, that thinks everything as it is. The spirit is turned to everything with goodwill, as it thinks it and moves it. When we come into resonance with these movements, when we are touched and taken along by them, we also experience ourselves as kindly turned toward everything as it is, with goodwill for all. Is this goodwill the same as our goodwill from human being to human being? It is a spiritual goodwill, goodwill in harmony with the movements of the spirit.
This goodwill is first of all goodwill toward everything, as it is, even to that which causes fear in us and in others. Therefore, it is really the agreement to the movements of the spirit, as it moves everything. The agreement to that which the spirit moves is secondary. Whatever the spirit moves, we look to the spirit first, and only together with the spirit, we look at what it moves. Therefore, we keep a distance from what it moves, a distance that renounces every intention of our own.
Also, our goodwill remains without personal intentions. It leaves everything and everyone where they belong, alone and moving to where they find their fate and fulfill it. And we also remain where we belong, where we are moving, where our fate has been decreed and where it will be fulfilled, moved by this spirit, as it wills it.
The tightest boundaries around love are drawn by the personal conscience, for our common distinction between the right of belonging and the denial of belonging are created and reinforced by this conscience.
And it is evident that this distinction is essential to our survival. Within a certain context, it cannot be replaced by anything else. This conscience establishes these boundaries first of all for the children. A child’s survival depends on compliance with the thinking and behavior that is demanded by this conscience. This conscience requires children to be suspicious of those who belong to other groups and therefore who follow a different personal conscience. In good personal conscience, one group is suspicious of the other, often even rejecting and fighting the other, which, of course, is also in good personal conscience.
The good personal conscience makes survival possible on one hand, but on the other hand, this conscience endangers survival because it inevitably leads to conflicts with other groups, sometimes with deadly consequences.
The need for balance is a movement of personal conscience. We have a good conscience when we give back something of equal value to what was given to us. That reflects a balance between giving and taking. Where we cannot return something of equal value, we experience the same good conscience when we pass on something of equal value to others, instead of returning something to the person who gave to us.
Accordingly, we have a bad conscience when we take something from others without giving back something of equal value, or when we demand something from others that is not appropriate. This need for balance makes our relationships possible. In this way, our personal conscience serves our relationships. This need for balance also serves our survival, yet only within certain boundaries.
The personal conscience serves life and survival, both in its attention to balance as well as in its role of keeping a group together. On the other side, as soon as a certain boundary has been overstepped, our personal conscience leads to something else, sometimes even to death.
To the extent that our personal conscience connects us to our group, it demands from us that we stay away from other groups. These demands from our personal conscience often lead to severe conflicts, including war.
Our personal conscience sometimes oversteps the boundaries that serve life when the need for balance is extended and distorted to include even deadly revenge; meaning, repaying harm received by creating harm in return.
The need for penance is similar in a way. In order to balance the suffering and harm that we have caused others, we now impose suffering and harm on ourselves.
Sometimes we even suffer in the place of others. In family constellations we can often see that a child does penance for the parents, perhaps by becoming ill or even dying. Sometimes we see a mother or a father who expects a child to do penance in her or his place. This is a largely unconscious process on both sides, as the collective conscience plays a role as well.
But this kind of balance opposes life, sometimes even destroying it – with a good conscience and the feeling of innocence.
What do we really have to be mindful of in family constellations so that we keep within those boundaries of our personal conscience that serve life? We must have left behind the distinction between good and bad. If we remain within the spell of our personal conscience – for example, if we reject other people, perhaps together with the client – then we serve life in a limited way. We serve it in the same way as the personal conscience. In one way, we serve life; in another, we serve death.
The collective conscience
What do we have to observe in family constellations concerning the collective conscience? First, in our role of helping others in a family constellation, we do not exclude anyone from the family, not in ours and not in the client’s. We look for the excluded ones, in our own family and in the client’s family. We look at them with love and take them close to us with love. We can do this only if we have left behind the distinction between good and bad and if we are also looking at the unborn children, painful as that may be for us. This takes courage as well as clarity. Second, we must respect the law of priority. When we use family constellations to help others, we temporarily become a member of the client’s family. But we join the family as the last member; meaning that our place is last. What happens when a helper takes the first place, above the client and the client’s parents? That helper fails. It is the same as when the client violates the law of priority by taking something upon herself in the place of her parents. The implicit message is often: “I in your place.” In this, the client fails as well.
For the helper, the violation of the law of priority can also be dangerous. A kind of chain reaction sometimes occurs: a helper takes something upon himself that belongs to the client, and thereby puts himself above the client, perhaps just as the client put himself above his parents, and as the helper perhaps did as a child toward his own parents.
Most of all when the helper assumes that he can change the client’s fate or protect the client from it, the well-intentioned presumption saps everyone involved of possibility. Only within the boundaries of the law of priority can the helper keep his strength, and can the client be enabled to find his way to the appropriate solution.
In family constellations we work in accordance with the collective conscience and its laws. In this way we stay within its boundaries. These boundaries are wide and open. We keep these boundaries if we submit to its two basic laws: the law that all members have the same right to belong, and the law of priority that assigns to all members their respective places.
The spiritual conscience guides us beyond the boundaries of the personal conscience through its love for all. It also protects us from disregarding the laws of the collective conscience for it is turned to everyone in the same measure. It honors the law of priority in a special way: in going with the movements of the spirit we know ourselves to be connected with all people, in the same way, feet on the ground like everyone else.
In spiritual family constellations we always remain in the love for everyone and everything as it is. Only spiritual family constellations are always and everywhere in the service of life … of love … and of peace.
How far back does the collective conscience reach? Is it only concerned with the dead we know or does this conscience also want to bring back the excluded ones from earlier generations? Perhaps even us, as we were in an earlier life? Perhaps the collective conscience is even in the service of a cosmic movement to which nothing that has been must ever be lost. Do we violate this norm of priority also through our belief in progress, as if we were better than our ancestors? What effect does it have on us when we take our proper position in the whole, quite humbly in the last place?
What effect does it have on us when we take all those who were excluded, for whatever reasons, and those who had to die before their full time, into our hearts here and now? We accept them with all that they may still miss -- and perhaps complete the circle, including what was lost, together with them. Rilke speaks about this in a poem:
One there is, he takes them all into his hand,
that they might be bad blades and break.
He is no stranger for he lives in our blood
that is our life, it rushes and it rests.
I can’t believe that he should do injustice;
yet I hear many speaking badly of him.
The spiritual conscience
To what does the spiritual conscience respond? It responds to a movement of the spirit; this spirit that moves everything exactly in the way it moves. This spirit moves everything in a creative manner. Everything is subject to this movement, whether we want it or not, whether we submit to it or we try to resist it. We have to ask ourselves whether we perceive ourselves in harmony with this movement, whether we willingly surrender and knowingly remain in tune with it. If we remain in tune with this conscience, we move and think and feel and act only as far as we perceive ourselves to be guided and carried by it. What happens when we stay in harmony with this movement? What happens for us when we try to pull away from this movement, perhaps because its demands on us seem too big, too frightening? Here we experience something about our spiritual conscience that we can compare to our personal conscience. When we experience ourselves as in harmony with the movements of spirit, we feel good. Most of all, we feel calm and without concern. We know our next steps and have the strength to make them. This feeling, this “knowing,” can be called the good spiritual conscience. As with our personal conscience, here, too, we are immediately aware of whether or not we are in tune. The difference here is that the knowledge is spiritual. The good spiritual conscience is felt here as a willingness to surrender to a spiritual movement.
What is the essence of this spiritual movement? It is a loving movement of spirit toward everything as it is. This spiritual conscience perceives itself at one with the spirit that gives the same loving attention to everything as it is.
How then do we experience a bad spiritual conscience, again in analogy to the personal conscience? We sense it as restlessness, as a spiritual blockage, the manifestation of which is that we no longer know our way, that we don’t know what to do, and that we feel devoid of strength.
When do we experience a bad spiritual conscience? Immediately, the answer comes: When we have deviated from the love of the spirit. One example of such deviation would be when we have excluded someone from our loving attention and from our goodwill. In this moment, we lose the harmony with the movement of the spirit, and we are thrown back onto ourselves, left with our bad spiritual conscience.
But just as with the bad personal conscience, the bad spiritual conscience also works in the service of the good conscience. Through its effects, it guides us back into harmony with the movements of the spirit, until we become calm and at one again with its loving attention and love for everything and everyone as they are.
The Different Consciences and their Roles in Family Constellations
When people want to understand and resolve a personal problem with the help of family constellations, or when they want to understand and resolve a problem with a partner, or in the family, or with a child, we see immediately which conscience is most involved in creating and maintaining the problem. From there we understand what this problem demands of the individual and of the family in order to come to resolution. In this way we must see the interconnectedness of the consciences because they all operate in the service of our relationships. They work together, one after the other, and they complement each other, so that we must see that a problem and its resolution are related to more than one conscience and, in the end, to all of them. Just as we can see what consciences are at the fore when a client states an issue, when a helper has a problem with a client, the helper can reflect on which consciences are involved as he or she works with this person, and what they offer him or her in terms of a resolution.
The spiritual conscience
Here we look at family constellations from the far side of the road; we move toward the perspective of the spiritual conscience. And looking back over the path traveled thus far, we can clearly understand the importance of the personal and collective consciences. We also perceive where they reach their limitations. The spiritual conscience leads us beyond these boundaries.
The distinctions among the different consciences
What are the essential distinguishing features among the different consciences? What are their respective limitations? The distinctions and the limitations lie in the scope of their love. The personal conscience serves our belonging to a limited group. It excludes others who do not belong to this group. In this way, it not only connects, it also separates. It does not only love, it also rejects.
The collective conscience goes beyond the personal conscience for it loves also those within a family or other closed group who were rejected and excluded. The collective conscience wants to bring back the excluded ones so that they are allowed to belong again to their families and groups. Therefore, its love reaches further. The collective conscience is not so much concerned with the well-being of the individual. If it were, it would not be able to force innocent persons - who had no part in the exclusion – to represent the excluded ones, sometimes at a great personal cost. The distinction between the personal and collective consciences is clear here: the collective is mainly concerned with the completeness of a given group and with maintaining fundamental laws within that group.
The movements of the spirit, by contrast, are equally concerned with all. When we have come into harmony with the movements of the spirit, we cannot help but be concerned with all equally, with benevolence and love, whatever their fates. This love knows no boundaries: it overcomes the distinctions between “better” and “worse,” between “good” and “bad.” Therefore, this conscience transcends the boundaries both of the personal conscience and of the collective conscience. The spiritual conscience turns to everyone equally.
The spiritual conscience watches over this universal love, so that we feel its sting when we have deviated from this farthest-reaching love.
The spiritual family-constellations
How does the spiritual conscience affect family constellations? How does its love show in family constellations? The movements of the spirit reveal themselves in family constellations in impressive ways. We can experience the movements of the spirit and see them in action in a family constellation in the representatives and also in those who observe them. The movements of the spirit are first perceived by the representatives, and then, through the representatives, also by those who observe these movements, and who are perhaps even drawn and taken in by them. Therefore, the procedure in spiritual family constellations is different from the one that many people associate with family constellations. Here, a family is no longer positioned according to the traditional procedure in which someone chooses from the group representatives for family members and then places them in spatial relationship to each other. In spiritual family constellations, the setup is very minimal. One or two people may participate, perhaps the client or a representative for the client and then one other person, perhaps the partner, for example. The two people may be asked to stand at some distance from one another, not positioned, but simply standing opposite each other. No instructions are given and no intentions pursued. The client or the client’s representative and the other person are simply placed. They are allowed their time, and all of a sudden, they may be drawn by a movement, as if it came from outside, without their being able to direct this movement or to resist it. This movement comes from outside, even though it is sensed inside, as coming from within. In this way, they experience being in tune with an outside force that initiates a movement through them. But this only happens if they remain collected, without intentions of their own, and without fear of what might show up. As soon as intentions come into play, for example, the intention to help, or to attempt to control what might come to light, the connection with the movements of the spirit is lost. The collectedness of the spectators also gets lost. They may become restless, for example.
After a while, it becomes clear from the movements of the representatives, whether or not another person needs to be placed. When someone is looking to the ground, it may mean that he is looking at a dead person, for example. Someone will then be asked to lie down in front of this representative where he looks. Or when a representative’s gaze is fixed in one direction, someone is asked to stand in front of the representative where she looks.
The movements of the representatives are very slow. When someone moves fast, it is indicative of being moved by an intention and that person is no longer in tune with the movements of the spirit. The person is no longer collected and reliable and so needs to be replaced by another representative.
Most important, the leader of the constellation must refrain from personal views and interpretations. Facilitators, too, surrender to the movements of the spirit, which means that they act only when they clearly sense that they are being moved to a next step or to a sentence, which they either say or ask a representative to say.
Moreover, from the movements of the representatives, a facilitator continuously receives hints as to what is going on inside them and where their movements are leading to and must lead to. For instance, when a representative shrinks back or wants to turn away from a dead person who lies in front of her, the leader intervenes after some time and brings her back. The representatives tell through their movements but they do not determine the piece. Like them, facilitators are in the service of the movements of the spirit. They follow them, often irresistibly, by intervening in a certain way or saying something.
Where are these movements of the spirit taking us in the end? They bring together what has been separated. They are always movements of love.
These movements don’t always have to be brought to completion. It is enough if it becomes clear where they are leading. Therefore, these constellations often remain open. We can trust that what has been set into motion will continue in the souls of those concerned. These are deep movements that do not simply show a solution to a specific problem; they are decisive steps in the process of healing, and they need their time to unfold.
Family constellations in harmony with the movements of the spirit require foremost that the leader of the constellation also remains in harmony with these movements. This person, therefore, must be beyond making any distinction between good and bad and be equally turned to everybody with the same love. This can only be achieved if he or she has learned to keep in harmony with a movement of spirit inside, so that any deviation from love will be sensed immediately. A facilitator, for example, who is drawn to blame someone for a certain event or to pity someone for having to suffer, is deviating from the distant, steady love of the spiritual conscience. We, of course, experience this type of deviation again and again in ourselves, but when we have learned to be mindful of the movements of the spiritual conscience, and to submit to its discipline, we can be brought back into harmony with its movement of love for all as it is.
Allow me to say something about the laws of balance as they operate in these two consciences. The need for balancing between taking and giving and between gain and loss is also a movement of conscience. The personal conscience, which we feel as a good conscience and as a bad conscience, and as innocence and guilt, watches over the balance of giving and taking using the feelings of innocence and guilt and of a good conscience and a bad conscience as barometers. But this kind of guilt and innocence feel different from the feeling of guilt and innocence with regard to belonging or no longer belonging.
Guilt is felt here as an obligation in having received or taken something without having returned something of equal value. Innocence is felt here as freedom from obligation. We have this feeling of innocence and freedom when we have given as well as taken, so that taking and giving are inbalance.
We can achieve balance in another way as well: Instead of returning something of equal value, we can pass on something of equal value to others.
This is especially salient with regard to our parents. We cannot return something of equal value to them, for what is equal in weight to life? However, we can pass this gift on to others, for example, to our children, or in some other way contributing something important to the continuation of life, and in this way respond in kind.
Atonement and penance
We balance taking and giving also through suffering. This is a movement of conscience as well. When we have caused suffering to someone, we also want to suffer as a form of balance. After having suffered ourselves, we may have a good feeling, a good conscience again. This form of balance we know as atonement and penance. However, this need to do penance is self-centered: it cannot really give anything to the other person that will restore balance. Still, the other may not feel so alone. This kind of balance has nothing or little to do with love; it is, rather, instinctual and blind.
The feeling of needing to balance also arises when someone has harmed us. We want to harm him or her in return. This need for balance becomes a need for revenge. But revenge balances only for a moment. Once the momentary balance tips, further needs for revenge are activated on all sides, and in the end revenge only causes harm to all.
Within the collective conscience, there is also a need for balance. However, the movement of this balance is largely hidden from our consciousness. Those who have to represent excluded persons do not know that they are destined to balance something that damaged the family system as a whole. Balance on this level is a movement of a greater whole, and so it balances rather impersonally, as those who are enlisted to serve this restorative movement are innocent according to the personal conscience. This form of balancing is actually aligned with a healing process. Something that has been injured is being restored under the influence of greater powers. The collective conscience wants to bring back something that has been lost, and in this way restore order for the whole family system and heal it.
The law of priority
A second law that the collective conscience serves – and that it will try to restore if it has been violated – is that everyone in the group must take the place that is appropriate according to his or her rank of belonging. This law requires that those who belonged to the system earlier take precedence over those who came later. Therefore, parents take precedence over their children, and the first child has precedence over the second. Each member of the group has a particular and proper place. The ranking is fluid: as new children are born, the precedence shifts.
Someone who was youngest and therefore last in the order of precedence gains priority as soon as someone younger comes into the birth picture. Eventually, each person will begin a family, and in this family, take first place together with the partner.
In this transition, another law of priority asserts itself, a norm of priority between families, for example, between the family of origin and newly founded family. Here the new family takes precedence over the old one.
This law also applies when one parent starts another relationship during the marriage and a child is born from the relationship. With this, a new family has been founded, and it takes precedence over the earlier one, without question.
The emergence of the new family does not mean that the connection to the earlier one is gone; just as with the connection to our family of origin, the connection remains.
The violation of the law of priority and the consequences
The law of priority is violated when someone who joined a system later wants to assume a rank higher than is appropriate. This violation of the law of priority is known as the pride that goes before the fall. Often, violations of this law are attributed to children, who when they place themselves above their parents and act accordingly, violate the law of priority without love. More often, however, this law of priority is violated when the child wants to take something on for the parents. This child desires to carry something so the parent doesn’t have to, for example, to become sick or to die in the parent’s place. In this case, the law of priority is being violated with love. Even so, this love does not protect the child from the consequences of the violation.
The tragedy in this is that the child violates the law of priority with a good conscience. This means that under the influence of personal conscience, the child, through this transgression, feels particularly innocent and big. Through this violation, the child experiences in a special way that he or she has the right to belong.
In this scenario, the two consciences oppose each other. The law of priority, which the collective conscience imposes and safeguards, is violated under the influence of and in harmony with the personal conscience. In this sense, the violation comes from a good personal conscience. The personal conscience is thus pushing someone to violate this law and to bear the consequences of the action.
What are the consequences of this violation? The first consequence is failure. Those who want to rise above their parents, with or without love, fail. We can observe that this law and the consequences of its violation do not only apply in the family, but in other groups as well, such as in organizations.
Many organizations fail because of internal conflicts in which a lower ranking person or department attempts to rise above an older and, therefore, higher ranking one.
The essential failure and consequence of the violation of the law of priority is death. The tragic hero wanted to take upon himself something for those who had priority in the system. In this bargain, he not only fails, he dies.
We see one way of being drawn into this movement with children who carry something for their parents and want to take it on for them. They are saying: “Rather me than you.” What exactly does this imply? In the end, it means: “I will die in your place.” Of course, this is an even greater tragedy for the parent on whose behalf the child acts than his or her own death could ever be.
The law of priority is an order of peace. It is in the service of peace in the family and in a group. In the final analysis, it is in the service of love and life everywhere.
Behind the conscience that we feel there is yet another conscience at work. It is a mighty conscience. Its effects are much stronger than the personal conscience. Still, it remains mostly hidden from us. Why? According to our felt sense, the personal conscience has precedence over the collective conscience.
The collective conscience is a group conscience. While the personal conscience is felt by the individual and is in the service of the individual’s belonging and the individual’s survival, the collective conscience attends to the family as a whole and to the group as a whole. It is in the service of the survival of the group as a whole even if it means that individuals are being sacrificed in the name of that survival. This conscience is in service of the completeness of the group and it enforces the norms that best secure the group’s existence.
When the interests of the individual are in opposition to the interests of the group, then the personal conscience may well be in opposition to the collective conscience.
Which laws does the collective conscience serve and how does it enforce these laws? The first law maintains that every member of the group has an equal right to belong. When a member has been excluded for any reason, a later member of the group will have to represent the excluded member.
The collective conscience is amoral. It doesn’t make a distinction between good and bad or between guilt and innocence. At the same time, it protects all members in the same way, seeking to protect everyone’s right to belong, or to restore it where it has been denied.
What happens when a family member has been denied this right? The excluded member is brought back in by this conscience through another member who is compelled to represent the excluded one within the family. This family member is not conscious of his or her connection to the earlier excluded member.
How does it show that the excluded family member has in a sense returned? Another family member takes on the fate of the excluded one, having similar feelings, living a similar life, experiencing similar illnesses and perhaps even dying in a similar way. This representing family member is in the service of the excluded one. In a way, it is as if the later person is owned by the excluded person, but not to the extent of losing a sense of self. When the excluded person is returned to the right place within the family, the representing family member is freed from the task of reminding the family of the excluded one.
It is not that the excluded person wants to be represented in this way – although occasionally an excluded person has bad wishes for someone in the family – it is primarily that the collective conscience wills the representation, including the ensuing entanglement. The goal is to restore the completeness of the group.
It is not accurate to see this conscience as a person, to personify it and attribute to it personal aims that it pursues in a calculated manner. This conscience operates as a drive, a collective drive that wants only one thing: to save and restore completeness. Therefore, it is blind in the choice of its means.
Belonging beyond death
We can discern which persons are influenced and driven by the collective conscience because we can distinguish between those who can be chosen for the representation of excluded family members and those who can’t. Here we have to be aware that no one loses the right or ability to belong through death. This means that the collective conscience treats the dead members of the family in the same way as the living ones. No one is separated from his or her family through death. The family system contains its dead and its living members in the same way.
This conscience seeks to return even the dead members of the family if they have been excluded, yes, especially those. Through death people lose their present lives, but never forfeit their belonging to the family.
Here I enumerate who belongs to the family system governed by a common collective conscience, beginning with those who are closest to us.
Among the family members who are subjugated to this conscience are the following:
1. The children. This includes us and our siblings. The sibling line contains not only those who lived but also those who were stillborn or aborted, and often also the miscarried ones. Some, as we know, are of the belief that these children should be excluded or forgotten – often in the interest of “moving on” – but we include them. And, of course, the system must account for all those children who were kept a secret and who were given away; they too belong to the family.
For the collective conscience, they all fully belong, and they are remembered and have to be brought back without considering justifications or wishes.
2. The level above the children. This category includes the parents and their blood siblings, those who made it,those who did not, those who were kept and those who were given away.
In addition, the former partners of the parents belong to the family. If they are rejected and excluded, they are represented by one of the children until they are remembered with love and brought back in. After all, these are the people who made room for what occurred after.
Only love resolves
I wish to say something here about how the excluded ones can be brought back. Only through love.
Which love? The felt love. It is felt when we turn to the other person just as he or she is. It is also felt as grief when we lose that person. It is felt as pain when we consider what we may have done to the other.
In this love we can feel whether it reaches the other persons, whether it provides a sense of reconciliation, thus allowing them to find rest, and whether the person can take the right place again and remain there. If so, our collective conscience finds rest as well.
This conscience is in the service of love, in the service of the same love for all who belong to this family.
Who else belongs to the family?
3. On the level above the parent. The grandparents belong, but without their siblings, unless a sibling has had a special fate. The grandparents’ former partners belong to the family as well. Therefore, the lateral line of the grandparents’ siblings does not have weight here unless they suffer an especially intense fate. However, former partners are always included, assuming the relationship was significant.
4. Great-grandparents. One or the other of the great-grandparents may belong to this family system, but it is rare.
Up to this point, we have mentioned blood relatives and former partners of parents and grandparents. There are several other categories as well.
5. Those who bore the loss or reaped the benefits. Beyond the blood relatives and earlier partners, people whose loss – of life or of fortune – created an advantage for our family belong; for example, when our family inherited large sums of money or property at someone else’s expense.
6. Victims. People who were victims of violent acts at the hands of members of our family become a part of the family, especially those who were murdered. Our family must look at these individuals with love and grief and pain.
7. Perpetrators. When members of our family are victims of crime, especially if they lose their lives, the murderers belong to our families too. If they are excluded or rejected, the collective conscience will ensure that they are later represented by members of our family.
Murderers are drawn to their victims, just as victims are drawn to their murderers. Both feel complete only when they have found each other and have reunited. The collective conscience does not make a distinction here either.
It has become clear: as long as family constellations remain within the spell of the personal and the collective conscience, they hinder farreaching solutions that include the sphere of the spirit. Only the spiritual family constellations move in harmony with the spiritual conscience and therefore overcome the limitations of the other two consciences, and in this way open the road for an all-encompassing love in our relationships.
To the description that follows I will add some contemplations to bring to light the kind of inner attitude that we need for spiritual family constellations. They are meditations that can give us the experience of being guided and supported by a movement of the spirit, in harmony with our own being.
The Different Consciences
There are three different consciences, each of which constitutes a spiritual field. The first, the personal conscience, is narrow and limited in its reach. Because it makes distinctions between “good” and “bad,” it acknowledges the right of some to belong while denying the right of others.
The second conscience, the collective, is wider in its scope, representing, as well, the interests of those who are excluded by the personal conscience. Therefore, it is often in conflict with the personal conscience. But the collective conscience also has its limitations as it encompasses only members of the groups that are governed by it.
The third conscience, the spiritual, overcomes the limitations of the other consciences, which are created when distinctions are made between “good” and “bad” and some are seen as “belonging” while others are “excluded.”
The personal conscience
We experience the personal conscience in terms of good or bad, feeling good when we are in good conscience and feeling bad when we are in bad conscience.
What happens when we have a good conscience? What happens when we have a bad one? What precedes the good or the bad conscience? In tracking when we have a good conscience, and when we have a bad one, we see that bad conscience is related to thinking, feeling, and/or doing something that is not in resonance with the expectations and demands of those people and groups to which we want to belong, on which we may even depend for survival.
This means that our conscience is vigilant to ensure that we remain in close connection with these people and groups. It perceives instantly whether our thoughts, wishes, knowledge, and/or actions could endanger our connection and threaten our belonging. And when our conscience perceives that we may be moving away from the people on whom we depend, it becomes fearful that we might also be jeopardizing our belonging. This fear is felt as a bad conscience.
On the other hand, when we think, wish, and act in ways that are in alignment with the expectations and demands of those people and groups, we feel that we can be certain of our belonging. The sense of secure belonging makes us feel good and at ease. We do not have to worry that we might suddenly find ourselves cut off, and therefore, alone and unprotected. The feeling of security, to be allowed to belong, we experience as a good conscience.
So, the personal conscience ties us to the people and groups who are important for our well-being and essential to our lives. But this conscience connects us only to certain people and groups, and at the same time, it excludes others. Therefore, it is a narrow conscience.
This conscience was of overriding importance for us as children. Children do anything to be allowed to belong, for without this connection, they would be lost. The personal conscience safeguards our survival in the groups and with the people who are important for our survival. Clearly, its utmost importance must be acknowledged, and we can see that the personal conscience holds a primary place in our society and culture.
Good and Bad
In this connection we can observe that our concepts of good and bad are distinctions made by this personal conscience. They measure to what extent thoughts or actions safeguard our belonging or put it at risk.
We experience as good that which secures our belonging. We experience it as good through our good conscience, and so we don’t feel the need to give it any further thought; for example, if we were to step out of this personal conscience to look at it from a greater distance, would we judge it as good, or might we see it as bad for some? Given our felt sense of good conscience, these questions are moot.
Therefore, the good is just felt as good, and defended as good, quite unthinkingly. For an observer outside of this mental field, this so-called good may actually appear to be rather strange and even dangerous, but for those within it, there is no room for question.
The same applies of course with respect to the bad, except that we feel the bad more strongly than the good. You see, it is tied to our fear that we could lose our right to belong, and with it even our right to live.
So, the distinction between good and bad serves the survival within our own group; it serves the survival of individuals within their groups.
The Orders of Love between man and woman are different from the Orders of Love between parents and children. So when a couple just transfers the Orders from the parent-child relationship to their couple relationship, their couple relationship is disoriented and disturbed.
When, for instance, one partner expects unconditional love from the other, like a child expects from the parents, this partner is expecting a security from the other that parents give to their children. As a result, a crisis develops in the relationship. The partner who experiences the demands as too much might withdraw or even leave, and this decision would be justifiable. The transference of an Order operating in childhood to an intimate relationship inflicts injustice on the person who is unduly put upon, and can bring an end to the relationship.
When, for example, a man says to his wife, or a wife says to her husband: “I cannot live without you,“ or “I’ll kill myself if you leave,” the other one has to quit the relationship as this pressure is an imposition, unworthy of, and impossible between, adults on an equal footing. However, when a child says something like that to his or her parents, it is appropriate because a child cannot live without parents.
In contrast, when a man or woman behaves with a partner as if he or she had a right to criticize, educate and try to change the partner, then there is an assumption of rights that belong only to parents in relation to their children. Often the result is that the other partner withdraws from this pressure and looks for release and balance outside the relationship.
The Orders of Love between a man and a woman require that both respect each other as equal partners. Any situation in which one partner feels like a parent toward the other, or dependent on the other like a child, restricts the flow of love between the couple and endangers the relationship.
This also applies to the balance of giving and taking. In the parent-child relationship, it is the parents who are the givers and the children the takers. Every attempt by the child to change this order and to try to obtain an equal place with the parents will fail. Children are always indebted to their parents so that, paradoxically, the more they fail in their attempts to gain equal footing, the closer they will feel to their parents. But the same indebtedness that binds them to their parents also pushes them to become independent and leave home because they want to do something on their own and prove themselves.
So when a man gives to a woman or a woman to a man as parents give to children – for instance, when one partner pays for the other to study, the one who receives no longer feels equal. Even though this person will feel indebted, as a rule he or she will leave the relationship when he or she has completed those studies. Only when the full cost has been repaid can the receiving partner obtain equal footing again and remain in the partnership.
Measures of Exchange
In terms of gender, although men and women differ in what they can offer, they give and take as equals. They give and take love as equals and their relationship will be successful if this equality of exchange extends to other areas. This applies to both good and bad things.
When one of partner receives something good from the other, then the recipient, in order to regain a sense of equality and peace, will feel the need to do something to balance out what has been given. Because the woman loves the man, she will, as a safeguard, give a little more than the fair exchange requires. This puts her partner under pressure and, as a safeguard, he too will give a little more than is required, because he loves her and wishes the relationship to continue. The exchange of good between them grows, but only if there is always a new round of exchange.
When the giving and taking becomes one- sided, the relationship will end. Who takes without giving will soon find that the giver grows tired of giving; and who gives without taking will soon find that the recipient grows tired of receiving. The exchange will also come to a halt if a person gives more than what the other is able or willing to give in return. This applies also when one person wants to have more than the giver is able or willing to give. Giving and taking have to be measured against each other and therefore any exchange must be preceded by appropriate and self-regulating boundaries.
For an intimate relationship to succeed, a fair exchange of hurt is also needed. When one partner hurts or injures the other, the victim must hurt or injure the culprit to a similar degree.
When the victim refuses to be angry or resentful, there can be no exchange and the relationship is at stake. If, for example, one partner is unfaithful and the other remains faithful, the first cannot regain his or her equality unless the partner who has been betrayed takes some sort of revenge; this enables the relationship to continue. If the partner who was hurt repays the other by hurting him or her back, the relationship can be taken up again. If the victim loves the culprit, the payback must not be in equal measure for then the partners will simply be at an impasse with each other. The victim, aware of his or her own innocence, must be careful not to overdo the revenge; otherwise it gives the culprit a right to be hurtful again. The victim must do a little less in return. In this way, justice and love are both given a place, and positive exchange can begin again.
When victim and perpetrator treat a hurtful exchange in the same way as an exchange of good by adding more each time, then the bad escalates into evil. Such an exchange can also bind a couple intimately, but it binds them in a cycle of unhappiness and revenge instead of care and happiness. By the way, the quality of a couple relationship varies according to whether the exchange is in good things or in painful ones, and according to the volume of good or bad that gets exchanged. A couple’s relationship can be restored when there is a shift to an exchange of good, and they increase it over time with love.
Different patterns of relating
Everyone experiences different models of family relationships, whether good or bad, in their family of origin. In order for a relationship to succeed, a man and a woman entering a relationship together need to examine the patterns they have inherited from their respective parents and possibly exchange them for new ones that they define for themselves as a couple. When attempting this, feelings of innocence and guilt often interfere with the process. When each partner takes on the behavior and belief patterns of the respective parents, there is a feeling of innocence even when these patterns are harmful. And they feel guilty when they take on new ones, even when they are good and beneficial to them. The price to be paid for good and happiness in the relationship is, therefore, guilt.
The gravest consequences for couple relationships come from entanglements in our own kinship group, particularly if one or both partners have unconsciously taken on responsibility for unfinished issues in the family of origin. Here is an example:
A man and a woman feel very close and yet they experience a lot of conflict with each other that they cannot understand. One day the woman angrily confronts her husband in front of a therapist, who notices that the woman’s face is transformed into that of an old woman as she angrily reproaches her husband with matters that do not even relate to him. The therapist draws the couple’s attention to the expression on the woman’s face and enquires: “Who is this old woman?” The client suddenly remembers her grandmother, who kept an inn, and who was often dragged by the hair through the inn by her husband, this woman’s grandfather, in front of all the guests. The woman in the workshop realizes that what she feels toward her own husband is the suppressed rage felt by her grandmother toward her grandfather.
Many marital crises that seem incomprehensible are rooted in underlying entanglements such as these. The process is totally unconscious, and it is frightening that we are at its mercy if we do not become aware of the connection. However, once we know about such entanglements, we are able to be more cautious when we feel compelled to harm another without having a clear reason for such behavior.
Some couples misjudge the depth of their tie and see their partnership as an arrangement that can be changed in terms of time, duration or order, arbitrarily, according to whims and fleeting feelings. Through this recklessness and caprice, the couple put their partnership at risk. They often realize too late that there is an Order of Love to be obeyed. When, for instance, a partner ends a relationship ruthlessly and without care, sometimes a child from this partnership may die through illness or suicide as if this child is atoning for an injustice. In reality, a partnership is founded on an Order of Love that cannot be changed. Through the Orders of love, goals are set for them, and if we want to achieve them, the demands of commitment and sacrifice must be met.
When a man takes a woman as his wife, he becomes a man through her. But at the same time, the woman questions and diminishes his masculinity. In marriage he becomes less of a man. Likewise, when a woman takes a man as her husband, she becomes a woman through him. At the same time, he questions and diminishes her femininity and so because of their relationship, she becomes less of a woman. In order to maintain their creative distinction, a man has to renew his masculinity and reconfirm it in the company of men, and a woman has to renew her femininity and reconfirm it in the company of women.
In spite of this renewal, a man still loses his identity as a man in the relationship with a woman, and a woman also loses her identity as a woman in the relationship with a man. Men and women are so very different in almost every respect. Are they just a little different? No. Practically everything is different between man and woman. But the different ways in which they experience the world, in which they feel and respond, are equally valid ways of fully living human existence. Both men and women must acknowledge this. And yet through this the woman takes away the man’s security as a man, and the man takes away the woman’s security as a woman. This means that in the course of their relationship they must again relinquish the identity they gained through each other. In this exchange, both experience their relationship also as a kind of dying. We enter into an intimate relationship with the idea that it will be our greatest fulfillment. In reality, every relationship is also a process of dying. Every conflict in the relationship is a small parting. The longer a relationship lasts, the closer the man and woman come to this final renunciation. Then man and woman reach another, higher level. The separation into man and woman was what propelled them toward unity -- but the merging of the two genders creates temporary union only, nothing of permanence. The dissolution of world’s opposites is attained beyond this merging. Our earthly merging remains a mere symbol of it. True union is only attained in dying. Then we all return to a ground that we do not know.
This, of course, is only one possible point of view, but it lends the particular depth and seriousness that is worthy of a relationship. The overcoming of difference promised by our human merging is, in truth, only accomplished through our final renunciation.
The Orders of Love that accompanied us in earlier relationships are also at work in our relationship to life in general, and to the world as a whole and in our relationship to the mystery we may glimpse behind it all.
We can relate to this mysterious whole like a child relates to the parents, searching for a “father god” and a “great mother,” believing like a child, hoping like a child, trusting like a child and loving like a child. We are also afraid of it like a child, and like a child we also fear perhaps to know the truth.
Or we may relate to this mysterious whole as we do to our ancestors and kin, knowing ourselves to be blood relations in a holy community, but just as in our kinship group, also knowing ourselves to be chosen or excluded according to relentless laws whose verdict we can neither understand nor influence.
Or we may behave toward this mysterious whole as if it is an equal in a group, as though we are its co-workers and representatives, indulging in barter and business with it, making covenants and agreeing on rights and duties, regulating giving and taking, winning and losing.
Or we can relate to this mysterious whole as if we are in an intimate relationship with it, as if we are in a couple relationship, where there is a lover and a beloved, or a bride and a groom.
Or we can relate to the mysterious whole like parents toward a child, telling it what it has done wrong, what it has to improve, questioning its creation, and if the world, the way it is, is not to our liking, wanting to remove ourselves and others from it.
Or, in relating to the mysterious whole, we may leave behind the Orders of Love as we know them, and forget them, as if we are already on the sea -- the rivers, and all paths already having reached their destination.
The kinship group is thus dominated by an archaic Order that increases unhappiness and suffering instead of decreasing it. This pressure within a system to blindly reinstate balance, by impelling a later born member to atone for a past member’s actions, creates a vicious cycle of misery. This kind of Order maintains power as long as it remains unconscious. However, when it is brought to light we may fulfill its purpose in a more beneficial way, without the disastrous consequences. Then other Orders come into play that give the same rights to both earlier and later members in terms of balancing out an injustice or hurt. These orders I call the Orders of Love. In contrast to blind love, which tries to compensate for bad by more bad, this love is wise. It balances out in a healing way and puts an end to bad through good.
First we look at the sentences: “I follow you,” or “Rather me than you.”
I will ask the person who inwardly says such sentences to say them directly to the person she wants to follow, or for whom she wants to suffer or atone, or for whom she wants to die. When she looks this person in the eyes, she is unable to say the sentences. For when she really looks, she realizes that the person also loves and would refuse such an offer of self-sacrifice.
The next step is for the person who wanted to follow to tell the other: “You are big and I am small. I bow in front of your fate and I accept mine as it was given to me. Please bless me when I stay. I will let you go – with love.” Then the person who wanted to follow or die will be connected with this person in a way that is much deeper than merely following or imitating the fate. Now, instead of threatening her happiness, as she might have feared, he will watch over it, with love.
Or, when someone wants to follow another person into death, for example, a child whose sibling died young, this person can say: “You are my brother (or my sister). I honor you as my brother (or my sister). You have a place in my heart. I bow in front of your fate whatever it may have been and I will stay with mine whatever it is to be.” Then instead of the living joining the dead, the dead will join the living and watch over them, with love.
When a child feels guilty for surviving when a sibling has died, he or she can say to the dead brother or sister: “Dear brother, Dear sister you have died; I shall live on for a little while and then I shall die too.” Then, because the feeling of superiority toward the dead ceases, the surviving child may live on without feeling guilty.
When a kinship group member has been excluded or forgotten, completeness can be reestablished when the exclusion is acknowledged and the excluded person respected. This begins as an inner process. A second wife would tell a first one: “You are the first, I am the second. I acknowledge that you made a place for me.” If the first wife suffered injustice, the second wife may add: “I acknowledge that I have my husband at your expense.” She may also add: “Please look kindly upon me when I take my husband as my husband and when I keep him. Please look kindly toward my children.” In family constellations we can see how the face of the first wife relaxes and how she is able to agree to the request because she is respected. Then the order is reestablished and no child has to represent her. Here is another example:
A young businessman, the sole agent of a product in his country, arrives in his Porsche and tells of his successes. It is apparent that he is very competent and irresistibly charming. But he drinks, and his accountant points out to him that he is jeopardizing his company by taking out too much money for personal expenditure. Despite his success, he secretly aims to lose everything.
It transpires that before he was born his mother sent away her first husband, maintaining that he was a weakling. She then married this man’s father and brought the son from her first marriage into the new marriage. The son from the first marriage was no longer allowed to see his beloved father. To this day he had not seen his father and he did not even know whether he was alive or dead.
The young businessman came to realize that he did not dare be successful over the long term because he had gained his life at the expense of his half-brother. He found the following solution.
In the first place, he was able to recognize that his parents’ marriage and his own life were bound up in a fateful relationship that his half-brother’s father had to endure.
Secondly, he was able to agree to his good fortune and to say to his half-brother and his half-brother’s father that he felt equal to them and trusted that he had an equal right to life.
Thirdly, in recognition of his willingness to balance out giving and taking he was prepared to do something special for his half-brother. He decided to look for his missing father and try to arrange a reunion between them.
Where the Orders of Love are applied, kinship group liability for past injustice within a system will end, and the guilt and its consequences will remain where they belong. Instead of a sinister need for balancing out bad with bad, which only breeds more bad, the scale tips toward good now. It will succeed if those who come later take from those who went before, whatever the price; if they honor them whatever else they might have done, and let bygones be bygones, whether evil or good. Those who were excluded then have their rights reinstated and instead of fearing them we receive their blessing. For this to happen, we need to make space for them in our souls – a space that is theirs by right. Only then will we ourselves feel whole and complete.
Orders of Love: Between Men and Women and in Relation to the Greater Whole
First I will discuss the Orders of Love between a man and a woman beginning with what is obvious.
Man and Woman
A man is attracted to a woman because, as a man, he lacks “the feminine,” just as a woman is attracted to a man because, as a woman, she lacks “the masculine.” The masculine answers to the feminine, so to be a man, the man needs a woman. And the feminine answers to the masculine, so to be a woman, the woman needs a man. A man first becomes a man when he takes a woman as his wife, and a woman first becomes a woman when she takes a man as her husband. Only then are they man and woman and can become a couple.
The Orders of Love between man and woman say that first of all the man wants the woman as his woman, and the woman wants the man as her man. If a man or woman wants the partner for other reasons, such as having fun or the need to be taken care of, then the foundations of the relationship are built on sand. Sometimes we seek another based on economic status, educational level, or religious faith. Sometimes we look their mission: to conquer or protect or improve or save. Or perhaps we seek a father or mother for our children. In all of these cases, the foundation is built on sand.
Father and Mother
Secondly, the Orders of Love state that in a relationship the man and woman are oriented toward a third entity: the masculine and the feminine are fulfilled in a child. For it is only as a father that a man becomes a man in the fullest sense of the word, and only as a mother that the woman fully becomes a woman; and it is only in the child that they become visibly for all, indissolubly one. It is also true that their love as parents for the child only enriches and crowns their love for each other. Their love for each other as partners takes precedence over their love as parents for their child. Just as the roots nourish the tree, so their love for each other nourishes their parental love for the child.
If their love for each other as a couple flows from a full heart, then their love as parents will do likewise. Further, if that first love atrophies, so too will the second. Whatever the man and the woman admire and love in each other, they will admire and love in their child. And whatever annoys and irritates them in each other, will annoy and irritate them in their child.
Whatever the parents are able to achieve in their own relationship in terms of respect, love and support for each other, they will also achieve in relation to their child. Likewise, whatever they fail to achieve in relation to each other, they will fail to achieve for their child.
If the love of the parents for the child enriches and crowns their love for each other, then the child will feel acknowledged, accepted, respected, loved, and good.
A married couple consulted a well-known therapist and asked him for help. They said: “Every night we make the effort to fulfill our responsibility to further the species, yet despite all our efforts, we have so far been unable to accomplish this noble duty. What are we doing wrong and what should we do or learn from this?”
The therapist explained that all they needed to do was listen to him in silence. Afterwards they were to go home straight away, without discussing what had been said. They both agreed. This is what he said to them: “Every night you make such efforts to fulfill your responsibility to the species and yet despite these heroic efforts you accomplish nothing. Why don’t you just let passion take its course?” With that he sent them away.
They could hardly wait to get home. As soon as they were alone they loved each other with passion and delight. It only took them a fortnight to have a baby on the way.
Another woman, already a little past the normal childbearing age, in an attack of last-minute panic, put the following advertisement in the paper: Nurse seeks widower with children for marriage. What chance for intimacy would such a relationship hold? She could have written: “A woman wants a man. Who wants me?”
The Act of Love
The inhibition we feel about naming our most intimate in our couple relationship and desiring it as the first and most immediate is connected with the fact that in our culture love-making is characterized nearly as a frivolity and a somewhat disrespectable need. And yet it is the greatest possible human act. No other human connection is in greater harmony with the order and fullness of life. Nothing demands a greater responsibility in this world. No other human activity gives so much pleasure to our souls and brings in its wake such loving suffering. This is the most momentous of human acts, more perilous and challenging than any other, conferring understanding, wisdom and stature. When a man and a woman take each other with love, the consequences are serious. By comparison, all other human endeavors seem a mere preparation for or a consequence of this act, or perhaps a supplement or substitute.
In performing this act of love we are at our most humble. At no other time do we put ourselves in such an open and unprotected place; we expose ourselves and are at our most vulnerable. Therefore we guard nothing else with such deep embarrassment as the place where man and woman encounter each other in love. In this act we show and entrust to each other our most intimate selves.
The consummation of love between man and woman is also our most courageous act. For when man and woman come together for the rest of their lives, even at the very beginning, before experiencing fulfillment, they acknowledge the existence of an end – they accept their limits and they find their measure.
The Ties between Husband and Wife
According to a profound saying in the bible, in loving a woman, a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife, and both become one flesh. It is the same for the woman. This image corresponds to a process in the soul, which through its visible effects we experience in reality – an indissoluble bond. Whether we like it or not, this bond can never be repeated in another relationship in the same way. One might contest that separation and subsequent new relationships prove otherwise; however, a second relationship works in a different way.
A second husband and wife know instinctively of the bond that existed with the previous wife or husband. We see this manifested in the way that a second husband and wife don’t trust themselves to take each other as fully as they did their first partners. Both experience the second relationship with guilt. This is true even when the first relationship is ended by the death of a partner.
A second partnership can only be successful if the bonding with previous partners is fully acknowledged and honored. Then the new couple knows that they come after the first relationship in second or maybe even third place. Likewise, they must accept their obligation to those who came first and who made space for their relationship. They also have to acknowledge that the bonding that happened the first time cannot be repeated in the same sense and is further diminished with each subsequent relationship. As a rule, therefore, when separating from a second relationship, guilt and obligation are experienced to a lesser degree than with the first. Here is an example:
A woman recounted to a group how she had made her husband suffer with her jealousy and that, despite the fact that she recognized that her behavior was detrimental to their relationship, she could not stop herself. The group leader showed her the solution to the problem: “One way or another you are going to lose your husband in the end. In the meantime, while the relationship lasts enjoy him!” The woman was relieved and laughed. Not long after the workshop, the husband called and thanked the group leader “for returning his wife to him”.
Many years ago, the same man had taken part in a workshop with a woman who was his girlfriend at the time. During the workshop, in front of all the others and without considering the pain he was causing his partner, he declared that he now had another much younger girlfriend and that he intended to separate from the woman sitting beside him. They had been together for seven years.
He then came to a later seminar, this time with his new girlfriend. During the week of the seminar she conceived and soon they married. This was the same woman who later returned to discuss her feelings of jealousy.
The group leader began to understand the root of her jealousy. This woman had outwardly denied the bonding of this man to his previous partner. In showing jealousy she also emphasized her claim on him publicly. Secretly, however, she knew of this bonding and of her own obligation. Her jealousy was not proof of her husband’s guilt but of her secret acknowledgment that she was not entitled to her relationship. A separation provoked by her jealousy was her only way of acknowledging the previous relationship. It was also proof of her solidarity with the previous partner.
Closely connected to the ties of fate is the order of completeness in the kinship systems. A very powerful sense of order makes sure that each member of the kinship system continues to belong to it no matter what the circumstances, even beyond death. The kinship group encompasses its dead members as much as its living members, usually as far back as the third generation, but often far beyond. When a member of a kinship group is lost, for instance, because his or her belonging is refuted or merely because he or she has been forgotten, then within the system there is an irresistible impulse to recreate the system’s original completeness. What happens is that the excluded member is represented by a later member, who in identification with the excluded one, acts out his or her fate.
This process also happens totally unconsciously and is acted out primarily by the children. Here is an example:
A married man meets another woman and says to his first wife, “I do not want you any more. I want to be with someone else.” He then has children with his new wife. One of the children of that union will represent the abandoned first wife by carrying the same feelings of hatred, rejection, or grief that the deserted wife experienced. Neither the child nor the parents may be aware of this identification.
In a kinship group, innocent members often have to pay the price for the guilt of other members. The purpose of this is to atone for and make good an injustice that was committed by earlier members. Again, it is first and foremost the children who are recruited by this superior force to balance an injustice. This is likely connected with the order of priority within the system, according to which the earlier ones have priority over the later ones, and the later ones serve the earlier ones. In fact, the later ones may even be sacrificed for the well-being of the earlier ones. Therefore, the question of balance within the kinship system does not include equal treatment for earlier and later ones, and does not ensure justice for the later ones.
The Equal Right to Belong
Within a kinship group, there is a fundamental law that each member has the same right to belong. Many families and kinship groups deny this right to some of their members. When, for instance, a married man has a child out of wedlock, he or his wife may say: “I don’t want to know anything about that child and the mother. They do not belong.” When a family member has suffered a difficult fate, for example, when a grandfather’s first wife has died in childbirth, she is often not mentioned anymore. This is generally because the other family members are frightened by her fate, and so she is treated as though she no longer belongs to the group. Or there might be a family member who did not conform to family rules and was told by the others, “You are a disgrace to us. We will have nothing more to do with you.”
In practice, those who believe they have the moral high ground are merely saying, “We have more right to belong than you,” or “You have squandered your right to belong.” In this sense Good means nothing more than: “I have more rights.” And Bad means nothing more than: “You have fewer rights.”
Often stillborn children or those who have died young are denied this right to belong in that they are forgotten. Sometimes parents give the name of a dead child to another child who is born later. The message to the dead child is clear: “You no longer belong; we have found a replacement for you.” The dead child cannot even keep the name he or she was given.
When the members of a kinship group deny membership to someone who previously belonged – because that person is despised by them, had a fate that frightens them, or because they do not want to acknowledge that this person made space for another or is owed gratitude by them – the impulse toward equilibrium will drive a later member to imitate that same fate through identification. The identified member will not be aware of this and will be unable to defend against it. Wherever a member is denied the right to belong, there will be an irresistible force to reinstate the previously existing wholeness of the group, to compensate for the injustice; the excluded member will be represented and imitated through someone else.
In this context, surviving relatives of a family member who has died often experience their own survival as an injustice and consequently feel guilty. Their longing to compensate for this injustice is fulfilled by limiting their own lives without being clear about why they do it.
Parents and children together form a group of fate in which they are all dependent upon each other in a variety of ways. Each has to contribute, according to his or her ability, to the well-being of the others. Everyone gives and takes. Even children give to their parents eventually, when the parents are old and need looking after, for example. Here parents have the right to ask and to receive what their children give.
That’s what I wanted to say about the Order of Love between parents and children.
Kith and Kin
Together with our parents we also belong to those who belong not only to our parents but also to a kinship group, made up of our parents, each of whom brings with them their kith and kin. The kinship group behaves as though held together by a binding force and a sense of order and balance that acts equally on all members. Whoever is drawn in and counted as a member by this sense of order and balance belongs to this kinship group. Who is not drawn in and affected by it, does not belong. The scope of influence of this force tells us who can be counted as a part of the group. Generally speaking, the following belong:
1. Children and their siblings, including those who are dead or were stillborn, who were aborted or were miscarried, also those born out of wedlock and half siblings.
2. Parents and their siblings, including all the ones mentioned above.
3. Grandparents, occasionally a sibling of theirs.
4. Sometimes one or other of the great-grandparents.
5. And people unrelated by blood who have made way for others to enter the kinship group, such as earlier partners of parents, and anyone who, through misfortune or death, has given advantage to others in the group.
6. Those members of the kinship group who killed someone or were killed, and their respective victims or murderers from either the same kinship group or another.
The Ties of Kinship
The members of the kinship group are bound together as a community of fate, in that the traumatic fate of any member will affect everyone and prompt them to share in it. If, for example, one of the siblings in a family dies early, others may want to follow him or her. Also parents or grandparents may sometimes want to die because they wish to follow a dead child or grandchild. Or, if one marriage partner dies, the other may wish to die too. The living say inwardly to the dead: “I will follow you.”
Many of those who experience a life-threatening illness such as cancer, or who have serious accidents, or who are in danger of suicide, are in the grasp of a fateful kinship bond and say inwardly, “I will follow you.”
Closely connected with this movement is the belief that one person can stand in for another, which means that, as a stand-in, one person can take the suffering, atonement and death of the other, and thereby release the other from his or her heavy fate. The inward sentence behind this is, “Rather me than you.”
When, for instance, a child sees that a member of her kinship group is seriously ill, she says inwardly: “I will be sick instead of you.” Or when a child sees that someone has brought a heavy guilt upon himself for which he must atone, the child will say: “I will atone for you.” Or when the child perceives that one of the parents or some other close family member wants to leave, or to die, the child will say inwardly, “Better I disappear than you.”
Remarkably, it is the younger members of the kinship group who most often wish to suffer, atone, or die in place of someone else. Such wishful substitution may also occur between members of a couple.
It should be noted that this process occurs largely on an unconscious level. Neither those who are meant to benefit from this act, nor those who attempt it, are aware of what is happening. Nevertheless, if we can come to understand this process, we may have a chance of freeing ourselves from it. Such entanglements can be brought to light rather impressively if we set up a family constellation.
When a child takes over the good fortune or entitlements belonging to her parents, without earning them through her own efforts and her own experiences and pain, do her sense of entitlement and demands ever have foundation?
A woman in a group I was working with had a mother who was blind and a father who was deaf. The two parents were well matched, but the daughter felt that she had to carry responsibility for them and look after them. I put up a constellation to bring the hidden truth to light. During the constellation, the daughter behaved as if she was the grown-up and her parents were small. However, the mother said to the daughter, “I can manage with your father.” The father said: “I can manage with your mother. We do not need your help.” When the woman heard this she was very disappointed. She was reduced to being the child.
The woman couldn’t sleep well that night, and the next day she asked me if I could help her. I told her: “A person who can’t sleep well is often trying to keep watch over others.” Then I told her a story by the German writer Borchert about a young boy in Berlin after the war who kept watch over his dead brother so that the rats wouldn’t eat him. The child was totally exhausted but he felt he had to stay awake. Then a friendly man walked over to him and said: “Don’t you know the rats sleep at night?” After that the child slept. The women also slept better that night.
When a child disregards the Order of giving and taking, she usually punishes herself severely, often with failure or defeat, without knowing about the guilt or understanding the reason. By giving and taking what is not hers to give or take, she disregards the Order – albeit out of love. She does not understand that this is inappropriate but imagines she is doing a good thing. The Order cannot be manipulated by love. For prior to love, there is a sense of balance at work in the soul that asserts the right Order of Love, even at the price of happiness or life itself. For this reason, the struggle of love to rise above the Order is the beginning and end of all tragedy. There is only one way out: To understand the Order and accept it with love. Understanding the Order is wisdom, and submitting to it with love is humility.
In addition to what the parents are and what they give, they also have something that they have earned for themselves in terms of gain or loss. This belongs only to them. Children partake of it incidentally but parents cannot pass it on to their children, and children cannot take it from their parents. This is our own fortune, which we alone are masters of.
Giving and taking in the service of family life become reversed when a child appropriates an earlier illness, obligation, injustice, or guilt suffered by a parent as if it were his own. He takes what is not his. Such guilt or illness, obligation or injustice belongs to the previous person. It is that person’s fate and responsibility, a part of his or her life and dignity and it has, when it is accepted, a particular strength and benefit. Then this person can pass on this goodness but without the price that was paid for it.
When a person born later takes on something bad for a person who was born before, even out of love, the younger meddles in the most personal fate of the elder and takes away the dignity and strength that goes with bearing such a fate. What remains is an entanglement for both; the price is taken on without the experience itself, and the experience is tainted by an additional sense of guilt about the one who carries what is not his.
The Order of giving and taking is turned on its head when one born later in a family tries to give to an elder, as if this younger one were equal or even superior, instead of accepting what is given by the elder and in so doing honoring him or her. An example of this is when parents take from their children, and children want to give to their parents what the parents could not take from their parents or partners. When this happens, it is as if parents become children, and children become parents. Instead of flowing naturally from above to below, giving and taking are imagined to flow upwards against gravity. But a stream cannot flow uphill – and such giving never reaches its true destination.
Some fear that by accepting their parents in this way, they are also accepting the bad and frightening things about their parents, such as certain characteristics, or a handicap or some guilt. But in not accepting, they shut out the good with the bad, and so are unable to accept life as a whole.
To compensate for what they lack, many of those who refuse to accept their parents will try to find enlightenment and self-realization. In this case, seeking enlightenment and self-realization is really the secret search for the father they have not taken yet and the mother they have not taken yet. But by rejecting our parents, we also reject ourselves, and accordingly, we will feel unrealized, blind and empty.
Something else has to be considered. I cannot give an explanation for this, but when I speak about it to others I sense an unmistakable recognition on their part. Each one of us realizes that we have something special that is not derived from our parents. We need to agree to this also. It may be something light or heavy, something good or bad -- we do not have the choice. No matter what we do or fail to do, what we are for or against, we are in the service of a greater force, whether we like it or not. We experience it as a task or vocation, which is based neither on our merit, nor on our guilt, for instance, if it is something heavy or something cruel. We are taken into service, come what may.
What our Parents give us
Parents do not just give us our life. They nourish us, educate us, protect us, care for us and give us a home. It is appropriate that we take these gifts as they are given to us. So we tell our parents: “I take all that you give me, with love.” Accepting it with love and gratitude is also a form of balance because the parents feel appreciated and honored that way. Then they give with even greater joy.
When we take from our parents in this way, we feel, as a rule, that it is enough. There are exceptions, of course, as we all know. It may not always be as much as we want, or exactly what we wish for, but, as a rule, it is enough.
When a child has grown up he or she says to the parents: “I have received much from you and it is enough. I will take it with me into my life.” Then the child feels rich and content and can say: “The rest I will do myself.” This too is a good sentence. It helps the child to become independent. There is another sentence the child may add: “And now I leave you in peace.” Then the child is separated from the parents, yet still has the parents and the parents still have the child.
On the other hand, when the child tells the parents, “You still owe me more,” the parents’ hearts close up. From then on they can’t give as freely and happily because of the child’s demands. Neither can the child accept what is given unless the demands are surrendered.
When children insist on their demands, they cannot become independent as the demand itself binds them to their parents. These children cannot leave their parents, and their parents do not have their child.
The Orders of Love between parents and children and among siblings also require that each who takes honors the giver and the gift. In accepting the gift in this spirit, it is held up to the light until it shines. And even though the gift flows down, its brightness is reflected to the giver. Just like in the Roman Fountain: The lower bowl, that received the water from the top, reflects in its water also the water from the bowls above it, and it reflects most brightly the sky above them all – the giver.
A third aspect of the Orders of Love in the family is an order of priority, which, like giving and taking, proceeds from top to bottom, here on the timeline, from earlier to later. Therefore, parents have precedence over children and the first born has precedence over the second.
The flow of giving and taking from top to bottom, and the flow of time from earlier to later, cannot be halted or redirected or reversed from below to above or from later to earlier. Children are always subordinate to their parents, and what is later comes after what is earlier. Giving and taking, and also time, flow forward only; they never turn back.
The Gift of Life
The giving by parents and taking by children, which concerns us here, is not any giving and taking, but the giving and the taking of life. In passing on life, parents do not give their children something that belongs to them. With life, they give themselves to their children, without adding or subtracting. Therefore, parents are not in a position to add to, omit, or hold anything back from the life they are passing on in this way. This also means that children are not in a position to add, omit, or reject any part of the life their parents gave to them. Children do not only have their parents, they are their parents.
The Order of Love decrees that a child accepts life in its totality, as given by the parents, and accepts the parents just as they are without wishing them to be different, without any defense or fear.
This acceptance is a humble process. It signifies consent to life and to fate, as it is given to us through our parents, consent to the limits that are set this way, to the opportunities it offers, to the entanglements in the family’s fate, and the guilt, the burden and the lightness, however it may be.
We can experience the effect of such acceptance if we imagine kneeling in front of our father and mother, bowing deeply until our forehead touches the floor, stretching out our arms with our palms facing upwards and saying to them: “I honor you as my father and my mother.” Then we get up and look into Father’s eyes and Mother’s eyes and thank them for the gift of life. We might say:
Thanksgiving at the Morning of Life
I accept my life from you,
with all that it entails,
and at the full price that you have paid,
and that I will have to pay.
I shall make something of it to bring you joy.
It shall not have been in vain.
I shall hold it tight and in honor,
and if I may,
I shall pass it on as you have done.
I take you as my mother and you may have me as your child.
You are the right mother for me,
and I am the right child for you.
You are big and I am small.
You give, I’ll take – dear mother.
And I am glad that you took father.
The two of you are the right parents for me.
And then you say the same to father:
I accept my life from you too,
as you have passed it on to me
with all that it entails
and with the price you have paid
and the price I will have to pay.
To bring you joy, I’ll make something of it;
it shall not have been in vain.
I shall keep it and nurture it,
and if I may I shall pass it on as you have done.
I take you as my father
and you may have me as your child.
You are the right father for me
and I am the right child for you.
You are big and I am small.
You give, I’ll take – dear father.
I am glad that you took mother.
Those who can say this to their parents are at peace, and know themselves to be right and whole.
To begin, I shall say something about the interaction of order and love. It is a very dense text so I will take it slowly.
Order and Love
Love fills what Order contains
Love is water and Order the vessel.
Love is flowing.
Order and Love live and move together.
Just as a song finds its fulfillment in the harmonies, so Love’s harmony is found in Order.
And as the ear remains distressed by dissonances,
even when their meaning is explained,
so our souls remain distressed
when Love is not in Order.
Some treat Order
as if it were just an opinion
that one were free to alter or adhere to.
Alas, Order was there before us.
It works without our understanding.
Order is not invented, it is found.
We discover it, like soul and meaning,
through its effect.
Thus we find out about the Orders of Love from their effects, and through them come to understand the laws by which we lose or gain in love. It becomes clear that relationships of the same nature are subject to the same laws, and relationships of a different nature follow different laws. The Order of Love between children and their parents differs from the Order of Love within an extended family. The laws of love for the couple relationship differ from those that bind the couple to their children. And the laws are different again between those governing our relationship to the whole that upholds everything, to what we experience as our spiritual or religious connectedness.
Parents and Children
The Order of Love between parents and children is defined primarily by the rule that parents give and children take. Parents give to their children what they previously took from their own parents and what as a couple they take from each other. In the first place children accept their parents as parents; in the second place they accept everything else their parents give them. Children, in turn, pass on what they have received, especially to their own children.
They are able to give because they have previously taken from their parents; and their children may take because later they will give to their own children. Whoever comes first has to give more because he or she has already taken more than the one who comes next. The last to come may take more than he or she gives. Later, when the last has taken enough, he or she will give more to those who follow after. In this way, whether they give or take, all obey the same order and follow the same law. This Order of giving and taking also applies to siblings. Whoever is first has to give to whoever follows. Whoever follows must accept from whoever was before. This means that the first child has to give to the second and third; the second takes from the first and gives to the third, who in turn has to take from the first and second. The oldest child gives more and the youngest takes more. In return, the youngest often looks after the parents in old age.
Conrad Ferdinand Meyer, a German poet, writes about this movement from the top to the bottom in one of his poems:
The Roman Fountain
The stream rises, and falling,
it fills the marble bowl.
Veiling the rim it flows
on into a second bowl
which gathers this abundance
and overflows into the third.
Thus, each one takes and gives alike;
and flows and it is still.
The underlying principles of the family conscience make themselves known in our relationships and in their effects. If we understand these effects, then we can transcend the limits of the family conscience through insight. This insight knows where consciences blind us, frees where consciences bind us, hinders where consciences push us to act, galvanize where consciences paralyze us, and loves where consciences separate us.
A son went home to see his father and asked of him:
“Father bless me before you leave!”
The father said: "My blessing shall be,
I’ll take you for a little walk
along the path of knowledge for a little while."
The next day they stepped out into the open,
climbed from their narrow valley
up high onto a mountain.
The day was getting old
As they reached the height
but now, as far as the horizon
the land lay in the sun’s last light.
The sun sank
And with it all its splendor.
But in the darkness
they began to see the stars.
A young man in danger of suicide told a therapy group that as a child he had asked his maternal grandfather: "Grandpa, when are you going to die and make room?" The grandfather laughed heartily, but the child was never able to forget this sentence. His therapist suggested to him that this question was verbalized by a child because it would have been unspeakable by anyone else.
They decided to investigate the family situation, and discovered that many years ago the child's other grandfather had started an affair with his secretary. At the same time, his wife became ill with tuberculosis.
The sentence, "When will you die to make room?" seemed to belong here, even if the grandfather was not conscious of it. It referred to his wife and in this way the secret wish was fulfilled. His wife died.
Now, however, his descendants unknowingly took it upon themselves to atone for his guilt, innocently guilty. First of all, his son prevented his father from benefiting from the death of his mother. He ran away with the secretary. Then a grandson took it upon himself to speak the calamitous sentence and to atone for it. He was in danger of committing suicide.
I am reporting this case as the client told it to me in a letter. The client's great‑grandmother married a young farmer and in due course became pregnant. During her pregnancy, her husband died of what was diagnosed as “nerve fever” at age 27 on December 31.Traumatic events in the family since his death pointed to something untoward. It became known that during her first marriage, the great-grandmother had had an affair with the man who was later to become her second husband and there was a suspicion that the death of the first husband was linked to this.
The great‑grandmother married her second husband (the great-grandfather of the client) on January 27. This great-grandfather died in an accident when his son was 27 years old. Twenty-seven years later to the day, a great-grandchild of this man died in the same way. Another great-grandchild went missing at the same age.
Still another great-grandchild went crazy at the age of 27, around December 31, the day the great‑grandmother's first husband had died. He then proceeded to hang himself on January 27, the anniversary of the great-grandmother's second marriage. His wife was pregnant at the time, as was the great-grandmother when her first husband died.
The son of the man who had hanged himself, that is a great‑great-grandson of the great-grandfather of the client, was 27 years old a month before my client wrote this letter. My client had the feeling that something could happen to this relative and that he would be most at risk around the time of the death of his father. Because of his fear, my client had been to visit him to protect him and had taken him to the father's grave. After that, the mother told my client that her son went psychotic on December 31, throwing a revolver in the air and making preparations to kill himself. She and her second husband were able to stop him on that occasion. This happened exactly 127 years after the death of the great-grandmother's first husband at the age of 27 on December 31. It is worth mentioning that my client's relatives had no knowledge of the great-grandmother's first husband. In the meantime, it was established that he had died from poisoning. Here we can see the effect of a dreadful deed in a family carried into the fourth and fifth generations.
Of course, the story is not yet finished. A few months after his letter to me, my client in a great panic, made an appointment to see me. He felt suicidal and unable to fight his suicidal thoughts. I suggested that he imagine himself standing in front of his great-grandmother's first husband, looking at him. Then I asked him to bow deeply to him and say: “I am acknowledging and honoring you. In my heart you have a place. Please bless me if I stay alive."
Then I let him say to his great-grandmother and to his great-grandfather: "Whatever your guilt I shall leave it with you. I am only the child." Then I asked him to imagine extricating his head from a noose around his neck and backing away from it. After this he felt released and freed from his suicidal thoughts. The great-grandmother's first husband has since become a good friend and protector.
In the last example, I showed how the demands of the family conscience can be met in a truly healing way that releases the innocent descendants. Those who have been excluded are honored and receive the place and rank that is due to them. Those who follow later in the system can then leave the guilt and its consequences behind, where they belong. They can withdraw from the guilt and the burden with humility. Thus the system balances itself again in a way that brings acknowledgment and peace for all.
Another fundamental law is revealed through the effects of the family conscience. In each group there is an order of rank that gives preference to those who came first. This means that according to this order what came earlier has priority over what came later. A grandfather has a higher ranking than his grandchild, a first-born sibling has more weight than a third-born sibling, and an uncle has precedence over his nephew. Therefore, the compensation according to this group conscience knows no justice toward the later ones, as they are not seen as equal. The archaic balancing is concerned about the earlier one and disregards the later one.
Thus, this group conscience does not allow children or grandchildren to meddle in the fate of the parents or grandparents, whether to fight for their rights on their behalf, or to atone for their guilt, or to release them retrospectively from their fate.
Under the pressure of this group conscience, such presumptuousness will be repaired by the later born who feel a need for failure and doom – without any awareness of the forces that direct it. We see self-destructive behavior in a family when a person, in the name of apparently honorable causes, blindly and with open eyes instigates her own failure and destruction. This person is usually one of lower rank. This person will often also feel relieved because, through capitulation, she finally honors the ancestor in her ranking. Thus, presumed power ends in powerlessness, presumed rights in guilt, and assumed fate in tragedy.
Several examples follow.
A young woman experienced an insatiable longing that she could not explain to herself. Eventually, she realized that it was not her own longing but that of her half sister from her father's first marriage. When her father remarried, her half sister from the first marriage was not allowed to see him or his children from the second marriage.
Her half sister eventually emigrated to Australia and all possibility of contact seemed lost. However, the young woman managed to establish contact with her half sister in Australia and invited her to Germany on a visit. She even sent her a ticket. Their fates seemed irreversible, however. On her way to the airport to fly to Germany, the half sister disappeared.
In a workshop, a woman started to shake uncontrollably. As the group facilitator came into resonance with this, he realized that this trembling must belong to another person. He asked her: "Whose trembling is this?" She replied: "I do not know." He continued to question her: "Is it perhaps a Jew?" She replied: "It is a Jewish woman". When she was born, a Nazi official had visited her mother to congratulate her in the name of the Party. All the while a young Jewish woman was standing behind the door. The trembling belonged to this woman who was in hiding in their house.
A couple had been together for many years but were not living together because the man insisted that he could only find appropriate work far away in another city. When it was pointed out to him in a therapy group that he could find the same work in the place where his wife was living, he found other excuses. It became obvious that there was a hidden reason for his behavior.
His father had spent many years far away at a clinic with severe tuberculosis and on the rare occasions when he had visited, he was always fearful that his wife and child might become infected. Although this danger was long past and the father had recovered, the son took over the same anxiety, the same fate. He kept away from his wife as though he too were dangerous.
Therefore, the good that reconciles and furthers peace has to go beyond the limits that conscience sets through our need to belong to our small group or our specific group. This good follows a different law, a hidden law that is at work in things simply because they exist.
In contrast to the ways and means of conscience, it is like water flowing underground, silently, and hardly noticed. We recognize this good only by its effects.
Conscience, however, makes a noise where things simply exist. For instance, on entering a garden, a child wonders at all the life that grows there, and his or her whole being listens to a bird that’s singing in a bush. Then a grown-up centers the garden and says: “Look, that’s nice." Now, the child, instead of being lost in wonder, must pay attention to words that analyze and interpret. The natural connection to “what is” is now replaced by statements and assessments.
Conscience binds us so powerfully to our families and other groups that we feel obliged to identify with the sufferings and guilt of our ancestors, even though we are not often consciously aware of this. So through this conscience we become blindly entangled in other people’s guilt and innocence; in other people’s thinking, worrying, feeling; in other people’s quarrels and their consequences; and in others’ goals and in their ends.
When, for example, a daughter takes care of her elderly parents and is looked down upon and ridiculed by her siblings and the rest of the family because she sacrifices the happiness of a family of her own, then later, a niece, without even knowing these circumstances and without a position of her own about the matter, will imitate her aunt's life and suffer the same fate.
Here, another comprehensive conscience is secretly at work. It contrasts with our own personal conscience that we feel, and it has priority over it. Our superficial, personal conscience makes us blind to the hidden, comprehensive conscience, and often, we offend against this comprehensive conscience exactly by following our personal conscience.
The personal conscience that we feel serves an order that manifests through drives, needs, and reflexes. The deeper comprehensive conscience works in secret and remains unrecognized, as does the order that it serves. Therefore we cannot sense this order. We recognize it only by its effects, most often in the suffering that comes from ignoring this deeper conscience. It is foremost the children who suffer for this reason. The personal conscience relates to those with whom we feel connected – parents, siblings, relatives, friends, partners, and children. Through this conscience they are given a voice and a place in our soul.
The hidden, comprehensive conscience comes into play for those people who have been excluded from our souls and our consciousness. Such exclusion comes in many forms and from many sources: we may fear or condemn them; we may not want to acknowledge their fate, or that others from the family have harmed them, without naming their guilt, let alone facing and addressing it; we may turn our backs to the price they paid for what we took or received while they received no gratitude and honor. This conscience looks after the rejected and the disavowed, the forgotten and the dead. It does not leave those in peace who are secure in their belonging until they have given the excluded ones a place and a voice in their hearts and returned them to their rightful position in the family or group.
The Right to Belong
The family conscience gives the same right of belonging to all its members. It makes sure that all who belong are actually acknowledged as equal members. It watches over belonging in a far more comprehensive way than does the personal conscience. It knows no exceptions, not even murderers.
If a member of a group is excluded, even if he or she is merely forgotten or not spoken about, as often happens with a child who died young, someone in the group will represent the excluded member. Deeper conscience works in such a way that the representing person will live as if he or she were excluded from the group, without being conscious of doing so. For instance, a grandchild may live, feel, plan, and fail in imitation of his excluded grandfather without ever being aware of the connections or of what he is doing.
In terms of the family conscience, this is compensation; however, it is on an archaic level, for this conscience is an archaic conscience. Such blind balancing does not help or heal anyone. The pain of the victim is repeated without any healing. The injustice done to the earlier members of the system is also repeated by later members, but this movement bears no fruits. The excluded or forgotten remain excluded or forgotten. A solution must therefore be sought on a level that transcends the family conscience.
Conscience binds us most strongly when we have a low position in a group and are at its mercy. The more powerful we become in a group, the less dependent we feel on it, and with that, the grip of conscience eases, too.
But the weaker members of a group are conscientious and remain loyal because they are bound most strongly. In a family, the weak ones are the children; in a business, it is the workers on the lowest scale; in an army, it is the ordinary soldiers; and in a church, it is the congregation of believers.
For the well-being of the strong ones in the group, the weak conscientiously risk their health, their innocence, their happiness, and their lives, even when the strong exploit them ruthlessly for their so-called higher goals.
These are the enlisted people who stick their necks out for those above them – the executioners who are prepared to do the dirty work; the heroes fighting a lost battle; the sheep who follow their shepherd, even when he leads them to the slaughterhouse; and the innocent victims who have to pay the price. And it is the children who throw themselves into the breach for their parents or ancestors, who bring to completion what they did not begin, who atone for what they did not do, and who carry the burden for acts they have not committed. Here is an illustration:
A father reprimanded his son when he was sulking, and during the night, the child hanged himself. The man grew old and still this continued to weigh heavily on his conscience. Then, in a conversation with a friend, he remembered: A few days before the child committed suicide, the child’s mother sat at the table and explained that she was pregnant again. The boy cried out in great distress: "Oh God, we haven't got any space!" Now the old father understood: the child had hanged himself in order to release his parents from their worries. He had made room for the new child.
Loyalty und Illness
The love within the family can also show itself in serious illness, for instance, an anorexic girl says in her child soul to one of her parents: “I would rather go than you." Such illness is therefore very difficult to cure because for our child soul, it is proof of innocence and guarantees and safeguards our right of belonging. Being ill is proof of loyalty. Despite assurances, a solution will be feared and avoided because healing entails, on one level, a loss of belonging and feelings of guilt and betrayal.
Where conscience binds, it also limits and excludes. Often, to remain in our group, we have to deny the right of membership to others who deviate from the values of the group. Our conscience demands that we exclude them simply because they are different. Because of conscience we can become a threat to others. Being excluded from the group is what we fear most for ourselves and yet, in the name of conscience, this is precisely what we do to others, simply because they are different.
But what we do to others in the name of conscience, others do to us as well. Then we mutually set up boundaries for what is deemed good. We tell each other that we are not good. And for the bad, we remove this limitation, in the name of conscience. Individuals on either side are willing to be bad to others because what we perceive as the others’ badness allows and demands from us to be bad to them.
Guilt and innocence are therefore not the same as good and bad. Often we do bad things with a clear conscience, and good deeds with a bad conscience. We do bad things with a clear conscience when we think they guarantee us the right to belong to our group. By the same token, we do good things with a bad conscience when we fear that by doing them we may lose our right to belong.
If you want to solve the riddles of conscience, you have to enter a maze, and you need many clues, so you can discern amidst the confusing array of paths between those leading to freedom and those leading to dead ends.
And stumbling in the dark, you also must confront the myths and stories that surround guilt and innocence for they cast a spell on our senses and paralyze our steps should you dare to find out what is happening in secret.
Children may have felt that way when adults talked of the stork that brings babies. And maybe the prisoners felt that too as they stood before the sign at the gate of the death camp that read: “Work will set you free."
Occasionally someone comes along who has the courage to break through this spell. Like the child who stands among the mad crowd as the dictator marches by and shouts out what everybody knows, but no one dares to admit: “But he is naked!”
It is like the musician who waits by the road for the rat catcher to pass through with his group of children whom he has entranced with his flute. As they approach, the musician starts to play a different tune, and some fall out of step.
Our conscience binds us to the group that is necessary for our survival, no matter what conditions the group sets. Conscience is not above the group with all its beliefs and superstitions, but rather is in the service of the group. Just as a tree is not free to decide where it will grow but develops differently depending on whether it is in the open or in the midst of a forest, in a protected valley, or on an exposed mountain top, so a child molds himself or herself unquestioningly to the group of origin and hangs on with absolute strength and tenacity. The need to belong makes an indelible imprint on the child’s being. This belonging means love and happiness to the child, irrespective of whether the child will flourish or wither in the group.
Conscience reacts to everything that enhances or endangers belonging in the family. Therefore, we have a good conscience when we are certain that we can continue to belong to the group. And we have a bad conscience when we fear that we have deviated from the rules in a way that we have lost our right to belong, at least partially. Like the carrot and the stick, both a good and a bad conscience serve the same purpose, moving us in the same direction. Together, they both bind us firmly to our roots and our clan.
Conscience decides according to the standards of the group we belong to. Consequently, people who come from different groups have different consciences, and people who belong to several groups have a different conscience for each group.
Conscience binds us to our system, keeping watch, much as a sheepdog keeps the sheep close to the main flock. However, when we change our surroundings, our conscience changes color like a chameleon, for our own protection. So we have a different conscience with our mother than with our father, and again a different one in our family than in our profession; another one in church and another in our social circle. Yet, in all instances, conscience is concerned about belonging and the love in our important groups, and about the fear of separation and loss.
What do we do when belonging to one group competes with belonging to another group? We try as best we can to balance the conflicting demands.
A mother and father consulted a therapist as to what they should do with their daughter. The mother had to set some boundaries for her, and she did not feel sufficiently supported by her husband. The therapist explained the rules of successful upbringing to them, which took three sentences:
1. In bringing up children, mother and father will see different things as important, either because they were important in their families of origin, or because they were missing.
2. The child obeys and acknowledges precisely what was seen as valid, or what was missing, in the families of origin of both parents.
3. When one of the parents asserts him- or herself against the other in the child's upbringing, the child will secretly side with the dominated parent and tend to become like that parent.
Next, the therapist suggested to the parents that they allow themselves to see where and how their child loved them. At this they looked into each other's eyes and both their faces lit up.
Lastly the therapist advised the father to sometimes show his daughter how pleased he feels when she gets on well with her mother.
Sometimes we experience conscience as singular. Often, however, it more closely resembles a group in which different members strive for different goals in different ways, with different feelings of guilt and innocence. In this way, the members support each other and keep each other in check for the good of the whole. Still, even when they oppose each other, they serve a higher order. This order is like a Field Marshall who has different troops at different fronts, in differing terrain, with different equipment, each employing different tactics. With all of these variables, he strives for different successes in the different situations. But for the sake of the whole, this strategy allows only for partial success at the various fronts. The same is true of innocence; it can succeed only in parts.
In most instances, guilt and innocence go hand in hand. If you try to grasp innocence, you will also stir up guilt. If you live as the landlord in the house of guilt, you will discover innocence as your tenant. Furthermore, guilt and innocence often exchange their clothes, so that guilt wears the mantle of innocence and innocence comes in the cloak of guilt.
Appearances deceive us and only the results can tell the truth. To illustrate this, I will tell you a little story:
They greet each other as opponents.
Then they sit opposite each other
And play together
On one board
With a variety of pieces
Following complex ancient rules.
Move by move,
The same old royal game.
To their game both sacrifice
A range of pieces
And tensely hold each other in check
Until the movement is completed.
When nothing further can be done
The game is over,
Then they change sides
And of the same old game
another match begins again.
But those who play for a long time
And win a lot,
And lose a lot,
They gain mastery
On both sides.
Thus, guilt and innocence both serve the same master. He harnesses them both to the same carriage, guides them in one direction so that they pull ahead in tandem. Through their joint and alternating forces they keep the carriage on track. Sometimes we want to take the reigns in our own hands, but the coachman will not relinquish them. We only ride in the carriage as his captives and his passengers. The coachman’s name is “Conscience.”
These are the given conditions for human relationships:
We meet these three conditions, like the conditions for our balance, even against other wishes or plans, under the pressure of instinct, need, and reflexes. We recognize them as fundamental conditions because we experience them as fundamental needs.
Connectedness, balance, and order are conditioned upon and complementary to each other. Together they are experienced as conscience. Therefore, we also experience conscience as instinct, need, and reflex. So really, we experience conscience as at one with our needs for belonging, for balance, and for order.
Although these three needs for belonging, balance, and order always work together, they also work toward their own specific goals through their own specific kind of guilt and innocence. So we feel guilt and innocence in different ways, depending on which goals or needs are being served.
When guilt and innocence serve belonging, we experience guilt as separation and distance, and innocence as comfort and closeness.
When they serve the balance of giving and taking, we experience guilt as obligation, and innocence as freedom from expectation.
When guilt and innocence serve the right order, we experience guilt as transgression and fear of punishment, and innocence as loyalty and alliance.
Conscience directs us toward every one of these goals, even when they stand in opposition to each other. Therefore, we experience these contradictions in their aims as contradictions in our conscience. In maintaining balance, conscience often demands of us what it would forbid us in the service of belonging; and in sustaining order, it allows us what it would deny us in the service of belonging.
For example, when we hurt someone as badly as they have hurt us, we satisfy the need for balance and perceive ourselves as fair. However, in so doing we may sacrifice our need for belonging. In order to satisfy belonging and balance equally, we must hurt the person a little less than they have hurt us. Then balance suffers but belonging and love are triumphant.
Conversely, if we give just as much to another as was given to us, balance is satisfied but belonging rarely so. If we wish balance to lead toward belonging as well, we must give a little more than has been given to us. And when this gift is reciprocated, then the giver must give a little more in return. In this way, the giving and taking achieves balance as well as a continuous exchange with belonging and love.
We experience similar contradictions between the need for belonging and for order. If, for example, a mother tells her child that because he has been naughty he must stay alone in his room, and if she does in fact leave the child there, then the need for order is served. But the child will become angry, and rightly so because for order's sake, the mother has offended against love. If, on the other hand, after a little while, she lets the child out of the rest of the punishment, she does indeed offend against order but she strengthens the belonging and the love between herself and her child.
No matter how we react to such circumstances, we will feel free as well as guilty.
Just as our needs differ, so do our relationships. Interests in different relationships may conflict. In serving one relationship, we may harm another. What is counted as innocence in one relationship may be counted as guilt in another. For one deed we may stand in front of many judges, and while one condemns us, another may declare us innocent.
We are aware of conscience in the same way that a horse has a sense of its rider, or a helmsman on a ship takes his bearings from the stars. Alas! The horse has many different riders, and many different helmsmen look toward many stars. The question is who guides the rider and in which direction does a captain steer his ship.
A student turned toward his master: "Tell me what freedom is?"
"Which freedom?" asked the master. The first freedom is foolishness. It resembles the horse that, neighing, throws off the rider only to feel his reigns pulled much tighter thereafter. The second freedom is regret. It resembles the helmsman who chooses to stay on the sinking ship rather than climbing into the lifeboat. The third freedom is understanding. It comes after foolishness and regret. Understanding resembles the reed that sways with the wind. Because it is pliable it can bend and stand upright again after the wind subsides."
The student asked: "Is that all?"
To this the master responded: "Some people think that they themselves are searching for the truth within their own souls. But it is the Greater Soul that thinks and searches through the souls of individuals. Like Mother Nature, this Greater Soul can afford a lot of errors as each false player is effortlessly replaced by a new one. But if we allow this Greater Soul to think in us, we may be granted certain freedoms, surrendering to the current; joint forces may carry us to the other side of the river."
Guilt und Innocence
We experience our conscience in our relationships because all of our actions that affect others are accompanied by a knowing sense of guilt or innocence. In the same way that our eyes continually distinguish between dark and light, this knowing sense distinguishes in any moment between actions that damage relationships and those that nourish them. We experience what is damaging to our relationships as guilt, and what is nourishing as innocence.
Through feelings of guilt, our conscience pulls in the reigns and turns us around when we endanger a relationship. Through feelings of innocence, it lets go of the reigns and allows us to gallop ahead.
This is similar to our sense of balance, which is constantly pushed and pulled by feelings of comfort and discomfort so that we can maintain our own sense of equilibrium. In the same way, our conscience pushes and pulls us through feelings of comfort and discomfort to keep a sense of balance in all our significant relationships.
Relationships are successful according to conditions that in essence are given -- just as our sense of up and down, forwards and backwards, right and left is given. We may sway to the right or left, the front or back, but inborn reflexes pull us constantly into balance in order to avoid disaster, and so we are straightened out in time.
In the same way, a sense of balance that is superior to our follies watches over our relationships and works toward correction and equilibrium when we have strayed from the conditions necessary for the maintenance of those relationships and so put them at risk. Like our physical sense of balance, this sense of balance in relationships perceives us in our environment, knows the scope of freedom and its limitations, and keeps us on course through the various feelings of ease and dis-ease. The dis-ease we feel as guilt, the ease we feel as innocence.
It is our own innocence that makes fateful guilt so hard to bear. If we were guilty and were to be punished, or were innocent and were to be saved, then we could assume that destiny is a moral order. We could assume that it is subordinated to rules open to influence or manipulation through our own guilt or innocence. However, if we are saved independent of our guilt or innocence, while others, irrespective of their guilt or innocence, perish, then we are confronted with our lack of influence and our powerlessness to manipulate destiny through guilt or innocence.
The only path left then is to submit and entrust ourselves to a greater force, be it for better or for worse. Such a stance emanates from a place I call humility. It allows us to accept our lives and our happiness, as long as they last, regardless of the price others have to pay for this. In the same way, it allows us to consent to our own death and heavy fate when it is our turn, irrespective of our guilt or innocence.
In this humility I know that it is not me who determines my fate, but rather fate that decides over me, fate that picks me up, carries me, and drops me according to laws that I cannot and must not try to uncover. This humility is the response that is in accord with fateful guilt and fateful innocence. It makes me equal to the victims. It allows me to honor them, not by reducing or throwing away what I have gained at their expense, but by taking it with gratitude, in spite of the high price, and then by sharing it with others.
Thus far, I have talked primarily about guilt and innocence in giving and taking. Guilt and innocence have many faces and they work in many ways. Human relationships are built on the interplay of different needs and orders trying to assert themselves in various ways of experiencing guilt and innocence.
The other ways of experiencing guilt and innocence will be elaborated on in the discussion about the limitations of conscience and the orders of love. Now let us consider order and abundance.
Order is the way
in which the many can interact.
It is home to fullness and diversity.
It is living in exchange, unifies what is dispersed
and gathers it as fate decrees.
Therefore it’s home to movement.
It shapes the transient in a form
that gives hope for continuity.
Therefore it’s home to permanence.
Still, as a tree, before it falls,
Will shed the fruit that is its future,
So order keeps in tune with time.
Therefore it’s home to change and to renewal.
Orders that are living
will resonate with life as they unfold.
They drive us on and force their discipline on us
through longing and through fear.
In setting boundaries, they give us space.
The space in which they live contains all sides of our separations.
Suppose there is something bad or burdensome that belongs to us as our own personal fate. This may take the form of a hereditary illness, very traumatic circumstances in our childhood, or some personal guilt. When we accept such a fate and incorporate it into our life process, it becomes a source of strength to us. But when someone objects to his or her fate, then strength is diminished. The same applies to personal guilt and its consequences.
In a family system, one member often takes on the rejected fate or the unacknowledged guilt of another. This has a doubly bad effect.
Fate or guilt that doesn’t belong to us gives us no strength; only our own fate can do that. Further, carrying another’s fate weakens the person from whom we appropriate it. And this person’s fate and guilt also lose their strength.
We feel guilty if we are favored, at the expense of others, by a destiny that we are unable to prevent or change. For example: A child is born but his mother dies. He is undoubtedly innocent. No one would think of taking him to task for it. Nonetheless, the knowledge of his own innocence can’t release him because he sees his life fatefully entwined with his mother’s death. Therefore, he will never be free of the pressure of guilt. Another example: The tire on a man’s car is punctured while he is driving. He skids and collides with another car. The other driver dies, whereas he is saved. Although he is innocent, his life is still interwoven with the death and suffering of others. In spite of his innocence, he carries guilt.
A third example: A man recounts that his mother, while pregnant with him, traveled to a field hospital at the end of the war to bring his father home safely. During their flight, they were threatened by a Russian soldier whom they killed. Even though they acted in self-defense, the parents and the child too carried the burden of guilt because they lived and the soldier died.
With such fateful guilt and innocence, we experience ourselves as powerless in every way, which makes it almost unbearable. If we only had our own guilt to bear instead of carrying the burden of the past, we would also have power and influence. Here, however, we come to realize that for good just as for bad, we are in the hands of an unpredictable destiny – destiny which, independent of our being good or bad, presides over life and death, salvation and unhappiness, well-being and ruin.
This impotence with regard to fate is so horrifying for some people that they would rather throw away their unearned happiness (or life) than accept it as grace. Often, such people will try, after the event, to bring some personal merit or guilt into play in order to avoid feeling that they are at the mercy of such undeserved salvation or guilt.
A person who gains personal advantage at the cost of another will often restrict this advantage, give it up, or throw it away. Such actions might take the form of suicide, becoming sick, or committing a deed for which they must be punished. Such solutions have to do with magical thinking and are a childlike form of dealing with unexpected luck and undeserved happiness. If we look closely, we may see that such self-inflicted restrictions do not diminish misfortune or sorrow, but instead they increase it. A powerful example of this dynamic is the child whose mother died in childbirth and so she restricts the scope of her life or even commits suicide. Now the mother’s sacrifice was in vain and, in a way, she is held accountable for the child’s death as well. What a difference it would make if the child could say instead: “Dear mother, even though you have lost your life because of my birth, it must not be in vain. In remembrance of you, I will make something of my life.” Then the pressure of the fateful guilt becomes a driving force for a life that allows for actions that others would not have the strength to carry out. Then the mother’s fate can have a good effect beyond her death, bringing about reconciliation and peace.
For all of us, there is a pressure to balance out what fate presents. According to what we have received, we want to give back something of equal value, and, when this is not possible, we try at least to deprive ourselves of something. But our little ways lead nowhere, as fate is not moved by our expectations, or by our reparations or atonements.
When the hurtful action of one partner in a relationship leads to separation we often see the guilty person as being free and independent. But what if that person had not committed the hurtful action, and he or she wasted away or became ill as a result? Then this individual would have the right to feel resentful toward the partner.
Often the guilty person seeks to pay for the separation by suffering greatly before the separation in an attempt to nullify the pain of the victim. Perhaps this person only desires to expand life beyond the boundaries of the present situation and suffers because this can only be achieved by hurting or harming the other. But a separation can offer a chance of a new beginning to the person who is hurt as well as to the person who has caused the hurt. Even the victim has new possibilities all of a sudden.
However, if the victim remains in suffering and refuses to move on, then it is difficult for the offender to start a new life. Thus both remain entangled despite their separation.
But when the victim makes a new beginning, this is the gift of freedom and relief to the other. Of all the different kinds of forgiveness, this may be the most beautiful one for it reconciles even where there is separation.
However, when guilt and hurt have taken on fateful dimensions, reconciliation is only possible if is no insistence on atonement.
This is a humble way to forgive -- to surrender to powerlessness. Both parties submit themselves to an unpredictable fate and in so doing the need for guilt and atonement ceases to exist.
Good and Bad
We like dividing the world up into one part that has a right to exist and another part that does not. The first half we call good or wholesome or sane or peace. The other we call bad or sick or disaster or war. Of course, we have many more names for both the accepted and the unacceptable. We tend to call good and wholesome what is easy for us, and what is hard for us, we call bad or evil.
But if we look more closely, we discover the force that changes the world is rooted in what we call difficult, harsh, or even malevolent. The challenge for the new comes from what we would rather not have or what we exclude.
Therefore, when we avoid what is unpleasant, sinful, and confrontational, we lose precisely what we wanted to keep, namely our life, dignity, freedom, and greatness. Only those who confront the dark forces and consent to their existence are connected to their own roots and the sources of their strength. Such people are beyond good or evil. They are in accord with something larger, with its depths and strength.
There is also a forgiveness that is positive. It preserves the dignity of the guilty person and also of the victim. This kind of forgiveness requires that the injured party does not make inappropriate demands and that she accepts a reasonable compensation. No reconciliation is possible without such forgiveness. An example follows:
A woman left and divorced her husband for another man. After many years she realized how much she still loved her ex-husband and asked him if she could become his wife again. He didn’t want to commit himself but they nevertheless agreed to consult a psychotherapist.
The therapist asked the man at the beginning of the session what he wanted from it. He replied: “I only want to have an Aha-experience.” The therapist told him that this would be difficult but that he would try. Then he asked the woman what she felt she should offer to the man so that he might accept her again as his wife. Because she imagined this would be easily accomplished, her answer was non-committal. No wonder, the man was not impressed.
The therapist showed her that first and foremost she had to acknowledge how much she had hurt her husband, and that he needed to see her desire to make up for the hurt she had caused him.
The woman thought for a while, then looked her ex-husband in the eye and said: “I am very sorry for what I have done to you. I beg you to let me be your wife again. I will love you and look after you and assure you that in future you can trust me and rely on me.”
Still the man did not budge. The therapist looked at him and said: “What your wife has done to you must have been very painful and clearly you do not wish to experience this a second time.”
The man suddenly had tears in his eyes, and the therapist continued: “A person who suffers at the hands of another feels superior to the guilty one. He is therefore entitled to reject the other, as if he did not need the other. Against such innocence the guilty person has no redress.” The man smiled. He knew he had been found out. Then he turned to his wife and looked at her lovingly.
The therapist commented: “There you have your Aha-experience! That’s 50 dollars. And now off with you, and I don’t want to know how you are doing.”
In the course of his psychotherapy, a man in his forties was preoccupied and anxious that he might become violent. His behavior and his character did not indicate that this was likely and so the psychotherapist asked him if there had been any violence in his family.
It emerged that his uncle (his mother’s brother) was a murderer. In his company he had had an employee who was also his lover. One day he showed her a photo of another woman and asked her to have her hair styled in the same way as the woman in the photo. She obliged. After some time, the man traveled abroad with her and murdered her. Then he returned home with the woman in the photo, and she now became his employee and his mistress. The murder eventually came to light and he was punished with a life sentence.
The therapist wanted to know more about the client’s relatives, particularly about his grandparents (the murderer’s parents), as he was curious about the motivation for such an act.
His client could give him little information. The grandmother was apparently a very pious and respected woman, and he knew nothing about his grandfather. But he inquired further and found out that his grandmother had reported her own husband’s homosexuality to the Nazis and as a result he was arrested, sent to a concentration camp, and eventually killed.
It was the pious grandmother who was the true murderer in this system. She was the source of the destructive energy. The son (the client’s uncle) avenged his father, like Hamlet. Here the “double displacement” emerges again.
First, the son took on the revenge in his father’s place. That was the displacement in the subject. But he spared his mother, and instead of murdering her, he murdered the woman he loved. That was the displacement in the object. And in this he identified with the father again, where the rage would have been directed at his wife.
He bore the consequences not only for his own murderous deed but also for that of his mother. Thus he was loyal to both parents: to his mother by becoming a murderer just like her, and to his father by suffering imprisonment. Further, he went to prison in her place, and thereby acted out his father’s rage for him. His sentence (both literal and figurative) was enacted in several ways: “I do this for you, Mother, and I do this for you, Father.”
It is therefore an illusion to believe that we can remain free from involvement with evil by maintaining the pretence of innocence and helplessness. Instead, we need to face up to the truth of offender’s guilt, even if this means we do something bad as well, otherwise, guilt cannot find an end. Passively submitting to someone else’s guilt does not preserve one’s innocence – this also causes harm.
Instead of facing a confrontation, “forgiveness” can be an attempt to cover up and to postpone a conflict instead of finding a resolution.
Forgiveness carries particularly bad consequences if the victim releases the guilt party of their guilt as if this were the victim’s right. If there is to be a true reconciliation, the innocent party has not only the right to reparation but also the duty to demand it. Seen from the other side, the guilty party not only has an obligation to bear the consequences of the act, but also the right to it. An illustration of this:
A man and a woman fell in love although both were already married. When the woman became pregnant, they both divorced their partners and entered a new marriage together. The woman was childless before but the man had a little daughter whom he left with her mother. Both felt guilty toward his first wife and his daughter, and their deep desire was that his first wife would forgive them. However, she continued to be angry with them as she, and the child, had paid a heavy price for their gain.
They sought counsel with a friend and he suggested that they imagine how it would feel if the first wife forgave them both. They then began to realize that until that point they had both avoided confronting the consequences of their guilt. Their hope and wish for forgiveness was a denial of the dignity and needs of everyone concerned, including themselves. They acknowledged that their new happiness was based on the unhappiness of the first wife and child, and they decided to fulfill any appropriate demands she might make. However, they also stayed together.
In giving and taking, guilt and innocence can also take on negative aspects, for example, if the taker is the perpetrator of a crime and the giver is the victim. This occurs when a person does something to someone else who is defenseless, when an individual claims something that causes pain to another, or when one assumes an advantage at the expense of another.
Here, too, the perpetrator and the victim are subjected to the need to reestablish equilibrium. The victim has a right to justice and the perpetrator knows he is liable for redress. However, this type of exchange leads to further harm, for the victim wishes harm to the perpetrator, wanting him to suffer for what he did. For this reason more is required than just compensation; the perpetrator has also to atone for the crime.
Only when both victim and perpetrator have harmed each other, lost and suffered in the same measure, can they again feel equal. Only then is peace and reconciliation possible between them and they can either again do each other good, or, if the damage to each other is too great, agree to part peacefully.
Here is an example:
A man told his friend that his wife still held it against him even after twenty years that just after their wedding he had left her alone for six weeks to go on vacation with his parents. It seems they needed a driver and he agreed to it. All of his apologies and pleas for forgiveness had achieved nothing.
The friend told him: “It would be best to tell her that she may ask for or do something for herself that will cost you just as much as it cost her to be left alone twenty years ago.”
The man understood and beamed. Now he felt he had the key that could unlock the door.
Some people may be concerned that reconciliation may only be possible if the innocent party also becomes selfish and claims retribution. However, as the old adage says, “by your fruit shall you be known,” we only need to look at the outcome to be able to judge what is really selfish and what actually serves to enhance balance.
In connection with damage and loss, we experience innocence in various ways. First, we know it by the name of helplessness. Often, only the perpetrator is able to act and the victim must suffer. We judge the guilt of the culprit by the degree of helplessness of the victim, the more helpless the victim the greater the crime. However, after an evil deed has been committed, the victim need not remain helpless. She can demand justice and atonement from the culprit in order to put an end to the guilt and allow for a new beginning. If the victim will not or cannot act, then others may do that for her but with a significant difference: the revenge taken in the name of the victim will be more than if she had demanded justice and revenge on her own behalf. Here is an example:
An older married couple participated in a personal growth workshop, but by the first evening the wife was missing. She resurfaced the next morning and stood in front of her husband with the words: “I’ve spent the night with my lover.” The woman seemed attentive and caring toward all the other group members. Only when she addressed her husband did she seem unhinged. The others couldn’t make out why she was so angry with him, particularly as he didn’t defend himself when confronted by her infidelity; instead, he maintained his cool. In the course of the workshop it emerged that as a child the woman had been sent to the countryside by her father, together with her mother and her siblings. The father remained in town with his girlfriend. Sometimes, he even visited his family with his girlfriend, and his wife served them both without reproach or complaint. She suppressed her rage and her pain, but her children sensed it.
You could call this “heroic virtue,” but the effects are terrible. In human systems, a repressed grudge reappears later precisely in those who have no defense against it. It is mostly the children and grandchildren who take it on without being aware of it. In this way a double shift emerges.
First, there is a shift from the person who suffered onto another. In our example, the shift is from the mother to the daughter. Second, there is a shift to another object. Instead of holding the father responsible, the blame and revenge are transferred onto the innocent husband. This is easier because the husband does not put up any defense, as he loves his wife. In such cases, where the innocent would rather suffer than act, there will soon be many more victims and perpetrators.
The solution in this case would have been for the mother to be openly angry with her husband. Then he would have been obliged to confront his own behavior and it would have led either to a new beginning for the couple or a separation. It is important to note that in our example the daughter not only loves her mother, on whose behalf she exacts revenge, but also her father, whose behavior toward her mother she imitates in her behavior toward her own husband. Here another pattern of guilt/innocence comes into effect: the blind child’s love also blinds her to the order of priority. This innocence makes us blind for the guilt of someone else. As a consequence, people have to become guilty toward others and feel innocent themselves.
Here’s another story with the same theme. A group of childhood friends went to war together, experienced indescribable dangers, and many of them died or suffered severe injuries, but two returned home unharmed. One of the men became very quiet. He knew that his salvation was not his achievement, and he took his life as a gift of grace. The other man boasted of his heroic deeds and the dangers he had escaped. It was as though his experience had been in vain.
Undeserved happiness is often experienced as something threatening that causes anxiety. This has to do with the idea that we secretly suspect that our happiness might tempt fate or elicit the envy of others. It seems that we experience happiness as if we are breaking a taboo, and so it is accompanied by guilt and a sense of anxiety. Gratitude reduces the anxiety. To accept happiness we need humility as well as courage.
An exchange of guilt and innocence is set in motion by this interaction of giving and taking, and it is regulated by a need for balance that is felt by everyone. As soon as balance is achieved, a relationship can either end, or it can, through renewed giving and taking, be rekindled and continue.
There can be no such thing as continuous exchange unless equilibrium is reestablished in between. It is the same as when we are walking. We remain standing still if we insist on maintaining our present balance. But we fall down when we lose it completely. We can only move forward if we alternately risk our balance and then regain it.
Guilt experienced as obligation, and innocence as expectation, act in the service of exchange. With this ongoing exchange we nurture each other’s development and connect positively. This kind of guilt and innocence is therefore a positive force. Through them we experience order and a sense of control. We feel in harmony.
Now my son is growing, so deeply loved
as no one else, my heart attached to him
and I in turn pass on what I was given
to him who will not hand it back to me.
For when he is a man and thinks like men
he will like me take his own chosen path
I‘ll watch him longingly but without envy
as he passes to my grandchild what he owes to me.
Far back in time I watch, composed and happy
the generations play the game of life:
each person smiling passes on the golden ball
and no one turns around to throw it back.
What applies to parents and children and teachers and pupils also applies to other situations where balance cannot be achieved by giving in return, but only by passing on to others what was given.
Lastly, I would like to mention the act of thanking as a balance to giving and taking. In thanking we do not avoid the obligation of returning a gift. However, sometimes it is the only appropriate response available, for instance, if someone is disabled or sick or dying, or even sometimes in the case of a lover.
Besides the need for balance in giving and taking there is also a force of primal love, comparable to the force of gravity, which attracts and binds together members of a social system. This love precedes and accompanies giving and taking. In receiving, gratitude is an expression of this love.
The one who thanks acknowledges: “You are giving to me independently of me being able to return anything to you and therefore I graciously take it from you as a gift.”
The person who accepts the thanks says in effect: “Your love and your acknowledgment of my gift are worth more than anything else you could possibly give to me.”
In thanking we not only confirm each other in what we give but also what we mean to each other.
I am going to tell you a short story. There was once a person who felt indebted to God because he had been saved from a life-threatening situation. He wondered what he could do to show his gratitude. He asked a friend what he might do and the friend imparted the following:
A man loved a woman with all his heart and asked her to marry him. However, she refused him and seemed to have other plans. One day as they were crossing the road a car nearly ran the woman over but the man with utmost presence of mind pulled her out of the way. After he saved her, she turned to him, looked into his eyes and said: “Now I will marry you.”
The storyteller turned to his friend and asked: “How do you think the man felt?” Instead of answering, his friend only grimaced.
“You see,” said the storyteller, “Perhaps God feels the same way about your kind of gratitude.”
Human relationships begin with giving and taking, and with this giving and taking, begins our experience of innocence and guilt. This is so because the one who gives has an expectation and the one who takes feels an obligation. Expectation on the one hand, and obligation on the other, create the basic pattern of guilt and innocence in every relationship. It serves the transaction of giving and taking. Neither giver nor taker will feel satisfied unless the giving and taking is balanced out. This means that the one who takes has to have a chance to give, and the one who gives must also be able to receive. Following is an example of what is at work.
In Africa a missionary was going to be transferred to another area. On the morning of his departure, a man who had been walking for several hours came to the missionary to present him with a small goodbye gift. The missionary realized that the man wished to thank him for having visited him when he was ill. He also understood that the small gift represented a huge sum to the man. The missionary was tempted to hand it back and even to add something to it. However, he thought better of it and accepted the money with gratitude. When we receive a gift from someone – no matter how pleased we are – we lose our independence and innocence. When we take, we feel ourselves to be in debt to the giver. We experience this debt as discomfort and endeavor to free ourselves from this pressure by giving in return. Every gift has this price. Innocence on the other hand we experience as pleasure - the pleasure of having a claim on someone when we have given without taking or given more than we have taken; the pleasure of lightness and freedom, when we owe nothing to anyone, need nothing and take nothing. The deepest satisfaction comes when we have both received and given in equal measure. To reach this place of innocence and to maintain it, there are three typical ways of behaving:
One: Sitting on the Fence
Some wish to preserve their innocence by refusing to participate in any exchange. They would rather shut down than accept anything from others. In this way, they don’t feel obliged to anyone. This is the innocence of the bystanders who do not wish to dirty their hands. Such people often feel special or consider themselves better than others, but at the same time they are often empty and discontented because they live on the sidelines of life.
Many depressives adopt this attitude. Their refusal to take begins with their father or mother, or both parents. Later on, this refusal is transferred to other relationships and onto any good things in the world. These people justify this refusal to take by saying that what is offered is not the right thing or that it is not enough. Some justify their refusal to accept what is offered by saying that it has to do with the inadequacies of the other person. However, the result is always the same: they remain inactive and feel empty.
We see the opposite in those who are willing to take from their parents. These people are able to accept their parents as they are and gratefully acknowledge and accept what is given by them. This receiving is experienced as a constant flow of energy and as happiness. It enables them to have other relationships in which they also give and take in full measure.
Two: The Helper Syndrome
A second way of experiencing innocence is bound up with the feeling of having a claim upon others. It may happen when we have given more to others than they have given to us. This kind of innocence is usually temporary because as soon as we take from the other person, our feeling of entitlement stops.
Some hang on to this sense of entitlement rather than accepting something from others in return. The sentence that goes along with this position might be: “I’d rather you felt an obligation than me.” We find this with many idealists. We know this patter as the “helper syndrome.”
However, such freedom from obligation is not very conducive to good relationships. The partner who wishes only to give maintains a sense of superiority when in fact that feeling should be fleeting because otherwise there is no equality in the relationship. And as he refuses to take anything from others, so others will soon cease to want anything from him. They will withdraw from him or become angry with him. Such helpers remain lonely and embittered.
The third and most beautiful way of experiencing innocence is the feeling of lightness that comes after having both given and received. This exchange of giving and taking is a healthy process in relationships. It means that whoever accepts something from another person gives something of equal proportion in return. What is important is not only the exchange but also the transaction. A small turnover of giving and taking reaps small benefits, while a large turnover allows for richness. It is accompanied by feelings of plenty and happiness. Such happiness does not just drop into our lap. We are the creators of it. A large turnover brings with it feelings of satisfaction and of justice and peace. Of the many possibilities of experiencing innocence, this is the most liberating. Such innocence creates contentment.
There are some relationships, however, in which such release is not possible because there is an inherent disparity between giver and taker that cannot be overcome. This would apply in the case of parents and children, or teachers and pupils. Parents and teachers are first and foremost givers; children and pupils are takers. It is true that parents also receive something from their children, and teachers receive something from their pupils, but this does not remove the disparity; it only softens it.
But parents were themselves once children and teachers were once pupils. Equilibrium is achieved in that they pass on to the next generation what they themselves received. The next generation can do the same in its turn.