Heinz Stark of Bremen, Germany
Heinz Stark was one of the first facilitators to bring Systemic or Family Constellation Work to the United States. From coast to coast he has touched the lives of hundreds of Americans with his strong approach. Since that time, he has instituted a training program for facilitators in which he carefully oversees their learning. In summer, 2005, a collection of his published essays was assembled and published by Many Kites. The book speaks to those deeply involved in the work of Bert Hellinger, but can be read by others not familiar with the work as well
Excerpt from Systemic Constellation as an Art
Imagine having worked continuously as a therapist with a client and having achieved considerable success. The client now gets along well with her pubescent daughter, she takes care of herself consistently, and her inner separation from the dominant mother of her childhood has given way to self-confidence and straightforwardness. Episodes of hypochondria have largely abated and now, long after her divorce, she could again enter into a relationship with a man.
There was, however, one thing that resisted all therapeutic efforts and that was a longing for death that was almost lyrical and erotic. I applied body therapy according to Alexander Lowen’s energetic observations regarding the longing for death; I delved into Freud’s deep psychology hypothesis about the longing for death, I facilitated primal therapy regression work; I did spiritual healing aura work and used art therapy to allow the soul to express itself. All this provided some relief but could not truly help her overcome the symptoms.
When the daughter now also began to paint her room black, I decided to “pull the last ace out of my sleeve” and to stage her own funeral as psychodrama. It was eerie for all those involved, but not for our client; she enjoyed the event with great satisfaction.
I had finally used up my entire arsenal of methods that I had gathered until then. Some time later, during a session, I asked her to repeat after me two simple sentences. She did so, and it had an effect as if lightning had struck!
Her stress disappeared; her body, soul and spirit lightened up visibly, and tears of emotion flowed down her cheeks. We both felt the love that spread through the room.
The curse was broken and her symptom of longing for death went away forever on this day. Repeating two sentences solved a problem that ten years of full immersion into the healing waters of humanistic therapy could not touch. This was a turning point for her in her life and as a client, for it was the end of the therapy.
You can probably imagine that this resounding success jolted me and initiated a major shift in my therapeutic orientation. I was fascinated by the obvious beauty of the approach that combined great effectiveness with amazing simplicity. A new era had begun for me personally, too, and my own difficulties in life began to subside.
Parallel to my psychotherapy work, my art therapy and art courses and workshops, I took part in a new training group in Postural Integration (P.I.) according to Jack Painter, from 1989 to 1992. It was led by the trainers Irmtraud and Anton Eckert, who combined and expanded Jack’s Postural Integration, consisting of Rolfing, Shiatsu and Gestalt Therapy (Fritz Perls), with essential elements of Reichian body psychotherapy (Wilhelm Reich, Alexander Lowen, Gerda Boyesen and others).
Driven by the desire to acquire healing tools that were as holistic as possible and by the nagging feeling that something essential was still missing inside of me, my existence, and my life, I kept traveling to the P.I. training sessions from Northern Germany, where I lived, to Southern Germany, where I was born. It was during this training that I suddenly ran into what at the time was still an entirely local South German phenomenon—a name that had created astonishment and excitement in the informed therapy scene: Bert Hellinger.
I heard one or the other amazing story, I experienced a rudimentary family constellation, and finally I heard an audio tape with a lecture that Bert had held close to Munich with the title: The Orders of Love. I copied the cassette and listened to it several times.
At first it affected me subconsciously, below the level of my attempts to learn Postural Integration. P.I. is a technically very demanding “hands on” method, and there was very much to learn. To me, Bert Hellinger’s sentences sounded strange, as if they had been chiseled in stone and had been carried down from Mount Sinai by Moses to his unsuspecting people. In part, they were diametrically opposed to my leftist liberal way of thinking, and yet they affected me like a creeping infection, which ultimately afflicts all organs and finally also the brain and the soul—especially the soul.
This infection put me into an increasingly heated state of excitement and finally I decided to find out everything I could about it and to fulfill my longing for what was missing in my life. Today I am still learning. At the time, I was more in a state of astonishment and not as certain and as calm as I am today. But even now there is a sense of new beginnings and new discoveries in Systemic Constellation Work.
I hope that you sense some of this in the texts that I am presenting to you in this book, also something of my own awe, and of the enthusiasm that I of course at first wanted to share with the whole world. I remember that later, during my P.I. Master training in Southern France, I tried unsuccessfully to get Jack Painter to become enthusiastic about the “wonderful Systemic Constellation Work.”
It was not until later that I became aware of what a great challenge this work represents, and how much of our liberal and very Anglo-Saxon/American therapy concepts we have to give up, if we truly want to get involved with the depths of phenomenological Constellation Work. It is not only our therapeutic concepts that are at stake, but our entire world view and our view of the human being, in which the isolated actions and efforts of the individual to attain happiness and self-realization constitutes the highest credo.
In the light of the discovery that our lives follow certain orders and that subconscious loyalties and balancing mechanisms affect us through the generations in a kind of common soul of our tribes and families, I found myself forced to give up a considerable number of methods and interventions that had been important to me in my therapeutic work. Other methods I had to at least reevaluate and subordinate to larger and further reaching insights.
In the case of our client with her longing for death, I was dismayed to realize that some of my measures must even have been counterproductive.
So what were the two wondrously effective sentences that I asked her to speak aloud?
They were: “My very dear Father, you died in the war when I was still very small, I never got to know you, but my soul knows you and I am very much drawn to you, an intense longing draws me to you. I now take you into my heart and let you be very close to me here in life, and thus I will live with you in my heart for as long as I am permitted, and then I will come, too.”
Simple, isn’t it? Do you feel what kind of love this is all about?
Love is the essence of Constellation Work; all serious problems come from unconscious love and are solved with conscious love.
Most suicides that I have dealt with in Constellation Work follow exactly this pattern of following someone in death, either in order to be close to the beloved person that one maybe has not even heard of, and that therefore can be totally unknown at the conscious level, or else to save them from death by sacrificing one’s own life.
Yes, that’s right, the latter strangely archaic-sounding movement of the soul toward the dead not only relates to the living, in whose stead one is willing to die (even if the ego resists it), but in a strange elimination of linear time, it actually relates to the dead. I found many things in my life that were caused by such dynamics. In my own first constellation with Bert Hellinger I held my stillborn twin in my arms, and for the first time in my life I felt truly fulfilled. It was the beginning of a reunion with a whole row of ancestors and siblings, and with every new one I felt more complete.
Sacrificing one’s own life for the sake of love, in favor of a person who is about to die, is familiar to us Christians through the behavior that is ascribed to Jesus. This religious desideratum would not be understandable to us normal mortals unless we ourselves potentially have these impulses in our soul.
If you wish to read and think more about such topics, which are not only therapeutically important, but also represent experiences of phenomenological Systemic Constellation Work that are significant in terms of cultural philosophy, then I invite you to read the essay “The Return of the Shamans.”
It deals with nothing less than aspects of the archaic roots of our existence as human beings that still today operate in our souls, either extremely virulently or extremely beneficially. It presents experiences of Constellation Work regarding how we deal especially with the dead and with our ancestors, and how we can let them have a positive effect on us.
The wonderful thing about this phenomenological Constellation Work, where we fully entrust ourselves to the phenomenon, to that which appears, is that such facts, which go far beyond our everyday experiences, scientific research or theoretical concepts, can be experienced so simply.
We learn essential things about invisible connections, interrelationships and existential orientations through the induction into a social system (family) as representatives of relevant elements (persons).
This becomes especially exciting when dealing with those who have been dead for a long time. We suddenly find ourselves in noticeable resonance with their unredeemed actions and behavior during their lifetimes and with their violations of the orders of the soul that still today have an effect on us who are alive. As the connections and backgrounds that usually were unknown up until then become visible, it becomes possible to deal with problems posthumously in a sense.
In the text “The Relationship between the Living and the Dead in Systemic Constellation Work,” you can find essential material about such surprising things and about how we who work with systemic constellations deal with them. In a sense, this text is a continuation and expansion of the previous essay “The Return of the Shamans.”
With the publication of this text in our distinguished journal (Practice of Systemic Constellations), I have, hopefully in a balancing way, intervened in a heated discussion among those in the constellation scene. The discussion began when suddenly some persons, after years of dealing with death and the dead in constellations, were shocked to realize that we are constantly interacting with the dead. This was something that had been totally suppressed from our culture.
In this connection, it was necessary to examine all approaches and attempts at explaining how the transgenerational information phenomena occur. The essay is thus also a contribution toward a theory of phenomenological constellations.
If you have not yet experienced Constellation Work, it may be difficult for you to understand fully everything that is being discussed here. For all the texts that I am presenting to you here were addressed to a lively German and European constellation scene, with the intent of taking a stand regarding questions that have arisen as a result of spreading and deepening the work.
However, I believe and hope that you will have the same experience as I did when I heard Bert Hellinger’s lecture on an audiotape. I hope that you notice the differences between the “common sense” way of understanding life and how we are taught by constellations to see life and human beings. This is a way of seeing that is totally new, and yet it touches on something very old, it is a way of seeing that is related to the soul and familiar to the heart.
Maybe you will feel the same way as the Lakota (Sioux) woman, who at the end of the workshop said: “We always knew what you are practicing here with us, we just forgot it.”
The text about constellation experiences in the Pine Ridge Reservation (Family Constellations on the Reservation) may be a good introduction to the texts for American readers. In this text I deal with a burning problem in American reality, but I also describe experiences that make it possible for us to recognize far-reaching solutions. To me, this text seems best suited for newcomers to the wondrous world of intergenerational Constellation Work, since it tends to follow the American tradition of using a narrative style, even when dealing with factual issues, rather than the German way of writing in a philosophical, analytical way.
However, what my American trainees have learned while going through the translations in the German style is, in addition to the content, it is necessary to pause for a moment and make an effort in order to descend into the depths of Hellinger’s oriented living philosophy. Once you have become interested in Systemic Constellation Work, it should not be difficult for you to do what the trainees were able to do.
If you wish to understand the special requirements involved in a high quality training in Systemic Constellation Work, read my insights in the essay: “Family Constellation is an Art.” In this text, my experiences as an adult educator and art teacher are merged with the training in Systemic Constellation Work. This text is also a rich source for practicing SCW facilitators to reflect on their own virtues and behavior in the constellation process.
As you may have noticed, I find it especially important to train one’s own body as an instrument of perception. For this reason we deal with materialized, embodied character structures that I have begun to expand into systemic contexts. The present essay is a first contribution to this, and others are sure to follow. There are many body-oriented psychotherapists in Germany who, like me, have hit upon Constellation Work and are trying to combine it with their own traditional disciplines. I do this myself in my practice, with respect for both approaches. However, in recognition of the greater scope of phenomenological Constellation Work, I proceed in the opposite order: I follow the question of how insights from body therapy can be incorporated into the phenomenological systemic work. In this way, I slowly delve deeper into the emergence of a Systemic Integrative Therapy (SYIN).
Anyone who deals with the body naturally encounters bodily symptoms and thus the phenomenon of illness, or, broadly speaking, how our body speaks about malfunctions in the common soul body of our family system. In terms of frequency, symptoms of illness naturally represent an important part of our client’s need for solutions. Almost everybody is affected in some way, be it only through the fear of a severe illness, such as cancer.
Recently I was asked to write a contribution for a book about alternative methods of healing cancer by the editors of a well-known talk show on German national TV that deals with problems in life and where I have often represented the position of systemic family constellations in regards to various life problems. I did not want to deny you this contribution, since it again shows in a striking way how we are entwined in love with the fate of those that belong to us in the realm of the living and the dead.
Although the essay “Two Strategies, One Modality” is the next to the last in terms of the sequence of publication, I would like to present this work at the end of this collection, since it is a treatise that points to a possible common future of the constellation movement. In it, I deal with important divergences in the mode of operation and in the philosophical evaluation of the Systemic Constellation Work, which are more suited to split and fragment the movement and that do not let many kites fly in the same wind, which used to be our pride. In this essay I also provide insights that may be important to many constellation facilitators and that are based on experiences of my own, such as the integration of the methods of movement (“movements of the Soul/movement of Spirit”) and the classical constellation method.
May the wealth of my experience that I have laid out here benefit your work, your family and your life.