Recently at a dinner with three colleagues, I asked them for stories of successful parenting. The first one said, “Don’t ask me.” The second said, “me neither.” The third just smiled and shook her head.
These were mature, successful, highly educated, professionals who were also quite skilled in working with people. All of them had teen age children.
Parenting is one of the most natural jobs in the world, and also one of the most difficult. It brings a mix of joy and challenges, pain and pleasure like few other roles we play. For all of our attempts to give our children a golden palace to live in, there is always the Siddhartha son that puts on his backpack and walks out with a “See ya, Mom.” For all of our attempts to be, and teach respectability, there is the prodigal daughter asking for some cash from Amsterdam. Equally challenging, there are days when we are so stretched that we just lose it, we say harsh things or pull the power trips or act as know-it-alls. We can’t live up to our own ideals of who we think we should be and do the job the way we think we should. We take short term wins in situations that we know are going to lead to long term losses.
While parenting is an old story, in these times, there is a new twist. A changing definition. In the past parenting meant teaching children what they need to learn to carry on with the family tradition. If we come from a family of shoe makers, then the children are trained to be equally good or better shoemakers. Or farmers. Or politicians. Our job as parents was to give children the way to fit the role in society where we were aiming them.
Now the rules are different. We are not just preparing children for their role in society, we are encouraging them to be individuals. Unique people. Living their potential. Respecting their individuality. We want our children to be happy, and we have a glimpse that being happy means doing things that are appropriate for our individual nature. It is a very different world than the one which gives children a fixed role and says, be happy with that role. The new world says, “Be yourself. Happiness is in being yourself.”
How do we grow people up to be happy? Who trained us in the art of happiness? How good were they? Where do we get our ideas of what happiness even is, much less how to make it happen for others? Is happiness a function of getting something that we, when we were children didn’t get? Or is it something different altogether?
Hopefully a fresh look at these things will open our eyes and hearts to the fresh opportunities in being a family unit, and playing our roles as parents.
In these times of everybody living all over the world and doing their own thing, it can be easy to miss the old basic truth of the family.
The Family Tree
This family tree is not just a map of the past genealogies, a diagram of who was born where and who married who. It is a realization that all of us individuals are part of something which is both bigger than us and alive. Our family is a living organic entity. Just like a tree. In fact, a family is a living, dynamic unit of shared resources that has deep roots, a solid trunk, branches, and leaves that reach out to the winds. It carries a natural intelligent movement for copying, modifying, and extending. In this tree are dynamic forces, urges for movement and completion and higher integration. Whether we are father or mother, son or daughter, child or adult, we are all sharing from the same pool of resources. What affects one of us, affects us all. What one of us learns, is also available to all. The stumbling blocks we face are not just ours, and the defeats and victories of any one of the family touch us all.
Our picture of the family tree is similar to the concept of the collective unconscious that the Swiss psychologist CG Jung pioneered. According to Jung, we not only have a personal unconscious which carries the memories of our whole lives, we also are part of a field of collective unconscious. All of our personal psyches have deeper root systems that go far down into the common earth. This collective unconscious shares the experiences and learning of many people. In Jung’s view, even if we stayed home on the farm during the war, we would still feel and be affected by the collective unconscious all of the people who fought in that war—on either side.
A similar notion is expressed through the concept of morphogenetic fields which the biologist Rupert Sheldrake researched. In essence, Sheldrake says that each tree in the forest is linked to other trees through the fields of collective consciousness which he calls morphogenetic fields. Each tree stands alone, and yet each tree shares in the information fields of the whole forest. When one tree is invaded by a bug, many other trees will begin to produce chemicals which will repel that bug. When one tree finds anti-bodies to fight a disease, other trees automatically also start producing these same anti-bodies. These morphogenetic fields carry the evolutionary learning of the forest and pass it on from one generation to the next.
Another researcher, Lynn Taggart, postulates a similar phenomenon in her book, The Field. The Field is a sea of information, energy and consciousness which surrounds and links all the seemingly discreet members of that field. The individual gets information on how to develop from the field of information that it is in. Much of that information is in subtle energy fields that are only in recent years being able to be scientifically measured. Biologists such as Bruce Lipton further show how the field of information that we live in will even modify the DNA in our cells.
The German born priest Bert Hellinger invented a system of working with the family unit as a unit of shared consciousness. He calls his system Family Constellation. His book, Love’s Hidden Symmetry, opens an interesting perspective. In his perspective, the frozen identities that we get into in the family are just on the surface, and under the seemingly discreet identity patterns is a fluid world of shared consciousness. Father and mother and son and daughter are all floating in the same sea and are all sharing in the basic love-field that is natural to the family. Due to our individual experiences, we make identities which are something like icebergs floating in that love-sea of consciousness. Even when the iceberg thinks it is separate from other icebergs or when it even thinks it is separate from the sea, it is clearly not so in the deeper levels. Key to Hellinger’s thesis is the idea that experiences of one member of the family will have a subconscious pull on other members of the family. What happens to one person will be compensated for by others. Especially powerful are the members of the family who have been left out—disgraced, abandoned, lost to wars, lost to alcohol, lost to ambition. The left out members exert strong forces on the collective psyche of the family and its individual members. Everyone is compensating in different ways for everybody else.
What this means on the family level is that the journey(s) we are on as parents are extensions of the journeys of our forefathers; the journeys our children will be on will be extensions of our own journeys. Of course some of these journeys are physical, but more of them are likely to be social. We developed a place in society, and our children are moving from that place into (hopefully) some new places. Other journeys, less appreciated, but equally relevant these days are the journeys of psychological and spiritual maturity. Children will come to the psychological boundaries that we have met, and try their hand at negotiating these boundaries so that they can extend the dimension of human experience available. Our fear will be passed on as their fear, our anger will manifest as their angers. Like a baton in a relay race, we will pass on what we have developed and hope that they can carry that baton a little further, a little more towards its completion than we did. It is the same with the spiritual boundaries that we have lived in. Our spiritual questions will become their spiritual quests. Our answers will be rejected or dropped in hopes of discovering the fresher answers, the more true revelations. We don’t know what they will come up with, but the one thing we do know is that it will be different. For some children, improving the social status is where the journey is at. For others, improving the quality of psychological maturity is the priority. For some other children, the issues are around spiritual maturity. Or all three.
Questioning the Family Tree
With the picture of a family tree comes the obvious questions: if we really are all part of a family tree, why doesn’t it feel that way? Why is it we feel more alone and more separate than included as a member? Do we even want to be a member of our own family tree?
There can be many answers to these questions, some of which lie in the psychological insight of the past twenty years. Perhaps the most basic answer is that we have the most conflict with the people whom we are closest with. The hurt we experience in the family is second only to the hurt that goes on between our own ears. Naturally, we tend to react to this hurt by pulling away and/or fighting. When we don’t know how to renew our relating, one moment of hurt can lead to years of fighting and withdrawal. One bad day of fighting can wipe out weeks of trust building. That’s the way it is.
As it is that in a family there is no way to avoid conflicts, disappointments, hurts, and angers, the tendency is to create a lot of unfeeling psychological buffers to diminish the difficulty of dealing with these things. In these buffers we feel safe and secure, but we also lose contact with the people who could hurt us.
In recent psychological understanding, we see more clearly the roots of our feeling alone and separate even in the close community of a family. We feel alone in the family because of the way we learn to relate within it. A child is on a mission of creating a personality self that other people will like and approve of. It wants and needs to look good in our eyes no matter what. While it is great to have a child who appears honest and kind and reliable and hardworking, what happens to all the other parts of them that we may not approve of? These parts become dis-owned, locked in the basement of the psyche where they can be managed during the day and allowed to howl in the night. Since a substantial part of anyone’s psyche doesn’t fit to a child’s definition of good (usually “good” simply means behavior and appearance that we as adults reward), there is a lot of the real stuff of living that gets thrown out of our personal Doris Day movies. Fear, sadness, crying, anger, frustration, defeat are all not likely to be considered good, and so they are roughly packed off to the dungeons of the psyche.
The end result of this kind of splitting is that children create a system of internal tension, a sense of self that is depending on the “good” part of the self suppressing the “bad” parts of the self. For other people this looks like a successfully raised child: they look good. They say the right things. They keep quiet. They don’t say the wrong things. They don’t need much extra attention. However, for the person who grows up this way, it is a very different experience. Growing up in the commitment of maintaining the need to look good and hide everything that doesn’t look good turns into something of a personal prison camp. The good guys guard the bad ones. Because the bad ones are locked in the dungeon of the unconscious, they gather a lot of power and continually try to break out or take revenge. Just as in the Hellinger work, the rejected part is what has the most power over the whole constellation, so it is in our internal world. The rejected self becomes very powerful and very restless and needs increasingly powerful maintenance from the conscious self in order to keep up the appearances that all is well. In such an internal tension, children feel very alone. In that aloneness, they are very aware that if anybody saw them the way they feel them self, they would reject them. They don’t have many people whom to call friend to the whole self, not many people who they can trust to see all of them. They protect their aloneness and loneliness so that nobody can see the things that really live inside it. 
A third reason we may not feel ourselves as part of the family tree is that we simply don’t want to. We associate parents and grandparents with the kind of authority that tells us what to do and what not to do. Sure, we suspect that they love us, but most of the interaction is not love based. Most of our interaction in childhood becomes approval based. We want them to approve of us. They also are happy to lock into the system of approval and reward and dis-approval and no reward. This kind of system, silly as it is, copes with the two basic needs of the child: to feel wanted and loved, and to know that he and she can cope. A child’s need to feel wanted and loved is immense. Usually that need is not fully met, and there is a lot of fear and pain that follow. As a child we can’t control whether we get love or not, but, with a little training, we can learn to produce a fairly satisfying substitute for love: approval. When we can manage ourselves to play the game the right way, then we get approval. Love is like food and approval is like cookies. When you can’t get a real meal, you can always grab a cookie or two. Not a great system, but it works. Until, that is, they realize we don’t want to perform for approval. That there is a lot more to life than making Mom and Dad say “good boy.” That living inside the little box of what grandma would approve of is simply no fun anymore. That there is a highly creative, intelligent living spirit inside us that wants its own chance to find out how things work, and the answers that Mom and Dad gave aren’t really what they are looking for. Sooner or later, people get tired of cookies and want real food again.
So, it is easy to see how we can come to believe in ourselves as separate, and lose track of the continuity of the family tree. We feel separate, and especially in modern times, we want to be separate so that we can do our own thing.
Even so, in the bigger picture, there is no such thing as this kind of separate. It simply doesn’t exist. While we might train ourselves to feel separate from other people, the fact is we are all part of the same unit. Think of it this way: in spring time, the trunk of the tree sends its sap to make little buds at the end of the branches. In the warmth of the sun, these buds will grow and mature. One day they will break open and turn into leaves. A leaf may look back at the branch and say, “I am different than you. You are hard and wooden and brown and I am green and light and flutter in the winds. You don’t understand me at all!” At one level, this difference appears true. At another level there is no such thing.
Some years ago I was on the side of a mountain in the American southwest. From my vantage point on a rock, I could see a pack of coyotes in the scrub forest about 1 kilometer below me. I gave a call which mimics the sound of a rabbit in distress, and watched as the coyotes swung into action. First they sniffed for the smell of the rabbit and milled around as a pack. Then, two of them trotted out in a wide pincer movement towards my position. One went to the left and the other to the right. They were going to circle around and come up from behind and cut off any escape routes. Two more began a frontal approach, coming straight up the mountain to my position. They waited perfectly for the two circling coyotes to cut off the escape routes before they began their frontal move. The other two lagged behind the group to keep watch on the rock where they had located me and see if there was any movement coming from it. Their attack was a perfectly co-ordinated group effort, yet made with no plan or communication between the individuals.
Even when we don’t feel it or recognize it, there is a similar kind of co-ordination going on in the family units. Often unspoken, often pre-verbal. Still, coherent and co-ordinated. If one member of the family is suffering with stress, anger, insecurity and such, there is a group effort to compensate. Adults, if they are confident enough, may try to talk these things out. Others take it out on tennis and golf balls. Children will vent the energy in the way they play or escape into TV fantasy. Usually, like with the coyotes, the compensation forces move through whoever is most available to them. Equally usually, that is the children. They are more feeling and less fixed in their responses. A child might appear naughty and self-centered when seen as a separate individual. When seen as a part of the whole, the child may be appreciated as vent for the frustration of other people in the family.
For example, we have a family of four. The father, Bill, comes home from work upset because his department is under pressure to cut staff, and he knows that it’s either him or one of his working colleagues that will get the axe. He pours himself a drink and tells his wife, Eva. Eva goes into shock and worry, and says, “Does that mean we might not be able to take the vacation we’ve been planning? I hate this uncertainty all the time!” Bill goes to look for the TV remote, and Eva says, “Don’t let’s talk about it at dinner or we’ll upset the kids.” Dinner is a quiet affair with hardly anyone saying a word. The atmosphere is decidedly chilly. Young William Jr. decides to make some trouble by putting his foot on the foot of his sister Anna. Anna jumps at the sudden contact, and spills her beans on her white dress. She shouts at William, and both of them get a scolding from Eva and sent to their rooms.
If you could see the situation purely energetically without any rights and wrongs to it, then you would see that Bill comes home carrying negative energy. Eva tightens up and does not receive or help him with his negative energy. Both isolate themselves, that is they withdraw into their personal sphere, and in the isolating, they lose contact with the others in the family. With this kind of isolating the negative energy finds its way to discharge through William Jr. and young Anna.
It could happen another way, though, if the parents understood how family dynamics works. Bill could come home upset and frightened, and Eva could say something like, “This must be difficult for you. Let’s take some time to be together here and talk this through.” And Bill could come back with, “Yes, it is difficult for me, and I’m sorry to be bringing it home to you and the family. I know we’ll all find a good way here, just right now it doesn’t look so good.” Anna, meanwhile, notices Mom and Dad sitting on the couch and obviously not in good spirits. Quite on her own she organizes dinner on trays that go with the fold up tables that can be put in front of the couch. William sees what Anna is doing and gets the TV remote so that they can all sit on the couch together and watch a TV show while they have dinner together.
Such a way as this is equally possible when each person doesn’t go into isolation mode.
The appearance of separation is strongest at the personality level. Even in the family, there is a lot of care going on to appear different from other members of the family. Everyone tries their best to appear independent, unique, self-reliant and the like. If Mom wears red lip stick, it will be hard to find a teen age daughter who would touch red lip stick. If Dad wears a suit, you can bet that young Tom is going to show up in jeans. Timmy is not likely going to eat his asparagus no matter how much butter you cook it in.
Yet, there is a lot more to each of us than just the personality and social self. There are deeper, more noble sources flowing through us as well. Many, if not all, of these deeper, noble sources are ones that we have shared with our parents and their parents and the line of our family before them. These deeper streams of consciousness carry the movement of our soul and the longing of our heart. In these places we are at the forefront of a long line of people who also had similar urges in their souls and longings in their hearts. Our ancestors had their chances to actualize their longings, and now it is our turn.
Generally, we have an advantage here. If we haven’t buried our forefathers in the graves of our unconscious minds, we could actually learn a few things about what works and what doesn’t work in the journey of actualization the soul. Whether they were successful or not, there is evolutionary learning that is happening. We can stand in a place that honors and receives that evolutionary learning if we have the maturity to do so. We also have other advantages in the evolutionary movement of the soul. For past generations, the skills and tools and opportunities to manifest these longings and movements were much more limited than what we have now. The articulateness that can express as well as feel love was likely not as developed as what we carry. Our grandparents loved, but they couldn’t communicate that love as precisely as we can. They didn’t have the social skills for unwinding the conflicts and knots that that invariably come between any people who love each other. They didn’t know that love and hate sit on opposite ends of the same see saw, and that it takes both of them for life to really swing.
We as adults stand at the forefront of human development. There is a huge well of experience, learning, adapting that has brought us to who we are today. Even deeper, there is the dedication and intelligence of millions of people who have actively researched into human happiness and dedicated their lives to promoting the common good. The essential noble qualities have survived all the calamities that have come their way, and stand still present in us as they await their further unfolding. The same sun that woke Buddha up in the morning wakes us up, and the same star that guided wise men in the Mideast sky still shines in our skies. Maybe even a little brighter. The love that beats in our hearts is older, wiser, tempered by the fires that have burned it over and over again. Our ability to hear is heightened and our ability to discern has been sharpened.
In our vision of the family tree, the roots of our tree are still sending information up through the tree to the branches and leaves. There are basic impulses that come to us from the far away past of our family tradition. The stones of Vikings and the ships of the sailors and the ploughs of the farmers and the guidelines of integrity still reach through time to us. And the hopes and fears of the men and women who held the stones and sailed the ships and worked the earth are still with us, still looking for a new cycle of completion.
In the trunk of the tree are the voices. Voices of women who lost their love. Men who put their whole life into their work. Stories from the war. Stories of caution and times of scarcity. Voices that ask God, “How could you let this happen?” Songs of a young man on the day when his bride to be said, “Yes.” The markings of beatings and pain and misunderstanding and heartbreak and disappointment are all in these voices. They seem to whisper in our ears, “Don’t do this, don’t trust that, be sure you get this, and avoid that….”all kinds of advice born out of the experience of the old ones in our family.
The family tree carries the markings of the many people—some remembered, most forgotten—who have made it up. It is not just a chart of lines and boxes, it is tapestry of cries and whispers, love, hope, victories and defeats, success and failure, birth and death. In all of these events the persons who lived in them told stories, created vibrations that extend through time and space. They all contributed to the family Field, to the collective unconscious that extends far behind each individual.
While it is possible to think we are separate ourselves from that field and try to go it alone, it is equally possible to sink a little deeper into the field and discover an immense ground of love and support in that field for us. There is a huge swell of encouragement for us to complete what hadn’t been allowed to complete in the past, to actualize the love that hadn’t been actualized in the past, to carry the family torch a little further than other members of the family had been allowed to carry it. While we might remember a grumpy old grandmother who seemed to give us a hard time at every possible chance, when we go into the family field we also find the love quality of her encouragement for us to be our selves and not to get trapped in some of the places where she was trapped and disappointed.
Practical Ways to Explore the Family Tree in Daily Living
One of the first benefits of recognizing the family tree is that it gives you access to a new way of understanding and connecting with your children. When you might want to know what is going on with your child, the family tree offers some very helpful tools. It can show you many of the hidden elements that are going on in your family, as well as the deeper qualities of love that are trying to flow.
Before you do these exercises, here are some suggestions.
- Participate in workshops like Reunion Process with Nishant or in Hellinger Family constellation workshops led by certified instructors. This will give you familiarity with how the process works with many different types of people. Reading the book The Friend by Nishant Matthews or Love’s Hidden Symmetry by Bert Hellinger are also advised.
- Many of the things you may discover will carry some emotional charge. Do not be surprised to find anger, fear, disappointment, hurt, separation and other such emotional states. These are all part of being human and growing up. If you can gracefully explore feeling these things, they will lead you in the direction of solutions and/or creative partnering with your child. Remember an experience such as anger can be a door as much as it can be a wall. Just depends on how you knock on it. Further on we will give some specific guidelines for working with the emotions that you may find.
- After you have experienced the turbulent zones in your child’s psyche you will come to know the inner working of the soul and spirit. In the turbulent zones you will see what your child may be fighting against or running from. In the inner world of the soul and spirit, you will discover what you child is fighting for, and what he or she is running towards. These are the deepest keys you can have, a sense of the movement of your child’s true nature.
- Learn to experience what comes without judgment. Chances are your child is on the journey of completing something that you and your spouse have not managed to complete yet. They are likely to be facing some of your most familiar obstacles, and looking for solutions that have been out of your box. Perhaps you can even learn something here and find a new way of bonding.
- Whatever shows up, please do not use this way of working to either create guilt in yourself or new strategies to improve your kid. Avoid these two pitfalls like the plague! The payoff from this way of working is in understanding, respect, and bonding. This understanding, respect, and bonding can even happen inside you as well as in the way you relate to the rest of your family. That’s what will naturally grow in this kind of work.
- The Dining Room Table exercise:
- This exercise gives you a window into how your child perceives the social dynamics of your family.
- When you want to know what is happening with your son or daughter, take a few minutes when the house is quiet. Go to the dining room table.
- Start with yourself first. Sit where you normally sit and get into the body posture of how your normally sit there. Look at the other chairs around the table as though the normal occupants are in them. See what you feel as you look at each, especially the child you are wishing to explore further.
- Then, go sit in the seat where your child usually sits. Let yourself become them. Get into sitting the way they normally sit. Let your body totally take the same posture, and your breathing take the same rhythms. From that place, look at the seats where the parents usually sit. What do you feel when you look at the parents? What would you have to say to them? What do you hear them saying to you? Also look at where the siblings sit. How do you feel with them? What would you say to them?
- Come back to your own seat at the table. See what happens to you as you open a window into your child’s world.
- Note down the difficulties that your child is facing in each of these relating.
- Note down the type of love that is wanting to be expressed. This may be a little while in revealing itself to you. Even so it is the strongest force inside the psyche.
Example: Suppose you are a mother wanting to make a better connection with 7 year old Sarah. For the moment, let’s just assume that you have two children, a son and Sarah. Let’s also assume that the father normally joins you at the dinner table.
Start with sitting in your own seat. Sit quietly there, and let your body go into the position when it will naturally go when you allow that right now. Promise yourself that in this process there is no right or wrong, so there is no need to judge anything that you discover in yourself or others. Feel into your body. Are there legs under the table that give you a sense of grounding, or is most of you above the table? How is your back? Straight, rigid, slumped, holding up, holding on? What kind of support system do you feel back there? Then check your breathing. How is it moving in your chest and belly? Solar Plexus?
As you look at your child, first notice what happens to your body. Legs….back….chest…breath. Softly pay attention without any kind of performing. Just let it happen naturally. As you pay attention to your body, then softly ask, “What am I feeling here?” Generally, feelings come wrapped in layers so don’t be surprised if one feeling turns into another and that turns into yet another. Maybe a few feelings come, maybe nothing happens. It is OK. Whatever comes, just be friends and interested with it. Know that all feelings will lead to love when they are allowed to flow.
Then go to Sarah’s seat. Get into Sarah’s body position. Does she sit on the front of the chair or the back? Does she feel her legs under the table or is she all up above the table? What is her back and support system like? Her breathing? Close your eyes and feel what it is like on the inside of her face. See if you can feel her heart. Her stomach and solar plexus. What is she feeling?
Allow Sarah to look at her mother. See what happens in Sarah’s body. Where does it open? Where does it tighten up? What happens in Sarah’s solar plexus…tightening or relaxing? What happens in Sarah’s heart? Relaxing? Performing? Opening? Protecting? Close your eyes and ask yourself, what would Sarah like to say to her mother? Just listen for any answer that might come. Then, keeping your eyes closed, reach out one of Sarah’s hands in the direction of her mother. Try to feel what that hand may be reaching out for, what it is inviting or wanting.
This process can take from 10-20 minutes depending on how fast or slow you do it.
After the discovery part, then take some notes for yourself. See what you have learned so far. Remember, whatever shows up, be kind with it.
In time this exercise will broaden out to where you can go further and deeper in the connecting. You can explore conversations between the two seats, or between all the family members. You can also observe what happens to the whole family constellation when any one member makes a change in the direction of love. For the first few times, however, keep it simple. A little bit of information and presence will go a long way.
- The Bedroom exercise:
- This exercise can give you a glimpse into the personal world of your child.
- When the house is quiet, go into your child’s bedroom. Stand in the doorway and sense your own body. Legs, ground, belly, breath, chest, solar plexus, back….Just sense into your body and wait for it to reveal to you what it wants to in this place. As you sense your own body, then ask, what do I feel here on the doorway to Timothy’s bed room? What happens in me as I get close to his inner world? How do I walk in here?
- Sit or lie down on the bed and get into the body position that your child would likely be in. Just feel your way into it.
- From this body position, start to notice what you feel about yourself. What is it like to be in your body? Do you feel much of it? Are you happy? Scared? Hurt? Lonely? What is it that you are looking for? What do you want? If you could ask for what you want, who would you ask, and what would that be?
- Do you like yourself? What are the things that give you the feeling not to like yourself? Where do you feel most comfortable in liking yourself?
- Write down the things you notice about the feelings inside your child. Also write down the deeper love quality that is underneath all of the personality strains. Is it gentleness? Warriorship? Tenderness? Peace making?
Example: Let’s assume that you are the mother who wants a little more connection with her 10 year old son Timothy. Let’s also assume that you are actually able to walk into Timothy’s bedroom and find the bed amidst all the clutter!
In a quiet moment, stand at the door way to his bed room. Sense into your body as described above. Give yourself plenty of time to get a handle on how you approach here. Notice the feelings that come up in you and allow yourself to breathe with them. Wait until you feel your legs are well connected to the ground before going any further in.
When coming to the bed, just get into laying on it the way Timothy normally lies. Don’t think too much about it, just follow the feeling . Explore what your body feels like as Timothy in his bed. Legs, back, weight, arms, solar plexus. How relaxed am I here? Thinking? Feeling?
See if your body wants to move in any way. Allow it to do so. See what feelings come as you allow your body to move. When it gets quiet, ask, “Do I (as Timothy) like myself here?” Why yes and why not? Be open for any surprising answers.
When it is done, come back to the door way. See how you stand in it now. Look at Timothy’s bed as though Timothy is still in it. In a heartful way, tell him “Thank you” and let him know that you love him.
- The School exercise
- This exercise gives a glimpse into how your child is relating to his society.
- When there is the possibility, go to the child’s school. Sit at his or her desk. Let yourself take on the body position of your child. Don’t worry if you don’t know it exactly, just feel your way into it. What do you notice in the legs and feet? Solar plexus? Breathing? Heart? What is happening in the mind…a lot of thinking, confusion, quietness, busyness?
- When you are in the body position of your child, ask, “What is happening with me and this school? How do I relate here? How do I relate with my classmates? With my teachers? What am I learning here?”
- Feel the stresses and strains on the personality system and make notes about that. Also feel the underlying love quality that is trying to come through and write that down.
Example: Let’s assume that you are the father of 14 year old Robert. Robert has been having some uneven performance at school lately, and he seems withdrawn when he comes home.
At Robert’s school desk, let yourself get into the body position of Robert. Is he relaxed, edgy, nervous, attentive? Feel the legs, back, chest, solar plexus, mind, heart….Ask yourself, “What am I feeling here as Robert? Why is it so difficult for me?” Be open to any kinds of answers that may come. Be kind with all of them.
Look around at Robert’s classmates and teacher. See what happens in Robert’s body as you do this. What is he feeling?
When you have taken enough time here, then sit quietly for a moment and connect with Robert’s spirit. Thank him for letting you visit him. If possible, open your heart to Robert and let yourself just connect with him heart to heart. Tell him that it wasn’t easy for you at 14 either. You may or may not be able to help him right now, but you are still very much with him and glad to have him as your son.
Of course, there are many other ways to explore getting to know your child through the family tree. Follow your inspiration to other places where you can get a window into your child’s world. In whatever way you do it, though, please remember the basics. Each member of the family is part of a collective unit. The stresses of one member of the family may be acted out through another. The basic search of the family line will be looking for its completion in the current and future generations.
As with all things, practice really helps. In the beginning you may only be able to sense a few simple things. With a little practice, you will learn to feel a wider range of experiences. You will also learn to ask questions and hear some answers. You will be able to notice that you are feeling something like sad, and in that feeling the sadness of your child be able to ask “Where does this sadness come from? What do you want or need here?” If you have experience in the therapy world, you may even be able to take these explorations into some of the deeper levels. For example, in the feeling sadness, you could learn to ask, “Am I really sad here, or is it something else just a little deeper in? Maybe fear or anger or hurt?”
Building the Personality
Along with being the most current expression of the family tree, your child is in the process of building a personality, building a sense of self that will get him or her through life. They will be constructing a social identity, and learning to identify with what they have constructed. In many ways, this is like building a house, where this house will be their residence, castle, home, face and fortress for most of the rest of their lives.
From a psychological point of view, one could say the child is learning to externalize themselves. They are born in an undifferentiated world of simplicity and bonding, and soon learn to identify with the body self. From the physical self they begin to construct a psychological self. A sense of “me.” The borders of “me” are still quite fuzzy, but there is a sense of “me” being different than “you.” In time, they learn to manage this “me” so that they can create a social self, the personality that will get them through life. This social self carries all the responsibility of making sure “you” will like “me,” that the child can stay in the parents’ good graces, can win friends and influence people, and be part of the gang, even while attempting to look a little different.
Because children are children and are not very sophisticated in their constructions, there is a lot of tension and friction in the process of creating a self. By far the greatest amount of tension is between the natural self and the social self. The natural self is who we feel like we are, and the social self is who we want to be. Since we empower the social self to keep us safe, warm, protected, fed, and liked, we give it a lot of support in subduing the natural self so that we can appear to be the kind of person that other people want. This is especially true for parents—a child will do anything, literally anything, in order to get the love or approval that it associates with survival. Like any good third world country, it gladly sells out its natural resources for the promise of a higher level of well being in the civilized, social world.
A further complication in the construction of the social self is that the social self has the job of making a very wide range of different people happy. It has to please Mom and Dad and grandma and grandpa and the teacher at school and the other kids…it has to look as good as what appears on Sunday at the movies and Friday night on TV. If you happen to be Mom or Dad, you also realize you give your child many different cues on how to act depending on what mood you are in or what has happened in your day. You get the picture. If you try to write down the scripts it takes to make all these different kind of people happy, you realize that the programming is literally impossible.
The main trouble with learning to externalize ourselves is that the process works too well. Progressively and inevitably, our sense of self is transferred out from our core consciousness and its home in the physical body. We lose contact with who we naturally are. In that transfer we create a pretty fancy social self which stands before and guards the natural self. As we lose contact with the natural self, we also lose contact with the natural wisdom of the natural self, and the natural sense of safety that we have in being present in our bodies. Instead, we develop a sense of self which is further away from the core. The more externalized we get, the less safe we feel, the more dependant we are, and the more efforting is needed. We care more about what other people think and say than how we actually feel. We please other people and don’t count the expense of that pleasing effort. We become hugely excited when things go our way, and equally hugely disappointed when things don’t. In short, we sacrifice who we are in order to be who we think we should be.
Because the social self gets all the attention, and the social self has the ability to get us approval, we consider it to be good. We do everything we can to make it a believable, real thing. We flash our image to other people, and we take it to bed with us at night. As we have said before, creating an image and maintaining it against the push and pull of reality takes a lot of energy and consumes a lot of our internal resources. Typically, we end up alienated from our selves, and by extension, from our family and our roots.
As parents we are very concerned with how our child’s character/personality looks, but we have very little awareness of how that appearance is constructed. We seldom get involved with the “how” of how did they make themselves look nice when they were feeling upset? What did they say to themselves to make them study on Saturday night? What do they do inside themselves while mastering the art of table manners? Like in modern politics and business, we don’t pay much attention to how the results are achieved as long as the results look good.
I had a client who was a young man from Argentina. At a very early age (3-4 years old) he was hospitalized for an operation on his lower abdomen. He told me he didn’t remember much of it, but he did remember the hospital staff saying he was a model patient and a really good boy in his stay there. His parents told him that they were really proud of him.
- Twenty five years later here is a man who has difficulty expressing his emotion, especially anything negative. He feels stuck in his relationship. His connection with his own body is fragile, and often he doesn’t really feel himself located in it. His sexual life is lacking. He says he doesn’t feel much grounding from his lower body. It is easy for him to get lost in a lot of thoughts.
With a little breathing and regression work, he realized he was still in the good boy pattern from the hospital. Deep inside, he still felt afraid, trapped, and not free to move. How did he create the good boy?
- Not moving
- Not complaining
- Not asking
- Not feeling
- Not really locating in his body and her feelings.
- Suppressing many of that natural movements of the body and the fears of his heart.
- Telling everybody he was “fine”, for which he was rewarded with the word “brave.”
While these things may or may not have been the most appropriate ways of acting when he was small, invaded, and essentially alone in the hospital, they became core features in his style of being “good” through his whole life. The pictures we make as children of what a good boy or girl is and what a good boy or girl isn’t do not change as we get older. The image we try to create does not grow up. It simply gets layered over or covered over with some more sophisticated imaging, but it still runs things in the back ground. For our young Argentinean, the journey to wholeness and groundedness in his body meant leaving go the confines of being good and starting to live in a bigger broader world where everyone might not call him brave and good.
If our main priority for our children is survival, then we will do everything we can to support the construction and maintenance of the personal survival system, otherwise known as the personality. In tough times when survival is the name of the game, then that is the way to go. However, when we realize that happiness is what we want for our kids, then we also have to realize there is no way for deep and permanent happiness for someone who builds, lives in, maintains, protects, and identifies with an artificially created sense of self. This is especially true when we realize that this artificial self is crudely constructed from childhood impressions. It is more or less akin to giving your 6 year old a hammer, a set of nails, a saw, and some boards and saying—go out and make your house. Here’s some paint so that it will look good. And, as long as it looks good, we never even go inside that house to see how it is made and what it is actually like to live in there.
Besides being crudely made, the personality self has some other structural problems. It is inherently at war with the natural self and maintains a constant persecution on all elements of the natural self that don’t fit its definition of “good.” While the personality self is well known to have stress in dealing with the reality of the outside world, it is equally, if not more, challenged to deal with the reality of the inner world. It stubbornly clings to images of how we should be and does not know how to handle the depth of what we actually are. There is a constant atmosphere of tension in the inner world which tries to assuage itself through projections on other people and imaginations of how things could get better.
The natural self is something like a sleeping beauty that doesn’t want to stay asleep. It was born as a representative of the leading edge of human evolution. It carries the soul movement of the family line and the unfolding intelligence of the family tree. In the core self are noble, deep forces which are like tectonic plates under the earth. When these noble deep forces move, the personality constructions on top experience frightening earth quakes. They wonder, “What will happen if I can no longer maintain good appearances? Will I still be loved? Will I be considered a good colleague at work?” Because the personality has persecuted the natural self for so long and so consistently, it greets any movements of the natural self with fear and suspicion.
The flow of noble forces connecting the roots of the tree to the trunk, branches, and leaves is inevitable as long as the tree is alive. Such a flow is built into the nature of things. It is in the nature of things that the current generation is attempting to extend the range and depth of human consciousness. This is its telios, its raison d’être. The separated, fragmented social self does not have a clue about such things, but the organic true nature of the psyche does. It is still connected to the umbilical cord of the universe, it still responds to the pulse of information and energy that moves through the family tree. The social self will naturally orient to prestige and safety, but the true, natural self will align itself to the movement of reality that comes through its soul.
When we understand the nature of personality creations, then we realize that the happiness of our child is based on synchronizing the personality system with the inner movements of the natural self. While the standard model of personality is to synchronize the personality to external influences to the point of abandoning the internal self, we need to re-balance the situation. The leaves of the tree need to know they are connected to the roots. They need the capacity to receive the information and nourishment of the roots. They need the ability to affirm their own shape and design, even in a forest of trees which may have other shapes and designs in its trees.
What is our role here as parents? How can we assist in the creation of a synchronized sense of self?
The Golden Key: Mutuality.
For as long as there have been families, there have been parents who have worked hard to give their kids a better chance. There is both a natural sense of protection and care that comes with parenting, and the personal promise we make to give our kids a better childhood than we got. Even so, the success rate of happy harmonious families with genuinely synchronized children is very small. Somewhere between the idea and the reality falls the shadow. Somewhere between the intention and the action comes TS Elliot’s proverbial shadow. Perhaps we have been so focused on what we do with children, we have lost track of how we do it.
There is a Golden Key for unlocking a new set of potentials in the family dynamic. That Golden Key is mutuality. Mutuality means a deep understanding that every person in the family is deeply related. We are not just connected, we are all co-creating the family. We are all part of a mutual co-creation of a unit of consciousness. Yes, you are are mother or father and your role is different than that of daughter or son, but even so all of you are co-creating events in the whole unit which are in turn moving through each of the individuals.
In co-creation you realize that your child is the universe’s latest extension of the family tree. They are the current hope of all the ancestors who stand behind you. In them is the potential for noble action and the noble heart that flows deep in the tree’s veins. In them is the potential to remember many of the precious things of life that you have forgotten.
In mutuality is the understanding that you are here as a guide and support for a developing person who is going to expand the range and depth of human consciousness in ways that you have not been able to do. You will be both their teacher and their apprentice. You will be both the giver and receiver. You will offer the love that you know, and in return receive qualities of love that you don’t know. By offering your child this kind of respect, you will encourage your child to offer herself respect. When both of you offer her respect, her social self will not develop into the normal fixed shell that people live in their whole lives. In the respect that you offer–and your child learns to claim– is the potential for unfolding the true individuality of the child. In that individuality is the design and promise of the family tree in all its beauty.
Mutuality. Reflect on it as a Golden Key. Offer it freely, and receive what it brings back to you. Perhaps in the unfolding of your child is some of your unfolding as well.
One of the first things is to realize the importance of your attention. The parents’ attention is food to the child as much as the morning porridge. One feeds the body, the other feeds the developing sense of self. Your child will grow in the direction of your attention and develop according the cues of your attention. Just like a plant will grow towards light, your child will grow towards the light of your attention.
Many times in the day you will see your child’s true nature. It is in the simplicity of their hands, the innocent look in their eyes, the open arms that welcome you home. It is in the self-absorbed way they play with their dolls or model airplanes. It is in the way they try to figure out what to do with the food you have put on their plate. It is there in the way they learn to walk, and in the way they carry their bat to baseball practice. It is open to see when they either do or don’t do their school work.
When you see the true nature in the child, acknowledge it. This doesn’t have to be a formal, big deal. It can just be a smile. It can be a pause between sentences in your lecture. It can come in the form of asking a question and genuinely waiting for an answer. It can come in the words of your heart simply, silently saying, “Wow…I love you. You are really beautiful.” It can come in the thirty seconds pause between getting angry for the mess in the kitchen and the punishment of sending them to their room when you just look in the eye and see the innocence and sorrow of who is there. It can also come as a sense of mutuality, of deep respect. When you are holding your child and feeling them relax into simplicity and true nature, you can also do the same. You can let your child remind you of a world outside the office and the rent to be paid, a world where hope springs fresh and silence and rest are free. In such moments as these, you can enjoy the listening as much as the doing and the talking.
If you wish to go further, explore the practices of sitting in your child’s seat at the dining room table, or sitting on their bed, or going to their desk at school. Let your body get into the position that the child would be in, and feel what information it tells you about the world your child is living in. As we have said before, some of that world will be quite turbulent, and if you have a big enough heart, you can discover the deeper part of the child which is not at all turbulent. Ask yourself, how do I encourage this one who is not turbulent? How do I talk to the part of them who is afraid or angry, and how do I talk to the parts of them that aren’t?
You can see your child as little Billy who is a lot like is father. You can also see your child as humanity’s latest project, an attempt take what you and Billy’s father have learned and take all of that a few steps further. Some of him will be just like you and give you a sense of confirmation. A lot of him will be trying to stretch it out, to be part of a bigger, expanding tree. You can regard him as an uncultured ignorant creature who needs to be taught everything about how to live. You can also see him as the latest model in human evolution which you could possibly learn a few tricks from.
In the process of creating a social self, there is an inevitable quality of splitting. Good and bad. Right and wrong. Like and don’t like. Wanted and not wanted. A second art of parenting is to be friends with both sides—or all sides—of the split. Don’t fall in love with the good girl and don’t be afraid or too harsh with the bad one. In the real world, consciousness is a fluid phenomenon that will freely alternate between poles. In the real world of consciousness, bad will unfold into good if it is supported and allowed. Bad stays bad because it is condemned, judged, and threatened. It never really gets the chance to tell its story. It gets handled as a personal fault, even when it may be equally or more true that the anger of the child is coming as an escape vent for the unexpressed anger of the parents or grandparents.
Equally true, good will harden, decay, and become something of tyrant if it is not perpetually renewed and refreshed. To an immature, child-like mind good appears as fixed standard that we must behave for. Something like the 10 commandments written in stone. For a more mature mind, good is part of a discovery process. It is something that is open to being discovered new each day. Good for a 4 year old is not the same as good for a 6 year old, and neither of these would be the standard for a 12 year old. Good is the result of a discovery process where true nature is allowed to interact with reality. If we get too hard on the discovery, if our children are too afraid of making a wrong choice, then we will encourage children to maintain a contracted, safety-first orientation to life. This will keep them locked in the social self which is built for safety. We will hear a lot of remarks about what a good kid little Sally is, but a contracted Sally is at war inside herself and not really available to the unfolding of the family tree and the longing of the soul.
Bottom line: the social self that we create as kids maintains the appearance of being a fixed, stable thing. Bad is bad and good is good. We make walls in our minds to keep them separate. The true nature of consciousness, however, is that it is an undifferentiated field which gladly polarizes in one direction only to reverse its polarity and flow in the opposite direction. In our body these polarity shifts happen hundreds of times per minute. So, as much as we would like to build our own personal Berlin walls between the good and bad inside, there is a bigger, more natural force that is always working to dissolve the walls so that the intelligence of polarity is allowed to flow. The Chinese got it right when they designed the Yin Yang symbol where dark gives way to light and light then gives way to dark.
Perhaps the most difficult and devastating aspect of being a child in modern society is the feeling of aloneness. Children get a lot of stuff and are encouraged to stay busy until they drop, but deep inside is a terrifying feeling of aloneness. Abandonment. Helplessness. A lot of chaotic activity comes from the attempt to burn off the energy of these feelings. Faced with feeling alone and abandoned, children see their only hope is in integration in the society of the family and the greater society as a whole. The social self is their ticket for just that. As we have shown before, this artificially created social self brings a whole new set of problems with it, including the loss of contact with our body and with the intelligence of our true nature.
A parent who is a Friend to the dis-owned natural self, who can hear the stories of the soul that moves within the child, brings a huge healing potential to a child. The Friend quality transcends the duality of approval that makes the hell that most children live in. A friend embraces the one who is neither good nor bad, the one who is beyond and before the split started. The friend is not afraid of either side of the split, because a parent who is a friend isn’t so busy promoting one side of the personality system that it can pressure another. In precious moments, parents can let their children know, I am with you. I hear you. I trust you. I support you. Even when I don’t fully understand you or what you are trying to do, I respect you.
Because we want our children to do well in the world, we naturally try to teach them the ways of the world. We want to pass on what we have learned, or at least think we have learned. We also want them to look good in the world so that we can be proud of them as brilliant reflections of the family line. As we become more versed in mutuality and the understanding of the family tree, we also realize that the child needs a friend as much as she needs a coach. The parent who is the perfect representative of society at home will only encourage the child to dis-own many important parts of herself which don’t fly easy under the national flag. The dis-owned parts need a friend as much or maybe even more than the “normal” parts. Can we offer them this kind of friendship also? Or do we leave them to the mercy of their own internal dictators?
The Re-Set Button
In all relating there are times when communication gets jammed. This is especially true when the social self doesn’t have the programming to handle things the way it thinks it should.
For these times, we need a re-set button.
If only there were such a magic button that works in our psyche the same way it works on a computer! To understand how to re-set the psyche, we need to look at how we handle conflict, stress, disappointment and other psychological stresses. As a very small infant we had basically two options when he or she feels pain and stress. One is to tighten up the body, to go into some kind of cramp that limits their ability to feel what is bothering them. In the ability to cramp they also get a sense of power in that they are using our muscles to make the pain of our situation diminish. The second option is to simply dissociate away from the body—to leave. When the body is stressed, they just go somewhere else in the mind. They float out of the pain place.
For most people, these two strategies of the infant become the core strategies of dealing with pain and conflict for the rest of their lives. When they get in trouble, they cramp their body. If they are really feeling in trouble, they leave. If there is a danger that something might happen, people often cramp and/or leave even before the show starts. As adults we learn some good tricks to cover these two strategies, but mostly our more elaborate forms of aggression, dissociation, entertainment and such just mask the basic pattern we are in.
Imagine that you are four years old. Every day breakfast comes at 7 AM. Hot, steaming, and good. You love it. On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, here it is and you are a happy camper. Then something happens on Wednesday night where Mom has a big fight with Dad, and on Thursday morning she is crying and there is no breakfast on the table. You go cramp up. You feel fear. You might start crying and be told to shut up by the harassed father who is doing his best to shake some sugar snap cereal out of a box for you. These things happen. The question is, when do you release your fear? On Friday you still carry the memory of Thursday with you. You are not sure if breakfast is going to be there or not. You hold on a little tension in the belly just in case. Over the days and weeks after, you slowly get a little more trust again, but even so there is a slight tension in the belly whenever breakfast time comes and Dad doesn’t appear to be in the best of moods. You probably don’t release your fear until you release the cramp in the body, and the chances are you don’t release that cramp in the body for a very long time. The fear and disappointment stay locked in your body and in the sub-conscious mind for years.
Let’s fast forward to 10 years old. Same story. Breakfast happens beautifully Monday through Wednesday, and on Thursday the system breaks down. Suddenly there you are feeling the same cramp. Same fear. This time a voice inside says, “See, I told you that you can’t trust anybody….If you want something good to happen, you have to do it yourself.” You might even shake some sugar snaps cereal into Dad’s bowl. You eat quickly and grab the bike to school.
Age 16. Mom stayed out late on Wednesday night, and Dad is out of the house. Thursday morning again. You feel something tighten in your solar plexus, the familiar combination of fear and anger come up, and you turn on the TV and catch the morning sports as you eat your sugar snaps before heading out to school. On the way out the door you already have the MP3 player going. Loud. You don’t care if you are late or not.
Age 28. You are in your second job and the honeymoon is over. Thursday morning again. She calls out of the bedroom, “Sorry honey. I have a headache today. Can you fix your own breakfast?” There it is again. The same cramp in the belly. The same parade of fear, anger, frustration. You don’t say anything as you grab the car keys and try to beat the morning traffic. If you are lucky, you can catch McDonalds on your way to work. Already you are planning the best way to get your business deal through today.
Because we don’t know how to do a re-set switch, we continue to live in old reaction patterns. We may improvise a little here and there away from those patterns, but we play basically from the same place. Every time we go back into the old familiar cramp, we go back into the old familiar identity of the hurt child who created the cramp. Almost all of the time, that means we suddenly are back living at an earlier age and trying to live our present life from the point of view of being much younger than we actually are. Even when we are 28, when we go back into the cramp of the four year old, we are suddenly in the same feelings of fear and feeling uncared for. We lose our adult reality here and feel like we are kids again.
From the world of Trauma Therapy, especially the Somatic Experiencing pioneered by Stephen Levine, there are many outstanding tips about helping release the cramp patterns that continually re-connect us to childhood trauma. One good book is Waking the Tiger by Stephen Levine. Another is Trauma Proofing your Kids by Levine and Kline. Probably the most helpful point they raise is that emotion gets locked in the body through the cramping patterns we create. By shaking and breathing, we can release the cramp patterns and in turn allow the nervous system a chance to re-set to present time.
When we approach our children from the point of the Golden Key, mutuality, we add another dimension to these stories. We see that children do not cramp in isolation, that the cramps of our children come as co-creations in the family field. In this vision, we become big enough to include our own self in the same field as the child. Nothing in that field is created in isolation. We are making a mutual creation. In this picture, we see our child’s cramp is somehow related to something in us, and that if we want an efficient way of re-setting our child’s cramp, the releasing our own cramps is a helpful invitation.
Remember in the family constellation view, we are all in the same fluid field of consciousness. We are separated in the fixed nature of our personality, but underneath our personal icebergs we are all part of the same ocean. Whenever one of us can release the tension of our ice and become more fluid again, then we can invite others to do the same thing. If the parent stays fixed and says to the child, “You have to unwind your feelings,” then that can have some limited effect for a few years. However, if the parent is willing to unwind her feelings (also with shaking, breathing, counseling, laughing, and crying), then that creates an invitation for the child to unwind his feelings. The quickest way for a child to get to their re-set button is to feel that the parents have come to their re-set button first. For the more compassion oriented parent, it is also possible to unwind some of the child’s cramping patterns by taking them into your own body and discharging them through your own movement, breath, and heart awareness.
The style of relating to difficult experience by cramping creates the illusion that we are in control and that we can shut off/down what we don’t want. The hidden cost of relating to our experience through cramping is that every time we go into a familiar cramp, we re-inforce the felt sense of being young, small, helpless, and in trouble. Every time we cramp, we also regress to the identity of the person who taught us that cramp. We hand over the car keys to our inner four year old and say, “You get me out of this mess.”
A much better option is to learn to flow. Allow the body to move (Body Flow), allow the breath to move, allow the feelings to move, allow yourself to settle down and into whatever is happening. In the flow of the body we will find the wisdom of the body, and we will also find the resources appropriate to our current age. In a fixed identity pattern, we have a fixed, limited set of resources. In a fluid sense of self, our set of resources expands exponentially. When we are flowing and available to our resources, we discover two miracles on a daily basis. One is that we can actually handle the situation from our present tense sense of self. The second is that there is a lot of help available. Some of that help comes from the liberated resources of our own body mind, a lot of it comes from the accumulated resources of the whole family tree.
Again, the key here is to become aware of your self as parent in the same field as your child. What is happening in that field is a co-creation. If you can un-create or discharge your cramped identity, that offers a lot of support for your child to do the same. If you stay tight and fixed and tell your child to change, then the child will hear one thing and see and feel another. This style won’t produce great long term results.
A Pearl is an exquisite example of the beauty that can come from irritation. In the natural world, pearls are made when a grain of sand slips inside an oyster’s shell and creates irritation to the soft inner part of the oyster. In the language of consciousness, pearls have come to symbolize the jewels that are made when we can allow irritation and not clam up, not close down our protective shell, but rather allow the external irritation to interact with the softer parts of our heart and soul. Human pearls are a combination of creative tenderness (the soft heart) and irritation (the sand). When we can use the creative intelligence of our soft heart, then any and all experiences can bring out the pearl in us.
The Pearly consciousness is soft, white, almost translucent. It is made of self acceptance mixed with the natural intelligence of a soft heart. We become Pearly when we accept and work with our experiences—especially those of our limited, imperfect self—in such a way that the goodness of our natural self is provoked into creativity.
Most of us have been taught to strive for the perfect self. This leads to all kinds of self criticism, self improvement, estrangement from ourselves and others. Believe me, the perfect parent is afraid of their children. The perfect children will grow up to be strangers to the perfect parents. The pearly self is just fine with its imperfections. It doesn’t run from anger and fear, or fall apart to sadness. Even in anger, fear, sadness, there is an inner light on, a taste of awareness and compassion and self acceptance.
Pearls don’t look for perfection. They are the gifts of Wholeness.
Their beauty is a reminder of what is possible through the tender heart.
What is it to be Pearly Parents?
It starts with the understandings of the family tree as a living, organic unit of shared consciousness. In that understanding, we are all co-creating whatever is going on. Of course the easiest thing is to take the high ground of being the perfect parent, and to see that the trouble in the family is coming from the child’s position. While that is the easier way, it is also a way that has been well researched in 4,000 years of human history and showing very little in the way of positive results.
If we are to take responsibility of co-creating whatever situation we are in, then the first responsible act is to be aware…and to be kind. Like the airplane masks that drop down when the plane has run out of oxygen, first put your own oxygen mask on before helping others. That means first bring that awareness and acceptance to yourself before offering it to your child.
For example, at four thirty in the afternoon, you come into the kitchen from a long phone call with your mother, and all you can see are chocolate stains on the cabinets and floor and your little Charles looking up at you with a silly dark brown smile on his face. A few instant expletives are in your mouth and your hands are slightly clenched with tension. The idea, “There goes the dessert I was making for dinner tonight,” dances through the war zone of your mind. You know you could get angry here, very angry. Not only could get angry, more likely already are very angry. Equally so, you could lose it, and just drop down on the floor and cry….”Why? Why me?”
Time to drop the oxygen mask. Feel yourself, accept the irritation of the moment, and be kind. Be kind to the mother who is frustrated and angry. Be kind to the mother who feels self pity. Feel her trembling legs…and simply be kind and accept that this is how she is right now. If possible, allow yourself to breathe until you really settle down into this is what it is: “my perfect little plan just got blown up.”
After a few moments of acceptance and kindness comes a set of choices. One choice is to slam the oyster shell shut, hustle Charles to the bath and his room and tell him to not come out again for a long time if he knows what is good for him. Then you can clean the kitchen and think of plan B for dessert. A second choice is to wake up to the situation: there is a Pearl here. Something very beautiful can come out of this mess if I hang in here long enough and kind enough to let my heart to the work. Often in the dark night of the pearl, one of the first rays of light comes through as a sense of humor. You might even have a little dark smile at what is happening. There might be a smile at your rage or your frustration or how much you hate it when your plans get blown up. With a little kindness you might even catch your desire for revenge: ”you know Charles, if you were not my beloved little son, I would probably….”
If you have the resources to stay present with yourself here, you might even find yourself becoming a little bigger in your awareness: “I bet I am not the first woman in my family line to have such a scene going on in her kitchen. They probably didn’t have as much chocolate to clean up as I do, but I bet they didn’t have as good a set of chemicals as I have either…”
You might even suspect that your mother faced the same situation with you. Hmmmmmmmm. Suddenly you are not alone, you are part of a bigger family. You realize that you can do the normal angry mother thing here, and also equally possible you can team up with the family line and take its love quality a step further. Just the possibility of that second option brings a new quality of warmth in your heart. You realize that there is a Pearl in your kitchen and that your choices now can affect a whole lot of people. Even in the mess, anger, shaky legs, and likelihood of Jell-o for dessert, you feel a little grateful for the realness and goodness that is dropping into your kitchen this afternoon.
When your husband comes home from work, you find yourself really happy to see him. Seems like he is even more good looking than when he went to work this morning….
Pearls can happen anywhere and everywhere. You can find them while eating popcorn at your son’s little league baseball game. You can find them while racing to get everybody out the door to work and school in the morning. It’s true, I haven’t found many of them in front of the TV set, but the rest of the house is fair game, for sure.
The opening of the Pearl is a willingness to be present and kind to what is. This could be anger, frustration, boredom…you name it. With kindness and acceptance you realize you have a choice: clam shell up or clam shell down. Be kind with yourself either way. One leads you into a bigger world, a world of softer heart and a huge sea of resources, the other takes you into the security of a known fixed response that probably hasn’t killed too many people over the last forty years.
The second quality of the Pearl is that it is not especially result oriented. “What do I do here?” and “What do I make him do here?” are not the questions of the Pearl. The Pearl is about simply being with. Accepting. Kind. Staying with. Not separating. Not improving. Not fixing. Not managing….being with. In the surrending of our attempts to fix, improve, escape, blame, deny and change what is happening, we open a possibility of a deeper layer of heartful response. We may not know exactly how our heart will respond, but the way to find out is with open hands. If we run our usual result oriented programs, we will get some changes, but we don’t get the kind of changes that come out of a Pearly heart.
This doesn’t mean we are all sweetness and light all the time. One of the best stories of successful parenting I can remember from my growing up in Missouri is the night my brother and I came in the house early for dinner. My mother asked what was going on that would have her boys in the house while there was still such a beautiful day for playing outside. We hung our heads a little, and told her that the neighborhood bullies had come over with a big stick and had chased us out of the yard. My mother told us to look her straight in the eye. She said, “No sons of mine are going to get dinner on a night when they have been chased out of their own back yard. Go to your room and do your homework. I’ll bring you some food later.”
You can imagine what happened the next afternoon when the bullies came back, this time carrying and axe with them as well as the big stick. We told them we were not going to run away, and that they had to put the axe down. The bigger one, 5 years older than me, laughed as he dropped his axe to the ground. We were way too small and young to handle him, much less him and his brother. Somehow, with our mother’s indignation at our back, we jumped him and thoroughly beat up both of the bullies to the point where they ran from our yard crying. They never came back again. Dinner that night was really tasty. And my brother and I were a team that was ready to take on the world.
There was a Pearl offered there that has stayed with both of us ever since.
When we leave the situation open enough to allow a Pearl to be formed, usually there is some discomfort, some not knowing how to deal with the situation. If we can find our peace with that discomfort, it will open up and reveal a new way to us. A way beyond the limitations that we had usually been operating in. Often in that new way we come to experience again the noble quality of our core nature, the basic goodness that we were born with. As we dare to embody that noble quality, we also come to sense our self as taking part in the stream of intelligence that is flowing through our family tree. Not only are we connected all the way down the roots, we are also part of the organic growth of our tree towards its light. We are part of a movement towards light which renews the whole tree just as the roots nourish it from the dark.
In such moments there is only gratefulness for all that has come before and all that will come after.
These kind of moments offer renewal, a deep re-set of all the stuff that builds up in the daily grind of being part of a family. Even when they come few and far between, the Pearls of these moments last a long time and their light shines even on days when the March winds blow cold and nobody in the house is listening to you and you are wondering if you really did make the right choice in your life. It just takes one Pearl to let us that they are possible, and a few Pearls to let us know for sure that they can be made from the goodness of our heart whenever we can allow that heart to be available.
 For a more complete description of the child’s way of creating a personality self, please see The Friend by Nishant Matthews. O-books, UK. Pages 197-220.
 Information on the Reunion workshops can be found at Body and Beyond.nl website
 In the Netherlands, Elly Te Brake of Bussum is a highly recommended Hellinger practitioner.
 For a more detailed understanding of the process of building a personality, please read The Friend, O-books, Nishant Matthews.
 Please don’t take this insight as a guilt trip. If that starts to happen, then please see a competent therapist or priest.
 For more information on compassion work, please see The Friend by Nishant Matthews (O-books, 2010) and/or the works of the Buddhist nun Pema Chodron.
 For information on Body Flow, please see The Friend, Nishant Matthews, O-books 2010.