g a t h e r i n g s

The Waiting Room: A Parable

I realize (again) that the time will never be right, that there are no guarantees, that there can never be certainty. I look around the waiting room every time an announcement is made. Destinations rattled off in no particular order. Sometimes someone rises from her seat but just as quickly plops back down as though having misheard, perhaps adjusts her suitcase and brushes off invisible crumbs. Every so often, though, one of us actually leaves. When the door closes, we collectively, silently, without looking at each other, take in a quick shallow breath of the stale air. I watched as a man inches forward, tiny, hardly discernible increments, until he is right there at the threshold, can practically touch the outside. Then another man suddenly jumps up and crosses the floor in long impossible strides, passes the man, moves through and out and gone. The first man turns to us, such sadness in his eyes. I smile, perhaps kindly, as he lets himself give up.

The announcements are incessant. Still, how can one be sure? What if it’s not what we expect? What if we don’t fit in? Can’t keep up? Embarrass ourselves? Get lost? Miss the bus? the train? the flight? the chance?

Why are you all looking at me? Have I stood up? I think I am standing. My legs are making statements my mind doesn’t quite comprehend. You’ll be fine. There’s nothing to worry about. Passivity is not protection. The first step is the first step. It’s not about trusting the world — the world has nothing to prove to you — it’s about trusting yourself in the world.

I look around at the others. Waiting for them who are waiting for me. Destinations being announced, one after the other, options and more options. We are waiting. Here’s the truth about the waiting room, my place on the grimy bench. I am waiting to be lifted by angels, my throat coated with a magic potion, all clarity and sweetness; waiting to be blessed with a magic wand of good fortune and love; waiting to be carried off on gossamer wings. You see, my specialness has registered with those in charge of this sort of thing. What are gossamer wings, by the way?

I can feel someone near me now, hear the faint breath. If I keep going, will it (he or she) move with me? The person taps my shoulder.

“Excuse me, are you leaving?” he asks.
“Yes, I think I am.”
“I haven’t seen anyone return, have you?” he continues.
“No.”
“Are you frightened?”
“A little,” I hear myself say, “but less so now that I am on my feet.”
He whispers, “What’s in your bag?”
“A warm coat, my toothbrush, and a pencil. Oh, and gossamer wings.”
“I see now, that’s why I can’t leave.”
“Okay.”
“I don’t have those wings.”
“Yes, you do,” again, I am aware of my own voice, “we all do.”
“I don’t think so,” he sighs.
“Okay. It’s okay. I am going to keep going.” I pick up my bag.
“You’re leaving me?”
I smile, “Perhaps by staying, it is you who are leaving me?” But he has already returned to his seat.

I feel the well-worn doorknob in my hand. It feels good. The door opens with very little effort. I look back one more time. They are all so beautiful — all kinds of beautiful. The announcements are a soundtrack for the waiting room. I see myself there too, a part of me, looking expectantly.

“C’mon, Little One, it’s time.” I step out.

Contemplation

Constellation is a practice — it is a mindfulness practice. Without this perspective in place, Constellation threatens to be another hallucination to feed our wishful thinking addiction. Early on, Bert Hellinger spoke of human beings’ primary instinct as formed by the need to belong. As with any survival instinct, the need to belong can lead us into dangerous dark alleys or ones so dimly lit that it feels safer to keep repeating patterns than to strike out into the new. The tasks that life hands to us through the conditions of our parents, their circumstances, and the context of community are what we run away from or toward for most of our lives.

Hellinger’s observations about the many dramatic and nuanced ways we stay entangled with our original belonging are often stunning. We nod our heads and think he must be psychic. How can he possibly know that we feel responsible for the early death of our mother and fight each and every day not to follow her? How did he guess that our depression sweeps in on the brink of success? Why are we suddenly inspired when our enslaved great-grandmothers step in to bless our path to freedom? What is the equation that says atonement and loyalty are in some way complementary?

Constellation invites us to understand that our “stuckness,” self-sabotage, anxiety, depression, anger, illness, and other symptoms are likely part of a larger vocabulary, one that came before us, one that expanded or contracted through major events in the local or larger family system — from the early death of a family member to the civil war that has torn an entire community asunder. Constellation sheds light on how the head and the heart collude to try to navigate the convoluted message to grow beyond and to stay behind simultaneously.

The process introduced by Bert Hellinger — drawn from the ancient and the ongoing — allows for the experience of deep inclusion. No matter the particular quality of individuals, Love moves through (the force rather than the sentiment) toward more life. The thing is, insight, even insight that is felt in the body and spirit, must be cultivated in the here-and-now in order to have enduring impact. The application of insight is the gift from and to unfolding life. Once we see that we did not invent our dilemma, that we have been caught in a trap that has trapped others, we must cultivate the new ground — every single day, in various ways, through myriad steps. Yes, we are children of holocausts, all was lost in the fires generations ago, a grandfather stole or was stolen from, earlier children were adopted, aborted, enslaved, institutionalized, our ancestors suffered mightily. At the same time, the belief that those ancestors stand by us steadfastly, that the past is grateful for the future, is the life-force that patiently awaits us. The tiny weed pushing through the crack in the sidewalk; it drinks what it can and brings forward the capacity to hold both growth and connection.

We are magnificent in that capacity — to inhale deeply, exhale fully, and move out from the spheres of despair; to let ourselves feel the palms, muscular and powerful or soft and tiny, at our backs, and to insist on moving with them into the new. This is our duty? I don’t know. Our responsibility? I don’t know. It is clear that the world will go on without any one of us. It is our contributions that make a difference, our little creativities. Ultimately and immediately, “Yes” is a choice, to gently open my palm to the shoulder of the future and breathe forward.

At the Corner of Constellations and Co-dependence

One of the things I have been thinking about is how and why we get into co-dependent relationships. They can be found at home or at work or in our spiritual communities. Anywhere, really. The other question, of course, is how to get out.

Among the many threads holding the co-dependent intimate relationship together are familiarity, fear, insularity, wishing and hoping. As we enter the door of this dynamic (I don’t think of it as a relationship so much as a structure), we bring one of two assumptions with us: we cannot do it alone, or … we cannot do it alone. In the first instance, the assumption seduces us into connection with someone who benefits from our deep feeling of need. In the second, the assumption guides us to fall in love with someone else’s need.

This structure is both powerful and delicate. Because it holds two people in a small space where the world is perceived as inherently threatening, the instinct to stay inside the space is compelling. No matter what is going on inside here, what is out there is worse — a visceral sense of unpredictable. In this small space, the giver maintains her or his connection by giving ever more; the taker is insatiable. But there is giving in the taking and taking in the giving. The couple maintains a kind of balance, the kind that tells us to stay put or risk everything.

Movement forward by one or the other is felt as movement away. Thus, we also see the delicacy of interaction, especially between intimate partners who are highly attuned to the nuances of what is okay and what is not. We know exactly what will be felt as threat — growth. So, we turn our backs on opportunities for growth, on our own evolving futures. And we may also find ourselves pulling our partner back from the brink of change fearing that we will be rejected in the larger world or that we cannot keep up even if invited.

The future comes no matter, of course, as time passes and the future is always right here, but every day we make the decision to stay within the structure, other choices appear dimmer, more distant. We sacrifice ourselves to the partner’s fear, and erase the partner in favor of our own.

When Hellinger speaks of the balance of give and take, he is considering the possibility of relationship that exists outside of the structure designed only to house replication. He is talking about a gentle upward sweep of positive reciprocity. When someone gives you a gift, bother to pay attention, take time to receive it, return the kindness in slightly greater measure. He is, obviously, not speaking of, “You give me a dollar, I’ll give you two.” The gentle upward sweep is made up of countless pauses to receive and to give, an ongoing alertness to the flow of love.

Love is both a noun and a verb. Sometimes we swaddle ourselves in the noun and forfeit the verb. It is usually a mistake, even with our gods. Love can take care of us only if we take care of it.

In co-dependent connection, we bring forward the parent-child relationship so that we end up feeling trapped, not seeing a way out, often seemingly entirely without volition. But out there, not so very far away, beyond the walls surrounding our childhoods, there is a path. First we envision it, imagine it. Then we lift our gaze to meet the horizon, lift a foot and let it settle a little ahead, and feel the other foot catching us. That is a step, a brave act affirmed. Then again and again and again … your partner has a choice now too.

I am not moving away, you call out, I am simply moving. Your partner can do it as well, catch up even. In the bigger field, out from under the rigid parameters of the original structure, people choose each other in a different way — from among the all. They develop a special language of give and take. When the balance tips, partners feel it. When they are navigating from an old timezone — well, it’s already past, nothing to do. When they are both in the great spaciousness of the current timezone, they can reset the compass toward more.