A recurring theme on social media as we journey through the Pandemic lockdown is a renewed sense of connection and wonderment with the natural world. While fear and anxiety simmer under the surface, the joy of spring transitioning into summer has the potential to soften the impact. Without the usual distractions many of us have found ourselves connecting with nature in a different way.
The burgeoning of new life brings hope. Confirmation, that despite the interruption in our lives, the natural world is unfolding as it should. A reassuring reminder that, as with the changing of the seasons, this pandemic will pass.
The Systemic Principles Embodied in Nature
Principles of natural order maintain coherence and support flow in living systems. These principles – time (who or what came first), place (our belonging in a system) and the balance of exchange (reciprocity) – were first described by Bert Hellinger, the father of systemic constellations. A systemic constellation is simply a living map, representing where you are in relationship to other key elements of a situation you want a fresh perspective on.
Violation of the principles of natural order, whether consciously or unconsciously, will lead to unhelpful dynamics as the system attempts to get back into balance. Systemic constellations are a way of illuminating and settling hidden dynamics. See the resources section at the end of this article for further information.
The natural world is a profound teacher on the principles of natural order:
Time - elements of the natural world have been around longer than the human species in most cases. In acknowledging 'what is' in this context we find our place in respectful relationship to ‘others’. When considered against the longevity of mature trees for example, issues can lose their power to confound.
Place - each element of the natural world takes its rightful place in the system. When something is excluded natural forces will always attempt to ‘re-member it’ through a dynamic. Garden weeds are a good example of natural forces doggedly defying human landscaping creations. The roots remain.
Exchange - the natural world is a labyrinth of reciprocity. Each element playing a part, through give and take, in service of the whole. Plants absorb CO2 and give back Oxygen. The sun heats up and feeds the leaves, the rain cools down and nourishes the roots. Plants die and feed the soil that supports the next generation.
Janine Benyus illustrates beautifully the natural ordering principles with her touching words:
“When we stand in our right place in a long line of organisms and get in touch with the Elders of Nature that have been here on this planet far longer than we have. When we begin to see Life as a source from which everything comes and open up to receive. When order is restored in this way, Nature begins to pass on its wisdom to us in ways that support life”.
Practical Application - Constellations with Nature
How then might we draw on the resources in the natural world to help us process and make sense of what is happening? In the same way that we experience representative energy in systemic constellations, so too can we experience emotions and bodily sensations that originate in elements and organisms of nature.
Constellations with nature have taken two main forms. The first relates to inquiring into human-ecological interaction e.g. “why is this tree failing to thrive and what might help it?” Humans represent the various elements within the system and the constellation is facilitated in the usual way.
The second is where we turn to nature to help us explore an issue e.g. “which aspect of nature would be available to support me with a transition and what might it offer?” In this instance we let the natural world be our guide.
Here are some pointers if you would like to try it out for yourself.
- Take a specific issue that you find yourself reflecting on into a natural environment. Find a place that you connect with in relation to the question you are holding. Move your conscious awareness to your body and open up to encompass the wider natural system.
- Be guided by your felt sense. Be curious about the positioning and shapes of vegetation, the soundscape and any unexpected ‘visitors’ in relation to the issue you are holding. What do you notice when you widen your field of vision? Be aware of any somatic changes as you move around to change your perspective of the constellation.
- Reflect on what you observe. How might it offer you something in support of resolution? See if a sentence emerges....a movement.
You may wish to take a photograph or draw a sketch of your nature constellation and either on your own or with a partner reflect on your experience.
Here are some suggestions to guide sense-making:
- What drew you here?
- What or who is being represented?
- How do the systemic principles of Time, Place or Exchange feature?
- What new information or insights are emerging?
Francesca Mason Boring and Ken Sloan bring together a fascinating collection of case studies by pioneers of systemic constellations with nature. See links and resources section at the end of this article.
Finding our Way Through
In this socially interrupted world we can feel stranded; suspended in time. Yet when we really look, we see that life is continuing all around us. We often experience a sense of belonging when we walk in nature. Tapping into our ‘ecological self’ helps us to step aside from the constraints of our identity and see things from a different life form. Reframing in this way has the potential to broaden and deepen our sense of self as our awareness expands to encompass all life forms.
Constellating with nature during this pandemic is a way of drawing on the healing power of the natural world. And, as if in concert, nature is healing in these simpler, less automated moments in time. We are as one and as spring evolves into summer we will see that we too have been in transition.
A note of thanks to Michael Cahill and John Whittington for their reflections and feedback in the development of this article.
This article is an abridged version of the original which was posted on 30 April 2020 within the private online community for professionals who have trained in Systemic Coaching and Constellations with Coaching Constellations.
Links and Resources
Whittington, J., Systemic Coaching and Constellations: The principles, practices and application for individuals, teams and groups: https://www.coachingconstellations.com/reading
Mason Boring F and Sloan K. E (2013) Returning to Membership in Earth Community: Systemic Constellations with Nature, Stream of Experience Productions, Colorado: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Returning-Membership-Earth-Community-Constellations/dp/098260775X
Roussopoulis, M (2017) Forgotten Connections: http://www.forgottenconnections.org/nature-constellations/
Nipps, L. (2017), Nature Constellations: Going Beyond the Walls, Convivium Constellations: http://www.conviviumconstellations.com/constellations/
"Self Realization: An Ecological Approach to Being in the World," Thinking Like A Mountain, with John Seed, Joanna Macy & Pat Fleming, New Society, 1988: http://www.joannamacy.net/deepecology/the-ecological-self.html
Janine Benyus, On nature as a resource when humans remember their right place belonging and size, Centre for Systemic Constellations: https://www.thecsc.net/on-nature-as-resource-when-humans-remember-their-right-place-belonging-and-size/
Michael Harner, The Foundation for Shamanic Studies: http://www.shamanism.org/
Allan Watts on Being One with the Universe: The Great Awakening: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrJ-zmKq6Dk
"The Hidden Life of Trees" Peter Wohlleben Interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1djibBPOfto