from Issue 27:
Healing Relations between Africa and Europe at a deeper level
A counter-intuitive inflection on the blessings of migration
I am a migrant. I do not live in the country of my birth. I sometimes call myself a ‘migrant of the soul’ because, although I was born in Europe, it was in Africa that I found the connection to my heart, soul and self in ways I was unable to imagine before. When I came to South Africa from Germany as an early twenty-something in the mid-1990s, I had intended to stay for three months. And yet, when I stepped off that plane in Cape Town, someone in me said: ‘Oh, so this is home, thank God’. I knew I would stay. South Africa would become my lover and teacher through early into mid-adulthood. Not that the immediate post-apartheid time was all easy or rosy. Working with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), I accompanied survivors of apartheid to public hearings where they would face their perpetrators. It was heart-wrenching work.
Working with the ‘Healing of Memories’ for some ten years, in workshop after workshop, I was absorbing the stories of trauma and indignity at the core of this young nation. This took care of any fresh-faced imaginations of partaking in some ‘rainbow-miracle’ story of South Africa. Reconciliation was a noble idea. Nelson Mandela and his comrades’ farsightedness had become real in the sense of a new vision carrying the country forward. But the realities breaking forth in people’s stories, their memories of harm incurred throughout the colonial era and under apartheid crept under my skin. Dispossession, slavery, forced labour, violent deaths and unending innovations of cruel ill-treatment and degradation – these experiences were all lodged at a cellular level in the South African psyche, bringing with them painful memories. The connections to the seemingly unending waves of violence, addiction and psycho-pathologies that we see in the post-apartheid period are still evident.
Alongside my colleagues, I often sat with the impossibility and despair of the task of healing this big rift, of standing in the legacy of this crime against humanity, as a white person in particular. Still, I knew I would stay and work for this, live my life here.
What mattered to me then was that I could sit and listen. I was able to stay and bear witness where others had had to turn away in horror or disgust or through paralysing guilt. I somehow had that capacity for remaining present to these pains, and people often asked me why. Perhaps there was some resonance of the latent trans-generational wounds of war in my own lineage. The work resonated with my own quest for healing; yet that I would discover only later when my parents’ realities as war children became known, partly as a result of my engagement with the TRC.
There is another phenomenon to be observed in my migrant story. Many Europeans come to Africa and feel ‘deeply moved’ by the continent. Jung in his visit to Uganda in the early 20th century even spoke of getting in touch again with the ‘original man’ inside of himselfi. Africa has long been subject to a wide variety of fantasies, fallacies and imaginations projected by western minds. My observations are that, as much as Africa also elicits fear and the imagery of ‘darkness’ that aided the colonial mission of economic and religious conquest, most encounters on the continent have an enlivening effect on westerners. Like Barbara Morgan says in her editorial to the last ‘Knowing Field’2, there is the idea of ‘people living more naturally, closer to the land’. Outside urban areas there is also truth to this idea, and healing is to be found in untamed spaces for the pathologies spawned by western progress and mechanisation. In tourist brochures we will find that appeal of less spoilt, vast open landscapes and little shame to depict people as part of the exotic landscape stimulating European fantasies of and longing for ‘the wild’. Now we move within the postcolony in the interplay of fantasy and lived reality, with ongoing mutual projections between black and white, rich and poor, and with the stark legacies of structural violence that continue to exclude and harm across generations. We cannot evade being beneficiaries of privilege and heirs of oppression; we cannot make that our only reality either without getting stuck in guilt, anger and isolation. I choose to stay in the painful consciousness of those realities, and I continue to be deeply touched by the permission to make home on this continent.
Embodying our Knowledge Lineage: a Conversation about Traditional Family Constellations versus Inner Parts Constellations.
Tanja Meyburgh and Karin Huyssen
This conversation took place in 2015 between two respected and highly experienced constellation facilitators in South Africa: Karin Huyssen and Tanja Meyburgh. It is an attempt to explore more of the debate between the value of traditional family constellations versus inner parts constellations that has been arising in the international constellation field over the past few years. As we are each leaning more towards one form of the work (without excluding the other), and value each other’s work and professional reputation, we decided to explore this conversation further for our own personal understanding as well as to make a contribution to the wider constellation field.
Karin: You have made me aware of a worry amongst some family constellations facilitators that traditional constellations are under threat. What is the reason for that concern?
Tanja: I started to articulate what I had noticed over many years when I read Franz Ruppert’s article in issue 19 of The Knowing Field (2012), and then saw the letters of response in issue 20 (2012). I am always surprised to see how some constellation facilitators imply that new work they are doing is ‘better’ rather than just a development from what has come before: a sense that what is new is in some way progress and an improvement. I had often experienced this view in South Africa – that ‘progress’ meant moving on from all that was traditional, non-western. In a conversation with Francesca Mason-Boring, I was reminded that this is something much more widespread in the constellation field and in the world in general. Many people are moving away from traditional constellation work. With traditional constellation work we refer to the early work of Bert Hellinger, as his first students learnt it from him, such as some of our first trainers: Ursula Franke, Guni Baxa and Bertold Ulsamer.
I still work very deeply with the indigenous wisdom contained in Bert Hellinger’s early work, with continued good results, and I see it as the foundation of all further developments in this work. It is curious to me that knowledge lineage is de-valued when applying criticism. It is a modern way of thinking that goes against the essence of this work and is in danger of marginalising indigenous voices.
Tanja: You were trained, as I was, in traditional family constellations, as we learnt from him and his first students in 2003 onwards. In recent years I have seen you offering, writing and using inner constellations more in your work. Firstly, what is your definition of an inner part constellation? And secondly, what has led you to using them more?
Karin: In my understanding, the work with inner parts constellations focuses mostly on intra-psychic dynamics, whereas traditional family constellations focus on intergenerational dynamics. In both we make use of representative perception to get access to information that is hidden or unconscious.
Although I have sometimes worked with inner parts during traditional or structural constellations in the past, my interest was really sparked when I trained in Ego-State Therapy, developed by John and Helen Watkins. It is a very useful model when working with issues around inner conflict, early childhood trauma, severe anxiety, sexual abuse, eating disorders and ‘treatment resistant’ problems. Even if intergenerational dynamics are at play, problem behaviour can only be resolved in the here and now, and often there are inner parts that are literally at war. If a woman desperately wants to lose weight, but she wants to eat a whole cake NOW, although she does not really like cake, it is useful to look at the dynamics between these inner parts.