Interview with Brigitte Champetier de Ribes

January 2014

Q: What is a family constellation?

R: The reply to that question is so complicated that I usually say to people: ‘Attend a constellation and then you will understand!’

Briefly, it is a technique that is not new and that consists in representing people, and by means of this representation, what is invisible, unconscious, emerges; something that causes us to act in a particular way in our everyday lives. Then, thanks to what we can observe, we can understand the forces that move us even though we think that it is us alone who decide our moves, yet ending up in conflicts.

In this way we discover presences, such as the presence of the past. The influence of all what took place before is still here with us, influencing our decisions, our emotions… often in a positive manner, and we don’t realise it, but sometimes leading us to a conflict that has no solution unless we reveal that past.

Q: If I was a child and you had to explain constellations to me, how would you do it?

R: Actually, with children it is much easier! I say to him: “Look, that which you feel or that you don’t understand, imagine your grandfather, imagine a forgotten uncle, imagine a dead child who is calling to be seen and loved, do you understand?” And the child understands immediately. The child can perceive that there isn’t only what is visible but that there are also presences from the past.

And now we need to define the type of presences that are revealed.

What we can observe is precisely that every emotion has a cycle, that every event in our life has a cycle. Something starts and later it will end. This is a reality that has been studied by the Gestalt and that other disciplines have studied in-depth.

When something remains unfinished, when something has not been assumed, it will either weigh on us for the rest of our lives, or if we die without having concluded that situation, a descendant will have to go through it in order to finish it. And if he doesn’t do it, or if he doesn’t understand it, because it doesn’t relate to his experience and it is incoherent with his life, then his descendant, the next generation, will receive this unfinished emotion or this unfinished situation, until someone finally assumes, for instance, some guilt, a great grief such as for a child’s death, or accepting that others may be unpleasant and yet, nonetheless, we still owe them respect…

It is this type of situations that we receive from the past, or that we are going to pass on to the future, to our descendants, every time that we cannot deal with an event or an emotion in our life.

Q: Can that be the karma?

R: I don’t know, I don’t have that belief. In fact, here we don’t speak of beliefs, only about realities that we can observe by means of representations. We refer to this as the phenomenological approach, the phenomenon as such, independently of interpretations. Differently to what is called ‘karma’ and which is linear, cause and effect, this is circular. There is an origin (that we can’t explain); descendants repeat, by resonance, what has been experienced and did not find a conclusion. And if the descendant accomplishes what was left incomplete, the past heals. We can’t explain it but we can see it. The healing of that past in turn enables the healing of a greater circle of descendants down the line in the same family.

Q: So this has to do with blood? Does an adopted child escape this?

R: I would say that this is linked to a resonance rather than to blood ties. There are adopted children who experience serious situations belonging to their adopted family. They do it out of gratitude for their adoptive family. For this reason, it is not only a question of blood ties.

Q: What is life’s aim, life’s goal?

R: First of all, it is a very difficult concept to accept for our current mindset. If we look at animals, plants, we see that their lives are completely in the service of their species, and that it is the same for human beings. For Man, the goal is not individual realisation but participation in the service of his species. This changes completely our view of things. And we sum it up here, in family constellations, stating that we are in the service of life. And while I serve life, I include at once, through my life, everything that exists now and that was before.

Q: What are morphic fields or memory fields?

R: That is an observation made by biologist Rupert Sheldrake. He has discovered –not just him, since others had discovered it well before him, but in our time, he has done a lot of research on it- the existence of morphic or morphogenetic fields, which are memory fields and which accompany everything that exists, allowing every new individual, object, animal, plant or human being, to be continually informed of all the past. We can say that, thanks to that, we can advance. Everyone receives all the previous baggage.

This means that, in an instinctive manner, we repeat the past, independently of constellations, even outside of the systemic domain. We are pushed, driven, by the repetition of that memory field, by the repetition of that which informs us.

Healing can reach the individual, but not through this memory field. It comes from another field; it comes from our connection to something greater, which is not the human systemic field, nor the greater field of the life of the universe. And this is what constitutes the specificity of the New Constellations, this connection to the healing force that surpasses the memory fields.

Q: Spirituality?

R: I would say so. And there is the paradox that the more connected we are to this inexplicable notion, unfathomable for us, the more open we are to it, the more concrete and more palpable it becomes, this which is spiritual. For this reason, I don’t tend to use the word spiritual, or spirituality, even if I imply it, because it is a spirituality that is totally “anchored in the concrete”.

Q: How do we access healing?

R: Healing arrives precisely when we open up beyond the memory fields. The repetition of the past includes repeating beliefs, maintain loyalties, to have the conscience of x, y or z. This is what brings negative consequences to our lives. While openness to what is new, to life, to creativity, means not to have a name, but to be in the present moment, only in the present moment. This is how we access the greatest healing. There we find the healing force, the inherent healing force that all the mystic traditions have described. We connect to that healing force as soon as we are in the present moment and we open to what really is the present moment, and that is when something greater, something infinite, enters, in the present moment. This is what I refer to when I say that “we connect” before beginning to constellate: we connect with something greater, something greater that is in the void, something that can’t be defined. And where do we find emptiness, the void, if it’s not in the atom, for instance? This is to say that we ourselves, every object, everything, is inhabited by That, by something greater. When we are in contact with it, with that knowing, that connection that is gifted to us –because we can only open to it-, it is then when the healing force, the understanding, the energy appears… Sheldrake refers to this change that occurs as “a mutation” in these memory fields: new information enters these fields, enabling the change, a qualitative leap, a quantum leap.

This is what we do in constellations, at our level. We introduce information from outside, and very often this happens as the result of a new awareness. A change is introduced that is recorded in the collective unconscious, in the genetic unconscious, transforming reality gradually.

Q: Emotions and conscience?

R: Regarding the emotional, we can see, thanks to what we can represent here in constellations, and also through Bruce Lipton’s work, that primitive cells already experience what can be interpreted as emotions. It is not something that appeared in life out of the blue one day. It has always been there and it is a movement towards life, towards death, towards reproduction, towards more belonging, towards wellbeing, towards ill being. In the measure that living beings were becoming gradually more complex, those first reactions of wellbeing, ill being, also became more complex, to get to the emotions we know today. It is like a long development of conscience, a conscience which was already present in the first cells also. There is conscience in stones! The atoms of a stone are constituted in the same way as ours.

Q: What about the awakening of consciousness and the law of compensation?

R: The awakening of consciousness concerns all of us at our level, every society on its level, every epoch on its level, because it is something permanent, but which develops at different rhythms. Nowadays, our rhythm of development is very fast.

In the Systemic approach, there is a law, the law of compensation, which states that if someone has become rich at the expense of someone else, his descendants will go through what his victims experienced, out of compensation. They will lose that fortune and fall into ruin. In previous centuries, it took generations for this compensation to happen. Nowadays, it occurs during the life of the person herself, or to her children. The rhythm has accelerated greatly. This means that the rhythm of the awakening of consciousness has also accelerated.

Q: Do all the participants in a constellation benefit from it?

R: I have researched this a bit and I have seen that this is not specific to constellations. There was a group of psychologists in the 1960s that worked in London’s suburbs, and they shared patients belonging to the same family, so that members of the same family would be treated by different therapists of the group. In their monthly meetings, they realised that what a child had successfully overcome in treatment, affected his other family members as if they had also been treated, according to each therapist’s observations. It is a phenomenon that, once observed, is perceived throughout.

And still something else: the discovery of mirror neurons. We experience all what we observe. What is observed is recorded by the brain as a personal experience.

There is also another phenomenon, the phenomenon of resonance, which we can’t still explain through physiology, or physically, which produces healing in other family members even if they were not present at the constellation and did not see it. I don’t know about quantum physics, but those who know something do understand distance healing.

Q: What happens if there is more than one member of the family who is affected?

R: This concerns the systemic dimension. Actually, it has been discovered in schizophrenia, thanks to the researcher from Palo Alto, in the U.S., among others, that a schizophrenic is part of a system and he carries a burden that has been passed on for several generations. If that whole line is not healed, if the origin of schizophrenia does not heal, he who heals only transmits the pathology to others; he returns it to the elder who “passed it on” to him. This is the systemic dimension.

What do we see, therefore? We can see that if a family member heals, his descendants are greatly relieved, because unconsciously the youngest feels obliged to carry the suffering of his elders. And if the one who was sick, because he had said unconsciously to his mother or grandmother “I become sick in your place”, heals, then it will be their mother or grandmother who will become sick. This is why individual healing is not enough and it should be systemic, it ought to be the healing of the group. All the family or all those who have something to do in the matter should be represented, and that’s where there is no danger of the pathology moving to someone else.

Q: How have constellations evolved?

R: They have evolved a lot. At the start, it was a form of psychotherapy in which the therapist worked at the emotional level, and a certain way, imbued of that which characterised the psychotherapy of the 1970s-1980s. Bert Hellinger, the great creator of family constellations, evolved radically towards the end of the 1990s and start of 2000s.

At that time, family constellations ceased being a psychotherapy, to become what he calls a service to life, an awakening of consciousness, the discovery of another way of living. From that moment, we can say that Hellinger discovered a new paradigm, which is aligned with the new paradigm observed from other perspectives, and which implies a very specific philosophy where the instrument is the constellation.

Constellations have a technique and we can observe also that they adapt to the philosophy of the constellator. They are not a fixed, autonomous instrument. Constellations are totally in the service of each constellator’s philosophy, and its results are a consequence of that. That is what Bert Hellinger has taught us, and he repeats it often: I am a philosopher.

Constellations are an instrument that reflect that philosophy, a philosophy that privileges the systemic and the phenomenological approaches. Phenomenology means “here and now”, without protocol. I forget all what I know at the start of a constellation. This is not emotional; it is not a therapy of emotions anymore. It is not theatre either, it is not a psychodrama, it’s no longer that! It’s something different.

For me, the constellation of today has become a meditation, an active meditation. And, like every meditation, it is about opening up to another principle, to another energy, to open up and to let oneself be guided. Constellations of today are that. The constellator connects with something indefinable and he shows and asks all those present to enter into this energy, in such a way that during the constellation, participants themselves, from that meditative state, feel pushed to enter the constellation. When the field needs someone, it is not the constellator anymore who has to think whether to ask this one or that one, the field itself will make representatives join in when it needs to. The meditation takes place in silence, and today’s constellation take place in complete silence. An immense force is felt thanks to that, and the results are much faster than before. Another consequence of this: there are no rules anymore. The only valid rule: if there is a question, I need to connect (with something greater) to obtain the answer; for instance, questions like “what matter to constellate?”, or “can I constellate several times the same subject?”, or “how long shall be left between a constellation and the next?” There are no rules anymore. “Who can constellate?” There are no rules. It is very beautiful… and very demanding at the same time!

Q: And the training for constellators?

R: Yes, I am asked often: then, is there nothing to learn? Of course there is! To be Picasso, it is necessary to know how to draw and paint to perfection. Intuition comes afterwards.

Here, in order to train, each person creates their own course. There are different topics, a number of hours to cover, but each one does it as they feel, at the rhythm that they feel. And attending the workshops they feel they need.

Q: Emotions in family constellations? You said earlier that there is nothing particularly emotional, but I see the room full of boxes of tissues! This means that people cry a lot!

R: Yes!

Well, there are two main emotions, which are love and heartbreak. Other emotions like fear, anger, jealousy, sadness, are like protections against heartbreak. When we open up to heartbreak, it is totally heartrending, but it is very brief, and when it’s over, we are reborn, open to other things. All the other emotions are distractions from this. In that regard, constellations are not emotional. If we are very deeply centered, they don’t allow experiencing those catharses, all those secondary emotions. If nevertheless we experience anger, or fear, that is a sign that we aren’t centered enough.

Here, movements often finish in a silent deep crying, which means healing, which means one has reached the core of the pain, of the trauma, which opens the doors of transformation. Hence the tissues!

Q: Who can be a constellator?

R: Most constellators started because of personal problems. And if someone comes and tells me that he wants to be a constellator, I reply “wait, wait, start attending constellations, and we will see later if you are still interested, whether it is to become a constellator, or it is for yourself!”

The first is a stage of internal cleaning and it means, first of all, to begin a journey of awakening of consciousness, to begin a personal development. Bert Hellinger says this very clearly: constellations have two contexts. The first context is a survival one, the second is this one of personal development. This is what I can confirm in fact: someone comes because of a situation of survival, and the constellation is to help her, whether it is to live better, or to die better. But from the second constellation onwards, the field wants the person to give something in exchange. One of the great laws of the universe is the balance between giving and receiving. Constellations are not the way to solve everything if I don’t give anything in exchange. Therefore, what I give in exchange is practically the only freedom I have, which is to accept or not the life I have.

And it is a long and difficult journey that one which leads to the “yes, I agree to life just as it is; yes, I accept my life as it is; I accept myself just as I am; I accept my parents unconditionally; I accept my life unconditionally”. The “yes” and the “thanks” to that are the two steps a person needs to take if she wants her constellations to be effective.

Very often, within this “yes to my life just as it is and thanks to my life just as it is”, healing takes place practically by itself, because in reality, it is the real journey of healing, the great journey of opening, of awakening of consciousness and development.

All constellations workshops are based on these premises, on our openness to this “yes” and what it means for every aspect of our lives.

In summary, we accept that there is something greater, that we are in the service of our species, of life; we agree to say “yes” to life as it is. From that point, the next stage is the constellations.

So, from that point, each constellations trainee choses his topics as he sees fit, there is no start and there is no end. There is a number of hours to cover, but if someone wants to be a constellator before finishing his training and realises that this works for him, he can do it. There are no rules.

In life, each person is free and responsible for her own actions. I am not the person to judge if you can or you cannot be a constellator. It is a personal decision. Of course, it implies assuming the consequences of our decisions and being responsible for our actions. To help this, there is a specific workshop called “beginning to constellate” where the trainee receives the guidelines to start practicing. Whenever one choses it, there is a constellation related to the person’s capacity to constellate. And it doesn’t matter whether the person has training or not, or comes from any other form of training, in order to do that constellation. And she will receive a very important information about her capacity to constellate or her lack of it, or whether it is not the time yet.

Q: To which extent can a person change?

R: Of course people change. Some people free themselves of loyalties, but at the price of a greater solitude and a great feeling of guilt, which is necessary to be able to accept and integrate.

Bert Hellinger’s great discovery is precisely related to the feeling of guilt. We feel guilty every time we move away from anything that gives us a security, anyone or a group that grants our security. And nothing more. This unpleasant feeling that guilt is, disappears as soon as we return to the previous relationship.

We can observer that this hormonal reaction, this emotion, has been necessary within the development of the human being, for tribes to be able to survive, for each individual to be able to survive within his clan.

Nowadays, thanks to progress, we are not only enabled to, but we are expected to, reach an awakening of consciousness, an individuation of each of us with regards to the clan of origin. This means to separate from our parents first, from family and traditional values. This necessarily creates a feeling of guilt that few people have the strength to stand. That’s why awakenings of consciousness are relatively slow, because it is necessary to be able to put up with its effects. It is necessary to be able to stand separating from anything previous; to stand being criticised, feeling criticised for not being grateful to our parents: “What? Now you don’t have respect for the religion I gave you, the values I taught you?”

Hellinger’s discovery is that the good conscience is an instrument of death, not an instrument of life and love. When we accept having a bad conscience, we become more creative, more humane.

Q: What does a good and a bad conscience mean within this context?

R: To come out of a loyalty creates a bad conscience, while staying within the loyalty, to stay faithful, causes a good conscience.

A little child does anything to feel loyal, and the more loyal he is, the better he feels, the more he feels he belongs to his group. This belonging allows him to perceive himself within the side of the “goodies”, the others are the “baddies”. Thus, to increase my good conscience, I act against “the others”. First, I despise them, and if we are in another context, I may even kill them to be able to feel I belong even more to my group of origin, to be more loyal to them.

This has been Hellinger’s great discovery, and it has caused a lot of rejection, it is a painful awakening of consciousness…

Q: The origins of life on Earth were violent, does this affect us?

R: That statement depends perhaps on what you are looking at. Maybe that moment was violent, but how was the moment that preceded it?

What we observe is that life is energy. The first who opened my eyes to this was John Demartini and quantum physics. I am indebted to him.

Life is energy. Energy does not happen as a continuous flow, but in moments of energy. These moments are produced every time a certain phase is balanced by an opposite phase, a particle by its antiparticle, an electron by a positron, joy by pain, etc. Every time we experience something and its opposite and they balance each other out, energy is produced.

Energy means: strength, love, understanding of anything new, and qualitative change, moving to a new reality. Every time we are in the energy, we are in something new. Therefore, regarding what you described, O.K., there was a violent phase, but that means that there was also a phase that was opposed to the violent one, and that the balance of both produced an incredible moment of energy that enabled the creation of something new: Life.

Interview by Carmelo Latassa and Eva Trota,
creators of the « Grandmother Vision »