Constellation workshops with Marcos Frangos at Hazel Hill Wood

So here we are, early Spring, and I’m writing this blog to set out my stall for the three forthcoming constellation workshops at Hazel Hill Wood 11-12 May, 21-22 September, 14-15 December

This blog is to give you a feel for these workshops. I want to also share a little about the name: “Wellspring of Wellbeing”, and how that relates to my constellation work and approach. I’m hoping to provide some useful background to constellations, especially if you’re new to this, and I’ll also share the broad format for the workshops so you’ll know what to expect when you come along.

Marcos HeadshotA mini biog for Marcos Frangos: At work I have two main roles: I manage a charity that owns a magical 70-acre educational woodland called Hazel Hill Wood with eco-buildings where we run a variety of workshops. I also run my own company called Wellspring Change that provides consultancy to individuals and organisations around wellbeing and organisational change. I frequently weave constellations as a tool into all my work.

Some personal information: I’m of Greek heritage, and I am a UK citizen. Both my parents are Greek, from the Aegean island of Chios. I was born and educated in the UK, and have lived in Winchester (South of England) for over 15 years. I started off my professional life as a trainee architect, I then studied and worked as a person-centred counsellor and subsequently enjoyed a career in inclusion of disabled people into buildings. I have a long-held interest in people and organisations and what makes them tick, how we make meaning out of the challenges and opportunities before us. A few years ago I did a formal two-year training course to become a facilitator of constellations in Oxford, with ‘Core Constellations, Theory & Practice’. This provided exposure to many different approaches to constellations. I have been privileged to learn from very experienced and gifted facilitators: Albrecht Marr, Vivian Broughton, Barbara Morgan, Jan Jacob Stam and many others. I continue to do my regular personal and professional supervision work with a constellations peer group in Oxford, and I am also in 1-1 psychotherapy.

So, why “Wellspring of Wellbeing?” The name “Wellspring of wellbeing” is what I use for my constellation workshops and is inspired by the Greek “Zoothoxou Pigi”. It literally means the Wellspring of Life. Interestingly this name is often synonymous with the Virgin Mary in the Greek Orthodox tradition. I resonate with this name because I believe each of us can access our own wellspring of wellbeing. It’s that part of us that deeply knows, that deeply understands what we seek, that recognises what we need to learn through our experience to become more fully present, more fully expressed and more vital as a human being. My personal image when I think of a wellspring of wellbeing is an ever-present flow of water that springs forth directly out of the earth – like a bubbling brook through our inner landscape – always in flux and flow.

_MG_1174The concept of ‘flow’ is central to me in life and in constellations. When you’re in flow, you probably recognise that experience of things falling into place with ease, of serendipity and meeting just the right person at the right time. In this state, we’re open to experience and to learning and life feels exciting, limitless and creative. Conversely when we’re out of flow, or feel stuck, there are often inner reasons why we’ve closed our connection to our inner wellspring – out of fear, self-limiting beliefs, past traumas etc.  All of these can lead us to create ‘stories’ that we tell ourselves. In one sense, these stories are helpful, they help us to survive, often through very challenging life circumstances – perhaps they even kept us alive. I tread with deepest respect for these stories – they have a purpose. But, they can limit us too. In a future blog I’ll share a story about how wild elephants are tamed that relates to this theme.

So what are family constellations and how can they help? This approach is borne out of the work of Bert Hellinger and is often referred to as “Family Constellations”. Bert developed this approach over 30 years ago working with families by looking ‘systemically’ at the whole family system to understand the challenges facing the individual. Within his work as a family therapist he also integrated many years of being a missionary priest in Africa working with indigenous tribes who taught him about shamanic traditions that consciously include working with the ancestors.

P1030014No person is an island. We are all part of multiple systems to which we belong, to our birth family, our national heritage, our ancestors, our organisational systems at work, the professions we belong to, our religion, our belief systems and so on. The systems that we belong to can be complex: consciously or at a sub-conscious level we are in a continual dance between ‘belonging’ to the system, which is a very fundamental need, and the impulse to ‘individuate’ and be a fully expressed human being. The tension arises because if we are fully ourselves, the chances are that we will at some point challenge the systems we belong to and their norms. Systems have a life and organising mind of their own, they too like individuals, are in continual flux trying to reach as balanced a position as possible given continually changing circumstances. Systems too will try and organise themselves to achieve as broad an integration of all the aspects within them, but they also exclude that which threatens their coherence.

Constellations are a wonderful tool to help reveal sometimes hidden dynamics and forces that are influencing the individual in the dance with the system(s) in which they’re operating.

How is a constellation set up in a workshop?

A constellation is usually focused around an individual that I normally call the ‘client’. Let’s imagine you’re the client. We’d start by sitting side by side in the initial part of the process and my role is to help you clarify your inner question. For example it might be a question about next steps in your career, or perhaps a more existential question like: ‘I want to feel more alive’ or ‘I don’t understand why I am so unhappy’. Through a process of deep listening and enquiry, I try and help you get as clear as you can about what you’re seeking, so you can formulate your inner question into a succinct sentence that resonates deeply for you. This is an important part of the exploration. Sometimes we find that your first presenting question actually has its roots in deeper sub-questions, which Bert Hellinger called ‘movement of the soul’.

Round House Hazel Hill WoodOnce your intention is clear, we establish who are the key players or the key aspects in your question. It’s not only people that are represented in a constellation, you can represent anything in a constellation, for example someone might represent a country or a nation. Imagine we’re co-creating a movie, and you’re the Director and it is you who decides which parts are needed to be represented in the first scene to place your inner question in the right context. Other parts or characters might of course come in as representatives in later scenes, but I like to start a constellation keeping things simple.

Representatives in constellations

Once we’ve agreed who needs to be in the constellation, I’ll invite you to choose fellow participants to ‘represent’ the different aspects of your inner question. One by one you choose and then physically place each individual representative somewhere in the room where we are working. We then stand back from the constellation and observe the movements that follow for the representatives. It’s like a 3 dimensional sculpture of your question, with human beings representing the different forces and dynamics. The role of each representative is to embody the representation as fully and authentically as they can.

As a representative you’re not following a script like you would as an actor. You’re invited to express and embody what shows up in you. I often say to representatives ‘use ALL your ways of knowing’ and follow your inner movements and promptings as honestly as you can – it’s not about winning the Oscars for best dramatic performance. There is no special training required to be a representative, I believe we all have the capacity to step into another person’s life situation and feel into what’s happening.

Hazel vs. Hornbeam (the fate of best-laid plans)

Cutting back the Brambles at Hazel Hill Woods

Written by Oliver Broadbent and originally published on his blog at http://eiffelover.com

A recent weekend of conservation work Hazel Hill Woods has revealed to me another woodland analogy for the struggles of daily life, and how we might overcome them. I am calling the analogy, Hazel vs. Hornbeam (the Fate of Best-laid plans).

It emerged when a team of us at the woods were cutting back an area of regenerating hornbeam trees in a clearing. In this patch the hornbeam had shot up to a dense crowd of 6ft-tall finger-thick stems, knitted together with a head-height mat of bramble. Our conservation aim had been to cut these back to chest height to stop them from encroaching on an important butterfly corridor through the woods.

As we slowly cut our way into the dense thicket we started to discover small trees in protective tubes that were being crowded out by the hornbeam and strangled by the bramble. As we uncovered more hidden trees in tubes, we realised that there was a whole array of them that had once been planted. We found hazel, oak, ash, holy and blackthorn struggling to grow in their protective tubes. They had been planted on another conservation weekend years ago but had been forgotten about, and were now being smothered by the naturally regenerating growth.

The woodland context

There is a hundred-year plan at Hazel Hill to transform the forest ecosystem from that of a commercial wood, in which just a few species grow, into a much more biodiverse environment, which is much more likely to be resilient to changes in climate. The area in which we were working had previously been occupied by sycamore trees. This undesirable species had been cleared with a grant from the forestry commission, and in the clearing created, a range of broadleaf species had been planted (the hazel, oak and ash), along with shrubs (the holly and the blackthorn) to create ground-level growth, which had been absent in the commercial forest.

Left to its own devices however, naturally regenerating hornbeam and bramble had quickly grown up and overtaken the planted trees. The former were on the way to winning, the battle for light, already killing some of the latter , and leaving the others struggling. In the short-run there is nothing wrong with hornbeam and bramble, but their short-term success was putting at risk the long-term resilience of the wood by preventing the development of a diverse tree species.

Best laid plans

For me, those broadleaf trees in their little tubes represent best laid plans that were being left unattended because of short-term factors. There are competing conservation priorities in the woods, and these planted trees had been left unattended. Our attention is the light that enables our best-laid plans to flourish. But too often we are forced to direct our attention towards short-term priorities: the deadlines that need to be met, the clothes that need to be folded, the colleagues that need to be briefed, the clients that need to be satisfied.

In the short-term these more immediate matters flourish as they benefit from our attention, but they don’t necessarily lead us to where we want to be. As you wade into the thicket of regrowth, all is lush and green at the top, benefiting as it does from the light of the forest clearing, but underneath, all is brown – there is no diversity. Down there is where our best-laid plans languish.

The feeling of being surrounded

At one point, four of us were working simultaneously and in close proximity in the same thicket. Though we were probably only a few metres apart we couldn’t see each other for all the hornbeam branches and briars that surrounded us. At times, our repeated cuts didn’t seem to be making a difference. I’d turn around and the path that I had driven would have closed in behind me.

This is what it can be like when we feel overwhelmed with matters competing for our attention. After some struggling, my strategy became to just to keep going in one direction. After a sustained, focused effort the lattice of branches and brambles would suddenly give way. A sense of being surrounded turned into a sense of direction; of liberation: I felt freer, able to pause and choose where to go next.

Cutting back our brambles

As I type, I still have some small scratches on my arms from cutting back the brambles. Clearing away some of the things which grab our attention can hurt. There is the pain of letting someone down, or the fear of getting into trouble. But what I noticed as I cut through barbed branches was that they fell away to nothing; untangled and trampled they lost all of their strength, freeing a way through to the trees in tubes.

Personal conservation strategies

Conservation work gives you time to think, and so I set my mind to thinking up strategies for protecting our best-laid plans.

Log what you planted

It sounds simple, but creating a map of what trees we planted where might help us to remember to tend to them every so often. During conservation weekends in which we are planting trees, getting the trees in the ground is a big achievement. It seems unnecessary to create a map of where we planted them. Surely we won’t forget? Inevitably we do. Simply noting down our plans gives us a fighting chance of remembering what we intended.

Regular tending

Once we know what we planted, one strategy is to make time to regularly tend our saplings. It would only take a small amount of systematic attention to keep the hornbeam and brambles in these area in check.

Occasional clearouts

Sometimes though, we don’t have the luxury of being able to provide these things with regular attention. The alternative is to do what we did this weekend – every so often, go in there and cut back all the distractions and bathe our best laid plans with the totality of our attention. In daily life this might amount to a digital detox. Or, for a more substantial clear out, we might consider taking what Daniel Pink calls ‘Sagmeisters’ – regular sabbaticals interspersed in our working lives.

Get real

Our aim wasn’t to clear out all the hornbeam and bramble. Hornbeam regeneration is a natural part of the woodland ecosystem, as are the brambles that weave their way amongst them. We just need to create a bit of space for those slower-growing but ultimately very beneficial species to establish themselves. Similarly, short-term matters are part of the humdrum of daily life – we just need to carve out enough time to give our long-term plans the attention they deserve.

Get things established

Ocourse, the aim of all this cutting back is to enable the hazel, ash, oak, holly and blackthorn to establish themselves. As they start to mature they can look after themselves, and the hornbeam and brambles will subside. This is the point that Steven Covey makes in his book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People’ when he talks about what happens when we prioritise the important over the urgent. If we make time for the important things, we should see the number of urgent things we need to deal with reduce.

One day, decades after the scratches on my arms have healed, we’ll be able to sit under the shade of these broadleaf trees and know that our efforts to tend to them were worth it.