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Societal constellations, What the heck?! 

Jan Jacob Stam 


Preface, let’s start this article with a case…… 


March 10, 2021: ‘The concept of ownership is too precious to let go off’ 


A constellation on the topic of migration.  

Meeting online with over 140 participants for a constellation on the topic of migration was quite an adventure and left deep impressions with me.  

Although I personally, nor my family had to do anything with migration, I feel migration is a huge topic in this world. I want to explore this topic in order to understand the dynamics of migration better. This opportunity for me was the first in -hopefully- more to come.  


These are just some brief impressions of a topic that deserves much more deepening. The case-giver, speaking on behalf of many, gives us as a point of departure: ‘the stateless diaspora of children between perpetrators and victims; as a mixed race person from a white mom and a black dad’.  


The case-giver says in response to my questions which elements we need for a constellation:  

‘We need Black, we need White, we need the Trauma and we need people like me, call it the Enigma’. Besides elements, placed as symbols on the constellation field, representatives choose themselves. All representatives are multi-layer, for example: ‘Black, and everything that black also means’. 


The movements and what we could see. 

Black moves firmly and decisive. Comment coming out of my mouth: ‘Black provides stability’ 

White makes a searching movement and ends up on top of Black. White: ‘I’m settled, this is where I belong’. My comment: ‘White orients itself to black’ 

The trauma moves close to white and says: ‘I complete white, as a shadow’. White: ‘I don’t care’. 

Black: ‘When white speaks, I’m shaking and regulating my rage’. 

Then White starts crying. 

All the time the Enigma is standing aside, being present. 


Wondering what the deeper movement is what this constellation wants to reveal, reaching into what could be the origin of this deep dynamic in the world, as automatically my hands start to create a new element and write the name ‘Ownership’ in it. Out of my mouth come the words: ‘What we see here is the end, actually the beginning ánd the end of the concept of ownership’. ‘The idea that you can own something, that you can own land, that you can own other persons, own animals…….’ ‘Maybe we have to review the concept of ownership in this world’ ‘At the same time it feels that the sentence at the moment is: “the concept of ownership is too precious to let go off”’. 

The representative of the Enigma: ‘I feel soft, strong, taking responsibility. And I do not take what doesn’t serve’. 


There’s much more to say about this constellation. But I will never look at this issue and the concept of ownership with the same eyes and same heart as before this constellation. 

I’m deeply grateful for the case-giver to bring this issue in. I’m deeply grateful for the representatives who were willing to fulfill these roles. I’m deeply grateful for all participants to be present, to contribute, to reflect, to pro-flect and be in the position of social witnessing. 


Some days later I’m musing: What if we would replace the concept ‘ownership’ by ‘responsibility’. ‘I do not own my house, I feel responsible for it and it’s future. I do not own the ground where my house and gardens are, I feel responsible for it….. I do not own my money, I feel responsible for it and what it can do….’. When I feel into this shift, immediately something shifts from static ownership into dynamic responsibility. Ownership is about having; responsibility about being. 





‘Why do you want to climb that mountain?’ ‘Because it’s there’ 

Alex Honnold in Free Solo 


I feel a bit the same, when it comes to facilitating constellations on societal issues. ‘I have to’; ‘Why?’; ‘Because these issues are there’. 

For many reasons I try to avoid to do constellations on societal issues. They scare me, because the forces are often so big, too big for me. And additionally: 

  • Everyone in the room or online is part of the issue. It’s not like family constellations or organizational constellations where only the client-system is part of the issue, while the other people are there to support, to be representative, to witness etc. So how to hold space when everybody present, conscious or subconscious, is part of the issue and/or representing groups in society? 
  • As a facilitator I’m also part of the topic. Although I encourage that interventions may come from anywhere or anyone, mostly it is through me that an intervention crystallizes. Who am I to do so? How is my cultural background, coming from a colonizing country, influencing me as facilitator and even more as the person doing an intervention?  
  • How to prevent to create illusions that we, those who are present, usually a relatively small group, might find solutions or even can change the existing systems?  
  • How to prevent that by the method used, in this case a constellation, patterns are more confirmed then opened up to possible new perspectives? 


After having facilitated over one hundred constellations on societal issues, I had the idea to know more or less how to do this in a for me and us best possible way. But that was live, where we were physically together in one room. So additional questions that scared me were: 

  • How to do this online? It took me a while before I felt comfortable to do constellations online, where I used the interactive constellation tool Live, developed by me and my colleague Dees. And it took me much longer before I dared to experiment with online constellations on societal issues. 
  • How to deal with participants joining from so many different cultures and countries and histories? Working live it means you usually have participants from one country or one sector, like healthcare. And now, online, it’s open for participants coming from many more different systems. How to hold space there? Are constellations a language that is universal enough everyone can understand?  


Well, despite all these doubts, there was still this ‘I have to, wether I like it or not, Jan Jacob, I have to’. At least I have to find out.  





Online adventures 


To give you an idea, in all the constellations mentioned there were between 70 and 180 participants online, coming from many different countries and cultures. 

In the PowerPoint sheet above, you find in bullets the steps in the process. A few key points in this process: 

  • Creating a setting before you start. The fastest way is to welcome everybody as exactly right how they are. What helps is when everyone expresses in one word or one gesture how they are feeling right now. The gesture is wonderful online. Everybody make the gesture simultaneously. It give a great impression about how the whole of all participants is doing now.  
  • Using group body resonance to decide on which topic we will work now. A couple of topics are presented. With each topic all participants feel to which extend they are draw to stand up in front of their cameras, in order to let us know how much resonance there is on the topic. Online we usually start to work with the topic where most resonance is felt.  
  • Making it a more collective issue, beyond the participants who are present. First I ask the case-giver: ‘Please feel inside, on behalf of how many people have you phrased this topic?’. This question opens the awareness that it’s not an individual topic but a system-topic. Then some more participants may add to the topic, encouraging the participants to take ownership. 
  • The constellation process starts with elements, brought up by the case-giver(s), and the representatives choose themselves, not so much as volunteers, more as ‘I have to’. This way it’s more the Field that picks the representatives then the case-giver.  
  • Interventions. As mentioned before, mostly interventions come through me. This is one of the most scary points before we start, but I feel quite confident during the constellation. I have myself guided by questions like: ‘What wants to reveal itself here?’, or ‘What explains this all?’, ‘What is it that we have to face?’. I feel myself an instrument of the field, maybe even the evolutionary force or Spirit-mind, like Bert Hellinger used to call this. Of course I know my intervention is colored by my background, my personality and my beliefs. Nevertheless I feel I have to take the risk to do it. And taking for granted that what I do or say is politically incorrect. 
  • Debrief. Usually the constellation ends after a felt shift, usually after an intervention. What are the insights that can be harvested? Some insight pop up immediately in the people present. Many insights require crystallizing, a slow process that might take hours, weeks and even months. Are these insights individual or also collective? And what happens with these insights? Will they slowly die? The present system is probably stronger then the emerging insights. Will these insights be transformed into action? What more is possible? That’s the question Bradley and I raised in the workshop on constellating societal issues during Awakening the Field.  


Shift in my question. 

After my initial question from ten years ago: ‘How to do constellations on societal issues in a decent and meaningful way?’, there first was the shift into the question: ‘How to do this online?’. And on my way to the congress Awakening the Field I pondered on what I consider to be the weakest point in doing these constellation. And that is the question: What happens afterwards? How do we digest these constellations? Is every individual participant walking away with his or her insights, shifts in perspective on the topic or confirmed ‘I was right about my opinion’. When we just let every participant individually digest the constellation, this would mean the constellation is an intervention at the parts.  

What would interest me is if there is also something possible as an intervention on the whole? Similar like doing constellations for a team or organization, where one of the concerns is: ‘How can we use the constellation as an intervention to the whole, and not just to the parts? (In order to prevent that the method itself causes more fragmentation than the fragmentation already present in the team).  




Case: ‘I (we) live in a fractured world. How can my love take in all the deep fractures?’. 


Experiment during the Awakening the Field gathering with over 500 participants, in this workshop about 170 attending.  


The case-giver is a Chinese woman, born in Vietnam, currently living in Hong-Kong. She sends me a request during the night: ‘Is there a space where we can explore reconciliation today?’. And: ‘I (we) live in a fractured world. How can my love take in all the deep fractures?’. 


I decide to take this issue. The aim today is not just to do this constellation, but to explore what more is possible áfter the constellation. Bradley: ‘What’s the potential of a constellation on a societal issue and how do we harvest that?’ 


The case gets a little bit a different starting point then the request reaching me during the night.  

The case-giver summarizes the issue: ‘If I belong (to one place), I betray’. ‘I feel in this issue connected with all people who are tired of labeling’. 


The case-giver brings in the following elements: 





People who do not identify themselves with one place (N 1P) 

People who do identify themselves with one place (Nationalists) 


The case-giver chooses representatives. These representatives move their elements in the field. 




The representatives report, while continuing to move. We won’t report all these movements here.  


For me, as facilitator, it looks very much like the element of people who do identify with one place, is taking the whole field taking hostage. And then it becomes clear it’s not so much the people who feel belonging at one place, but it’s more the concept of belonging to one place.  


Then, again almost automatically, my hand start to form an element called ‘Ending’. ‘It’s about facing the end of a concept, regardless if this concept will really vanish. It looks like the expiry date of the concept of belonging to one place is approaching. But we won’t name it more precise now’.  


Immediately we touch on the real underlying issue: The representative of ‘Ending’ can’t move into the field. ‘So the real question is: Who or what is capable of bringing into our field that what is coming to an end’. Finally the case-giver herself brings this element is, with a movement that looks like very humble, though decisive.  






The effect on most of the representatives is that they feel better. The people not identified with one place smile and can breath again. The concept of ‘belonging to one place’, before called the nationalists, withdraws and places herself besides the field.  


This is where we stop the constellation.  


Now Bradley proposes two questions to reflect on in triads. The first question is: ‘What became apparent in you; what’s present in you; what’s present in you also in terms of action’. The second, meta-question: ‘What else is possible beyond to do after a societal constellation?’. 


We have very little time left to harvest, so we invite a continuation in the chat. Over forty valuable insights appear in the chat, most to the first question. Some of them referring directly to a change in perspective like: “Place and space is forever changed”. 


The few remarks including my own ones, reflecting on ‘want else is possible to do after a societal constellation, point in the direction of: 

  • The chat function appears to be a pretty neutral place, reflecting where individual participants are in their presence. To take ample time to read all the remarks in the chat and let them sink in, feels like many contributions to the whole, without trying to convince others.  
  • In societal constellations you can see something in a timeline which may be already present. Constellations are a crystallization of subtle information that is already in the air. It might be helpful after such a constellation just to resonate and let others resonate with you.  
  • Don’t bother about the whole, each and all participants will take what they need. And each of them might form the centre of a new fractal growing and spreading.  
  • Online societal constellations can be a new possibility for experimentation, because you can easily involve a diversity of people across the globe, enduring more ‘neutrality’ related to the topic.  


For sure this was an interesting start to explore the question: ‘What happens after a societal constellation?’ ‘Are there ways of processing after a societal constellation that might even deepen and widen the experience beyond each individual participant?’ 

The question is in the air, for sure I’m not done yet with exploring.