The Excluded Conversation 

Starting From Your Own Back Door

All communities have to start ‘from their own back door’ if they wish to heal because only they know what is needed and required for change to take place.  In many diaspora communities, we have to start from the inside and heal out and one way of facilitating that healing is through Family and Community constellations that Include the Excluded Conversation. 

The Excluded Conversation is one that focuses on the difficult issues that impact our communities and cause distress, dis-ease and dis-harmony.  I am interested in how to support families and communities to look at the ‘deep roots’ of difficult conversations and relationships.

Conversations on Historical Legacy

In many of our communities, the family is indivisible, both impact on the other.  This is what can make it so difficult for individuals in families to explore their African or Asian heritage, often questions about identity and belonging are taboo or painful to discuss so they are avoided or ignored.

We can seek to explore these conversations on history and legacy and trauma through the mapping process of a systemic constellation. When we fear the taboo, the unspoken and the unknown and keep silent, there is a danger that others in the family or community may take them on and recreate the family patterns from the past.

Why don’t we Talk about Difficult Things?

There are many issues that we know exist in our communities, that we do not speak about. Often these conversations are suppressed and kept within our families and communities for fear of shame, guilt, judgement!!  My cousin told me a story about a young woman in America who entered her boyfriend’s house and looking at a picture on the wall enquired “why is my grandmother on your wall?”

We do not speak of this, or the fear of or other losses, the missing brothers and sisters in our clan, those we have heard of but never met.  And those that we have never met and are suddenly presented to us later in life.  There are other issues that are a left-over legacy from slavery and colonialism like ‘shadism’ that still exists in families and communities.

Transgenerational Anger

There is also much transgenerational anger that reasserts its head in different forms.  In the last two weeks, the issue of gang violence in London has been in all the media and news.  But this is not new, these acts of gang violence and self-harm has been present for many years.  But now younger and younger children are becoming involved, it feels like a new generation is under threat.

Many families who come from communities that have migrated and raised second and third generations in their new homeland are facing these and other issues of identity, belonging and stigmatisation. The dis-ease of living with these stressors impact our families and communities. Our emotional well-being Is being impacted and creating health problems, of the body and mind.

Articulating our Experience

Often in African Diaspora communities, we have often used, music and dance to articulate our experience.  Movement allows us to express a situation in a different way, to harness the energy of the conversation along different lines.  We can do something similar through systemic constellations which map out a family situation or community dilemma that can act as an oracle, a past to present day story, that we can learn and begin to heal from.

Through this process, we can begin to look at the legacy of our history differently.  When we map out and constellate the impact of slavery and colonialism, war and migration on the lived life of our family members and the community it affords us a different perspective.

All Therapeutic Personal work is Hard

All therapeutic work can bring up strong emotions and feelings that are difficult to explore.  But can we let our fear of our feelings have greater control over us than our fear of what will happen within our families and communities if we do not make a profound change?  Questions not for solutions, but for reflection.

This is not therapy, it is not a long term solution because for that we would need generations of healing work.  It is, however, a start and a therapeutic healing process that can start to work with family and community life as it is now, here in the present.

Until next time!

Black Salt at Tate Liverpool

Black Salt at Tate Liverpool

Liverpool International Slavery Museum Exhibition November 2018

Lives of Britains Black Sailors

I was so lucky to see this exhibition a few months ago, it stories a part of British and African and Caribbean history that is little told.  The exhibition was held in Liverpool at the Tate Liverpool.   It proved to be a fitting place to hold it with its history and location as a slave port and there was relevance for my journey, both personal and professional. And to be honest I was surprised and delighted by the exhibition, a small glimpse into past and present history.

The following text is taken from the Tata Liverpool’s website

Black Salt: Britain’s Black sailors revealed the contribution Black seafarers have made to some of the most significant maritime events of the past 500 years.

The exhibition was based on the book ‘Black Salt: Seafarers of African Descent on British Ships’ by historian Ray Costello. It combined personal stories, historical data, objects and memorabilia to chart a course through the often troubled waters of Britain’s maritime past and explore the work of Black sailors. Historically overlooked, Black Salt showed how Black seafarers contended with the dangers and hazards of life at sea, and challenged inequality on board and ashore.

The painting ‘The Death of Nelson’ by Daniel Maclise, which normally hangs at the Walker Art Gallery, showed that there were sailors of African descent who fought at the Battle of Trafalgar. Displays examine the turmoil between communities and social change during the 20th century, with examples from the 1919 race riots archives and the work of leading Black Activist Chris Braithwaite, who campaigned for seafaring workers’ rights.

Liverpool sailors featured in the exhibition included Joseph Gibson, who served in the merchant navy and fought in the First World War, and generations of both the Quarless and Savage families. Their experiences were told through personal items including service books and medals.

Elder Dempster was the largest shipping company trading between Europe and West Africa from the late 19th century to the 1980s. The exhibition featured collections relating to the company which, from the 1950s and 1960s at the height of the trade, employed more than 4000 people including 1400 Nigerians and 400 workers from Sierra Leone.

The Black seafaring experience was brought up to date with a display about current sailors including a profile on Belinda Bennett, who in 2016 became the first Black female captain working in the cruise industry.

‘Black Salt: Seafarers of African Descent on British Ships’ by Ray Costello is published by Liverpool University Press and is available from the Merseyside Maritime Museum shop.

BAATN Podcast

Talking Constellations!

For the last 7 years, I have been on a personal and professional ‘seekers’ path, exploring identity, belonging and Ancestral Roots. It is a journey that has taken me to re-connect to parental homelands in South America and to research my Ancestral lineage in West Africa. This integration of personal awakening and systemic practice is both entangled and liberating. This BAATN podcast reveals both method and becoming, the first step for others on a similar path.

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Family Research and Systemic Constellations

In June 2018 a few weeks after my father passed away I was invited to give a presentation to BAATN.  This is a podcast of the session, it highlights not just what the systemic family constellations process is as a method, but what it can also teach us about family, cultural heritage, the role of ancestors and ancestral research.

Whether we live in fast-moving and a growing developing nation or in westernised modern urban communities, we are also increasingly dependent on each other.   And people from different cultural backgrounds around the world to support us as part of a global community.

Searching for Identity

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Who are we?   Where do we belong?  How do we maintain our authenticity and sense of identity and belonging when we carry multiple identities and know not where they are all from?  The questions that will help to shape these answers often come from those that came before us and when they have gone the knowledge is lost forever.

I am endlessly grateful that I spent the last seven years of my father’s life on an ancestral journey with systemic constellations that led me to ask him the questions about family and past life in a colonial nation-state that have helped to answer my own questions about identity and belong.

You can read more about my ancestral journey on my blog posts!

Thanks, dad, always in my heart, never forgotten, Reginald Edwin, Riance, Welch 13.10.1929 – 09.05.2018

Loss, Change and Citizenship

It’s Been a Summer of Loss and Change!

It’s been some time since I’ve written, as my father passed away in May and I’ve taken time out to think and reflect. Loss on that scale really makes you sit up and think about life.  I hadn’t realised that the grief would be so deep and impactful and I still miss and think about him every day.

Up until the last few months of my father’s life, I had always had a difficult relationship with him, maybe it was partly that which brought me to family constellations work.  But I am happy that on the last 18 months I was able to reconnect with my father, in love and not anger.  To say the things that needed to be said, about love and respect and honouring his sacrifices, and to heal old wounds.

The Ancestral Journey Continues

I realise as the weeks have gone by without him that my seven-year journey ancestral journey has also been a way to reconnect to him and my heritage.   I spent hours with him talking about the past and different family members.  I found out more about my father’s mother and all the dates of birth and death of my uncles, aunts and grandparents.

We talked about Guyana and I started revisiting and reconnecting with cousins.  And I learnt more about what had brought him the UK, even though I knew a lot before I learnt more.  And now that he is gone, I know that not all my questions have been answered, but enough to feel connected to my identity and parental ancestral lands.

A Guyanese Citizen is Born

In July I returned to Guyana and finally received my citizenship. I reconnected with my Uncle Alfred who I hadn’t seen since 1979 (he looks and sounds just like dad).  Together we journeyed down the great Essequibo River and travelled along the coast to see a bit more of the Guyanese country. I wish my dad had been alive to tell him in person about my travels.

Increasingly I am hearing people of my generations raise modern dilemmas, whether to reconnect with a homeland that has been left behind, whether to claim citizenship of the ancestral home of parents and grandparents.  To do so, is also to face the disconnect from the past and the splits that have been created that continue into the present.

Now Dad has Gone is there More to Find

Talk with elders now before they pass on is so important, (if you have not already been doing that I suggest that you start now) because when they are gone, the knowledge, the traditions, the culture are lessened or gone.  You may find long-lost family relatives, but also like me find some unexpected surprises, both good and bad.

I recently found the dates of my mother and fathers arrival in London in the 1950s.  My Uncle Alfred told me that they had sailed on a Dutch ship from Georgetown and there on Ancestry.com was all the information from the National Archives.

It is fitting that I have found out after dad passed how he came to the UK and that it is recorded in the National Archives.  It is something that he would have wanted.  I know he arrived on a cold grey day in October in Plymouth.  The rest is his-story and for another time.

R.I.P – Reginald Edwin Riance Welch 14.10.29-9.5.2018

Journey to Dano

You’re Almost Out!

“You’re almost out”, said Malidoma at a Cowery Shell reading that I had with him in 2015.  It was the second time that I had been to see him, the first the previous year. I returned this time because I felt that I had unfinished business.  I knew that I had spiritual work to do.  I knew that I was on an ancestral path and I knew that I had forgotten something.

“You’re almost out”, he said, “but there isn’t anything else I can do for you here, you need to come to Burkina Faso and see African spiritual technology at work.” “What is he talking about I thought?”  Dashing the idea away into the back of my mind, I thought “hmm, maybe next year!” But come January 2016 I was on the bus taking us from Ouagadougou to Dano, his home village

Travelling with Malidoma

I was travelling with Malidoma Some the gifted African healer and diviner on a healing study trip with a party of other invited ‘ancestral searchers’.  It was a kind of initiation into deepening the work with my ancestors.  And later that year, I attended more healing rituals and ceremonies with Malidoma, learning about Dagara Cosmology and cower shell divination.

Now as I reflect on that journey, especially the Burkina Faso part, I realise that it was in part ‘an initiation’ even though at the time I had not thought about it like that.  This was an adapted form, an approach that Western minds could make sense of.  We visited a traditional healer where we asked a question and received answers about our life purpose.  We were involved in animal sacrifices in the traditional African way that I won’t go into here.

Listening to the Call!

We had an audience with a ‘stick diviner’ and I have to say, every step of that journey made sense to me and helped to awaken my ‘remembering’.  Remembering that had been white-washed and wiped-out over hundreds of years.  Lost through the journey of the ‘middle passage’ to the Caribbean and the ‘modern passage’ to the UK.

It has taken over a year to start to make sense of that trip.  I didn’t know what I didn’t know and as African traditions are oral, not written ones, you can’t ‘remember’ by reading, you can only ‘remember’ through living.  So after the healing rituals of last year, I started a Cowery Shell divination course, a healing path with an African edge that I thought I was looking for.

And Then, a Cancer Diagnosis!

As things started to get on track with my work, I found out that I had cancer.  In the whirlwind that follows a cancer diagnosis, I just stepped out and away from everything.  I had to make sense of how had this happened to me, what did it mean and what was I to do and learn from this experience?

According to many shamanistic traditions, a major illness, mental or physical can be a calling to deepen your relationship with your ancestors or become a Sangoma or Diviner.  For me, this illness represented a call of ‘Spirit’ to fulfil my life purpose in a way that I hadn’t acknowledged before.  It felt like I was moving through a ‘transformative initiation process’.

Right now I am continuing on my journey learning about ‘Spirit’ and the ancestors.  This journey is reconnecting me to my ancestral family line.  It is challenging me to ‘come out’ and show my face, as a diviner and healer in a  culture that has forgotten a lot of African heritage.  And I am stepping-up and into whatever it is that I am called to do and be.

More next time!

Constellations as Healing Ritual

A Ritual for Modern Times

I love ‘classic’ family constellations because it is a modern ritual, a ritual fashioned for a Western audience and viewed through an African lens in my work.  I view it as a modern ritual based on an old tradition because that is what I see, that is what I hear and that is what I honour in the process and in the sacred journey to heal family and community!

A constellation is a ritual in community, suggests Malidoma Some Dagara Elder. In 2010 Malidoma was interviewed for an article in East Coast Villages newsletter, Ask Malidoma! Malidoma E-Village 2010…In it, he described his interest and participation in a number of systemic constellations events and he has this to say……….

What is a Community?

A community according to Malidoma Some embodies the unity of spirit, trust, openness, love and caring respect for the elder’s respect for nature and cult of the ancestors. Pg 52 Ritual, Power, Healing and Community.

When I began learning about the systemic constellation method, I immediately looked to that part of the method that most spoke to my own cultural background and would help in the expression of these angry feelings that I seemed to have carried around since childhood.  I couldn’t understand where they had come from because as a 50-year-old looking back at me as a child, I couldn’t quite attribute where all this pent up anger has come from.

Transgenerational Anger

Gradually over time as I started doing some family research, I began to understand that some of the anger may literally ‘have been passed down’ from earlier generations.  And when after 60 years of marriage my mother informed me that she had never had an argument with my father, I knew that there were some dynamics and ‘entanglements in the current system.

Even now I am seen as the ‘difficult one’ in the family.  The one who ‘loses her rag!’ over seemingly over simple things, ‘Never Knowing Reasonable’ my sister states.  Well, I find that all very interesting and to my mind it’s too easy an explanation so I have made it my job to explore and dig a bit deeper into what may lie behind this down the generations.

Exploring South African Roots

It is no secret that Bert Hellinger drew on his time in South Africa as a catholic priest.  He opened a school and ministered to many in the Zulu community, so how could he not gain some kind of understanding about their life in the community.   Embedded in the constellations method are some African family principles that I was immediately intrigued by and curious about.

After I started working with the constellations method with clients I became much clearer about the relevance of the  Indigenous Wisdom in the method when working with black families and those of African heritage.   In many Western societies, the nuclear family has become the norm over several generations.  But in many communities in the Caribbean, in the UK and the Americas, the nuclear family is not the norm and there are many different configurations of family.

Constellations in the African Diaspora

In the UK large numbers of children were left back home as their parents came first to settle here.  Later when they came there were often problems with finding a clear sense of identity.  Indeed although I was brought up in a stable ‘nuclear family’ I keenly felt the loss of a Caribbean community around me growing up,  And I spent many years angry and looking for a sense of identity that I couldn’t find in either a”British” or ‘Caribbean’ identity.  And of course this sense of lack of identity and belonging is not unique to me or my community, it cut across race and culture and ethnicity.

Losing Touch Time after time I would start to map out a constellation and then realise that personal issues that the client came with, was related to the wider cultural environment and historical traumas of the specific African diaspora experience.  So a challenge for me in working with the constellations method was to more clearly reflect the issues that affect families and communities that I work with.   And this meant finding a way to integrate the Western systemic theory and Indigenous African Wisdom and make it relevant for an African diaspora community of which I am a part.

Losing Touch with an Indigenous Past

African heritage people living in a westernised society have lost touch with an indigenous past.  family constellations can build on these lost traditions and by so doing help with answering questions about identity and belonging.  How?  Family constellations can bring in the wider ancestral legacy and extended family and community and the process can start to show people, what has been lost and how to start to regain it.

For those reasons, my approach is increasingly to frame the work as an indigenous healing therapy that is appropriate to meet the many facets of a minority black experience in a majority white culture.  As a family constellations practitioner, I believe that this approach can be a starting place for healing family and community issues that arise from the trauma of an enslaved past.  I will be writing about this more in blog posts, as I deepen my knowledge and skills in this profound work.

Until next time!

SONYA WELCH-MORING

MODERN GRIOTTE

Tracing African Roots

Exploring the Ethnic Origins of the Afro-Diaspora