A conversation about working with inner and outer landscapes of change using constellations, with Kirstin Irving & Marcos Frangos
Marcos: As we prepare for our retreat and constellations workshop in a few months time, I’d like to explore with you what we mean by working with inner and outer landscapes of change.
Kirstin: One of my real interests is the reality that many of us find ourselves in daily situations – at home, in the world, in our workplaces – where we’re feeling some kind of misalignment or discomfort or mismatch between what’s happening in the outer world, and the meaning we hold for that in our inner world. There is a big question for all of us, I think, about the extent to which we’re connected with our full context. For a lot of us, we’re locked in to a certain narrative, an immediate family concern or the tasks before us in our workplaces. Given the way the world is changing – with huge social, economic, environmental, technological and other challenges – I wonder about our capacity and our willingness to engage with our full context in a way that feels fruitful rather than just overwhelming and impossible, and possibly downright depressing. So there’s something about how do we navigate the inner and outer to find our own fullness but also to contribute, not just to our families and communities and workplaces, but actually at a world level, in a way that is generative rather than degenerative. It throws up a lot of dilemmas. The risk of course is that we shut ourselves off, because it’s too big. So coming in to a space where we can legitimise this conversation and just take a pause and put some focus on our experience in this regard can be really helpful. Certainly it’s something I have found incredibly helpful over the years; it gives us a pause point, it acts as a recalibration. What about for you Marcos, what resonance do you feel with the idea of inner and outer landscapes?
Marcos: I’m going to try and answer your question and also think about the constellations work we’re doing, because these two come together. What I love about the work with constellations – and it’s only a tool, it’s not a panacea – what I love about it is that it gives us more of a holographic look at the context you’re describing. I’m not an island. And even though, in those stressors you’re describing, I may feel like I’m just one small piece in this enormous jigsaw and what difference can I make, when we do constellations and we start to represent all or some of the many difference aspects of which I’m living and working, there is something – and you called it a pause point, it is like a pause point – there’s a kind of ‘ahhhhhh’, there’s a sense for me of opening my lungs. And I see that there is more to this picture, this life, this struggle, this challenge than I have been aware of. And that’s what I feel so passionately about. There’s a sense of, I can look at my world, my life, including my internal world, my emotional world, what moves me, and I can also look at some of the external forces and see how are these dancing together. Where is my energy flowing, where is the energy getting stuck, what might be the resources that I was just unaware of that I could draw on. That’s where the movement between the inner and outer, through the lens of constellations, for me is profound. It’s both very simple, at one level, and it’s really profound in what it can reveal.
Kirstin: The word that comes to mind for me is liberating. My experience of constellations is that, instead of feeling you should know, and to some extent operating in your head and trying to find the right answer, it puts you in to a situation where you’re accessing your resources in a fuller, richer sense but also you’re not doing it alone. You’re right, we’re not an island. And part of the liberation for me is that you’re incredibly well supported by the people you’re working with in that moment. So instead of being narrowed and locked in and struggling and worried and seeking, and possibly not finding, it opens up a wider sense of possibilities and it feels like a more creative process. And it brings with it a sense of agency. It connects you with your sense of agency, and your relationship with others, which is something that’s important to me and to our work in any organisational context.
It opens up a wider sense of possibilities and it feels like a more creative process.
Marcos: And there’s another bit for me as I hear you speak. It’s to do with what’s going on in my inner world and my outer work. I think there’s a tendency, at least in the west, to separate the two. In reality I believe that’s false, it just isn’t true of our lives. Actually, there’s a continual flow and messaging, between the internal dynamics in my being, in my person – the alignment that you talked about, how do I be true to myself – and how that shows up, or the challenges that I’m also facing in my work. And what I’ve seen happen a lot in constellations is that there is often a conversation, even if we’re not aware of it, that is mirroring the two. And it’s not that it starts on the inside and works out; it’s a continual flow. The more that we can see and understand that flow the more we end up being connected. We connect to our colleagues, to our purpose, that alignment, that agency you talked about. There’s a flow of energy. Sometimes when I get stressed, let’s talk personally, I will tend to do what you described: I lock down, I’ll shrink, I become small and then I stop seeing those people around me who somehow can help unlock things. Through the work of constellations, I can free up. I can begin to see that perhaps what I’m struggling with – and can now be more authentic with and give voice to – is probably not that different to what you’re struggling with in the same workplace, and our colleagues, and our bosses and our other stakeholders. It’s the human story, it’s not that different.
Kirstin: And what strikes me is that for most of us, growing up in our western society, this is simply not in the conversation. So there’s a whole thing about being an adult and learning to operate differently. I think constellations are a great way in to that. It’s about becoming skilled at working with these other processes. And to be in a supportive environment where you can play a bit, and experiment with that, and find some real richness and some real gems in there possibly as well, is magic.
Marcos: It is magic. And what I really love about this playfulness that we do with constellations in work settings is that, even if you’re stuck and you just don’t know what the next step is, then you call in a representative to represent that stuckness, or what might be possible. And you don’t even need to know what it is, but they will have some wisdom from the system that they can bring in, and I just think that lets us get out of our heads, get out of this myth that we have to have all the answers all the time, and sometimes just seeing things as they are, seeing the representatives of what it is you’re grappling with and their relationships is enough. And then the next step comes.
Through the work of constellations, I can free up.
Kirstin: That idea of the wisdom of the system is something that’s difficult to understand until you experience it, I’ve got to say. And for me that comes back to the liberation. There is such a resource there for all of us if we can, in a sense, surrender to that and let it in. Then we discover that it’s possible that, through some means that we can’t fully explain, this amazing stuff happens that helps us make progress. It’s not about finding instant answers, it’s about creating shifts that open up another possibility, and so it goes on. And that goes back to the truly dynamic nature of life and inner and outer conversations, and the creative part of that process.
Marcos: I really love what you say about sometimes just the next step is enough. It’s great if we can see way in to the horizon and see where we’re going. But actually that’s not always necessary, and sometimes that’s overwhelming, in fact. Sometimes it’s really just enough to see if I could just shift a little bit, then that in itself will galvanize the rest.
Kirstin: And it reminds me, sitting here talking about this, actually the joy in the process. That becomes a thing in itself as well. It’s not just instrumental in helping you make progress with something, it is an experience in and of itself.
Marcos: And what I’ve had reported to me so many time, and we’ve had this in our workshops, is when representatives in support of someone else’s system come away feeling lighter. The human story is a really deep, shared one. And it doesn’t matter whether you come in through this door, or that door, or another one, we start to see what is our human story, which also gets played out in our workplaces.
Learn about our 2019/20 retreat series: Landscapes of Change Through the Seasons.