The Soul Tender

Laure Porché on Family Constellations and Her Standing Rock Experience

BY Hannah Chenoweth


t’s no secret that the recent struggle at Standing Rock echoes the Native Americans’ painful past legacy of oppression at the hands of the U.S. government.

According to Laure Porché, there’s a gaping collective wound in America over the wrongs of the past towards indigenous people—but also a powerful opportunity for healing and setting new patterns of peace and harmony in motion though systemic constellations.

The Parisian-born, New York-based healer (who prefers to be called “a soul tender”) spoke to Spirit Guides about her recent experience at Standing Rock, and her unique perspective on the ancestral guilt that lingers in America. Scientific research now proves what constellation facilitators like Laure have known for years: trauma can be genetically inherited, which means the root of repeating life patterns may have originated before your birth.

Although Laure uses various modalities to support healing, she singled out constellations as an amazing tool to change victim/perpetrator dynamics—especially when it comes to the troubled, convoluted relationship between Native Americans and the U.S. government.

Standing Rock

Photo Credit: Léonard Porché

If your reaction to “systemic constellations” is akin to “….?”, you’re not alone—before meeting Laure on Chrystie Street during an absolute downpour in NYC, I hadn’t the slightest idea what the process involved.

Technically, constellations are defined as “a facilitated process that reveals hidden dynamics and resources that can bring resolution to internal issues within any relational system, addressing our problems through the perspective of the soul through the use of movement, expression, and ritual.” Though my conversation with Laure revolved around family constellations, they can also be used to effect change in businesses and any organization that isn’t functioning at its optimum. For instance, an artist could benefit from a constellation exploring their relationship to any number of elements that may be blocking them from thriving.

By digging into hidden dynamics and forces with energetic intention, resolution can be found and new, healthier patterns can emerge.

Spontaneous (and freezing) sojourn to Standing Rock

It was early November 2016 when Laure was feeling frustrated by all the Facebook activism on her feed: She wanted to do more to help the water protectors. When she realized she had an upcoming workshop in Minnesota, the proximity to Standing Rock dawned on her…but she wondered, was her presence really needed?

Standing Rock

Photo Credit: Léonard Porché

She reached out to Francesca Mason Boring, a Shoshone friend and teacher whose family had been at the camp a few times, for guidance, then realized she was away traveling and wouldn’t be able to answer. However that same night she dreamt that Mason Boring encouraged the idea. With the knowledge that her friend is also a Dreamer, Laure made a 1 a.m. decision to make the journey just two weeks out: enough time to raise funds for the protest and collect winter gear to bring to the camps.

Her brother, visiting from France, extended his stay to accompany her; as a photographer, he landed a press pass to shoot at Big Camp, Oceti Sakowin. On November 21st, they arrived in North Dakota, and set up camp at Sacred Stone, which held about 200 people compared to Oceti Sakowin’s 5,000.

The siblings arrived the day after the violent clash broke out on the bridge. Tear gas, rubber bullets, mace, and other means of aggression were deployed against hundreds of activists. “The energy in the camp was very fractured and it was a strange, intense time,” Laure remembers.

Tensions were high—and temperatures were low. The very nature of her six-day stay at Sacred Stone, sleeping in a tent in 14-degree weather and spending 16 hours a day on her feet cooking, meant that “spirituality went out the window pretty quick. When you’re in survival mode, it becomes pretty difficult to connect to anything. That was a good reminder of whoa, I’m not there yet.”

Standing Rock

Photo Credit: Léonard Porché

Laure arrived with an openness to use her healing background to help, but also prepared to peel potatoes if that’s where she was more useful. The latter, it turns out, was a need more urgent at the time. She spent most of her time helping to feed the 200 people at Sacred Stone with a group of strong-hearted women and children.

“People were saying, ‘Oh, you’re going to have such an amazing experience,’ but that’s not why I was going,” Laure  reflects. “A lot of well-intentioned people were there to ‘get’ something, and in effect appropriating the Native American culture and spirituality. For me, saying ‘I am one of you’ instead of owning your lineage is a way of avoiding guilt over what was done to Native Americans.”

She remembers an amazing woman named Lisa who came to Sacred Stone to help the camp get organized like Oceti Sakowin. “My sense is that the people who really stood in themselves were the most useful. Lisa was not trying to speak in the language of Native American spirituality, but was really clear about getting organized and owning our ancestry—saying ‘we have a chance to own up to the fact that many of our ancestors were likely perpetrators, but we have an opportunity to change this dynamic.’ The people who were most useful were there to give something, not because they needed to feel part of something.”

Standing Rock

Photo Credit: Léonard Porché

A recent article in The Guardian touched upon the relatively foreign notion of accepting responsibility for the actions of our ancestors—and even that trauma is passed down, not something that dies when its victims do. Alisha Custer, a descendant of General George Armstrong Custer (the U.S. Army commander who led the wars against Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne warriors) faced Standing Rock members and used the moment of division to offer an apology from the Custer clan for the first time ever.

“Trauma has been scientifically proven to not only run through our DNA, but to be passed on our DNA to our children,” Custer is quoted as saying. “I didn’t do those things but…someone needs to stand up and say sorry.”

A powerful new pattern of healing was set forth, as a descendant of Chief White Bull told The Guardian: “She’s not just being passive in history. She’s willing to accept and take on that responsibility. I feel like there’s an opportunity for healing.”

A forgiveness ceremony held at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in December was yet another “historically symbolic gesture” that made headlines. An article in The Huffington Post details how over 500 veterans gathered to apologize for past military actions and violence toward Native Americans, and honored their choice to defend their land from the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Standing Rock
Photo Credit: Léonard Porché

The Ancient Healing Wisdom of Constellations

Constellations, though developed by German-born family therapist Bert Hellinger, are a concept that echoes the Native Americans’ deep reverence and connection to their ancestry. Like any work done at the level of the Soul, the process is slightly difficult to describe.

Whereas Native American spirituality is deeply connected to the earth and ancestry, these are two things Laure observes that modern American culture has really lost. In addition, she points out that many people are “lost” because there’s an “American amnesia” of people forgetting where they came from and why.

“American amnesia” is an expression used by Albrecht Mahr, MD, that Laure first heard from Francesca Mason Boring and that speaks to the general unawareness of Americans that we came from somewhere else. She explains that in Europe, “there is a really strong relationship to history. Most have much more of a real trace to where they came from.” Yet Americans whose ancestors are immigrants typically carry unacknowledged trauma, and this disconnection from our history can cause a sense of underlying anxiety or a sense of not being able to find home.

The trauma usually goes back two or three generations, but with archetypal trauma like genocide or slavery, it can go even further depending on how it was processed (or not processed) at the time.

Standing Rock

Photo Credit: Léonard Porché

“The souls of children and grandchildren are receptive to the unresolved traumas of their parents and grandparents, and to their repressed thoughts and feelings. They take them into their own psyches. These thoughts and feelings that the parents have been unable to integrate are internalized by the children and grandchildren and felt in their souls, as if they were their own. In time they become mixed up with their own experiences. Like a virus in computer software, they occupy the ego-programme of descendants once they are activated by triggering events.” – Franz Ruppert

For Laure, it wasn’t just the obvious standoff between the police and water protectors that caused a reproduction of systemic patterns of oppression between the government and the Native Americans. Within the camp, even well-intentioned people were appropriating indigenous culture and unconsciously perpetrating an attitude of “taking advantage.”

“I believe what is driving/blinding these people is their denial of their own family system’s bias and their inability to truly look at who they come from,” Laure said. “The most helpful, amazing allies acknowledged that this was a chance for them to go a different route from their ancestors. I think in general, constellation is an amazing tool to change victim/perpetrators cycles because it allows people to become aware of the systemic forces that drive them, own their system, and make choices from a freer place.”

She explains that people remain unconsciously loyal to their family system and perpetuate the model of oppression, whether it’s their intention or not. “Again, the only way you can really take a different path is to acknowledge what happened in the past, honor the fates of all involved, and make a conscious choice to do things differently,” she said.

Standing Rock

Photo Credit: Léonard Porché

The Constellation Process

The styles and methods of facilitating constellations vary; for Laure, working with energy and feelings rather than a solely theoretical approach feels more natural. In a typical group session, several participants receive an opportunity to explore a personal issue. Participants are encouraged to come forward and briefly identify a pressing problem in their life: for example, “I struggle with confidence” or “I’m unable to cope with the death of my mom/dad/sibling/etc.”

She believes it’s essential to be with the person in a way that allows them to process threads of energy, holding a space for the work to happen while being as non-intrusive as possible. In fact, we all have an innate intelligence that knows exactly what needs to happen for us to heal. “If you honor it and make space for it, the work happens by itself.”

To see what is needed, Laure listens to the words the person uses to describe what ails them while also paying attention to the person’s body and what’s going through her own mind and body.

As the facilitator, Laure suggests who will be represented in the constellation: this can be family members or even more abstract concepts, such as a country or emotion (people can be asked to represent anything from Ireland to anxiety). The person sharing their issue asks other participants to be their representatives, taking their hands to help them stand and then arranging them where it “feels right.” (For example, “Will you represent my grandmother? Or will you represent my uncertainty?”)

Standing Rock

Photo Credit: Léonard Porché

By encouraging the participant to face representatives, acceptance of the factual reality of the past is forged and a beautiful new understanding can come to light.

According to Laure’s website, “Family constellations provides us with a way to restore the flow of love and inclusion in a family, and to graciously accept what is and recognize our life for the gift it is. It is a work of the soul, that can have profound resonance and effect for the seeker, and present them with a new version of their ‘family myth.’”

A New Appreciation for the Beauty and Suffering of Ancestors

While the results can be life-changing, setting new patterns in motion, there’s a catch for all the overthinkers out there: Because the work is done at the level of the soul, you actually shouldn’t analyze it or speak about it after the fact.

“The soul works differently than the brain, it’s non-cognitive,” Laure says. “This stuff can take months, if not years, to truly sink in.”

For Laure, the both practical and spiritual element of the work draws her in. The most rewarding part is the palpable release of energy in the room—a “lightening.” “I try not to look for it, but it’s wonderful when it happens,” Laure says. “The difficulty is to remain in a place of ‘not wanting to fix’ anything. The moment you start looking for a solution, or wanting to solve your client’s problem, things become a struggle, and you lose the connection to the Field.

Standing Rock

Photo Credit: Léonard Porché

“I love the work because it is an embodied way of working with the soul, and the Field is so generous and supportive. I love being able to sit with people and their family, and seeing them get a new appreciation for the beauty and suffering of their ancestors,” Laure says. “The hardest part is the ‘not knowing’ aspect of the work. A lot of the time, I truly don’t know what to do or what is going on, and it’s like jumping off a cliff.”

By shedding light on embedded bonds and dynamics that are less than desirable, unhealthy systems can be transformed and there is great potential for not only personal healing but social change. And when it comes to the elephant in the room of American history, constellations provide an opportunity for beginning to rebalance the wrongs against native peoples. By making peace with the past, we can begin the process of bringing peace to the present and future.

Hannah Chenoweth

Hannah Chenoweth

Hannah Chenoweth is a New York-based writer and editor. She loves reading, yoga, nature, travel, and will always be a proud Mountaineer and lover of all things WVU. You can follow her on Twitter at @hannahchen2.

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