So much of what I look for in my clients is patterns. Patterns of thought, patterns of behaviour, a track etched into them that has been there so long it is almost invisible, sometimes revealed in an unconsciously chosen word or expression.
The patterns are constellations, like stars, and appear to be in a formation. Also like stars, they are in reality often millions or billions of kilometres apart, with no discernible connection, except their shape and pattern creating something that can be translated into meaning by far away eyes.
The elements of a constellation, unlike an ecosystem, infer influence rather than interdependence to form a shape. The shape of the client’s constellation, and indeed all humans, is a jumble of influences: genetics, environment, parents, guardians (and their absence), peers, teachers, experiences, beliefs. These influences are fluid on the spectrum of – and + with the paradox of some being both, simultaneously.
The person at the centre of person-centred therapy has all these elements ‘constellating’ around their meaning making. They are the constituent parts of how they construct an idea of self, and then relate in their constellation to their everyday life as they interact with the galaxy of others who move in and out of their orbits.
There is something beautiful about imagining ourselves as clusters of stars. Perhaps it’s not such a literary long bow as it is a literal part of our humanity. About 99 percent of our bodies are made up of atoms of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. We also contain much smaller amounts of the other elements that are essential for life. While most of the cells in our body regenerate every seven to 15 years, many of the particles that make up those cells have actually existed for millions of millennia.
The hydrogen atoms in us were produced in the Big Bang, and the carbon, nitrogen and oxygen atoms were made in burning stars. The very heavy elements in us were made in exploding stars. When we begin to think of our bodies this way, cosmic creations of stardust and light, our smallness and humanness has space to expand.
The trouble with who we think we are is that it is so finite, so fragile, so contained by a relatively minuscule lifespan compared to the beginningless endless componentry we are constructed of. We perceive our bodies (and minds) as who we are, built from the outside in with the narratives of science and history, or from the outside sin with the narratives of religion.
When we feel out of alignment, broken, traumatised, these sensations can easily overwhelm and dominate and feel unable to be transcended. These feelings are real, valid and often painful. In those moments we are that one star in a dark place alone and far from our meaning-making constellations.
As therapists, we too are a constellation, one that on a personal/professional level we hope to have done some deep gazing through a high-power telescope to get a closer view of our own components. We bring this to our rooms and our interactions, becoming part of the client’s array, as we for a time shine brightly. Exerting influence as well as illumination into the dark parts of our client’s own star systems, we can offer perspective and ways of reframing shapes and patterns.
Our job is to remind them they are in proximity, in community, in constellation, and that sometimes the patterns they are formed in, and the shapes they identify with have been exerting subtle influence for light years. But stars change, they too are impermanent as we humans are impermanent, our light can dim and brighten, our influence can dominate and wane, our pain and joy can be sharp, dull and radiant.
In truth, outside the very human construct of time, we are all shooting stars in dynamic constellation. A fleeting moment of embodiment, our most potent legacy is the beauty of our arc through the sky, and the eternal stardust we’re made of.