Welcome to Regenco’s Blog

Welcome to Regenco’s blog!  Regenco is a UK not-for-profit organisation formed in 1998 and operating primarily in the North East Dartmoor area, committed to furthering the regeneration and reintegration of Land, People and Spirit.  We offer rites of passage, “Land Time”, and other programmes.  We will be posting on these topics, our work and related topics here.

Winston Churchill evidently said “I have eaten many of my own words and the diet was very nourishing.”  What we share in this blog may not reflect the views of all involved in Regenco and is shared in the recognition that there is always room for us to learn and grow.

For more of an intro to us and our work, please see our only occasionally updated site at http://www.regenco.info. Please note new phone number 01647 432638, and email landtime1@gmail.com.

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Beautiful short highlighting five gateways of grief edited by Tom van der Linden

The New World: The Lost Art of Grief

Francis Weller says of it: “I recently came across this beautiful video, which featured passages from my book, The Wild Edge of Sorrow and some narration from an interview I did in 2013 at the Minnesota Men’s Conference. The video combines my words with scenes from the film, “The New World,” highlighting my ideas about the Five Gates of Grief. “

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An introduction to & seeds of a Practice group in Intergenerational Council & Listening Circles

leaping-salmon-falls-of-shin (2)Surfacing Wisdom, Creativity and Understanding for our communities & in education.

With Jeremy Thres (Smoke) and Kitty Jackson

Introductory evening Feb 22nd, then 3 Thursdays, March 22nd, April 19th & May 24th (tbc) 7-9pm.

The Together room, Haringey Community Hub, 8 Caxton Rd, Wood Green N22 6TB (Just behind Morrisons less than 5 mins Wood Green tube, Piccadilly line), exact venue for following nights tbc.

To book or for further information contact:

Jeremy 01647 432638 / 07717 853967      landtime1@gmail.com

or Kitty 07867 804731

£10/donation for introductory evening, £10-30 following evenings (contributing more will help cover costs and honour this work so if you feel too & are able, much appreciated, however also if £10 is too much for you but you sincerely want to join us you are welcome).

Please note, following the introductory evening, this is a series so do speak to us if you would like to come but for some reason can’t the earlier Jan or Feb one.

“Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive.”  Badger, in “Crow & Weasel.” Barry Lopez

A short film on Council in Schools from the Ojai Foundation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKSh73dO49s

Here are a couple of recent quotes from participants in the first practice group I initiated twenty years ago:

“I love the form of Council and still feel held by it now.”

“It was fantastic. This form of communication and meeting with others was deeply healing and expanded my understanding of how communication can be. I felt safe to communicate at a depth that nourished me on all levels and it deepened my ability to listen from the heart.”  

Some further words on Inter-generational Council:

We all know how important it can feel to be really heard and understood.

Many people who have had difficult childhoods share that it was often just one person who sincerely cared and listened to them that made all the difference to their lives.

In listening of that quality one can feel safer not just to share, but also to explore questions within ourselves, and as such it becomes a true learning environment.

So how can we create that quality of listening and exploration for more people?

Intergenerational Council and Listening Circles are one of the answers to this question.

Through their simple format and guidelines they create a dedicated space where participants can share and explore questions arising and all present learn from and with each other.

Western thinking can often polarise into linear, either or, perspectives. This frequently leads to an adversarial quality of communication, one which is so pervasive it is easy to feel frustrated, however it doesn’t have to be this way.

Within Council everyone’s unique voice and experience can increasingly be recognised as contributing to the understanding of the greater whole.

Though this is an era of change and great diversity, young people can be under tremendous pressure to conform, being even in danger if they do not. This is particularly so among their peers, (vulnerable adolescents can have great difficulty welcoming difference – mainly because their own has not been), but also through the online world, advertising and the media. Parents and schools also wish to guide and influence young people, and one of the most important ways they can do this is through helping them in “finding their own discerning voice.” This is ultimately what will guide and protect them beyond the family nest and school gate.

In practice to discover this requires space. Safe space which allows and supports self-exploration whilst also being enriched and informed by the experience of others. Council interwoven with other creative activities offers just such a setting. Its methodology support people to feel welcome and heard, and when people feel valued and accepted in their own diversity and uniqueness, then there is a greater possibility that they can bring curiosity and interest, not just feel threatened by another’s.

An older generation often struggles to understand a younger. They often wish young people would listen and be more respectful and are fearful of them and their new ways, yet how often are the circumstances there that mean the older generation really listen to the young people and what is going on for them. Without such listening one can be quick to judge yet as the Buddha said: “True love is born of understanding.”

Part of Council’s growth in the States was fuelled by the LA riots in the early 90’s. Palms Middle school had a huge diversity (39 languages spoken) and a thousand pupils. Following the riots it felt pupils were further dividing on racial lines and standing off from each other.

Inspired by the Council programme at Crossroads, an independent school in Santa Monica, council was introduced across the year groups. The success of this endeavour in turn inspired a council in schools programme across the greater Los Angeles area and now thousands of young people and their communities benefit from weekly council.

To quote Joe Provisor who worked at Palms at that time and later became Coordinator of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s “Council Practitioners Centre” and now “Circle ways” (www.circleways.org.): “In a school where the council process is deeply rooted, the school site is the nexus, the hub and the heart of the community…..The school is ideally the location for this work because it represents, quite literally, the reason and purpose of all community activity: the education, health, well-being and sense of efficacy of this generation and the generations to follow.”

A short film on Council in Schools – the first four minutes about Council at Cross Roads in Santa Monica https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5B373I03pw

The second more general: both from the Ojai Foundation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKSh73dO49s

Rachel Kessler was another person who took this work and grew its potential. Her great and insightful work can be read about at: http://passageworks.org/about/remembering-our-founder/soul-of-education/

One of the insights in her wonderful book the Soul of Education, is that it is emotion that drives attention, and without attention you won’t get learning. Therefore if you want learning it is essential for a school and community to pay attention to the emotional well being of their people. Council is one of the ways this can be healthily attended to, when young people begin to feel valued and cared about as human beings, not just pupils, they too will grow in respect. Rachel dedicated her book, “in memory of those brilliant young souls for whom it might have been different, and on behalf of so many today for whom it still can be.”

Here is something about my own and Kitty’s journey with Council:

Jeremy Thres: Already inspired about the power of listening to promote understanding and change through Joanna Macy’s seminal work (despair and empowerment in a nuclear age), I began weaving listening circles into supporting local young people to address Agenda 21 (an initiative that emerged from the 1992 Rio summit to consult communities, particularly women and young people, about their agenda for the 21st century).

Soon after when on a training to guide wilderness rites of passage I was handed an introductory booklet about council by one of the co-authors Virginia (Gigi) Coyle.

Further inspired by this on return, I began offering monthly Listening Circles in my local community. A year or so later I went to visit the Ojai foundation the community where Gigi worked with Jack Zimmerman who had been key in distilling the essence of council and bringing it to the World. Jack and Gigi had just published their book the Way of Council which I’d highly recommend, and delightedly read on my journey to Ojai. Whilst there I met a number of carriers of such work and sat in Council with Jack. Hearing of and reading about the listening circle work, he honoured me as a “carrier of council” and gave me permission to publish the introductory booklet to Council he and Gigi had written, here in the uk.

On return home with the support of a friend I did so, and followed up on inviting Leon Berg who’d I met at Ojai to offer an introductory weekend in Devon. He did so and following this weekend we established an ongoing practice group locally which met monthly for the best part of three years.

My own work in this time was primarily land oriented and on developing wilderness oriented rites of passage, so though council continued as an essential element both within that, the organisation I worked with (Regenco) and in various groups I was part of, beyond them, though I fully understand something of Council’s potential, for a period I relaxed on trying to further promote it in the world.

Then in 2010 I worked with a very rounded young man who put me in contact with an organisation called Lifebeat who offer wonderful creative oriented camps for teens. I really liked the “creative supportive community”model they operate on, learning a lot from them, and they liked something of what I bring, and so I became one of their staff on between one and three camps every year since then. Gradually over this time I began introducing Council as a practice that could be complimentary and interweave well with what they already offer. In 2016 they invited me to play a key part in facilitating and establishing a quarterly council in London bringing together young people, staff and trustees, so particularly the adults can be informed by the young people. 

Parallel to this a friend hosted the European Council Network in the Czech Republic so I went there for further training in Council, first with a lovely Israeli couple, and then again at the ECN in 2016 with Joe Provisor, who shared very inspirationally about how Council has developed in schools in the States. I also further followed up Rachel Kessler’s beautiful work “the Senior Passage Course” which I first came across as a chapter in an anthology about contemporary rites of passage.  Rachel has died now, but not before sharing a beautiful body of work the soul in education, a number of chapters of which can be found on her web: http://passageworks.org/about/remembering-our-founder/soul-of-education/

Through this and Joe’s work I feel fully re-inspired by how Council as a very simple practice can serve our communities, schools and young people, hence my desire to share and further introduce the practice now..

Kitty Jackson: I have been involved in listening circles and Council circles for several years and have always found them to be powerfully transformative and deeply bonding for any group. In a world where deep listening is such a rare gift, I have found circles to be one of our strongest tools for bringing people together and encouraging reflection and honest dialogue. In an effort to learn more about this process, I embarked on a deep learning journey in California in September 2017, first visiting the Ojai Foundation for a weekend introduction to the process of Council. It was a humbling and rich experience to meet some of the great teachers and carriers of Council who are taking this work into schools, prisons and corporate environments across North America and beyond. After this initial course, I made my way through the Yosemite Valley and over to the beautiful Owens Valley, where I was lucky enough to take part in a School of Lost Borders course titled the Nature of Council. It was a deep-dive 8 day course into the practice of living and embodying the way of Council in all aspects of life, particularly our relationship with ourselves and the natural world. Having returned from this experience, I am extremely excited and full of energy to spread the practice of Council in the UK over the next few years and am keen to bring Council to those who would never expect to find themselves sitting in circle together. I have a strong intuition that Council practice is a tool that is deeply needed in our world at this moment in history, and I am eager to find ways and paths to offer people these enriching tools. 

I wonder if you will like us sense and find some similar inspiration here?? If so do get in touch to register your interest and join our introductory and practice group to grow the work for yourself and your community if you can, or do pass this info’ on to another friend or colleague to whom you feel it might call.

Best wishes

Jeremy Thres


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Grief Tending in Community Dec ’17

Dec 8 – 11th 2017

High Heathercombe Centre, nr Manaton, Dartmoor, Devon

With Sophy Banks, Jeremy Thres and team

“Everything we love, we will lose”

This is an invitation to a rare weekend of tending our grief with others, in beautiful surroundings, held by an experienced team.

Grieving is a natural process, allowing feelings such as sadness, loneliness, anger, despair and many more. The more we open ourselves to love others, to celebrate the beauty of our world, to long for peace and justice, the more we open ourselves to the pain of losing what we love, or the destruction and the inequality in the world around us. Over this spacious weekend our intention is to journey together to gently allow our grief to surface, give it expression and come to a place of integration and readiness to return to our lives.

Previous participants say –

“The space we created gave me space to do some deep healing, and the expression of old grief found a much healthier, wondersome place to reside in me. I feel at peace – thank you so much.”

“I was very interested and curious of this work. I’ve come back feeling richer and inspired.”

 “Jeremy & Sophy bring great experience and insight into the holding of this work –grief tending in community – which is so valuable and indeed essential in our modern world if we are to find peace and harmony as humanity.”

About Grief Tending in Community

To register contact Jeremy Thres: by email landtime1@gmail.com  or text 07717 853967 asking for a booking form. Numbers are limited so we encourage you to do this sooner rather than later.

When: 3pm on Friday 8thth – 1pm Monday 11th Dec 2017. Please arrive from 1pm on the Friday.

Cost: £275 including £50 deposit to book a place (£250 for returnees).

This includes all meals, facilitation and accommodation. If you are able to pay a bit more to support someone else who is struggling financially, or on the other hand, if you need a longer term payment  plan or supported concession please communicate with Jeremy on 01647 432638. If we are able to support that we will, don’t let money be the reason you do not come.

Where: The High Heathercombe Centre, Manaton, Devon. High Heathercombe is a wonderful facility both on the edge of the moor with fabulous woodland.  http://www.highheathercombecentre.org.uk

Accommodation: Shared small bunk rooms. There are also fine B & Bs nearby, and camping on site

Food: will be healthy vegetarian and as much as possible organic and local.

More about Grief Tending in Community .

Creating a place where we can be heard and supported in our grief – and feel the support that comes from sharing grief with others – is rare in our modern world where grief is often hidden away behind closed doors, or in private settings with therapists or those close to us. Yet human cultures around the world have included shared grieving as a normal, even necessary part of staying in connected and loving community.

Such a process is not about resolving our grief or the sources of it, rather tending to and honouring it. And we may find that our grief is blocked, and takes time to find its way to flow.

Though as in any ritual we do not know exactly what will unfold for each person, from previous weekends many report reaching a place of lightness, feeling unburdened and deeply connected to ourselves, the beauty of the world, and the group who have shared our journey.

This weekend brings together many strands of grief work with elders including Sobonfu Some, Martin Prechtel and Joanna Macy, and draws on the work of Maeve Gavin and Wisdom Bridge.

If you have more questions please do get in touch.

Jeremy is on 01647 432638, landtime1@gmail.com.  Sophy is on 01803 732305, or sophyb@btinternet.com


Sophy Banks: Sophy has worked as a therapist, family constellator and workshop leader. Her understanding of the importance of grief work started through attending workshops of Joanna Macy and Sobonfu Some and has continued through more recent work with Maeve Gavin. In 2006 as Transition Town Totnes was coming into being Sophy co-founded the “Heart and Soul” group, addressing the inner aspects of reimagining and rebuilding resilient, local ways of living. As the global Transition movement came into life she taught people and groups around the world about this positive, holistic model for creating a healthy and vibrant future for everyone. Originally trained as an engineer and a keen footballer, in 2005 Sophy realized she was too old to carry on slide tackling on the football pitches of Hackney Marshes and moved to Devon, where she grows vegetables and can still just about get up the hills on her bike.

Jeremy Thres: Founder of not for profit organisation Regenco, Jeremy’s interest in regenerating and reintegrating Land, People and Spirit led him to be involved in wilderness oriented rites of passage work and it was within that that he first learned the importance of grief tending. Alone in the wilds he was able to release pent up grief held from many years before, and with that release something else could flood in. Internally though he was told he now had to learn how to do that with people, and it has been through this grief tending in community work that has most deeply made that possible. He found time with Martin Prechtel deeply inspirational in relation to this, as has been touching in with Malidoma, Joanna Macy and playing a support role and participating in work with Maeve. Community based grief tending has enabled the surfacing and release of layers of grief he didn’t know he held. https://regenco.wordpress.com


Sobonfu Some – indigenous teacher from Burkino Faso http://www.sobonfu.com/

Joanna Macy – creator or the Work that Reconnects for changemakers  www.joannamacy.net

Frances Weller, teacher and writer about grief work: http://www.wisdombridge.net

Maeve Gavin, significant inspiration of this workshop: http://wayofthevillage.co.uk

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Here are some reflections on Grief tending and some potential resources both locally in Devon and further afield…

Reflections on grief tending…..

Grief is natural, and to grieve is an active process. Sadness and other emotions such as anger are evoked when we or beings/things we love/depend upon are impinged upon, impacted or changed.

Circumstance and or cultural norms can lead to us putting aside our suffering and feelings (sometimes appropriately – it is never the wrong time to be informed by our emotions, nor to act on them to get yourself or another out of harms way, but it is not always the right time or space to fully feel or express them).

Having put our suffering or feelings aside for whatever reason, it can then really serve to find/create/co-create healthy circumstance in which we can come back to them…..if we never or very seldom do this, that is when something in us can begin to contract and harden and become unhealthy for us…. (one definition depression is ungrieved grief “depressing” us – weighing us down).

Something more could be said around the health of not having too thin a skin to function in a sometimes hostile world, as well as the ability to shed/put aside our harder skins when able….

So it is we need to create for ourselves, and with others, places where our pain, grief and suffering can be healthily placed/given attention – “tended” is the beautiful word I first heard Maeve Gavin use…it has a quality of attention, honouring and tenderness…..

We can certainly find places supportive for us to do this on our own – by  a stream or river, with a tree – in a wide open space, in the bathroom (sacred water)…(I notice how for me I include places where there is space or elements that support us in our tending). However doing such work alone may not be enough to support us to the deeper levels, hence the merit of potentially co-created/facilitated (facilitated for potentially close to these energies are others such as anger and blame so wise holding awareness is needed), held spaces where we can grieve, and also ritual space offering both a more spacious support and place to take and place our grief – eg to the water, to the earth,  to a shrine/altar (as works for us), with prayer I suggest for health in relation to these energies that are difficult for us to work with…that we need support with “let your grief cry move through me” says Rilke…

A number of cultures speak of the importance of community held ritual in this context, not only that we need each other to reach layers, but that our grief is not ours alone anyway, and to not bring it to work with in community can contribute to making it a poorer place….

Lastly I just want to share when I first began this journey I thought someone else, in particular another human had to both hear and understand my grief and “the story” behind it, and this is something I no longer feel in the same way and in a way this frees me to do it – to take my pain and suffering to a tree, to a shrine, to the Great Mother Ocean….paradoxically no-one else need feel burdened by it, yet also I both can and do as feels right share something of it with another or within a group circle and they can feel the common humanity of that. They hear my grief cry, alongside others amongst, or at least in some of the ritual I am involved in, within and carried by music both joyful, mournful, honouring and celebrating which supports the tending, mine and others for ourselves, for our children and for each other….

**** Here are some huge inspirations for me that others may also find of value, first wider ones that can be accessed in written form/online if not in person:

Martin Prechtel….key figure for me opening the importance of grief work for health both individually and collectively and how the invisible that feeds us is fed in turn by our heartfelt grief and praise…his most recent book “The smell of rain on dust” is just great and elaborates on his talk on  Grief and Praise: Martin Pretchel,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6h3JNOCTYc, http://floweringmountain.com/boladskitchen/index.html

Maeve Gavin: Sophy Banks and I met Maeve on a Joanna Macy (see below) training in Scotland in 2009. She was a key shaper and inspiration for the weekends we offer. I am very sad to share that Maeve has recently died.  Her dedication, huge heart and understanding of how to tend both grief and rekindle community have already spread way beyond her. Huge Gratitude to her, she will not be forgotten in our life times. Her most recent work was researching Keening as a grief practice particularly in Scotland and Ireland can be found here – the Keening Wake. 

Joanna Macy….is in my view a living bodhisattva, someone who has looked deeply into the causes of our suffering and damage we inflict on the planet, who through their insight shares practical processes and activities that help us have the courage to compassionately go where we need to go both for our own dignity and what is really needed at this time in terms of the common good.

You can find workshops rooted in her work here http://www.facilitationforlifeonearth.org/workshops.html

Active Hope– is a recent book written with Chris Johnstone on how to face the mess we’re in without going crazy, and online resources.

Joanna Macy’s website – www.joannamacy.net. In terms of written work I’d particularly recommend her recently updated Coming back to life – the work that reconnects book.

Sobonfu Some. I only met Sobonfu once in person, though a number of times have met people who shared more significant time with her. Maeve and Sophy in particular’s work has been deeply informed by the Wisdom, passion and understanding she brings to the table. This great teacher and elder recently died but her website still shares many beautiful resources www.sobonfu.com

Malidome Some. Sobonfu’s ex partner who like her played such a key role bringing the wisdom of the west African Dagara people to inform and support the northern European people’s who colonised and so abused their people and country towards healing our own ancestral grief and roots. http://malidoma.com/main/

Francis Weller….Francis has brought a beautiful mind and heart to support the re-emergence of grief tending in western culture, a great synthesiser of indigenous wisdom and poetic western mind, one observation of his wa salong the lines of: I know of no better way to reconnect with our indigenous root than time at the grief shrine. (5 gateways and more) www.francisweller.net  & http://www.wisdombridge.net/

Stephen Jenkinson. Outspoken character calling the culture to look at rather than avoid our suffering be that grief or death.  http://orphanwisdom.com/

Writing practice and grief work Natalie Goldberg http://nataliegoldberg.com/

Others i know who offer something in their own way in relation to grief work in the uk:

Sophy Banks. Sophy has played a great part in the inner transition movement, her work informed by training with Joanna Macy and Sobunfu among others. She has worked closely with Maeve and has played a key part in holding and bringing forward grief tending work in Devon. sophyb@btinternet.com  & if interested in transition movement email  innertransition@transitiontowntotnes.org to subscribe. (Mostly this is not about grief tending specifically)

Azul Valerie Thome: initiated monthly grief composting circles in totnes and began to offer some sort of training around what she has learned (has had some support from Francis Weller for her MA exploration around the grief theme). She is a talented artist and her web has good links in relation to the theme) azulthome@gmail.com

Jewels Wingfield – has a centre in the wye area and offers occasional grief focused retreats. jewels@jewelswingfield.com

Guyano Shaw – with her partner Jason offers four or five day retreats her work quite informed by Nvc and Steven Jenkinson. gayano@ymail.com

Rebecca Card, Rebecca has recently initiated a once a month grief circle in Chagford, rebeccajoycard@gmail.com

Lifebeat: Lifebeat is a uk based organisation offering week long creative camps for fourteen to eighteen year olds. One part of what is offered within the week is a ceremonial space in which  young people are able to express some of what they have been carrying in life. www.lifebeat.co.uk

Myself. Jeremy Thres, to date involved in annual four day grief tending ritual seven years initially in Scotland (supporting Maeve in 2010) and then with her, Sophy Banks, and support of Fern de Castres, Mel Banbury and Ruth Jenni, playing a part in seeding this and growing community to hold it in Devon. Both before and during this time have offered outdoor ceremony and explored shorter offerings, from evenings to two to three days, both here and by invitation in Germany and elsewhere. I also offer individual rites of passage and ceremony supporting folks at transition seeking vision & understanding marking/exploring as they die to one stage of life and open to another www.regenco.wordpress.com      landtime1@gmail.com

I want to acknowledge Family constellation work as a key place I witnessed and grew to trust the value of grief work, in particular in this case the potential great health of tracking current issues to sometimes unknown and often ungrieved/integrated ancestral woundings, and how they can be affecting the present, this was in particular with Sarasi Rogers info@familyconstellation.co.uk, I’d also recommend Julia Duthie in Devon. There are a number of people offering this work in Uk and much written about it. It is potent work and I feel it’s important, as with other therapeutic work you feel carefully as to who it is you feel to work with on any particular occasion, and one way to experience/check out a particular person’s way would be to attend as a representative. Here is a link to an article I wrote inspired by my work with Sarasi and how it interwove with other teachings: https://regenco.wordpress.com/2017/06/18/our-ancestors-wear-our-tears-like-jade-beads/

Best wishes

Jeremy Thres © June 2017

01647 432638

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Our Ancestors Wear Our Tears Like Jade Beads

Gratefully received insight through Tzutujil Mayan, Vietnamese Buddhist and Christian ceremony relating to health with the Ancestors and offering interesting parallels to family constellation work..

I wanted to share a couple of different experiences and perspectives I have come across, in relation to the ancestors, that offer interesting parallels to the family constellation work I have been involved in.

First is what I experienced under the ceremonial guidance of Martin Prechtel. Martin is a remarkable shaman who lived and trained for many years with Tzutujil Mayan elders in Guatemala. He had both the good fortune of getting involved in a village deeply connected, through its way of life and ceremony, to its indigenous root; and the misfortune of witnessing a peak of its disintegration, as it succumbed to the many external forces seeking to undermine and fragment it, culminating in the significant losses attributed to civil war.

Now many years later, after a long process of healing and grieving, he was here in England, working within a culture to which so much of the prevalent mind set that had destroyed his own (and so many diverse indigenous cultures) could be traced.

Many years before his Guatemalan mentor, the 90 year old Nicolas Chiviliu, had advised him that one day he would have to take the heart of his village and plant it elsewhere. So this is what he was engaged in. Planting the heart of the village, their depth of understanding of how to live well and relate in this world, in us. Not so that we became Mayan, but rather so that we could reconnect with our own indigenous soul and root, this, it was suggested, in a movement paralleled by the indigenous people in the lands our ancestors had taken over, having fled also to the very recesses, driven by our colonising minds![i]

Following what I learned and experienced with Martin, are experiences and insights gained through connecting with Vietnamese Zen master Thich Naht Hahn. Hahn like Martin Pretchel has had to live many years in exile from the home country he loves.

Thich Nhat Hahn was a key inspiration for a thousands strong student movement in Vietnam, peacefully rebuilding villages on either side during the Vietnam War. At a certain point he realised, for things to change, he would have to go to America to appeal directly to them to stop dropping their bombs. His visit prompted Martin Luther King to speak out against the Vietnam War – the beginning of a great turning point in American perception of the war, and also King to nominate Hahn for the nobel peace prize. Ironically after this action, Hahn and his companion, the social worker Sister Chan Kong, were never allowed back to Vietnam, their abilities being too powerful for the governing regimes comfort.

Finally I will offer briefly a glimpse of a Christian Minister’s work inspired by his contact with healing in China.

Ceremony with Martin Prechtel….

A great deal of the focus working in ceremony with Martin Prechtel, as in so many indigenous cultures, is toward health in relation to the Ancestors. This is not just limited to blood ancestry, but also the wider field of ancestry without which we could not be here.

Ceremony can be a strange thing to describe. Its profound experiential and multidimensional qualities are hard to speak yet alone reduce to words on a page. Still flagging this drawback to your attention, I enter into this with the aspiration of furthering understanding of ways to find health in relationship with our ancestors, the constellation work further drawing to my attention how disease in the past can impact on the present. For any important omission in understanding of the ceremonies I take full responsibility myself, for I cannot convey all that these excellent teachers did and do not wish to misrepresent them. The intention is not to offer ceremony for people to attempt or mimic, rather to convey some of my own understanding as to the insight and intentions behind them, which I feel some how may be of interest and value to those involved in constellation and other healing work.

Offering one’s Ancestors a Home….

In both the Vietnamese Buddhist and Tzutujil Mayan culture there is an understanding that the ancestors need a home, and that it is healthy both to have connection with them and be in regular communication.

With Martin Prechtel, who had been head of young men’s initiation in his village, a significant element of the cycles of these rites, was associated with remembering and restoring health throughout the many layers of ancestry – human and beyond.  Creating a home for the ancestors was an integral part of one of the first ceremonies we entered into. Each of us within ceremony created a small wooden dwelling according to a certain pattern. Each was unique as measured against our own bodies, and offered a place our ancestors could dwell, and at which we could communicate with them on a regular basis (there were quite specific guidelines on this).

Here once placed on the Earth, heartfelt offerings of Grief and Praise, alongside precious gifts of food and other materials “of the Original Flowering Earth” are shared often accompanied by the invocation “please eat this, don’t eat me, please eat this don’t eat my children.”

Behind this simple prayer is profound parallel with constellation work  – a recognition that if our ancestors are not suitably honoured and grieved for, and in this case fed and housed, then somehow as a consequence they can “eat us.” Or put another way, that which has been uncared for, unresolved and ungrieved within our ancestry, is hungry and if not given proper attention to, can emerge and affect the next generation. Martin referred to an example topical at the time, Kosovo, where unhealed grievances of a previous generation resurfaced leading to widespread bloodshed and trauma in the current one. As in constellation work there is therefore a sense of engaging with the source of a situation beyond its current manifestation.

Alongside offering precious gifts of heart felt and eloquent communication, food and wine, there is strong encouragement to take one’s troubles and grievances, one’s real anger to the ancestors, those who have gone before, even more than those living (such as one’s parents), for as another elder suggested of abusive parents “what they did didn’t just come from nowhere.”[ii]

The fruit of engaging in ceremony along these lines is hard to convey, other than something moves within from doing so, and in relation to this, also without. Martin and his people encourage and have such eloquent expressions for what occurs. For instance he suggests that “if you grieve enough you will reach praise,” and “if you praise enough you will reach grief, for the two are as relatives”

In relation to the change that occurs when unexpressed grief finally flows, it is said “that our ancestors wear our tears like Jade beads!” This seems such a helpful expression for a culture such as our own, where expression of grief is so often damned up. When expressed not only is it often accompanied by apologies and feelings of shame by the person expressing it, but also those present may try to restore “normality” as quickly as possible, not really encouraging it to flow – an interesting side note here is that the way a tumour is described in Mayan is “solidified Grief!” (literally “petrified grief” ie grief turned to stone).

In another note paralleling constellation experience for me, it is also said that the ancestors cannot truly be happy and “cross to the other shore” unless they are able to do so on “a river of our tears.” Again there is that sense of the ungrieved or uncelebrated lingering, and affecting the energy field until they are fully honoured and given their place.

Understandings from Vietnam…

In Vietnamese Buddhism, this idea of offering the ancestors a place is met through a tradition of having an altar for this purpose in one’s home. This altar is divided into three sections, one to offer a place to the Living Ancestors, the next to the Buddha –Spiritual Ancestor and representing the capacity and embodiment of Awakened Mind, and the third, a place for those Ancestors who have died, passing on from their physical bodies.

At this altar these three have a place and are honoured. This may be done through daily “brightening,” through mindful actions such as offerings of fresh water, incense and flowers, as well as through communication.

Thay (Thich Nhat Hahn) speaks of the importance given to this altar being such, that if a new child is born it is first communicated here, before others beyond the household are told, and similarly if a person were to emerge from a forced labour camp (as have been part of Vietnam’s recent history), it would be first here they would announce their return and offer incense, before proceeding to the rest of the family.

Part of the evolution of this altar has been an understanding, that if someone were to die without a connection to their blood family, without connection to a spiritual family, and also to the Earth, then as a consequence they do not have a home to go to and in that disconnection and isolation, they may become what is known as a “hungry ghost.”

Hungry Ghosts are disconnected wandering spirits who live in a state of Great Suffering. “As if surrounded by a fire on all four sides, a hungry ghost ceaselessly suffers from heat.” Part of their suffering is a great craving, graphically illustrated as them having enormous bellies, yet at the same time, tiny, literally needle thin throats. The consequence of this is that even if a hungry ghost were to be surrounded by highly nutritious food and loving conditions, it still is very hard for them to receive.

Such a condition is not limited to the dead – for as Thay asks, “do you have to be dead to have a Spirit? No.” Therefore also in Life, as a spirit, if you lack a healthy connection to your blood family, to a Spiritual family and to the Earth, then you too can be somewhat of a hungry ghost, going on to say that it is his feeling, that this is one the most prevalent condition of our times!

Perhaps a great many of us can recognise it, that sense of burning isolation. A great hunger, that often finds its expression in cravings for things that do not really alleviate the underlying suffering or fill the hollowness inside. There is no doubt in my mind that in these teachings, are clearly articulated some of the root causes of addictive behaviours and patterns of consumption in our time.[iii]

So part of the healing of this condition is restoring health in these relationships by paying attention to them. The healing is further promoted in ways not unlike those in Guatemala, offerings of carefully prepared foods (prepared so hungry ghosts may receive them) are regularly given – weekly in the Buddhist temples, and annually in people’s homes, alongside sacred mantras and profound teachings of the Buddha (awakened mind), relevant to this realm.

I can personally vouch for the efficacy of this ceremony. There was an intrusive and disembodied entity in a room in an old house I lived. After two years trying to work/heal whatever was going on in various ways, Christian, shamanic and other, it was this ceremony and related practices, that were the medicine that led to the understanding needed and change.

I had been fortunate enough to find myself at Plum Village, Thay’s monastic home synchronistically when he was offering dharma talks on this theme. He had literally just translated “the Hungry Ghost ceremony” into French and English so that the non Vietnamese monks and nuns could also participate in it (Buddhist temples are said to particularly attract hungry ghosts as these beings are drawn to the incense and offerings made) – something not exclusive to Buddhist temples me –thinks! Anyone interested in deeper healing and insight into this condition, I would encourage with good intention and deep commitment, to head that way!

There may not be much talk about hungry ghosts though, as even if one of the most prevalent conditions of our time, the Buddhist teachings and healing ceremonies around them are not the most widely shared, and no doubt there are reasons for this. I think in part, it is because of there being slightly esoteric concepts and qualities to the ceremony, involving various mantra and sutras that benefit from being offered with great conviction. I think also in our culture this territory can hold over fascination for some, and terror for others, in a way which doesn’t really prepare the ground for one to receive insight in a deep way, that ultimately is such a significant part of the medicine.

Fortunately there are some core and basic Buddhist practices which are more widely available and are both seen as, and are, good simple solid medicine for this condition, which it is suggested can require great patience and perseverance to heal[iv]. These in particular are the five prostrations – touching the Earth[v] , which involve healing with the earlier mentioned three: blood, spiritual ancestors and the Earth, and the simple practice of walking meditation, bringing one deeply into the present, taught in an effective way.

….working with the altar in Christian tradition.

Many years ago I was given a book about a missionary and GP, a Dr K. McAll, who began his working life in China.[vi]

At some point Dr McAll was deeply affected by a healing he witnessed in a village. An individual had gone into a state of madness to the extent he had to be tied up and restrained, and in this position he was being stoned by local people. A healer schooled in indigenous as well as Christian tradition then came upon the scene and through the work this woman did the individual returned to his senses in quite a radical way.

On McAll’s return to England (having himself been interred as a Japanese prisoner of war for four years) the memory of this man travelled with him, a state that in this country did not to lead to stoning, but often led to people being locked up in asylums and drugs. From what he had seen he knew there were other possibilities. He dived into a study of psychiatry, inspired also by what he had witnessed as a prisoner of war, in particular people coming together with good intent and the power of prayer.

Out of this engagement and research, emerged a different way of offering healing very much in the Christian tradition, with remarkable parallels to that found within constellation work.

In essence where confronted with a situation such as a young person exhibiting symptoms that could be labelled schizophrenic, he would no longer expect a healing to be found just working with the young person. Rather he had found that the problem very often was systemic, somehow linked to some often unspoken of trauma in the closer family or ancestry and the person’s illness to be some sort of repetition or expression of that.

The method of healing he developed was to gather as many of the family together as possible to try and ascertain the source of the distress. Whether something had come to light or not he would then bring them together in front of Christ, at the altar, to share in Holy Communion.

If nothing had come to light already, it was often at this point, that some fresh insight would be revealed. Something would either show itself through one of those present finally sharing more, or he (or perhaps another present) would be shown something akin to a vision. Whatever this was didn’t necessarily make immediate sense, but when shared with those present, would often lead to a cathartic release and connect often to some still concealed incident.

For instance, a figure might be seen with a hanging neck, and it might emerge that one of family had actually committed suicide but this had been concealed, or perhaps there was a child lost or given away who had never been spoken of, and this was revealed.

Either way in a remarkable parallel way to constellation work, the bringing to light and embracing of the unhealed trauma led to healing, and in this case, following the completion of Communion, very often the one who had been exhibiting the symptoms was now able to fully recover.

Jeremy Thres © July 2008. This article was first published in “the Knowing Field- the International Constellations Journal” in 2008

Founder of the Earth Mystery Initiation School (Devon) and Regenco (www.regenco.info), Jeremy is particularly interested in reconnecting people with Nature, both their own and that of which they are a part. He has been involved in rites of passage work for fifteen (now twenty three years), witnessing the potential of these to support this reconnection at a deep level. He has worked with a number of elders both of this Land and elsewhere and trained in core-process psychotherapy at the Karuna institute. In terms of constellation work he has primarily worked with Sarasi Rogers http://www.familyconstellation.co.uk

[i] For more of Martin Prechtel’s incredible life story see his books: “The Toe Bone and the Tooth”, and “Secrets of the Talking Jaguar” Tarcher Putnam

[ii] Stephen Foster, author of “Those Who Have Gone Before” and with Meredith Little “The Roaring of the Sacred River.” Lost Borders Press

[iii]  Another fascinating take from an indigenous perspective affirming similar insight, can be found in Jeanette Armstrong’s beautiful chapter concluding Theodore Rosak and others anthology on Ecopsychology, (Sierra Club Books 1995)

[iv] Thay offers an example around this patience and perseverance needed, relating it to working with children who may have been raised in a very tough neglectful manner. They join gangs and such like and are living in a kind of hell, and if you tell them that the world is full of love, they are just not going to relate to this and believe you… the love in a way needs to be quite tough (this is where those who have known and understood these conditions themselves can be the best healers) and demonstrated over a consistent period of time.

A small parallel personal observation of this has been working occasionally with “youth at risk.” Though we have had some truly brilliant and innovative camp cuisine, if you offer them highly nutritious food some of them just will not eat, preferring to hold off until there is a Macdonalds or something they are used to (no doubt many adults would be the same though perhaps not so extreme).

[v] A recording of this practice is to be found on “the Present Moment – a retreat on the practice of Mindfulness” Thich Nhat Hahn, Sounds True Recordings. Also included is a talk relating to Hungry Ghosts.


[vi] Dr K.McAll Healing the Family Tree, Sheldon Press, London

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This beautiful poem is one i first heard through Maeve Gavin in the beautiful grief tending work she played such a key part in developing. Sharing it on a recent similar weekend myself reminds me of its potency:


Naomi Shihab Nye, 1952


Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

How you ride and ride

thinking the bus will never stop,

the passengers eating maize and chicken

will stare out the window forever.


Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness

you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho

lies dead by the side of the road.

You must see how this could be you,

how he too was someone

who journeyed through the night with plans

and the simple breath that kept him alive.


Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,

you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.

You must wake up with sorrow.

You must speak to it till your voice

catches the thread of all sorrows

and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,

only kindness that ties your shoes

and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,

only kindness that raises its head

from the crowd of the world to say

It is I you have been looking for,

and then goes with you everywhere

like a shadow or a friend.

From Words Under the Words: Selected Poems. Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye.

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Glasgow is not for me.

I do not see the need for such a crowd,

all jumping and biting like fleas in a great blanket.

How long is it since I met myself?


The people lock their faces every morning

before they go to work,

for fear, I think, of having a good look stolen.

Who knows what the key is?


Here nothing grows but memory and that crookedly.

That sitting-rock by the ford on the way to Plocaig,

–I can feel its roughness on the back of my legs.

Our folk had a name for it. What was it?


I was a good man with a spade once:

The houses are too high;

the streets too narrow.

Who could dig himself out of so deep a ditch?


I’d give all I own: my good name.

the linings of my pockets, that kiss you gave me

when I left (you’d replace it surely),

If I could go home once more to Ardnamurchan.


“so sang, once, a Gallic poet with the travel sickness on him. They give you pills nowadays and where there is no pain there is no poetry.”

This poem and the description of it are from: Night Falls on Ardnamurchan, the twilight of a crofting family, by Alisdair Maclean 1984

At the conclusion of the book, which is in many ways a lament to as well as a diary of a way of life past into the mists and some reflections on concretisation, he includes this poem by A. E. Housman:

The Farms of home lie lost in even,

I see far off the steeple stand;

West and away from here to heaven

Still is the land.


There if I go no girl will greet me,

No comrade hollo from the hill,

No dog run down the yard to meet me:

The land is still.


The land is still by farm and steeple,

And still for me the land may stay:

There I was friends with perished people,

And there lie they.




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