One of the most effective pathways to habit transformation is visualization. In the late seventies, Carl and Stephanie Simonton wrote Getting Well Again, a pioneering work on the connection between the mind and the body in cancer patients. This connection was demonstrated through a series of visualization activities that supported cancer patients in their desires to recover. My family was particularly interested in this work because in 1977 our beloved Aunt Peg had been diagnosed with breast cancer and was in recovery from a mastectomy; in fact, it was Peg who told us about the book as a way of introducing her rather unconventional – at least for the time – choice to include hypnotherapy sessions in her recovery process. As we listened to her thoughts about her “cancer visitor” and read the Simontons’ seminal work, we discovered how incredibly rich and powerful daily visualization sessions could be.
In tree life, once a seedling makes it past the vulnerable newborn stage, it is called a sapling. In human life, we call this period of time childhood and adolescence. Our new habits enter a similar period, often marked by the adolescent cockiness that suggests we can eat some fudge if we’re transforming an eating habit, or smoke a cigarette if we’re transforming into non-smokers, without consequence. It’s a dicey period because it comes with very heady energies. In actual adolescence, we often believe we can do just about anything, never mind the battle scars our friends and family members often point to as they advise us to be cautious. As adolescents, we don’t take advice readily, perhaps because we feel so empowered by the physical evidence of growing strength. So it is with our habits.
One spring when I was digging in my garden, a wise Silver Maple Tree offered an eloquent and entirely visual response to my curiosity about growing through one stage of life into another. Dripping with maple keys, this wise old Tree Being planted Herself over and over again in every corner of my garden. As I removed last year’s dead-leaf mulch and gently turned the soil to transplant a sprig of lily of the valley, I inadvertently dislodged one of these keys from its Earth home. Swollen, purple, and marked by fissures in its outer skin, it told me everything I needed to know about growth. Looking at that bursting seed I understood: in its initial stages, growth requires a period of darkness and mystery.
The tradition of making New Year’s Resolutions is a long and often frustrating one. This year, rather than depending on will power or the ‘no pain, no gain’ philosophy, it may be time to try something new. Shifting habits by opening to their fullest stories offers a gentle way to begin the process of desired change. Asking and listening to guidance regarding what positive contributions your habit is making to your life, no matter how technically destructive the habit may be, is one of the most effective ways to approach the possibility of positive change. When we can view even the most negative habit as a faithful servant to our well being, we begin the magical process of transformation.