The Secret of Personal Transformation
Rabbi Dov Heller, LMFT
What do you think is the secret of personal transformation? Here are two scenarios which suggest possible answers.
Cynthia, 42 years old, has been a heavy smoker since she was a teenager. She knows how dangerous smoking is to her health, yet nothing has helped her kick the habit. Then, one day, she reads an anatomy book about the lungs, how they work, and how smoking damages them. What most captivates her are the pictures comparing healthy lungs to cancerous lungs—the repellent images generate a visceral reaction. From that very moment she never touches another cigarette.
Robert grew up with two verbally abusive parents. By the time he was ten, his self-worth was all but non-existent, and the intensity of his shame had become unbearable. Everything in life was an uphill battle. He became more hopeless and depressed as the years wore on. He was fortunate to find a therapist in high school that he connected with. After five years of psychoanalytic therapy, he had a breakthrough. He walked out of the session with absolute clarity: his parents’ picture of him was no longer the only picture that he had to accept. He felt empowered from that day onward to define himself on his terms. He took ownership of his life and his life improved in every way. Friends couldn’t believe the transformation that had taken place.
The common denominator of these two transformational scenarios—and of every experience of personal transformation provided by a life coach, therapist, counselor, friend, teacher, rabbi, healer, or self-help book—is an embodied shift in perspective.
I recently met a “spiritual healer” on a plane. I asked him, “So what is the essence of what brings about healing and transformation?”
He answered, “I blow people’s minds.” Upon further inquiry, he explained that this means people gain an expanded state of consciousness. In other words, their perspective expands, not just intellectually, but emotionally.
Think about it. Is it not true that any significant change in your life has come about because you gained a new, more expansive perspective?
Intellectual realizations alone, like reframing, often do not bring about complete transformation. Why? Because they are not emotionally embodied. Lasting transformation only happens when the mind and the body are integrated. When our perceptions expand, our experiential horizons expand. And when our perspective changes, our behavior changes as well, as we see with Cynthia, when her perception about smoking changed her behavior changed automatically and dramatically.
If you are feeling stuck, it means you are probably trapped in a limiting and constricting perspective that may lie outside your conscious awareness. The reason for this is that human beings are constantly making meaning of their experiences. Much of this meaning making activity is done unconsciously. Because of this unconscious organizing process, we are likely to be living with unconscious paradigms, that are actively impacting the way we perceive ourselves, others, and the world. How does one change an unconscious perspective?
The most effective way to bring the unconscious into consciousness in order to gain a new perspective is by interacting with another person. The Talmud says, “The prisoner cannot free him/herself from their prison.” We often need another person to unlock the prison door. Sometimes talking to a friend or family member is all we need to gain a new perspective. But sometimes, when our limiting perspectives are deeply engrained in our minds and body and not fully conscious, we may need professional help in order to free us from our mental prisons.