Milton Erickson and the African Violet Lady
In the early 1900s a little boy walked through a field of deep snow on his way to school.
Others had walked through the field before him, and he was following in their tracks.
He paused, looked at the tracks, and asked, “Why?”
Why was he following the tracks? Was it just because it was easier? Or was it something else?
He had an idea.
The next time it snowed, he headed out before anyone else so the snow was still fresh.
Instead of going straight through the snow he zig-zagged.
Would the others cut straight through the field creating a new track? Or would they follow his wonky path?
As he came home from school that day there was only one path: the one he had made. It would’ve been faster for the others to cut straight through, but instead they followed the path he had laid out for him.
The little boy became very, very good at seeing the tracks people were on – the patterns they lived by – and break them if they were unhelpful.
The boy was Milton H. Erickson, and he was one of the great psychiatrists and hypnotists we’ve ever had here in the States.
Years later, Erickson was scheduled to speak in Milwaukee, and a patient of his came to him.
“Dr. Erickson, my aunt lives in Milwaukee. She’s been having a rough time since her husband died, and she’s been thinking of killed herself. While you’re there can you talk to her? See if there’s anything you can do for her?”
In Milwaukee, Erickson stood in front of an ancient Victorian mansion. The blue paint was flaking off and the shutters barely clung onto their hinges. It was the type of house the neighborhood children would whisper about, the kind of house you’d see in a movie like The House on Haunted Hill.
Walking with the aid of a cane, Erickson made his way up to the door and rang the bell.
A woman in a wheelchair opened the door. She was only in her early 50s, but looked decades older.
She had been expecting him. She brought him into her home, and like any good host gave him a tour of her house. Aside from the beautiful violets potted around the house, it was worse than the outside.
The wallpaper was peeling away. The floorboards groaned as they passed and there was refuse strewn throughout the house.
Erickson barely said a word as they passed through the house. Once it must’ve played host to beautiful dinners and balls, music and guests dancing through the house… but now it was a ghost of its former self, just like its owner.
“I don’t do much since my husband passed,” she said. “But I make sure to go to church every Sunday. My handyman drives me… but I don’t stay and mingle.”
The house was immense, and her husband had provided her with anything she could’ve needed. He even had an elevator installed.
Passing through the dreary halls, she eventually lead Erickson out back. There was a greenhouse. Heading inside, the plants were like the rest of the house, dried and dying.
Except for a few in full bloom.
“Are those African Violets?” Erickson said.
For the first time since he arrived a smile crept over her face. “They are.”
“Aren’t they very difficult to grow?”
“They can be… but I’ve been growing them for so long now that it’s second nature.”
“Ma’am,” he said, “you are a terrible Christian.”
He didn’t say it to insult her. He said it to confuse her. Just like those people walking through the snow, he did it to knock her out of the track she had dug for herself.
“You only go to church out of habit. You’re not part of the community, don’t know a single soul, and are just paying lip service. Here is what you’re going to do instead.”
He told her to look at her church directory and the bulletins. There would be announcements of marriages, births, illnesses, and achievements.
“Every time you see one of these, have your handyman drive you to their house and bring them one of your African Violets as a gift.”
She agreed, and Erickson left.
A Legacy in Bloom
Years after leaving that rundown house, Erickson received a newspaper in the mail. His patient’s aunt had passed. The front page headline read:
“African Violet Queen of Milwaukee Mourned by Thousands”
Since visiting her, the woman’s life had completely change and she became an integral part of her community.
When Erickson was asked about how he had gotten her to change, he said, “I could’ve pointed out everything that was wrong in that house… in her life. But those flowers were the only thing that was blooming.”
How often do we look for everything that’s going wrong in your lives? If we’re looking for it, there’s always another problem to be found.
When was the last time you looked for what was going right?
What are Your African Violets?
The woman had too many problems to fix and it would’ve crushed her to tell her everything wrong. Instead Erickson found the one thing going well in her life and told her to expand on it so it’d fill the space.
You might be going through a tough time right now. You might have too much on your plate, be depressed, or even worried where the country is headed with the current political situation.
You don’t have to focus on all the problems. Take a moment to find what in your life is going well and what makes you happy.
Expand on it and let your African Violets bloom.
Milton Erickson was an incredible hypnotist. Hypnotherapy can accomplish incredible things, whether it’s helping you to relieve stress, stop smoking, or remove life long fears like fear of flying. It’s not a magic wand, but sometimes when I work with a client it can feel like it. If you’re interested in hypnosis, here are the services I offer. Or if you’d like a consultation to see how hypnosis and hypnotherapy can help you, feel free to call me at 720-382-0223 or email me using the contact form.