One of the things I like to ask people is what feels impossible to them. If you had asked me that question, I would have said, “I’d love to do an interview with Martha Beck but there’s no way that’ll ever happen!”
But I went ahead and asked anyway.
You can only begin to imagine how I felt when I received a “yes” to my near-to-impossible request but even more, when I read these words from her in answer to one of my questions:
I believe things are even more magical and exciting than I was able to express….
No kidding! You couldn’t have told me that having Martha Beck on my site was possible. But clearly, it is.
Everything really is possible.
And here she is. Magical. Exciting. And then some… Enjoy!
AO: For quite some time, I have sensed that a shift is occurring in the way we need to show up in the world in order to thrive personally and financially. Your new book, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World: Reclaim Your True Nature to Create the Life You Want, seems to embody that conversation. What is this “wild new world” and what do you think it will ask of us?
MB: We live at a time of unprecedented change. Technological innovation means that many industries are disappearing, methods of production and transferring wealth are being upended. We’re also changing the face of the earth, affecting the oceans, the atmosphere, and the climate in ways that could be devastating to all life (except cockroaches). And the change is accelerating so quickly that futurists now say they can’t imagine what will happen by 2050. Ray Kurzweil calls that year “the singularity,” because, like the physics of singularity in a black hole, change will become so rapid that it can’t be meaningfully measured.
This is terrifying if you’re thinking the way most of us learned to during the 20th century—in methodical, logical steps focused on physical processes. But we evolved to cope with chaos, and so a return to our instincts—and to the methods of “wayfinding” used by our ancestors—can help us not only handle our challenges as individuals and as a group, but create huge positive change and even reverse the damage we’ve done. Not to be alarmist, but if we don’t do this soon, we’re toast. I believe that precisely the changes needed to thrive personally will give each of us skill sets we need to play a part in an overall positive transformation. It’s time for humans to begin living harmoniously, in a way we’ve never really seen. But it is possible, and necessary—and wonderful.
AO: We all dream of living fully and embracing our possibilities. If we only had time to cultivate one skill or attribute that would allow us to move closer to that reality, what would it be and why?
We would learn to question and dissolve our beliefs. Not that all our beliefs have to go—we just need to recognize the small, earthshaking truth that our beliefs are artifacts of mind, not reflections of absolute reality. Once you can question your beliefs, you can let go of almost all the torment that exists in many human minds. You can begin to see the world with less distortion, since our beliefs shape our perceptions (psychologists now know that we don’t believe what we see—we see what we believe, filtering perception to fit our preconceptions).
Once you hold beliefs lightly, you can respond to your instincts and your real preferences. Fears of failure and impossibility can be questioned and released. To a huge extent, people’s lives are a reflection of their expectations, and if we expect what brings us joy, rather than believing our fear, we can create changes so positive they look like miracles.
AO: I asked my readers what they would most love to ask you if they had the opportunity. I received many fabulous submissions but I chose these two because they speak to what many of us are afraid to say out loud.
First Reader Question: I know–deep down in the bottom of my soul know–that the work I’m doing isn’t the right work for me. I highly–skyscraper high highly–suspect my issues with work are closely related to my health issues. I even know what it is I love doing, and I know there are people making making-a-living money at it, and I know I have the talent to do it, too. BUT, I have tons to learn and it feels like I can’t do all the work/learning I need to do while doing this soul-sucking work that impacts my health AND given this economy and the two teenage children with college barreling towards us that I need to provide for and my age (solidly middle) I do not feel at all that I can be cavalier about any of this.
I am trying to do what I can in the time that I have and take care of my health and celebrate every little step forward I take … but I’m wondering if there is something else/more/different I might do.
For what it’s worth, when I was mired in the deepest pit of what-do-I-do-about-my-marriage/life hell, Martha’s book The Joy Diet was one of the ropes I pulled myself up with. When wanting to do something I’m unsure of, I still ask myself her question about whether the option I’m considering feels more like jumping into a clean pool of water or a murky, dirty one. Helps me every time.
MB: First of all, I’m honored that you found something worth reading in my books—thank you! What I’d suggest is that you begin slowly adding more of the “tons” you must learn to do your real life’s work, subtracting a little from the soul-sucking horrible job. I’m not asking for the moon—start with 15 minutes a day. You’ll find that the learning doesn’t require additional energy from you; it will give you energy.
I found this out when I was in violent chronic pain and exhaustion. Just 15 minutes a day of what I loved (reading novels and working on my first memoir) added so much energy that I felt I’d slept an extra hour. Don’t be daunted by the learning—have fun! If it really is taking you toward your heart’s desire, you’ll be amazed how different it feels from the work you’ve been told is “solid.” You’ll also learn surprisingly fast. Don’t think of it—the learning or building a career—as your “life’s work.” It is quite literally your life’s play. Work is SO twentieth-century.
Second Reader Question: I find that I constantly hold myself back – I can’t give into abundance or happiness even when I am in the midst of it. How do you learn to trust that and stop looking for the other shoe to drop? I do this in so many ways – including not taking advantage of wonderful opportunities that are basically handed to me on a platter. This is more than just living in the moment because I can find happiness in most moments as long as they remain small and therefore not scary – what is terrifying is THRIVING. Absolutely terrifying.
MB: Our brains are wired to look for danger and disappointment everywhere—but the wiring isn’t “hard,” it’s “soft.” Psychiatrists can help change the brains of someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder by showing them fMRI readings of their brains while they’re having an anxious moment. They learn the lesson we can all use on our anxieties: “This is just a connection in my brain I created by thinking anxious thoughts over and over. If I can think something else, the wiring will change and the anxiety will fade.”
AO: Thank you so much for sharing your time and thoughts with us, Martha. Is there anything else you would want us to know?
MB: Only that I believe things are even more magical and exciting than I was able to express in Finding Your Way. The more I “deep practice” the basic way of thinking (or not-thinking) that I described in the book, the more the world astonishes me. I can’t wait to read other people’s stories of the wild and crazy things that happen to others as they explore this way of operating in the world. We really can surf the waves of change, and the ride is just going to keep getting wilder.
Finding Your Way in a Wild New World: Reclaim Your True Nature to Create the Life You Want is a definite must-have for your book shelf if you really want to embrace your possibilities. It’s a guide to tapping into the “deep, wordless knowledge” that we all carry in our bodies and souls. Martha draws on ancient wisdom and modern science to show you how to consciously create the life you want. It’s simply magical.