Dysfunctional Family Bingo

Hello Blog Readers!

Martha Beck staffers Jessica and Bridgette here. We snuck onto the blog while Martha is ensconced finishing her book because we didn’t want you to miss out on playing Dysfunctional Family Bingo this holiday season. We whipped this post up for you.

Dysfunctional Family Bingo is the game where your relatives’ cringeworthy antics become your winning bingo card. Here’s how to play: You and your friends each print the blank card here:

Each of you then fill in the squares with your unique family holiday dysfunctions. Aunt Sue makes an inappropriate comment about cousin Bertie’s weight and Grandma has too many hot toddies and passes out at dinner are a couple squares from our own staff players. Bring your card to your family gathering and as your family acts up, surreptitiously text or email your friends. First one to get bingo gets a free lunch at your post-holiday debrief gathering.

If you’d like more information on how to save your sanity this holiday season (and who doesn’t really?), be sure to check out Martha’s original article where she introduces us all to Dysfunctional Family Bingo. 



bigstockphoto_hawk_1118098I know that in calendar terms, I’ve only just arrived at our literal and figurative summit (more than 9,000 feet above sea level, in Keystone, Colorado). My lungs keep reminding me, “This fluff you’re breathing is pathetic! Where did all the oxygen go?” But my mind and soul feel as if they’ve been here for weeks. So much has happened.

And so much hasn’t.

To me, the strangest thing about this convention is the lack of drama and unpleasantness you’d usually find in any group of professionals, especially a group this size. Most of us have experienced minor altitude sickness, little travel complications, and scheduling snafus. There’s been every opportunity for competitive, conniving careerism. Yet the spirit in our group has grown steadily sweeter, calmer, more enthusiastic, and more friendly.

This is extraordinary.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a life coach, it’s that people have characteristic “failure modes” that send them into tantrums and tailspins, especially in unfamiliar circumstances. In a large group, you get a lot of freak-outs. Not here.

Instead, I’ve watched people processing their inter-cranial bullcrap before it even exists. Events that would lead to hurt feelings, sulking, or arguments in most groups appear only as thoughtful looks, immediately followed by either peace or productive conversation. Everyone is finding ways to make this the best possible experience for themselves, and in so doing, they make it a wonderful experience for those around them. By what mysterious act of grace did such creatures come into my life?

There is such beauty in this spectacular place. There is such beauty in these spectacular human beings. As we trade hugs and hints and enthusiasm, there have been many moments when it feels to me as if all of us–and everything around us–are one being. This isn’t the unanimity that comes from eliminating our differences, but from the radically unconditional acceptance of those differences. Even as strangers, we know one another, and as Mark Nepo writes:

To know someone deeply
Is like hearing the moon through the ocean
Or having a hawk lay bright leaves at your feet.
It seems impossible, even while it happens.



This is the first Easter in 15 years that I’ve celebrated Easter without my beagle, Cookie, who lived a rich, full life, and passed away several months ago. This makes me think of the first Easter I celebrated with Cookie. And a memorable celebration it was.

At the time, my kids were little, so we did the whole egg thing—coloring them, setting them out, waiting for the Easter Bunny to hide them. (I love how the pagan and Christian holidays got all blended together when the Romans took over Europe. “So Jesus was in the tomb, which was sort of like a rabbit hole, but then he disappeared just like these eggs….”)

We hid the eggs, both chicken and chocolate, forgetting we now had a dog whose exquisitely sensitive nose was exceeded only by his astonishing appetite. As pack dogs, beagles have to grab every morsel of food in case they don’t get a share of the next meal.

At five o’clock Easter morning, we were all awakened by a deafening series of howls. They went on and on: AAWOOOOOOO! AAWOOOOOOOOOOOO! AAWOOOOOWOOOOOWOOOWOOOO!

We bolted from bed to find Cookie in the center of the living room, surrounded by thousands of eggshell shards and bits of colorful aluminum foil. He was completely spherical except for his nose, which was pointed straight up, lips were puckered as if he were kissing the sky. I believe his beagle-genes dictated that once he was well and truly full, it was his obligation to call the pack.


I am here to tell you, the level of flatulence achieved by a dog full of hard-boiled eggs is a miracle in itself.

Now, 15 years later, the love Cookie brought with him is still very much alive. And his message echoes through every Easter. Consider: The air is filled with oxygen, I can Google anything I want, there’s free music playing in the coffee shop, even the poor in my country are more likely to be overweight than starving, and there are so many people to love. OH, MY GOD, YOU GUYS! YOU HAVE GOT TO KNOW THIS—THERE IS JOY EVERYWHERE!

How You Got Here Is How You Walk Here


My friend Dan believes that our whole lives are metaphorically prefigured in the story of our respective births. I’ve been asking everyone, to see if I agree, and I have to admit Dan has a point.

My own birth was pretty normal except that I was huge—10 pounds, 14 ounces. Eight years later, when I went to get allergy shots, the pediatrician’s nurse looked at my chart and then cried out in what sounded like horror, “Oh, my gosh, you were that enormous baby!” And, indeed, there are still plenty of people who’ll tell you I have far too big a footprint on the earth.

I’ve written about two of my children’s births in different memoirs: Adam came into the world triumphantly peeing in the face of an obstetrician who would rather have performed his abortion; he has lived as a walking testament to the value of being different. Lizzy’s birth was early and easy, just like her departure from home (she’s 19 and already living in Japan). My first child, Katie (sorry, I mean Kat) almost stalled out because I was trying too hard to give birth perfectly. I was in labor for 40 hours before I finally had an epidural, fell asleep, and relaxed. Then she popped right out. And since then, she’s always held back until she’s sure before going ahead with anything.

What was your birth story? If you know it, think about how it might inform your life right now. Call your mom and get the details—I promise, giving birth is something most of us can talk about until were blue in the face (and many of us were, right around the time our babies emerged.

Dan suggests that you close your eyes and rest for the circumstances of your own birth; for your mother, your father, siblings, other relatives, friends. Soften the pain and magnify the joy of the event. Retroactively fill it with as much love as it will hold (hint: a lot). It’s worth the time. After all, I think it’s pretty safe to say it was one of the most important days of your life. Then, as Kabir suggested, “hold each moment as I did my son when he was born.”

I CAN Live With or Without You

I have a bit of a grudge with American television, movies, and popular music when it comes to the issue of romantic love.  Most of the songs you’ll hear, for example, suggest this kind of crazy notion: “I can’t live if living is without you.”  Themes that feature ideas like “you complete me” are blatant lies.  Not only can you live and be complete without a partner, if you expect anyone to save your life or complete you, you’re guaranteed to end up in the bitter recrimination that ends so many relationships.

If you want the truly magical experience that romantic love can be, start where we always start: clean up your mind. This doesn’t mean ridding your mind of sexual thoughts.  Quite the opposite.   It means getting rid of any idea that an external circumstance, like being in a relationship, is responsible for determining whether you are happy or not. Once you know you’re complete, you are fully available for the wonder of discovering life and yourself through the experience of falling in love.  This is literally like a drug trip.  Your brain on love puts out so many delicious hormones that you’ll be stoned for a good two years.  Knowing that this is part of the life you have created frees you to adore your beloved without grasping or fear, and you are able to absorb the challenges or losses you may experience without being devastated.  Our crazy codependent culture notwithstanding, falling in love is probably the best reason to be human.  

The Gift of Joyful Detachment

There is an old story about a Zen monk who was waiting to greet the emperor of Japan.  Just before the emperor arrived, he turned to a fellow monk and said, “I’ll be back later.”  “Later” turned about to be 12 years.  When his peers asked where he’d been, why he’d left, he explained, “As I waited for the emperor, I felt my palms begin to sweat.  I knew that I was attached to social roles because my body was tense.  I’ve been meditating to lose that attachment.  I came back as soon as I could.”
In our culture, we often think that detaching from something means that we are less devoted to it, that we love it less.  The monk’s story comes from the opposite perspective; when we are attached to people’s roles we cannot see them from a place of simple compassion.  

I had an interesting experience recently when I flew to NY to tape a segment for a national TV show.  In the past, I’ve always been slightly nervous about events like these, but this time, I was strangely detached from the entire process.  I reached my hotel late at night to find that my reservation was in a hotel across town.  To me it felt like a special treat to sit in one hotel lobby enjoying free wireless internet while a car came to ferry me across town.  The limo driver spoke no English and had the wrong address.  To me it was an exciting opportunity to use my Mandarin.  The next morning, I found that most of the production staff had swine flu or a reasonable facsimile thereof.  I lathered up with hand sanitizer, but also felt very relaxed about the possibility that I might become ill.  I thoroughly enjoyed coaching the guest, a woman who was burning herself out to take care of her relatives.  After the show when people asked me how it had gone, I realized I honestly hadn’t thought about it.  History will be the judge but I think it probably went well simply because I was so detached.  
I don’t know what gift of grace put me in the detachment zone for this experience.  Maybe it’s a combination of meditating, cleaning out my mind with Byron Katie’s Work, associating with my wonderful coaching colleagues, or a slight stroke, but I do know that this was a detachment filled with joy and effectiveness.  There is a zone in the mind as narrow and wobbly as a tightrope, but once you learn to walk it, life paradoxically becomes steadier, more grounded.  I think that the stability of our lizard brains-which is always a fear-based illusion– makes us reluctant to step on the rope.  But that narrow line where love and detachment combine is a solid foundation for the soul.  
Today, try stepping back from a situation where you are deeply attached, where your palms are sweating up a storm.  Think about how trivial this incident is from the broad perspective of your true self.  It really doesn’t matter all that much.  If necessary, retire to a cave.  But please leave us a forwarding address.

You Human Beagles Are Seriously Mellowing My Harsh

Physicist Niels Bohr once said that an expert is someone who’s made every possible mistake in a narrow field.  Well, I hate to toot my own horn, but I’ve made every possible mistake in about a million fields.  Take blogging.  As you can see, I started off to write a blog-treatise on leadership, which became a bogged blog when I reached the topic “leading up in an evil system.”  

So as I prepared the next post, I found myself writing a meandering thesis on the nature of morality—how do you know what’s evil, when is it your duty to act against an evil system and when can you be excused for going along, consider the fact that terrorists always think they’re trying to change an evil system….  Ye gods.  It was a Blog Hydra—every time I’d whack off a chunk of topic, two more would grow in its place.

My blog hydra

My Blog Hydra

So anyway, I’m putting all those thoughts into my next book, because they’re book topics.  Not so much blog topics.  I think. 

I am reminded of a time I gave a speech in one of the Carolinas—I don’t remember which Carolina, because I was speaking so often during that period that all 50 states blend together.  I was tired and jetlagged, and my speech—how shall I say—sucked, sucked, sucked.   I went back to my hotel room with the sound of pity-applause scorching my ears, and schlumped onto the bed under several tons of shame.  Whoever had invited me to speak gave me a lovely room right on the beach, but I closed the drapes, feeling that if I couldn’t deliver a decent product, I didn’t deserve to look at the ocean. 

Verboten to the Verklempt

Far too verklempt to watch TV news or drama, I settled on an Animal Planet program that seemed cheerful—a touching reality show about a woman and her wonderful service dog—until the dog got sick and had to be euthanized. 

I spent the evening in the fetal position, numbed by bitter reality: I’d failed as a speaker, the Carolinians had been disappointed, and someday my dog would die.  This all happened some six or seven years ago.  Last week should have been much worse.  Last week the reality was that I’d failed as a blogger, my Facebook friends had been disappointed, and my dog actually did die. 

And yet, it was a great week, thanks to people like you.

R.I.P. Cookie

I’ve had pets before, and loved them all.  But Cookie the beagle taught me why some people spend more on their dogs than on their educations.  Every morning of his life, he pressed the top of his head against any part of my body he could reach, cooing ecstatically just because I existed.  He was with me during every grueling hour of writing and every rejection letter, before I’d published a thing. No matter how many all-nighters I pulled, Cookie stayed up with me.  He was present for every life-coaching session held in my home office, greeting every client with deafening howls, parking himself in my lap, and silently emitting aromas to back up my tentative advice.

He was a good boy.


Cookie the Good, 1995-2009

True, he was also incredibly old—about 105, in people-age.  He’d been partially fossilized for years, though we knew he was alive because he kept gaining weight.  Two years ago, when he was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer, I started feeding him anything he wanted, figuring he’d last a couple of weeks at the most.  But the new food rules made Cookie so happy he went into remission.  Hefty remission.  I thought I’d solved the weight problem when I promoted him from beagle to Bassett hound, but his metabolism kept slowing, he kept finding chocolate bars in my luggage.  I was on the verge of promoting him again, this time to Land Manatee, when Fate intervened.

Cookie was out for a waddle when we met a human friend who sometimes gives him biscuits.  He took off at a dead sprint and tore a ligament in his knee.  It was the beginning of the end.  Last week, an emergency vet gave us morphine and bad news (which as far as I’m concerned should always be offered in tandem).  Cookie’s organs were simply shutting down.  Doped as he was, when I put my arms around him Cookie lifted his head and gave me that utterly guileless gaze I loved to distraction for 15 years.  Then he set his head on my hands and sighed with relief, and never breathed in again.

I cried for three days and two reasons: 1) because the end of a well-lived life is so sweet and sad and poignant; and 2) because so many people—this may mean you—were so nice to me.  Despite my inadequate blogging, despite my failure to produce a cogent, snappy essay on the nature of evil and our moral responsibility to end it, dozens of people have sent me emails, cards, letters, and other varieties of kind wishes, just because my fat old dog died.

This has radically shifted my concept of reality.  I’ve always thought the only way to earn acceptance is through continuous good performance—and even then, I believed, people who don’t approve of the performance want to smack me briskly about the head and face with a croquet mallet. 

I am being forced to reconsider this position. 

Beagle Invasion

So many people have offered me love in the past few days, for no earthly reason except pure kindness, that I’ve come to a radical conclusion.  It seems that the world is filled not only with human beings, but with human beagles.  People who love you even when you’re not “productive.”  People who don’t care how much you earn, sleep, weigh, or vacuum.  People who accept and encourage and care, even when you fall off the communication map for months on end.

Who Some People Really Are

So this is my new attempt to make a few less mistakes in the narrow field of blogging.  I’m sure I’ll make many more.  Someday, maybe I’ll have made so many mistakes I’ll actually be an expert.  But for now, I just had to write and say THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU to every human beagle out there.  I’ll never deserve to have you in my, life, just as I never deserved to have Cookie.  The miracle is, we get love whether we deserve it or not.  In fact, it may come to find us just when we think we deserve it least. 

Now, that’s something to blog about.

The Truth About True Love

When I was 20, I got a fellowship to travel mainland China gathering folktales for my undergraduate thesis at Harvard. I was expecting the kind of stories I’d seen animated in Disney films: handsome prince and beautiful maiden overcome evil and unite in a happy-ending marriage. To my astonishment I found that this archetype is incredibly rare in Chinese folktales–they always ended with the protagonist getting rich.This was the first time I realized that my experience of romantic love was just one more set of socialized beliefs. Some of them made me very happy, and still do. The presence of a beloved companion is certainly one of the most precious things human life has to offer. But other cultural assumptions about romantic love create untold pain for my American clients. I see them in my friends, in the movies, in every TV drama from Grey’s Anatomy to The Bachelor.

Here is a list of cultural assumptions that in my view bring pain instead of joy:

Myth: The right partner will make me happy.

Reality: Your happiness is no one’s business but your own. As Terry DeMeo points out in our currently featured teleclass, How to Love the One You’re Always With-Yourself, being loved is all about loving yourself. You have the power to embrace or reject the magic we associate with “being in love” no matter who is around or how they feel about you. Successful love relationships come from happiness not vice versa.

Myth: You need your partner.

Reality: Believing you need your partner turns love into craving and leaves little room for genuine love in which there is no wanting or needing whatsoever. If you think it is romantic to tell your love “I need you” try this: “I choose you and I need nothing at all from you.” This may feel odd but watch your partner relax as the shackles come off.

Myth: You need to find the right mate to be complete.

Reality: You need to be complete to find your mate. If I told you to go find the mate to my favorite shoe but I never show you the shoe, how on earth could you find the mate? The biggest error I see my clients make is looking for completion in another person when what they actually need is a clear picture of the complete self that is already present at their cores. Find the essential self and identifying the mate suddenly becomes possible, even easy. No one is incomplete and if you see yourself as incomplete you will never find your mate.

Our cultural view of love, our fairy tales are based on the convention of “courtly love’ that originated in medieval Europe. It is a wonderful archetype but it is a poor and misguiding excuse for reality. Your real source of love-your true self-will breathe much easier when you open your mind to all possibilities. You will find that contrary to your painful beliefs you have been in Love all along.

From Impossible to I’m Possible


(It Doesn’t Take Much for a Team Member to Turn “Powerlessness” Into Leading From Below) 

If you’ve been reading along with these posts, you know that according to my reckoning, all members of The Team are basically entrepreneurs—literally, people who bring (prendre) something into (entre) being.  This means that none of us has the luxury of fitting into some time-tested social or economic structure, then letting that structure carry us along like fallen leaves in a stream.  Because each person on the Team has a new and unique function to fulfill in the effort to save the world, we have to lead our lives, rather than following any existing pattern.  The only stream that carries Teammates is what Eckhardt Tolle calls “the Unmanifested,” or the non-physical energy that is always creating new patterns.

I’ve also said that the energy of leadership can be exercised in three different ways: up, across, and down.  In other words, we must not only lead people who fall below us in the social power structure, but also people who have similar power, wealth, and status, and finally, people who have social or economic power over us.  (Of course, from the Team’s point of view—the perspective of the mystic—all these power differentials are just illusions.  Moreover, since the only way for a Teammate to lead is to serve others, we’re really talking about offering a particularly pure form of service to anyone we meet, no matter how powerless or powerful they may appear.) 

In this post, I’ll be talking about what sounds like the most paradoxical form of leadership: the kind where—at least from a material perspective—you’re at the bottom of an authority structure, “leading up.”  It’s the one sort of leadership everyone can master, because we all start life as almost completely powerless larva pets.  Some of us—such as abused children who go on to abusive marriages, jobs, or prisons—have never seen ourselves as rising above the bottom rung of any power structure.  That can feel like an awful curse.  Time to turn it into a stroke of fabulous luck.

If you’re on the Team, you see, places of apparent disempowerment are wonderful training grounds.  They’re the very places where you can best learn to lead.  Historically, over and over, Team members have shown this ability to become leaders in precisely the sorts of situations where anyone else would have claimed leadership was “impossible.”  Saints, social activists, artists, and other mystics use difficult situations to create new ways of being for themselves, their associates, and sometimes the whole human race.  They became embodiments of infinite possibility.  “Impossible” became “I’m possible.” 

Okay, I went a long way for that sappy pun.  Please forgive me; I don’t get out much. 

Now, back to our Team leadership lesson.

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