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The Body Compass: How Your Essential Self Communicates

We Martha Beck coaches are obsessed with helping clients communicate consciously with what we call their “essential selves.” As opposed to the “social self,” the essential self is always focused on our best lives and will actively resist anything that is not in our genuine best interest. Unfortunately, the essential self is not verbal, while the social self thinks almost exclusively in language. To access our essential selves, we pay close attention to the physical body, which responds with tangible tension and resistance when we try to take the wrong path, and leaps forward joyfully when we take the right ones.

Lately, several coaches and clients have asked me what to do when the body gives contradictory instructions – for example, when we feel powerfully attracted to a romantic partner who has damaging character flaws, or we want to quit a terrible work environment but have heart palpitations at the thought of losing the income.

The way to address these situations is to realize that they have many components. Test your body’s reaction to each component of a situation, and you will find that you may have strongly negative reactions to one element while being drawn toward another. For example, your attraction to a dysfunctional person might be urging you to spend just enough time to recognize your own dysfunctional patterns; it is the learning, not a long term relationship, that is calling you. In the case of the terrible job, you may find that your fears are based entirely on your own negative thoughts – thoughts like “I have to keep this salary,” or “Jobs are scarce. I’ll never get another one.”

A key to recognizing when it’s time to tease out different components of a complex situation is staying alert for a sense of “revulsion,” rather than simple fear. Following our hearts is often scary, but the fear feels clean, and does not spoil the desire or yearning to experience our heart’s desire. Revulsion feels like eating something poisonous. It sickens and disgusts. When you feel fear, simply examine your frightening thoughts until you can see where they may be exaggerated or unfounded. Revulsion is telling you to give certain components of your experience a very wide berth.

Distinguishing between a generalized “negative body compass reading” and a cluster of little yellow flags is key to negotiating our complicated world and resolving our psychological blind spots. Rather than running from everything that gives you a twinge of discomfort, take the time to read your compass thoroughly. It will be well worth the investment as you become more discerning and less likely to make unconscious decisions.
 

A New Level of Healing

I’ve always enjoyed looking for life coaching challenges out on the fringes of human experience, and I’ve always been optimistic about what coaching can do for people. This last month I reached new levels on both these counts. After spending several glorious days watching the wildebeest on land that was once “healed” by the same Team members I met in South Africa, I found myself in Rwanda, wandering through the genocide memorial and looking into thousands of the saddest faces I have ever seen. I am not easily daunted, but from a life coaching perspective, Rwanda officially daunted me.

In the most densely populated country in Africa, I don’t remember seeing a single happy face. The genocide might as well have happened yesterday. As someone whose corporate mission statement is “to eliminate unnecessary suffering” I didn’t feel I could take this lying down. I’ve left Rwanda, but Rwanda has not left me. As I’ve reached deeper than ever before to think of methods that could heal such horrible wounds, I’ve been growing as a coach by leaps and bounds.

Like the magical helpers in the classic hero’s saga, some truly blessed things arrived to help me as I considered Rwanda’s plight. First and foremost was the presence of three awesome coaches: Ashley Jansen, Susan Baghdadi, and Cindy Leech. These incredible women maintained such a tangible level of calm and love that I came to believe we could, in time, begin to heal even the darkest wounds humans have inflicted on each other. Another was a wonderful family who invited me into their home and allowed me to participate in their calm, loving, completely untroubled daily lives. The family consisted of one silverback male, two ladies who could have ripped off my arms, and several small, extremely furry babies. Standing and watching wild mountain gorillas, looking out through a forest similar to the movie Avatar, I could feel that wherever love for nature and for other beings arises, all things begin to heal.

Before we left Africa, the other coaches and I were already dreaming up an intensive “life coaching pellet” which could be taught to health care providers anywhere in the third world and left to ripple outward into the population at large. We’re already hard at work on this new life coaching product. I am up at night scheming for a way to get back to the most difficult place I have ever been.

Passion can take you to some frightening places. It can leave you facing seemingly insoluble problems. But it also brings friends, magical experiences and a range of understanding that just continues to increase. The world needs you to follow your passion – NOW!

Follow the Rhythm of Your Destiny

Yes, yes, yes!  I am sill working on a book!   

Oh, I know I’ve been working on it for years, and I know I keep saying it’s almost done.  It is almost done, dammit!  But book writing is an incredibly slow process, and I can be “almost finished” for months or (please God no) even years.

The problem is that I keep slowing down the completion of this project by trying to do it faster.  Every month, when I stop to write my magazine column, I resentfully toss together a few ideas so I can get back to my book, thus ensuring that the column will need several rewrites.  Every time I need to run an errand, I become so distracted and anxious that I forget important items or information and end up taking much more time than I’d expected.

These days, with everything happening so incredibly fast, I think most of us are feeling rushed.  Every time someone asks, “Haven’t you finished that yet?” or “So how’s the [your project goes here] coming along?” our guts clench and our minds race.  In that moment, as we try to speed up, we invariably slow down. 

I have a theory that during prior periods of history, working harder and bearing down actually did increase the speed at which we could complete tasks.  But things are changing on planet Earth.  Events are much more sensitive to the energy we broadcast and the energy that makes things happen is love.  Fear – including all varieties of anxiety and rushing – causes a tension that chokes off what wants to happen.  Remaining calm, as calm at the end of an event as at the beginning, facilitates a smooth relaxed completion.  A pattern I’ve heard described by many fellow coaches is:  trying hard to finish something; getting closer to the finish; getting excited or frustrated; encountering all sorts of maddening obstacles and delays; giving up; then suddenly receiving a fire hose blast of everything we were trying to accomplish.

As I attempt to finish my own long term project, I have developed the goal of making this process less traumatic.  That means relaxing, instead of tensing, when people ask me “aren’t you finished yet?”  It means being as fascinated with the sentence I’m writing as I am with the concept of being finished.  It means letting the present moment bring whatever love it intends.    

One of my coaches recently went to work on me as I wrestled with this issue.  Instead of the statement “I have to get finished with this book,” I came out of our session with the conviction “This book has to finish me.”  As it balks and refuses to be finished, it teaches me to follow the rhythm of my destiny, rather than the rhythm of human expectation. When I do that – when we all do that – our various desires and objectives will not only finish themselves, but finish teaching us how to bring everything we have imagined into reality.

Let ’em Run Their Own Business

Each relationship we have is paradoxically all-important and completely unnecessary. Understanding that paradox can save a world of heartache for us and our loved ones. 

First, I want to acknowledge that relationships are the most important human experience available to us. I realized in my twenties that the meaning of life is not about what happens to people; it’s about what happens between people. Learning to connect with each other, to experience empathy, to step outside our own experience, and to experience love in all its forms — these, I believe, are the experiences for which we became human. One thing I have always told clients is that it’s worth throwing away ten great things if it helps create one great relationship.
 
As our first crop of Relationship coaches are nearing the end of their training, I’ve been impressed once again by the way relationships open us up to growth and healing in every area of our lives. That said, I also believe that our culture makes us attach to relationships that are destructive at both a personal and inter-personal level. Whenever we believe that our happiness comes from some other person, we are in grave danger of turning that person into a demigod and losing ourselves, or trying to force our loved ones to do more than any other human being has the power to do for us. We think that the people we love should make us happy, make us feel loved, help us face the world, take away our loneliness, and in a thousand other ways, do for us the emotional work that we can only do for ourselves. I’ve watched so many clients discard one relationship after another because their continued unhappiness was “proof” that they had not yet found the right person.
 
During one of our Relationship coaching calls, Master Coach Terry DeMeo mentioned that when she was trained at Byron Katie’s nine day school, she kept insisting to her husband that “it can’t all be about your business and my business. There’s got to be an our business” If this were true, relationships would be almost hopelessly fallible. But the fact, as Terry finally concluded, is that if we always tend to all our own business, and allow other people to deal with their business, relationships thrive. If you commit this month to meeting all your own needs, and that you cannot force your loved ones to be anything but what they are, you will find your own life becoming much more peaceful and your relationships finding their optimal pattern, whether that means increased intimacy or the acceptance of distance. Not all relationships can “work” in the way we think they should, but all your relationships are happening for you, not to you, and no matter what the other person does, you can be sure the relationship will get you where you need to go.

Your Position From the Starting Blocks

We all know that change is occurring more rapidly and dramatically today than it ever has in history.  This may be either thrilling or terrifying, depending on the day and how ready we are at any moment to go along with dramatic transformations.  For many months, I’ve had the feeling that many of us humans have been milling around like athletes waiting for a marathon to begin.  Recently, it feels to me as though we’re all being told to take our position in the starting blocks.

I’m not sure exactly what this means, only that it feels tremendously exciting and somewhat alarming at the same time.  I’ve noticed two categories of reaction in myself and the people I know:  Some highly evolved individuals are positioning themselves happily and easily for some exciting unknown transformation; others are kicking, screaming and resisting like race horses who have decided at the last minute that the whole event is just too strange and frightening to tolerate. 

This translates into divided extremes of emotion.  There seems to be no middle ground; either life feels incredibly joyful and exciting or absolutely horrid.  I, myself, alternate between these two extremes.  When I am completely in line with my purpose and following my inner compass, I feel almost intoxicated with joy.  When I am resisting in some way, I feel like week old road kill.  It seems that the biggest difference lies in my ability to relax.  There was once a time when hard work and intense willpower moved me effectively toward my goals and filled me with enthusiasm.  Nowadays, hard work and willpower feel horrible, even when I can muster them, and prove entirely ineffective.  On the other hand, when I give up struggling and acknowledge that I have zero control and no more energy, things suddenly begin to work in my favor, as if by magic. 

I watched this process very intently as my friend Jayne passed away, which as you probably know, was simply a change of address as far as I’m concerned.  People talk about how courageously people fight their illnesses, and Jayne fought ferociously, but the effect of her struggle was horrific.  A few days before her death, when she completely stopped struggling, it opened a door to peaceful and joyful transformation that uplifted Jayne and everyone around her.  Watching the grieving process of her son Joey, who has Down syndrome, was another astonishing example of the power inherent in refusing to struggle.  Joey flows in and out of sadness with absolutely no resistance, and as a result, the pain of this time has been intermittent, alternating with periods of true and enormous happiness.

For anything new to be born, the existing arrangement of particles and situations must die.  Struggling to survive is laudable and natural.  I believe the “deaths” we experience as we take our positions for a new phase of history are benevolent and necessary, and are, therefore, best greeted with relaxed acceptance.  This is a wild time to be alive.  If you feel yourself being moved into position, you might justifiably feel terrified.  My advice to you this month:  Stop struggling.  Relax.  The signal to run is coming.

The Willing Suspension of Disbelief

When you pick up a novel, knowing that the author plans to spin a good yarn, you perform a tiny trick in your head which Samuel Taylor Coleridge called “the willing suspension of disbelief.”  This means that although you don’t necessarily buy into the author’s reality, as long as you’re reading you will willingly accept the idea that Hogwarts is a school for wizards or that the Da Vinci Code could really be traced by an intrepid Harvard symbologist. I recently found an even more exciting use for the willing suspension of disbelief and I’d like to invite you to try it.
 
This happened, of course, in Africa (all the most exciting parts of my life seem to happen in Africa these days.)  Having completed a wonderful adventure with the STAR participants, a few of us rented a van and traveled to the high plain known as the Karoo.  This was once the site of a huge antelope migration.  Dainty little animals known as springbok grazed these grasslands in such vast numbers that the Afrikaan “trekkers” often had to stop and sit on their wagons for days to allow a single herd to pass by.  Otherwise they were trampled to death by these animals that weigh about 50 pounds apiece.  The Karoo was used to graze sheep and cattle, which destroyed the native grasses and exhausted the productivity of the soil.  Now virtually nothing lives there.  In the middle of this vast arid land is a small village, once a cattle farm, that has literally no economy.  
 
Our motley crew of ten Team Members (the only criterion for participation was an obsession with healing the earth) descended on this village, Philippolis, to be instructed by humanitarian and educator, Kate Groch. We shopped in the village store, seeing how much we could purchase with a Philippolis family’s monthly pension, about $30 to feed a family of four for a month.  We visited the school where Kate is training Philippolians of all ages in literacy.  Then we dreamed up ways the citizens of the village could earn a better life by restoring the grasslands and the springbok herds.  That night we gathered at Kate’s house and went into a collective, deep suspension of disbelief.  On a huge piece of paper we wrote our mission statement: to save the world by connecting human beings with the true nature of their own souls and of the earth.  
 
Everyone piled in with ideas.  The drama therapist we’d literally kidnapped from Johannesburg talked about using her skills to heal psychological trauma caused by apartheid and it’s associated evils.  The concert organizer planned a series of rock concert benefits and was assigned the task of writing a group anthem.  The tracker pitched in his knowledge of wildlife rehabilitation.  The two social workers planned to publish papers in academic journals to give validity and purpose to the entire enterprise.  The horse whisperer said she would help people heal emotionally and connect with the animals we hope to establish in the Karoo.  The business manager was all about fundraising.  So for one night not a single one of us disbelieved.  
 
We were completely committed to Margaret Mead’s famous quote “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world.  Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”  
 
The next morning within an hour, four surprise phone calls came to different members of our party.  A famous educator called to say he would donate three years of his life to the cause that Kate and her mother, Mo, are championing.  A large international clothing company called to say they were excited about funding whatever it was we were doing.  I got a call inviting me to meet with some of the most powerful philanthropists on earth.  And a Middle Eastern energy company which is leading the green revolution requested coaching for a number of their employees in the Middle East.  
 
There is no doubt in my mind that this flurry of good news came as a direct result of our small committed group forgetting to disbelieve for a few riotous, joyful hours.  I suggest that for your October harvest you bring together a small committed group of your own.  Make a plan to change the world.  For one night, don’t disbelieve that you can.