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Concepts to Calm and Comfort…Insight from Martha

Rumble Strips AheadI am going to assume that y’all are already on board with my obsessive belief that we are undergoing a transformation of human consciousness. I could be wrong, but let’s just say I’m not. It seems that this change is imminent, if not already upon us. In Eckhart Tolle’s image, blossoms are opening in individual human beings all over our flower-field of a planet. This is beyond exciting! It’s also slightly more than terrifying if you are going through it. So here are a couple of concepts to calm and comfort us all.
 
The first is what I call “culture versus compass.” If we are meant to continue living on this particular planet, we must switch—very rapidly, now—to a way of thinking and living that has never before existed. This is necessary because the conditions we now face as a species are utterly unprecedented. What this means is that no culture—I repeat, no culture whatsoever—can give us full instructions on how to embody this new consciousness. Every culture provides hints, but none by itself could possibly be complete.
 
So how does one steer a path that does not yet exist? Since there is no cultural map, we have no alternative but to rely completely on the internal compasses we all carry in our hearts.
 
This sounds dangerous, even to me. The human heart seems full of bugs and errors. I have a firm faith in destiny but have never thought it wise to trust humans too much. Tough! The heart is all we have left to guide us. The ongoing miracle I have been experiencing recently is the discovery that our hearts are being guided more benevolently and helpfully than I ever dreamed possible. Even people who set out to harm others end up accidentally helping them. (I call this the “nemesis phenomenon”; the villain who sets out to destroy the hero, but without whom the hero could never discover the limits of his superpowers.) So all of this is just to say that any decision you are facing is best made in the deepest confines of your own body and brain. They are instruments miraculously calibrated to lead you; you must trust them now more than ever. For further information on this, please read everything I have ever written.
 
The next most useful tool in these chaotic times is what I call the rumble strip. A rumble strip looks like this: your dog dies on the same day your car is totaled, your daughter joins a cult, your best friend moves away, and your refrigerator explodes. In other words, it’s a barrage of seemingly unrelated catastrophes so severe you cannot ignore them. You have no idea what’s happening or why, only that this feels too freakishly bad to be coincidental.
 
I believe that, as the phrase suggests, rumble strip experiences are designed not to torture or punish us, but to steer us. We are headed in the wrong direction, not through malice or even intent, but simply by mistake. We’re like drivers who have fallen asleep at the wheel and the fates are conspiring to awaken us. If you encounter a rumble strip, from a morning of small annoyances to a year of crises, please realize that part of your awareness is asleep. By this I mean it is tied up in erroneous assumptions. Assumptions, by definition, shape the way we see the world. We are as unconscious of them as a sleeping driver is of sleep itself. That’s why the rumble strip feels so chaotic: it is jolting, jarring, and breaking apart the basic foundations of our worldview.
 
The best response is to slow waaaaaaay down. Begin to see where the thoughts you believe most deeply no longer serve to explain the chaos in your life. The rumble strip is pointing out the assumptions you must question, and in its elegant mercy it paints them so vividly with emotional pain that they will be hard to miss. For example, my first rumble strip was the year I described in my book Expecting Adam, when I was afflicted by everything from a nearly lethal illness to high-rise fires to lice. Fun! And then there was my son’s Down syndrome diagnosis. It took all that to smash apart my assumption that the value of my life was my intellect. You may have different assumptions but, trust me, some of them will not work in the months and years ahead.
 
The transformation we are feeling will only speed up from here. So please pay close attention to your inner compass. If you stop steering by your compass you will hit a rumble strip. Don’t panic. Just question your assumptions and you’ll be back on the road in no time.

Is life just one damn thing after another?

by Pamela Slim

My cellphone rang yesterday.

“I can’t believe I’m calling you,” a woman I will call “Beatrice” said. “I don’t know where else to turn.”

“I read Martha’s North Star book a few years ago and, while pursuing a dream job on account of a man, actually made tremendous progress in my career. I have since received national awards for my work. I never thought it would be possible to get paid for work I love, but I made it happen.”

“Now my romantic life is a disaster. Today was a breaking point. I was in the Disney store with my daughter and saw an ad for a cheesy movie about a robot who finds love on another planet. I thought “Even a freaking robot finds love. Why can’t I?” and I started sobbing. My 25-year old daughter looked at me like I had lost my mind. I have been divorced for years and have gotten to a point where I am devastatingly lonely. I don’t even know where to begin to fix it. Can you help?”

This situation, while extremely painful for Beatrice, is a very common occurrence.

How is it that you can be really together in one area of your life and a wreck in another? Why can one area of your life skyrocket (career, love life, finances) and the other tank (health, relationship with kids, level of grunge in ring on bathtub)? Is it just a big conspiracy to keep you from being happy?

I think it is actually a kind and gentle way that life lets you chip away at improving different parts of yourself at different times. In the complex web of your brain, heart and spirit, all parts of your life are not always in similar states of health and harmony. This is why you see cases of:

  • The blockbuster actor going to prison for 3 years for tax evasion
  • The successful governor cavorting with prostitutes
  • The supportive husband and excellent father sticking with a dead-end, miserable job

We all become ready for change for different reasons. For Beatrice, her “Disney meltdown” was a cry for help. She realized that if she did not attend to this long-neglected part of her life, she was going to lose her mind. I have witnessed or experienced the following catalysts for major life change:

  • A father finally making a career change after learning that while he was working 200 miles away, his 3-year old son was crying for him in the middle of the night. Realizing how much he missed growing up with his own father, who had died in the Korean War, he got chills realizing he was not present in the lives of his children. So he quit his high-paying job the next day, and started a career working from home.
  • My own health crisis spurred by a toxic relationship. It took me getting severe pneumonia to finally take action to leave a poisoned relationship. Lying in bed, wheezing, with a strong fever and not even enough energy to reach the remote control that was one foot away, I realized it was time to change my life. I picked up the phone and told my best friend for the first time how bad things really were.
  • A successful young career woman radically changed her work and lifestyle after the untimely death of her mother. A now thriving entrepreneur who travels the world for a living told me that what finally moved her to quit her “secure” corporate job was the death of her mother. Suddenly, it became clear how fleeting life was, and she realized she was in charge of her own destiny.

Whatever spurs you to change, once you are ready, what do you do?

Martha’s Finding Your Own North Star is the robust road map for doing this work, and clearly lays out a methodology for how and what to do. Her new book Steering by Starlight expands and deepens this work. But if you don’t have a lot of time to read, here are a few shortcuts, drawing from some previous posts on this blog:

  1. Commit to working on this part of your life. Beatrice’s Disney meltdown moment was powerful enough for her to pick up the phone and reach out for help. She is interested in working with a coach to help her navigate what feels like the shark-filled waters of attracting a loving partner. Your defining moment will be different than anyone else’s, and may not even be voluntary, but it is worth it to step into the Ring of Fire.
  2. Examine your thoughts and feelings on this topic. Beatrice and I spent a short time on the phone, but I could tell that she had some powerful thoughts and feelings about love and relationships that were causing her a lot of suffering. Common limiting beliefs in the area of relationships can be things like:
    -All men are dogs
    -I am not lovable
    -In order to have a strong relationship, I have to give up my own needs
    -I will find love only when I lose 50 pounds/clear up my acne/finally get a nose job
    -Love hurts
  3. Once you zero in on some thoughts or beliefs that cause you suffering, apply the 4 questions from The Work:
  4. 1. Is it true?
    2. Can you absolutely know that it is true?
    3. How do you react when you think that thought?
    4. Who would you be without that thought?

    and

    Turn it around.

    Master Coach Brooke Castillo put together some more tools and information on Self Coaching here.

  5. Leverage the strength you have in one area of your life for others. Beatrice told me that she totally amazed herself with the progress she made in her career. Although the process she used to get there was not ideal (In her words, “I want to make sure that I point out that I wound up with the job of my dreams because I wanted a relationship with the man I worked with. He is one annoying human being and I drove myself to reach far beyond what I ever I had before because I was trying to prove to him I could do it and I wound up proving it to myself in the process. I wasn’t exactly trying to become what I became, it just happened and then I realized 18 years ago that it was secret desire I had harbored all along. I just literally came to the point where I couldn’t keep waiting for him but by that point I was at the top of my field. I’m not sure if you’d want to recommend that method to anyone – however I think it does fall along the lines of what Martha mentions about being so attracted to someone or something that it leads you where you’re supposed to be.”)
    Regardless of how you got there, if you feel ease and strength in one part of your life, use it to remind yourself that you are capable of taking on huge challenges and succeeding.
  6. Create a positive, supportive Everybody to help you along. In Is there a conspiracy by The Man to keep you down? I describe the broad, generalized, highly judgmental “Everyone” that keeps many people from making progress in their life. You know that you need to do some Everybody juggling when your soul screams out “I must make a change in my career!” but your mind says “But everyone will think I have lost my mind if I change my job! When you surround yourself with good thoughts and supportive people, the process of change is much more manageable.
  7. Take turtle steps. Making major life changes (starting a business, looking for a life partner, cleaning up financial chaos) can bring up a tremendous amount of overwhelm and panic. If you try to tackle the whole thing, you will most likely end up on the floor of your bedroom in the fetal position. We are very fond of turtles around the virtual halls of Martha Beck Inc. (hence the photo!) and have seen the power of slow, steady, steps for making significant change. For a cool tool, try a 4-Day Win.

I am honored that Beatrice had enough trust to share her innermost fears with a total stranger (me). And that she agreed to let her own struggle be a point of education and support on this blog for others (you) who face similar challenges in your own life.

An encouraging sign? Beatrice and I are already laughing in our email exchange about the Disney meltdown moment. She was the one that suggested her pseudonym: “Call me Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing!” When you start to laugh at what has felt deeply painful and frightening, you know you are squarely on the path to your own North Star.

Happy travels Beatrice — we are cheering for you.

If you have any advice or encouragement, chime in with your comment!

Is there a conspiracy by The Man to keep you down?

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by Pamela Slim

I had a friend from college named Javier who was convinced that Walt Disney had it in for him.  I don’t remember the particular conspiracy, only that it involved subliminal messages, Mickey Mouse and lots and lots of oppression.

Walt Disney was not the only tyrant in his life, there were many more:

•    Academia
•    The U.S. Government
•    The IRS
•    The CIA

I am sure I am only scratching the surface.

The funny thing is, none of these monolithic institutions held a candle to the sabotage Javier did to himself.  He had tormented love affairs.  He would lose school papers on his computer just as he was about to finish them.  His promising internships always ended in a fight with a boss or co-worker. His sharp intellect and gigantic heart were prisoners behind a curtain of anger, hurt and bitterness. All he knew was that Everybody was out to get him.

Martha explains this phenomenon in Finding Your Own North Star:

“In fact, everybody’s Everybody is composed of just a few key people.  Our social nature makes us long to fit in with a larger group, but it’s difficult to hold the tastes and opinions of more than five or six individuals in your mind.  So the resourceful social self creates a kind of shorthand:  it picks up a few people’s attitudes, emblazons them on your brain, and extrapolates this image until it covers the entire known universe.  The vague compilation of folks, you call Everybody is what psychologists term ‘the generalized other.”

Looking at the world through an Everybody perspective leads to statements like:

  1. I would be more successful in my career, but The Company is holding me back
  2. More people would read my blog if the A Listers weren’t so selfish
  3. I would start a business but no one from my background ever succeeds
  4. I would be in a relationship if Men were not such dogs
  5. I would be better at handling my money if Schools didn’t discriminate against girls in Math

Such broad generalizations keep you stuck and powerless.  By believing them, you hand your creativity and motivation directly to the force you think is oppressing you.

To get a handle on who your Everybody is, try a couple of these exercises from Finding Your Own North Star, (page 63):

Everybody on Deck

Step 1:  Finish the following sentences by writing down whatever comes from your gut, no matter how silly it may seem to your brain.

1)    People judge me because:
2)    Everyone loves it when:
3)    When I do well, people feel:
4)    Nobody will let me:
5)    Everybody always tells me to:
6)    People just can’t accept the fact that I:
7)    When I fail, everyone thinks:
8)    Nobody cares when I:
9)    Society keeps telling me I have to:
10)    Everyone expects me to:

Step 2:  For each statement above, write the names of six people you know who actually, verifiably hold the opinions you’ve ascribed to Everybody.  You can use the same names for every question if that’s what pops up.

If you are like most people, you may be able to generate two, maybe three people for each item.

This list of people generally includes people you love and people you hate. Most likely, it is not everyone in the known universe, or even in your suburban cul-de-sac.

Create an alternate Everybody

Do you have a sense that your Everybody is either people you don’t care about or who don’t have your best interest at heart? Since Everybodys usually come from family, media culture, ideological camps, school, peers or organizations, their influence is strong. But are they really the right people to support you?   If not, you are ready to create an alternate Everybody using another exercise from Finding Your Own North Star (page 84).

Alternate Voices Exercise:

Step 1:  For each of these statements, make two columns:  in the left, people that have told you this statement is not true, and  in the right, people who have told you this statement is true. Fill in as many blanks as you can.  You don’t have to fill in all of them, and it’s fine if the same names come up in response to different statements.  Bother only with the statements you do not believe, and remember, no generalizing.

  1. I’m a natural born winner: always was, always will be.
  2. The world is full of people who would love to be my friends.
  3. I’ll always have plenty of money.
  4. I deserve a life of joy and fulfillment
  5. I’m physically beautiful, and I always will be.
  6. I can be wildly successful at my chosen career.
  7. I have an amazingly capable brain.
  8. I’m perfectly lovable exactly as I am.
  9. I’m highly creative by nature.
  10. My dreams are in the process of coming true.

Here is an example of the worksheet:

Alternatevoice

 

Step 2:  Look over the columns of names you’ve written down in the previous exercise, and answer the following questions:

  1. Whom do you like more?  (People on left/People on right)
  2. Whom do you respect more? (People on left/People on right)
  3. Which people have the happier, more fulfilling lives? (People on left/People on right)
  4. Which people have more stable, intimate relationships? (People on left/People on right)
  5. If you had a baby and were forced to leave your child to be raised by other people, whom would you choose? (People on left/People on right)
  6. Which individuals most deserve to have their opinions ignored, belittled and discounted? (People on left/People on right)
  7. Why in the name of all that’s holy would you give any credence to the people on the left?

Redefining your Everybody may feel uncomfortable since some of you, like Javier, have felt a giant boot in your neck for many years.

Changing perspectives does not mean that some people are not out to get you.  Nor does it aim to minimize hurt inflicted on you by real people.

As an example, just yesterday, an Anglo business colleague said to my husband (who is Navajo), while looking at his long beautiful hair, “Good thing General Custer is not alive, he sure would have loved scalping you!”

Whether you chalk this up to racism or good old-fashioned stupidity, it is apparent that The Man’s spirit is alive and well in today’s society.

But this I know for sure: if you dig deep and redefine your Everybody, you just might find there is a nurturing, supportive conspiracy to lift you up.

Trust me, Everybody knows I’m right.