Life Changes

So here I sit amidst my remaining possessions, all of which have to fit into a house on my new property that is about a third the size of the house I live in now. I’m moving soon, headed to a less arid climate and a lifestyle with which I’m totally unfamiliar. I learn new startling things about this lifestyle every day. For example, gophers are evil. Who knew? Turns out they chew the roots out from under young trees and create holes that are exactly the right size to swallow a horse’s foot and break its leg. There are literally thousands of new gophers on my new property. This ranch is to gophers what Manhattan is to Americans. I plan to address this with diplomacy, but I have been warned that St. Francis himself would have taken up arms if there had been gophers living in Assisi.
But the anti-gopher offensive has not yet been launched. Because right now I’m in the process of ending my old life, not yet beginning my new one. My coaches will recognize this as Square 1, a time of death and rebirth. We train to deal with many clients in this state of change, because it scrambles the average person’s brain like an egg. I’m used to it, and was expecting it, which always helps. Nevertheless, every death, from the death of the smallest hope to the death of the physical body, throws most people into the cycle of grieving: denial, bargaining, anger, depression, acceptance. This is not a clean, linear process. It’s more like taking all those emotions, adding a huge dollop of fear, and blending the entire mixture like a green smoothie of psychological anguish.
When people ask me “What would you do if you only had one year to live?” I never come up with the exciting bucket list they expect. I would spend that entire year trying frantically to take care of everyone I would be leaving behind. This, believe me, is a bad choice. So I have reframed my current minor death as weaning.

Weaning is indeed the death of one situation—nursing—and the birth of a new way of life for both nurser and nursee. Far from being a catastrophic separation, it sets mother and baby free to embark on separate adventures, so that between them there will be a far more interesting assortment of experiences. Baby gets to develop self-sufficiency and empowerment. Hooray! Mother gets to sleep and shower without interruptions. Hooray, Hooray! So it’s all good—but it has to be done right.

There are two steps to successfully weaning yourself off any situation. The first is tostep it down. Not to gross out those of you who have never given birth, but if you have ever fed a baby in nature’s way, you know exactly why cows make that horrible sound when someone forgets to milk them. You can’t go cold turkey in a relationship in which much nourishment has been exchanged at any point. It’s painful. It hurts the mother, and it starves the baby. A better way to proceed is to subtract one of your daily nursing sessions, and hold the new level for four days. Then subtract another nursing session, repeat for four days. Etc. (Why four days? I wrote a whole freakin’ book about it. Just take my word for it, it works.)

As you step down the amount of nourishment being given and received, you move on to the second step: substitutes. You must obviously find something else to feed the baby. Trying to be a martyr, to get along with less, is a noble but unworkable enterprise. If you are losing a situation that nourishes you, finding other nourishment should be at the top of your priority list.  (By the way, if you are in relationships that don’t nourish you, something is wrong, but that’s another column.) For example, I am accustomed to receiving weekly energy treatments from a magical healer named John Parker. Sure, I can survive without this—but to do so would probably affect my overall health. But I can’t just substitute any old massage therapist for John Parker; he’s one of a kind. (Plus, if I ever had a massage therapist come to my new property he or she would immediately be eaten by gophers.) So I have to get creative. I have to come up with something so physically, emotionally, and spiritually renewing that it will create the same net effect of a John Parker treatment. At the moment, I’m thinking this may involve Quaaludes and a very clever monkey. I’ll keep you posted.

I can tell you some additions I’ve made to my life that are beginning to make up for this loss, and they may not be what you’d expect. (They never are.) One of my substitutes is downloading entire seasons of TV series I’ve never seen and watching them on my computer. I’m also into visiting sites online where I can find tutorials on drawing the human body in extreme perspective. Another is cooking with my friends who will be living on my property. I’ve never cooked before, but for some reason being several miles away from the nearest Starbucks has inspired me. Also, I’ve stumbled upon a new system for memorizing piano music. What does any of this have to do with energy healing? Not a damn thing. That’s the point of weaning. You are going to a whole new source of nourishment, not just moving from boob to boob. I mean seriously, how is milk like grass? It isn’t! Eat it anyway!

So as your life changes—because everyone’s life is changing—use step-downs and substitutes to wean yourself off whatever you are losing. You’ll never find things going back to the way they were—but you will find yourself forced into discovering delicious new things you may have never even imagined. For example, gopher hunting.

42 replies
  1. Lois
    Lois says:

    I love your way of explaining how to survive and thrive during change. As I look back on some on the changes I have made, some willingly and some not, in my life in recent years…finding myself grieving and depressed. I realize that I began to live again and grow when i sought out ‘things’ to replace what i had left behind. Its all new and all different, but it’s a exciting adventure that I am excited about. Your humor is awesome! Thank you so much!
    With love,

  2. Cindy L
    Cindy L says:

    I can’t begin to tell you how helpful your posts have been for me over the past several months. Your topics always hit home, whether you’re writing about revamping friendships or letting go of old patterns. Thanks so much, Martha.

  3. Janine
    Janine says:

    Hi Martha – gofer hunting is a noble pass time here in the prairies, and when the trade off is my four footed equine friends are safe it’s always been a fair trade in my books! It’s a bonus if you also happen to have a couple of high-prey drive dogs who see “hunting with mum” as a good and natural occurrence, even if mum has a few near death episodes from the earth moving efforts needed to refill the craters made in pursuit of those pesky gophers! My friend runs a commercial-grade gopher trap line, but then he’s a lot more patient that me and the dogs! Suspect he’s the wiser of the 2 of us, but the dogs have some serious fun fits in the stalker movie genre.

    So, milk to grass, sounds like a trade up to me! Wishing you all the best in your transition!

  4. Derek Reid
    Derek Reid says:

    Hi Martha,

    I enjoyed reading and consuming your post about weaning

    Here in Scotland, we call our children ‘weans’, which is sometimes hard to listen too when a thick dialect accent of Glaswegian shouts that word out in a street somewhere

    There is no doubt that all human behaviours are overindulgance mostly, the satiety is never fulfilled.

    What I feel is that in my being a wtiness in life, people feel very bare, almost vulnerably exposed if they dont have 2 cars sitting in the driveway,children that have the latest software and dressed best or/and the best house in the area

    We humans in this age tend to make ‘thriving’ a quantum leap and the inordinate pressure that goes with it to get there instantly

    Survival is what makes thriving such a spiritually rich journey, we create a beautiful blueprint of humility, vulnerability and true connection and meaning with others when we dont have much material possesions but an overwhelming gift of community in its absence

    Absolutely here is where the grass tastes sweet and the milk will taste magnificent

    Best of health to you


  5. RoseMary
    RoseMary says:

    I moved from N.D. to Ut. 33yrs ago. I had my 6 kids in tow(8 to 22 yrs)They were not all happy w/the move.All but the 8 yr.old got jobs & we survived. Nobody has any regrets now. Good luck!

  6. rebecca @ altared spaces
    rebecca @ altared spaces says:

    Here in Colorado, where horses and cows need big open spaces to walk and wander (and eat lots of grass), the gophers (I think we call them prairie dogs here) are the enemy big time.

    When we arrived on our acres my son was young, but he has grown into quite the hunter. Neighbors all around recruit him to help with the prairie dog problem.

    This was not easy for me. In addition to raising this hunter-boy, I’d also raised my animal rights vegetarian daughter. Hmmmm.

    As you mentioned it hurts the horses. We went round and round on this one. Landing in grass AND milk.

    Enjoy your new digs. Digging well.

  7. upendra parikh
    upendra parikh says:

    really each & every word is very appealing. thanks by heart. awaiting similar articles as iam very much fond of such spiritual material.
    remain with nthanks. upendra

  8. Ruth Demitroff
    Ruth Demitroff says:

    I bought a lot of light videos exploring various options for widowhood when my husband, the priest, went from dynamic to dead within 6 hours. I also watched a lot of tv shows with strong women leads who could tackle and arrest criminals. The videos were helpful because whatever phase I was in, I was way more normal than the actress playing that phase to the extreme. The tv shows gave me confidence and courage during the transition from being “the wife of” to being the lead in my life story. During the transition year, I moved back to my hometown and into the ancestral home giving me time and space to reconnect with my 17 year old self who counted the days until high school graduation and heading off to a campus residence.

  9. Jane H H
    Jane H H says:

    Thank you so much for this inspiration. I have just been diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. I have worked with special needs hearing impaired children for 30 years and you must know how nourishing that has been. I’m so sad and so afraid of many things but one is losing that part of my life. Your books have been among my ‘keepers’ but your words today help me calm myself and comfort me that I can find that nourishment somewhere else. I will take notice of nourishment that I didn’t see before. Thank you and God bless.

    • Amanda Crowell
      Amanda Crowell says:

      Hi Jane,
      My father had inoperable lung cancer. He was really scared, too. He had three years of everyone telling him how much they loved him and what an impact he had made on our lives; it sounds like you made an impact, too. Know that the strength you gave away is what will come back to you now in the form of love and gratitude. I will hold you in the light.

  10. Sue
    Sue says:

    Just to add my voice to the chorus: THANK YOU.

    I have two rescued horses in my backyard and gopher tortoises, who are not as deadly as mere “gophers”. LOL

  11. Jackie
    Jackie says:

    Very helpful, thank you. I need to find better ways to nourish myself, I think.

    If you like TV at the moment, I would suggest Heartland. It’s a Canadian series about a girl who heals horses – and in doing so, people. Talk about a story that is perfect for the Team. I wonder if the writer is a Team Member.

    Take care,

  12. Annie Lu Belaney
    Annie Lu Belaney says:


    These were the words I needed to hear this morning. I too am ending one life and beginning another. It was only a few days ago after a Winter Soltice ceremony with some women friends, that I realized my recent depression is simply grief. Now I can breathe, meditate, allow and feel the sadness and ready myself for the stage of acceptance so I can move on. Thanks for your insight, humanity and service.


  13. Martha Cravens
    Martha Cravens says:

    Lovely post! I am transitioning into a new chapter as well, and I laughed out loud when I read about the serial tv episode watching — me, too! Walking around the block and water (shower, bath, tea) are helping, too. Thanks for sharing – happy changing!

  14. Jeni
    Jeni says:

    Dear Martha and crew,

    Thank you so, so much for your work (and play!) this year. You have inspired my spirit and for that and many other blessings, I am grateful.


  15. Kristine
    Kristine says:

    Hi, Martha–I just blogged about something similar, except for me it was going through my childhood home after the death of my parents to clear it out for the new owners. I hear you on the step-down. Seems I’m hooked on cleaning out my own basement (shoring up foundations?) and watching Selling New York or Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday reruns. Thanks for reminding me to be gentle with myself.

  16. Gretchen Grove
    Gretchen Grove says:

    Martha – gophers are not evil. They’re part and parcel with living in California and somehow add to the ecosystem. Maybe they’re the rototillers of the underworld. Of course, horses do complicate the equation. But for one such as yourself, who understands the Africa ecosystem and that all critters are important, I’d say don’t listen to the “gophers-are-bad” people but trust your “animal” instincts.
    The best to you in your new home.

    • Kris
      Kris says:

      Thank you for leaving this comment about gophers. I was having trouble processing the inherent message in Martha’s essay because I believe all creatures are valuable and play their important roles in ecosystems.
      Areas might be over-populated with gophers/prairie dogs because we killed and are intolerant of their natural predators.
      So, glad there are people like you out there spreading the message of respect for wildlife.

  17. sharon
    sharon says:

    I am in the process of putting my coaching business together. I am doing a lot of reading writing. I am a recovering licensed professional counselor from North Carolina. Can anyone tell me which city/state to start this business. sharon

  18. Nilesh Thali
    Nilesh Thali says:

    Greetings Martha,
    I have read two of your books so far: “Steering by starlight”, and “Finding your way in a wild new world”, and i find that the latest book speaks to me more personally, and with almost LOL humor.
    Note: i said i have “read” your books, which is a far lower form of comprehension. i haven’t quite gotten to the practicing state, though i did try to bend spoons with spectacular failure.
    but i’m hoping to follow you for a long time, eventually realizing that i am part of the Team.

  19. Desiree Harpe
    Desiree Harpe says:

    Hello Martha,
    Nice article! I hope you have found a humane way to live with your gophers? Remember, they were there first.

  20. Julia
    Julia says:

    Thank you for writing this. I am currently going through a divorce after my husband having multiple affairs. It’s sad to me but this article put things into perspective.

  21. Karen Tintle-Cook
    Karen Tintle-Cook says:

    Martha- I read this today (1/22/14) and it was just what I needed to hear. I’m packing up my home to move to a much smaller place. There are so many variables to this transition that my head is spinning and I struggle daily/hourly with anxiety. Thank you for your words of wisdom.

  22. Kate
    Kate says:

    What a wonderful analogy… weaning! It’s been over three decades since my daughter passed through that stage, but she’s now a mother with her own toddler going through it. A very immediate image! Thanks! 🙂

  23. Dee Tucker
    Dee Tucker says:

    So many changes for me – retirement, moved to new home, completed four year commitment volunteer job at church and my relationship with my closet relative has changed dramatically. Today’s quote and this blog really spoke to my heart. I have been stuck in depression….time to find new nourishment! Thanks Martha!

  24. Joyce Zorger
    Joyce Zorger says:

    Between the golphers, the deer, and the freezing cold weather our here in the country, I have very little left of my lawn or plant life. Lawn, plants and flowers that were alive, look withered and dead. But like our lives, nature goes through changes of death and renewal. I am in the process of reinventing my life and now taking the time to “come home” to what that means. Slowing down, daily meditation, enjoying my husband, nature, my horses, our dogs, cats, fish, birds, friends. Allow/release ~ my new mantra.
    P.S. Let me know how you solved the gopher problem as they have completely taken over. The land looks like a minefield.

  25. Ginny
    Ginny says:

    I continue to be amazed that when the student is ready the teachers appear…..and so timely too if I’m open. I have read a few of your articles over the last several years but not the books. I was on a journey that just hadn’t brought me to you yet. I so get the weaning/boob analogy as our family has been in the cattle business for almost 40 yrs….not raising but certainly being amongst them….I am embarking on letting go again but more this time w/out a place to land…….I’m very much a community/service person and in a caregiving roll. I’m going to take your message today and remember I cannot compare the boob to the grass……and the eye opener too is I had already begun doing some things to make the journey different…..i .e. I too have begun to watch complete series of things I don’t watch weekly….I bought a fancy camera to go see what it is I see in nature near the provincial park I live. SO it is wonderful to see I’m doing some of the things you toss out to us here and see places I can continue to grow in shifting my thinking……..and put my gratitude of working to be more real/authentic..the say what I mean but don’t say it mean person……INTO ACTION! Thanks Martha…looking so forward to following you more..I downloaded your book of essays to my Kindle so you can ‘travel with me’ 🙂

  26. Ginny
    Ginny says:

    P. S. Martha………….I know this was written in 2012… hopefully you have figured out the gophers usually win………..I GET Gophers too………and they are quite the adventure and it has been quite the adventure learning how I can deal with them without poison…..sometimes I hit and sometimes I miss…..isn’t that the adventure of life?

  27. Samela
    Samela says:

    Talk about an insight right on time! I have followed you ever since I read your first article in Oprah magazine and your wisdom and insight never cease to amaze me. Thank you for sharing!

  28. lisa
    lisa says:

    Gophers may be your next teacher/lessons to learn about tolerance and acceptance? Better them than nasty human neighbors. The universe always supplies us with the next irritation just when we think we’ve got it handled. I’m certain you will find a way to co-exist but please keep us posted as to how you’re managing it!

  29. Pam
    Pam says:

    Thank you! I am losing a friend with a beautiful soul to cancer. I needed your inspiring message today!

  30. Lisa Wolfe
    Lisa Wolfe says:

    A few years ago, I had a lovely artichoke plant in my yard that was finally bearing gorgeous little artichokes. About a week before I was planning to harvest, the plant disappeared. It was nowhere around, just GONE. I inspected the area where it was and there was a neat hole–the damn gophers had pulled it DOWN into their horrible lair and eaten the whole thing! Just like in Looney Tunes!
    Anyway, thanks for this…such a good way of looking at different phases in life. 🙂

  31. Marianne Richmond
    Marianne Richmond says:

    I so needed to read this today as our house goes on the market today! Thanks for saving me an appointment at my own therapist! I will be re-reading this one often!!

  32. Maryann S
    Maryann S says:

    I always love your insight. Oddly enough, when you stuck the word Gopher in your blog, it made me realize that I have always wondered how in the heck any creature can live underground! LOL

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  1. […] I tell myself rise and fall inside of my head, crumbling into bits. Yet I’m not exactly sure how, as Martha Beck advises, to step away from the old and find new thoughts to replace them with. The old thoughts certainly keep making me plenty miserable. I’m also really starting to see how […]

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