Image for The Gathering Pod A Martha Beck Podcast Episode #122 A One-Word Recipe for Inner Peace
About this episode

We are naturally inclined to focus on things that frighten us. Lies spread six times faster than true facts. In fact, there’s only one thing that spreads as quickly as lies, and that’s Martha’s one-word recipe for us this week. Tune in to find out what it is!

A One-Word Recipe for Inner Peace

Martha Beck:

Hi, Facebook people. If you’re arriving, we haven’t started because we were waiting for you, but I’m talking about Maria Ressa, who is a journalist in the Philippines who won the Nobel Prize after uncovering unsanctioned illegal killings by the government in the Philippines. And then they tried to kill her, but they used sneaky ways. They went online and they bombarded people with negative information about her, and they just made stuff up. So they said she was trying to stage a government coup, that she was… And then they just said things like, “Oh, she’s not pretty enough to be right.” All the things that drive you crazy. And over half a million negative tweets and emails zipped back and forth about this one woman over the next few weeks. Well, I mean her life is still in danger. I mean, it’s still going on. So that was like, oh, wow.

But she did some research based on her own experience. She thought, “I wonder what’s going on here.” And what she found, it was one depressing thing and one really wonderful thing, which is the one word recipe for inner peace. So the depressing thing that Maria Ressa found with her research is that lies spread six times faster than true facts. So if you put out a true fact, people are like, “Man, how interesting is it?” But lies, see, because they don’t have to answer to anything, they are free to be spun for our brains to hang onto them and want to spread them. And people out there know some intuitively, but some very consciously, know that the human brain is biased toward negativity. And if you put up a lie that is really scary or shocking or scandalous, people are going to grab it, they’re going to focus on it. And the more times they hear it repeated, the more true it feels to them, and then they share it.

So it’s not just the government of the Philippines doing this. There are tons of people, governments, yes, but also corporations and individuals, influencers, who want to get a lot of likes on Facebook. They want to get a big online audience to buy their product or make them famous or whatever it is they want. And so they do this thing, you may have heard of it, called rage farming. I had to get this news from my oldest child, thank you, Kit, because I had not heard of this thing where people actually sit around thinking: What is going to upset people most? What can we do that will outrage them and terrify them and make them get all their friends to look at what we put out? And they plant the most divisive, crazy, scary lies they can think of, and people jump on it. From those seeds of lies grow thousands and millions of interactions with people sharing this information.

So in 12 steps, they say that fear, F-E-A-R, should stand for false events appearing real, because as we’ve said so many times here on The Gathering Room, the human brain, again… There are things to be afraid of in the world, and your brain will tell you, “That’s scary.” But just to be on the safe side, it also makes up a bunch of things that could go wrong, that never go wrong, that also scare you. And in fact, the vast majority of the things that we’re afraid of don’t happen. So we spend our time getting more and more anxious and maybe even hopeless and despairing and angry with each other because of false events appearing real. And the folks who are rage farming are doing it deliberately because they’re creating in the internet something that plays to the brain and its tendency to do this. You get locked in the spiral of fear and anxiety, which I’ve been talking about forever, because that’s the book I’m writing right now. So the whole culture gets stuck in this, but it’s very depressing.

But Maria Ressa, not to be daunted, she found out that there is one thing that spreads as fast as lies, and that is not the truth per se, but inspiration. She gave this speech at the Annenberg School of Communication at University of Pennsylvania in 2021, if you want to go look for it. She said the one thing that spreads as fast as lies is inspiration. She didn’t define inspiration. We all kind of know what it means, but I went and looked it up, and I found that it means several things. The first thing it means is simply to breathe in. It’s the part of respiration. You inspire oxygen. It also means to get a creative idea. So we’ve been talking about how creativity pulls your brain into a space where it’s harder for it to become, or impossible maybe for it to become anxious, fearful. And then another meaning of the word inspiration is literally in spirit, to be infused with the divine. So truly inspired you go into a place that is magical.

So it’s so interesting. First, you breathe in, then you get a creative idea, then you’re filled with the spirit. This is exactly what I’ve been studying, what happens when we move toward the right side of our brains as Jill Bolte Taylor likes to say, “Step to the right consciousness,” because deep breathing and full breathing allows the brain to know that we’re safe because nobody stops running from a bear to breathe deeply. And then if you go to the right side of your brain, you start to get creative. And so the arts. I talked, I think it was last time I met with y’all about microdosing aesthetics, like using art. Even 20 minutes a day of doing something with art, either making it, doodling, listening to a song, whatever, or just receiving it passively changes the brain and the body in a positive direction. So that is the whole creative arts thing.

And then if you go far enough, you sure enough end up having spiritual experiences, events and impressions and ideas that seem motivated by something even greater than your own creative ability. So I love this Oliver Sacks quote that I found in a magazine. He never says this in his books, Oliver Sacks the neurologist. He tiptoes around it, but he never actually says it. But he was interviewed for Parenting magazine or Simplicity Parenting, and he said, “With neurology, if you go far enough with it and you keep going, you end up getting weird. And if you go a little further, you end up in spirit.”

I love the way Maria Ressa’s research, finding this one word inspiration, clocked into all three, the physical, the artistic creative, and the spiritual. The three things that cause the brain to turn away from false event appearing real, to turn away from fear and get lost in the magic and wonder of consciousness, creating beauty and wonder and meaning in three-dimensional reality.

So as I read this, I thought, “This is like all I have to do is put up the word inspire on my wall, and remember to do three things every day.” The first one is to breathe in, simply physically breathe in. And by the way, go do it near a plant, whether it’s a houseplant, or whether it’s the trees outside or whether it’s a cactus. I used to go visit the cacti when I lived in Phoenix. They were good friends, but breathe in near a plant because we co-evolved to breathe for each other. So we breathe out carbon dioxide. The plant says, “Thank you very much. I’m going to inspire that, and I’m going to send you back some oxygen which you can inspire for yourself.” So go get inspired by plants, by literally breathing in. It will make your cancer killer cells go up for weeks at a time to spend just three hours doing that, being near a plant and breathing.

And then go get inspired. My favorite thing. Oh my gosh, since I started doing a lot of visual arts again and making that a focus, because this is so much a focus of my own research right now, oh my word, people are doing things with the arts online. There are artistic geniuses popping up all over the world, and they’re feeding each other images and sounds from musicians and poets that we would never have heard before. Even 20 years ago, I would never have seen these people’s art. I found this gorgeous photograph of a forest, and I’m like, “I wonder if I could paint that.” I found out it was needlepoint embroidery, and it was photographically beautiful representation of a forest. There is so much to inspire us out there that our artistic capacity, I think, I think this is true, as a population, is just skyrocketing.

It reminds me of a different sort of line of research I went down once, but it’s about how to do really well in creative arts or sports or any kind of skill to develop a talent. And that is that you go get inspired. They call it ignition in terms of developing a skill. You get ignited or inspired by seeing someone do something really, really beautifully, beautifully. And then you sit down and you try to do it the same way and you fail. But that’s okay because then you analyze it and next time you feel better. And when you’re able to do that, watching other people work, your skills go way, way up.

My other child, well, one of my other children who’s in England, Ellie, hi, Ellie, has been helping me with some illustrations I’ve been doing. And she was like, “Wow, mom, you’ve gained a lot of skill in your watercolor in the last few weeks. It’s incredible.” And I’m like, “I know. I’m getting inspired on the internet.” So go look at your favorite fun or creative thing to do. It could be movement, dance, music. Sport is, yeah, it’s an art, cooking, painting, coloring pencils, coloring books. I don’t care. Anything that gets you inspired until you feel that itch, that creative itch, that for sure is your brain heading to the right hemisphere and then get lost in the deep practice of that. Get lost in the process of creation because the mystery itself is a creator. And when we are completely immersed in creating, we lose the difference between ourselves and the creator, and we become the creation and then we are inspired. We have breathed in the spirit.

So don’t look at false events appearing real. There are so many lies out there. There are so little fact checking going on that I would really… Unless something has real factual backing behind it, don’t like doom scroll. Don’t look at the things that are scaring people. They are there to manipulate us and keep us in our worst selves. But there’s also the best of humanity available now, and you can go find it, and you can go admire it until you feel the creative itch and then dive in and tell, as Liz Gilbert always says, she writes until the room falls away, and then she’s in it. And that’s not just art, it’s also spirit. And all of this is a recipe for inner peace.

So we have some questions here. Dr. Donna says, “I wonder if there’s anything that I can do to not be drawn into the rage of rage farmers.”

That’s what the block button is for. Do they still have block buttons? That’s what not looking at them is for. I mean, I have pretty much solved this problem by avoiding social media and spending all my time playing with paints. So yeah, maybe don’t look at it. That’s the best way. You can have a screener. If somebody you know is like, “Oh, I’m always online. Don’t look at that.” Good to know. Have a screener friend who loves the internet and will tell you what to avoid.

Muskan Valley says, “I have realized that academia is not for me. I can’t help feeling disappointed as it feels like I’m wasting my potential by teaching. How do I find the courage to listen to that quiet inner voice?” It just cuts off at quiet, but I assume she means the quiet inner voice.

It’s a really scary thing to jump from what looks like a secure platform. I tell the story of, I was going to quit academia and my friend, the professor, tenured professor said, “You’re crazy. I don’t like it either, but I have my job forever, and you’ll be nothing but a lowly wife your whole life.” And the next year, I paid more in taxes than I had been paid as an academic, and he was fired even though he had tenure. So how do you find the courage? Think about it being false events appearing real. The stuff that we project for the future is almost always riddled with things that will never happen. In the meantime, look at what you’re actually experiencing as you’re feeling like you need to be somewhere else doing something else. Yes, it’s really hard to jump. So do what I just said. Go find the stories of people who have jumped because those will really, really help you. Anything you want courage to do, go find stories of people who’ve done it or done even harder things. They’re all over the place. It’s amazing. All right.

Angie says, “How do I inspire myself if I feel totally blocked?

Well, if you feel totally uninterested in any kind of inspiration, you may be too tired. When I was reading about breathing in, I was thinking about Roe who has COVID saying, “I have to stop and remind myself to breathe in.” And she says like it’s nip and tuck. Like, “I don’t just breathe in like I usually do. I have to stop and focus and breathe in.” And that is a really… It’s an interesting way to think about stopping. She has to stop to breathe in because she’s sick. If you’re tired, if you’re exhausted, if your psychological system has been overtaxed, you need to stop. So the first thing you need to do is just step one, go breathe. Go breathe near the trees or the cacti or whatever, and relax, relax, relax.

I always used to have clients who would say, “I don’t have any dreams and goals. I just want to lie on the beach and drink beer.” This was especially… The male identified people tended to say, “I just want to lie on the beach and drink beer.” And I’d say, “Okay, day one, lie on the beach, drink beer. Great. Day six, lying on the beach, drinking beer. Awesome.” Six months of lying on the beach every day drinking beer, you’re going to have an idea about something else to do like, “That log is floating. I wonder if I could float on it.” Or, “Oh, what an interesting shell.” Or, “Well, maybe I could go back and find the girlfriend I let go and ask her to marry me.” You’re never going to be completely blocked if you have a human mind and it’s rested.

I got really sleep-deprived for a while, and then I got a chance to sleep like 12 hours one night and 15 hours the next night. And the next day I was full of ideas. They were hard to come by before. So Angie, anybody who’s tired, totally blocked, go breathe near the trees and it’ll jiggle loose. Then come in and just receive. Look at the things that make you excited because someone’s so brilliant that they made it and just receive it for a while, and then that creative itch comes in.

Okay, Jessica says, “I went through such a long season of all the fears coming true in real life. Now my brain tells me to be afraid of silly things so often. How often do I need creativity in a day to stay calmer?

Aside from a few logistical things that you have to do, I don’t see any reason not to be in a creative mindset almost all the time. I know people who love to do spreadsheets, so they’re using the left sides of their brains, but they’re still feeling creative. So if you’re not doing something that has any joy for you, for your job, it’ll be harder. But surround yourself with things you can receive as inspiration, pictures of inspiring people, music that inspires you. Anything, especially the arts that inspires you, it’s created to be taken in, to be inspired. So do the artist, the world and yourself a big favor, and put the music on, put the poster on the wall, print out. Your favorite photo or whatever it is. Put art all around you, and it will be there all day long.

Oh, people are asking to end with the open focus meditation. Yes, yes, yes. I didn’t want to begin with it again. I don’t think it’s the best idea because that’s when we have the tech issues. So I didn’t want someone to miss out. So we’ll do it at the end. Yay.

Constellations in her bone says, “I work with folks in memory care, Alzheimer’s and other dementia. How can I teach the empowering agency of creating art is spirit beyond memory?”

Wow. I believe spirit is beyond memory. I don’t think it can always make it through a human brain that has been damaged, but there’s this strange phenomenon that I’ve heard quite often of people who have had dementia at the very… Maybe you’ve had this experience Constellations in your bones, where they start to get these moments of clear seeing and clear speaking often as they’re moving toward transitioning out of their bodies. But surrounding them with living things, with nature. Remember, nature is the ultimate enriched environment for human creativity. So the same thing, pictures, music, anything that they enjoy. A cat that goes and sits on people’s laps when it knows they’re about to die. There was a cat that did that. I don’t know if he’s still around. But yeah, you may not be able to teach it verbally or explain it because that’s the left hemisphere, but the right hemisphere… Yeah. I mean, there is no time in the right hemisphere. There’s no time in that creative moment. Time disappears. So probably memory disappears as well, and it’s replaced by presence.

You can have a moment of presence with somebody. Yeah, I’m thinking about an older friend I had who died of a terrible locked-in syndrome and walking in and seeing him and the two of us locking eyes and having this moment of intense, perfect clarity that I still believe to this day because we were in that moment together and he didn’t need his memory.

Ice Sheriff says, “Hey, Martha, how do I know what inspires or ignites me?”

Oh, what a good question. Well, I love the same algorithms that send us a lot of lies. If you start looking at things that delight you, surely you can’t have gone through much of a human life without noticing that some things are more interesting to you than others. So if something makes you curious, we talked about this once too. It just takes a tiniest little bit of curiosity, just the curiosity that says, “Oh, what’s that?” That’s enough to know that if you head far enough in that direction, you’re going to end up inspired. So I’m always like, “Oh, an animal. Oh, what’s that?” So I end up looking at these incredible wildlife films and photographers that go out and hang from lines in the forest to get these shots that are incredibly inspiring, and they inspire me to try to save the world and save the ecosystems. Anything that makes you curious, anything fascination is attention without effort, anything that you can pay attention to without effort is your inspiration if you go far enough.

Anne Valerie says, “In times of feeling bad, triggered and paralyzed, I know movement and creating art helps, but I keep forgetting that I can do it when I’m in the pain. Do you have any advice on that?”

You know what, suffering itself will remind you in time, “Okay, I could do that.” But at that time, I’ve been testing this a lot. It’s like, “I don’t want to start creating.” Now, if you do anyway, it works. It works like a charm, but it might help to have some verbal prompts so that your left hemisphere gets a chance to say, “Oh yeah, I remember. We were on The Gathering Room and she said to try this. So I’m going to go find a potted plant and go and inspire near my potted plant and look at some cool videos.” So put up a word somewhere. Inspire. Just put it up there. And then the three things, breathe, do art, find the mystery and just remind yourself. Over and over and over again, remind yourself.

It’s so funny that I’ve been meditating for, I don’t know, probably 25 years, and I still have to remember that I can always fall back to breathing in, breathing out as a mantra to center myself. I always have to go searching for that, “What was that thing?” It is not hard, but my left hemisphere is like, “No, that makes me give up, and I hate that.” So yeah, a word to remind you to bump out of words and into inspiration.

Okay, two more questions, then we’ll do the open focus meditation.

Danielle says, “Is it okay to stop and rest to find inspiration when you feel like you have a lot of people relying on you, turning up for them, and even perhaps rely on you to be there?”

Yes, of course it’s okay to stop and rest and find inspiration. That’s kind of like saying, “Is it okay to stop for gas if people really need me to drive them places?” Or the oxygen mask principle on the airplane. If you are fumbling with your oxygen mask and your kid loses consciousness, you’re going to be able to put the mask on the kid. But if it’s the other way, the kid won’t be able to put the mask on you. So even more when we have dependent people, people who are counting on us to show up, we have to stop and fill up the tank. I know it’s hard. Sometimes it’s really hard to get sleep, but I really found that when I was very sleep-deprived with three toddlers and work and school and all that, but still reading something that really filled my heart or making art or whatever, even when I was that tired, a little bit of inspiration could give me energy and help me show up for folks. Shouldn’t be a substitute for sleep, but it can be a little bit.

Aji says, “What if there are so many things that inspire me that I have trouble picking what to get lost in? Most of my anxiety comes from this.”

Oh, the anxiety is actually coming from the thought, “I should choose one thing, and if I choose the wrong thing, it will be bad.” You literally can start doing anything. The trick. See, the left hemisphere, the ego doesn’t like to give up. And when you say, “I’m about to go into the mystery,” it goes, “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. You can go a million different ways. Why don’t you talk to me about it for about, I don’t know, 10 years, 50 years?” That’s a trick. The idea that you have to choose the perfect one or that you shouldn’t start until you know the right one. That’s another false event appearing real and if you literally just put your… Close your eyes and point and just go for half an hour in the direction that you’ve chosen, any direction that interests you at all, and you will find that the room can fall away and you can start getting a little weird, and then you get a little weirder. And if you go far enough, you go all the way into spirit.

So thank you all so much. We’ll now do our open focus meditation. Remember, this is the one where we think about the fact that most of our atoms, the biggest by far, most of the space inside our atoms is empty. So if every atom in your body were the size of a football field, the actual matter in it would be the size of a golf ball. Think about that. Think about how much space there is.

And then we’re going to do the open focus meditation from [inaudible 00:27:08], which is to get comfortable, breathe deeply, and ask the question: “Can I imagine the space in the distance between my eyes? Can I imagine the empty space in the distance between my eyes? Can I imagine the empty space in the distance between my third eye and the back of my head? Can I imagine the empty space between my forehead and the back of my skull?” And then just go down, “Can I imagine the empty space inside my throat and neck? Can I imagine the empty space as it goes down my shoulders and then into my lungs and bronchial tubes and heart?” As you breathe in, “Can I imagine the infinite space inside my own chest? Can I imagine that space continuous with the space that reaches past the Andromeda Galaxy and all the other galaxies to the ends of the universe? Can I imagine the silence beneath all these sounds? Can I imagine the stillness that holds every action? Can I imagine the emptiness that is so full of life inside my own body?”

Well, that makes me never want to leave. I just love the feeling of all of us dropping in. It’s very sweet. It’s very inspiring. It’s making me breathe more deeply, and it’s making me want to get creative, and it’s very definitely drawing me into the spirit. So thank you for sharing your wonderful selves with me and your time and your attention, and I hope you find this a little bit inspiring. Mwah, mwah, mwah, mwah, mwah, mwah. See you soon again here on The Gathering Room.

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