Image for The Gathering Pod A Martha Beck Podcast Episode #147 A Year of Peace
About this episode

After basic survival, Martha says, love is the next imperative. When we feel safe and we feel loved, it’s amazing how fast we can learn, how much we can create and do—and how much happier our lives can be. Tune in for the full episode to learn how to let go of the demands we place on ourselves for no good reason, hear about some of the demands Martha has dropped so far, and join her for her guided Space, Silence, and Stillness meditation.

A Year of Peace

Martha Beck:

It is a new year, and I’m not supposed to date these things by saying it’s the new year, but it is. And I’m going to date myself by saying it’s the new year and saying, this is… I’m a life coach y’all. So the New Year is my favorite holiday. I can’t help imagining wonderful new things in the year ahead, and I always make one New Year’s resolution. And I always keep it for at least a year. If you read my last book, you may recall that the year I turned 29, I decided not to tell a single lie of any kind for an entire year and I did it. And my life went kablooey, but it also became the best thing I ever did. And my therapist at the time said that my greatest mental illness is that I keep my New Year’s resolutions.

Well, I have thought of my New Year’s resolution for this year, and I’m thinking you all might like to share it or just to hear about it. So the idea came, I was talking to a mom who was reading a book called Low-Demand Parenting. The person who wrote this, like my friend, has children who are on the autism spectrum and have very, very sensitive nervous systems. And we’re learning so much about all these neurodivergences and I love this woman’s take. Her name is Amanda Dieker, and she had three sons, all of whom are on the autism spectrum. And they used to do horrible things with any type of neurodivergent child that basically forced people to act the way they’re supposed to or get punished. Well, so Amanda Dieker, there were the echoes of that in the system that she was taught to deal with with her sons. And her sons were clearly suffering.

They were throwing tantrums, not speaking, withdrawing into themselves. So she decided to throw out the rule book and reduce the demands she made on her kids. So she would think of if they didn’t like tying their shoes, she’d get them Velcro shoes, no problem. She would just drop the demand because she figured the less she forced them to do things that were hard for their nervous systems and dysregulating for their nervous systems, the more they would be in a state of regulation. And we know from other brain research that the human brain learns and connects and does things best when it has answered two questions. The first one is, am I safe? The first thing your brain does in any situation is ask, am I safe? If you’re not safe, you have to start doing something to get safe. And this is what was happening with Amanda Dieker’s kids because they were very, very highly sensitive. And so it was very dysregulating for them to be exposed to a busy street or bright lights or whatever it was.

And she decided that they shouldn’t be forced to tolerate those things. So she saw that her sons weren’t feeling safe. As I’m reading this and think, and I read it, the book and I was thinking I also don’t feel safe when I’m in bright lights, big crowds, scary things. So I thought, kind of like her way of not forcing. And then the human brain after it says, “Am I safe?” It says, “Am I loved? Am I connected with other human beings who will let me be myself and accept myself exactly as I am with no… I don’t have to change a thing?” If you can’t answer that question, yes, then the prime motivator becomes finding love. So after mere survival, love is our next imperative. And only then does the human brain say, “What can I learn?” But if we are safe and we are loved, then we learn really fast, really effortlessly.

This is what I was talking to about this to some coach trainees and potential coach trainees earlier. That the more I do… I train coaches online, and the more I do it with gentleness and the more things I do to bring down people’s perception of danger or threat and more, I let people know they’re safe and they’re loved. The faster people learn things. It’s almost amazing how fast a human brain can learn if it knows it’s safe and it knows it’s loved. So Amanda Dieker said, “Forget learning. I’m just going to focus on making sure my kids feel safe and loved. And I’m going to do that by listening to them. And when they tell me they can’t handle something, even if they’re not using words, I’m not going to make them do it.”

So after reading this, I went out on a walk with my dog. And Bilbo the dog, Bilbo Baggins of Baggin, Pennsylvania, he loves to stop and smell things like all dogs do. That’s the way they enjoy their world. So I’m walking along and I do this little jog, walk routine because of the osteoporosis. I’m trying to jog my bones. And I realized that I was frustrated with Bilbo for stopping to smell things and that I was getting annoyed by pushing, pulling on the lead, and he would stop, and it would jerk me back, and I jerked him forward. And then I thought, “Wait, what demand am I putting on this that we go straightforward at a speedy pace?” Why? Just socialization like it doesn’t matter if we stop every few minutes so he can smell something. I’m going to drop the demand that I always walk at a steady pace. I’m going to drop the demand that I have to pull Bilbo along and I’m just going to see what Bilbo does.

He would smell things, he’d come with me, he’d stay right at my heel, basically. After that, there was a kind of hoo coming down and I thought, “I have my New Year’s resolution. I am going to drop demands. I’m going to spend.” So try this if you want to come with me. Every day just notice what’s hard for you and then stop and say, “Okay. Why am I doing this thing?” And if the motivation is coming from what I call JAR, tell you about this in a minute, J-A-R, you can drop this demand. Now, what does J-A-R stand for? J stands for judgment. I am passing a judgment on something that’s happening. I judge that it’s better to walk straight and fast than to stop periodically. Okay, that’s a judgment. A stands for attachment. I’m attached to the idea that I’m going to get my miles in a brief time and prove to my cell phone that I am a good walker.

I don’t know. So I was attached to the idea of doing a walk-in the minimum amount of time. It was dumb, but I was attached to it without even knowing about it. Our culture teaches us that you got to go out there and do things fast. And then R stands for resistance. What was I resisting? Okay, there was a dog with me that wanted to smell the world. Why am I resisting that? Why? When I looked at the judgment, the attachment, and the resistance to that particular thing, I was making a judgment based on my history as a long-distance runner where I tried to do long walks fast 40, 50 years ago. I don’t know, but I still have it. I was attached for the same reason. I had a socialized judgment in my head that going fast all the time is better than stopping. And I was resisting Bilbo’s need to smell things or want to smell things because of those two socialized the judgment and the attachment.

So then I thought, “Okay. Well, that’s something I can drop.” So if say you set your alarm clock for 6:00 AM, okay, and you feel you only drop things that cause you to feel dysregulated, to feel unhappy. Like you set your alarm, “Okay, I’m going to get up at 6:00.” And then you think, “Oh,” you feel a sense of negativity. To really live your life, to find your best destiny, you have to be really, really observant of your own good and bad moods, of your own negative and positive reactions to things. Your body and your heart and your soul will give you these negative reactions. So you set the alarm for 6:00 and you’re like, “Ugh.” Okay. You don’t love getting up at 6:00. Why are you doing it? Well, because in my case, for example, I don’t have to go to a job, but I think I should get up and meditate for an hour before I start my day.

Okay. The judgment says, “Even if I’m tired, I should meditate instead of sleeping.” Is that really the best thing I could do for myself considering that sleep is like the fundamental foundation of health? No. Okay. So why am I attached to getting up and meditating instead of sleeping for an extra hour when I’m tired? Because I tell people in public that I meditate and it’s really good for me to keep up my image and my integrity by actually doing it. Yes, but why do I have to do it at 6:00 in the morning? Well, it’s more virtuous then, or I must do other things for the rest of the day. I’m attached to the order of my schedule. But do I have to be? Not necessarily. I could find another hour to meditate.

And finally, what am I resisting? I’m resisting my body’s fatigue. I don’t want to have to sleep that extra hour. Again, socially, I’ve been trained to think that getting up and getting more done is better. But is it really? Is that judgment, that attachment, and that resistance, is it based on that truth that I feel in my body, heart, mind, and soul? No. And in fact, I’ve actually read and heard from people whose opinions I very much value that if we can drop all our judgments, all our resistance to what is and all our attachment to things being the way they are, when in fact they’re continuously changing. If we can drop all judgements, all attachments, and all resistance, we’ll be enlightened. So is that worth dropping the demand to get up at 6:00 tomorrow, maybe put the clock at 7:00 or not set it at all? Because I am fortunate enough not to have to get up that day if I don’t want to at that time, I may be able to drop that demand.

So I’m going through this in great detail for you in a very life coaching way because it thrills me to have a New Year’s resolution. And my resolution this year is to drop demands throughout the day, every day for a year. Even if I only do it once or twice, I’m going to put an alarm on my phone that says… Just brings up the little question, “Have you dropped a demand yet?” And I am going to see how many demands I can drop to get my system to the place where it knows it’s safe, it knows it’s loved, and it wants to learn more. So that’s my last… Or a few years ago, Liz Gilbert gave us a jar full of little pieces of paper on which she’d written beautiful things that she’d heard, quotes and statements that she’d heard from friends. And she called it jarred awake. The gift was jarred awake. So I’m going to try to jar myself awake this year by noticing judgments, attachments, and resistance and dropping the demands that are based on all of them.

So I hope that I made that clear enough because I’ve only just started and it’s really helping. It’s so good for your [inaudible 00:13:02]. All right. So I have some questions now. Cleo says, “In the Bilbo example, what would be the solution if walking fast felt really good in your body and stopping felt frustrating in your body?” That’s a really good answer. And you always have to go through and say, “What part of the demand can I drop?” So for example… Well, one of the things that I actually do, and it would have to be with you and your dog. But I’ve found something and that is that if I let Bilbo sniff around a lot at first, he then will come right to heel and stay with me, especially if I move fast. So I like to do this thing where you run for a while and then you walk for a while and then you run.

So if I found something else to do, like I don’t know, meditating, standing up, walking while he sniffed around at first. And then really, really moved it for the second half of my run or my walk, I think we could serve both needs. I think if we get creative and release attachment, resistant, and judgment, we get really creative about how to serve everyone’s needs. And it all becomes a really interesting problem in almost engineering your activities, building them differently. I don’t want to do everything according to the society that we have. The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house, and I would love to reimagine the world in a way that’s kinder. So yeah, bringing your imagination to that is a really powerful thing to do. Dr. Donna says, “The hard thing is determining if something is a judgment or if I’m just wanting to avoid it like forcing myself to do functional weight training, which I hate. But afterwards, I feel better. How do I know?”

Well, you’re over yourself. The part of you that’s observing all this knows the difference between forcing yourself to do something that is genuinely damaging and forcing yourself or getting yourself to do something that’s challenging. So I go to my physical therapist and she works me like a rented mule people and I am afraid to go to my weekly physical therapy sessions. And I love them. So there’s a part of me that’s afraid, but I also know by long experience that I have a great time there and I always feel better afterward. So the part of me that’s reluctant can feel anxious, but I can talk to it and say, “Look, I’m going to take care of you. I’m going to do everything that I can to make you happy, but I just want you to come along and get into the workout with me.” So I can start to work with the different parts of my psyche.

I’ve talked a lot in The Gathering Room about different parts and parts psychology and how some parts of us think very differently from other parts of us. But dropping demands that have an overriding feel of negativity is really different from just dropping everything that makes us feel a little bit nervous. We have our sensibilities, and we can say, “Okay. I’m not going to drop that experience, but it’s good. But I am going to drop, for example, drop going in and trying my hardest no matter whether something hurts.” And I can do that by just going in and saying to my physical therapist, “I feel really weak today. Don’t work me too hard.” And she will. I can drop demands that way. Okay. Intuitive Wholeness says, “But how do we know the difference between needing rest and being in a freeze state? I can never tell if I should be encouraging myself to get up or if I really need the rest.”

I actually had this going on over the holiday because I had fueled myself with caffeine every morning for about 10 weeks to get a book written. One cup of tea it’s not much for most people, but for my body that’s a lot of caffeine. And it was getting harder and harder and harder for me to get up in the morning and not just avoidant, but really sleepy. So finally, we had the vacation. I finished my book, I quit drinking caffeine, and I slept for five straight days. It was insane. I just slept and slept and slept. And after five days, I lay down to go into my usual delicious sleep and I was not tired anymore and my body could tell. When you have enough rest, you don’t feel like you have to fall asleep. And when you don’t have enough rest, everything pulls towards sleep and rest and recuperation.

We are so trained not to listen to our own fatigue, not to listen to our own needs, not to listen to the demands of the world. That’s the thing. Reading this book on Low-Demand Parenting, I was like, “Why do we have such a high demand life? Why do so many people push themselves to misery?” It’s not just these kids with their neurodivergence, it’s every client I’ve ever had. It’s like forcing themselves to do things that are miserable for them. So much so that they lose the ability to make those distinctions between the nuance of, “I’m feeling a little stale and stagnant and don’t really want to move,” versus “I am genuinely tired, and I need rest when there will be problems.” If you start to pay attention, those differences become really obvious.

Okay. Trish says, “What do you think about meditating in bed before you wake up for the day?” I do that. I do it quite a lot, especially lately. Sometimes I just slide to a sitting position in bed and then pull all my blankets around me and sit there in a little isosceles triangle and meditate with my eyes showing. And true, I do fall asleep a lot when that happens, but it can also be a really great experience. And who the hell is keeping score, right? If it works for you, if it feels wonderful and does good things for you, fine. You’re awake the whole time, you’re asleep part of the time. Who cares? In a Zendo, they might smack you with a bamboo stick to wake you up. But if you’re just home in bed trying to be happy, maybe drop some of those demands. Thanks for that, Trish.

All right. Claire, I think it’s Kusters, Claire says, “I’m struggling with this so much. I want to get out of bed and off the couch to do things that are aligned, but then I don’t. And I spend my time doing the shoulds. How to balance and rest?” One of the things I want to mention is that there is people who follow polyvagal theory believe that we have three basic levels of nervous system arousal. When we’re in what I call the green light state, when it’s called ventral vagal activation. When we’re feeling cheerful and happy and regulated, we just get up and do things we like to do. When we feel unsafe, it’s like a yellow light situation. We’re nervous and everything looks a little scary. We may stop doing things out of avoidance because they feel dangerous to us. And from that perspective, it’s hard not to see things as dangerous.

So if you’re in a fight-or-flight state, you won’t be able to make as good a decision about the best plan for your day and what you should drop and what you should keep. If you keep pushing through the yellow light state or you’re in a state of what looks like inescapable danger or pressure or force, then you go right into what’s called dorsal vagal collapse. It’s red light, everything stops, wham. And you’re just completely without energy. There’s no possibility of getting up. That can be either a comment on your life being too stressful for you, or it can be talking about how you have unhealed grief or trauma that needs to be healed. It’s anything where you’re bearing too much. And nobody, including you, is cutting you any slack, that will put you in the dorsal vagal collapse whether you’ve had enough sleep or not.

So the first thing we got to do is, “Am I safe?” Yes. If we stop and say, “Am I safe?” Stop and check, “Am I loved?” If we can get ourselves to the place where we can experience safety and experience connection and love, then the energy comes back. The fight-or-flight state goes away, and we come back into that green light ventral vagal activation. And at that point, we can get up and do anything we want. So if you’re finding yourself struggling and not being able to do things, notice, do you feel safe? Do you feel loved? Do you feel like you’re in collapse? Or do you feel like you’re just genuinely having an enjoyable rest? It’s a very different sensation. All of this is a deviation from the theme, which is drop the demands that make you feel unsafe. Drop the demands that make you feel unloved. Be the source of safety, that is your first stop in your life. Be your first step when you go to look for compassion. Give that compassion to yourself. Find ways to make yourself safer.

Once you know you’re safe and loved, you’ll be able to do whatever you want. Pick your activities and drop, drop, drop those demands. The more you drop the demands, the more time you spend in that green light state of ventral vagal regulation and the happier your life will be. And the more you get done and the more you learn, it just is a good place. Okay. Margie says, “I’m afraid that if I drop demands, I won’t get anything done. What do you think?” I’ve heard this so many times. And one of the times I heard it often is when I do what we call thought work. When in our coaching system we use Byron Katie, the spiritual teacher. We use her method of questioning thoughts that cause us to suffer. And a lot of the thoughts that cause us to suffer are things like, “I should do more. I should get going. I’m not doing enough. I’m not good enough.”

And as we question those thoughts that cause us a lot of suffering, they tend to fall apart like tissue paper in the rain. They just don’t hold up to scrutiny. And as they leave us, we feel this sense of freedom and openness. And we don’t replace those with better thoughts, we replace them with open mind, just peace and openness. And a lot of clients that I’ve worked with have said, “Look, I’m getting really free. I’m feeling really free, but at this point, I’m terrified. I don’t have many self-flagellating thoughts to keep me productive.” Is something that comes from self-flagellation really the most productive thing that you’ll be able to do when you look back from your deathbed, when you’re 110 and you’re looking back over your life saying, “Huh, I did that. I did that”?

Are you really going to be so glad that you flagellated yourself into doing a bunch of things you didn’t want to do? Or are you going to be glad that you dropped the demands you placed on yourself until you were able to experience safety and connection and then the explosion of learning and creativity that comes from them? It does not take brutality or terror or criticism to be productive. Those things are counterproductive. When we know we’re safe and we know we’re loved and nobody’s putting too many demands on us, the creativity and generativeness of the human imagination, the human mind, the human body, they are unstoppable.

I am like really getting along. People tell me, “Stop saying how old you are. You’re not that old.” Well, I’m sort of that old. I’ve been doing this a long time. And I can tell you, even as I get older, I do more when I’m relaxed and demanding less. But you have to go through this critical limits time where you stop the things that have been imposed on you and you really do feel like, “I’m not doing anything.” But you have to keep going through that and really demonstrate to yourself, to all your parts that you’re serious about keeping them safe and making sure they’re loved. And then it’s like this incredible generator starts out, vroom, vroom. And you start making stuff, making objects, making events, making connections, making relationships, making journeys. But the making of things never stops once we feel safe and loved. And I think we do that by dropping demands this year.

Okay, couple more things. Grateful28 says, “Meditate is a word that we should be using.” Okay, that should be the standard meditation. I forgot the space meditation. We’ll do that as soon as we’re done with the other questions, but I love that word. Okay. Elle says, “What if you have trouble with the love part, like you don’t have much love in your life?” You can’t control if people love you. True. But you can give yourself self-compassion. And my favorite way to do this, I call it kind, internal self-talk. I talked about it on another Gathering Room. You just start saying kind things to yourself like, “You’ll be okay. You’ll be happy.” And I love Tibetan loving-kindness meditation where they use kind wishes.

So you just think to yourself, may you be well with each breath. May you be happy. May you be filled with joy. May you feel safe and protected. May you have a wonderful life, whatever. Just start offering literally in your mind saying these words out. You can’t just hear me talk about it and go, “Oh, maybe. Yeah.” No, try it. Try it for 15 minutes just with every breath. Give yourself a kind wish and watch what happens inside you.

Okay. So finally, Yankee in Yorkshire says, “Shouldn’t we work past fear sometimes to get out of comfort zones?” Absolutely. And you’ll feel a frustration where the love part of you says, “Oof, I really want to travel, but I have a little bit of air flight phobia or something. I really want to learn Spanish, but I’m afraid of looking like an idiot.” Whatever it is, you find safety, you find love, and you gently, gently introduce the learning to yourself. You drop the demands and then you allow the learning in and then it takes you out of… It doesn’t take you out of your comfort zone, it greatly enlarges your comfort zone. The more you drop demands at the edge of what you want and go a few steps forward, but not too much because that’s too big a demand. And that will stop everything in its tracks. There’s a ton of research on how this happens.

You’re just going to have to take it from me, and then don’t do the research if that’s what you want. All right. We are at the end of the first Gathering Room of this year. So let’s do our space silence and stillness meditation. Let’s start first by look at the empty space around you even though it’s full of air. We know it’s full of atoms and things. I’d love you to just think about space out between the planets, if you’re looking into the stars at night. Imagine that all that empty space is alive. Imagine that that is conscious, that it’s all conscious, and that it’s all capable of love and fun and vibrancy. And all the things that make us alive because nobody knows the real difference between this body when it’s alive and this body when it isn’t.

We have no idea what consciousness it really is. So it might as well be seen as a property of the entire universe. So with that idea of space as love, full of love, full of life, settle in your chairs or on your beds and ask yourself the strange question, “Can I imagine the distance between my eyes? Can I imagine the distance between the front of my face and the back of my head? Can I imagine the space inside my bones? Every atom almost entirely made of space. Imagine it. Can I imagine the stillness underneath all the actions and activities of the world? Can I imagine the silence under every sound I can hear?”

And as you imagine the silence, the stillness, and the space that makes up most of what you are, you reconnect with that incredible, vibrant, brimming love that is, I think, the primary quality of consciousness. So have a wonderful, wonderful week. I’m dropping demands this year. You’re free to join me. Tell me how it works out. And just remember to feel loved and safe as often as possible because nothing will stop you then. Thank you for coming to The Gathering Room. I love you all so much. I’ll see you next time. Bye.

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