Image for The Gathering Pod A Martha Beck Podcast Episode #117 Befriending Ourselves
About this episode

We’re encouraged to “fight” in order to feel better, to love better, to be more successful. But what we fight fights back. Here’s another way.

Befriending Ourselves

Martha Beck:

So I think everybody’s here. We got plenty of people. Let’s start on today’s gathering room. And the topic today is befriending ourselves, which is a pretty big deal, but very quiet. And I thought about it today because I was talking to a loved one earlier who’s in having one of those days where it’s just everything looks pretty darn bleak and it’s looked bleak for a while, and you don’t remember anything ever looking not bleak, and you can’t imagine it getting less bleak in the future. One of those days. And I’m such a freaking life coach, you guys, folks. It’s not just that I do it for a living or that I decided to be it, I just was it and then they labeled it and I knew what I was. So I was always like, “You can do this and you can do that and your life can be amazing. Here are three steps here. Let me chart it out for you.”

People were like, “Just leave me alone.” But I have learned that I was fighting too hard. I was fighting everything. And the more I look at our culture and our vernacular, the way we talk about things, the more I see fighting words everywhere, they sneak in everywhere. There must be a zillion things out there that are about the way of the peaceful warrior, the way of the spiritual warrior, the way of the… Warriorship is such a major archetype for us. And then we talk about fighting for things. I’m going to fight. Everybody in my house has a cold. We’ve had it for a week. It’s not horrible, but it’s just icky. And it’s like, “Yeah, I’m fighting this cold right now.” And people are fighting depression and we’re fighting… One of my clients is fighting for a love relationship and fighting to do better at their business.

And we’re just always fighting like, “I got to go get this. I got to bring this down.” And I thought for myself, “What if nothing out there wants to fight us? What if really we are the ones that see it as dangerous and we jump into the way of the warrior and we attack?” Well, if somebody attacks you on the street, to my way of thinking, fighting back is a reasonable response. So when we feel like the world is attacking us, fighting everything is a reasonable response. Here’s the problem. The world never gets tired. Human life and the difficulties thereof are inexhaustibly energetic. If they’re fighting us, they’re going to win. They are. And then it’s just a lifetime of fighting, fighting, fighting. And then we lose because we die. So lately I’ve been looking at the places I fight and especially writing about anxiety.

You guys, you folks, sorry… I’m fighting to change my language so it’s more gender inclusive. Maybe I should stop fighting and do what I’m going to tell you guys to do. You folks should do. In about a minute… Where was I before I started fighting myself to learn better grammar? Writing about anxiety, I hear the word fight all the time. I’m fighting my anxiety. I’ve got to defeat my anxiety. I’ve got to overcome it, get rid of it. I know, what if the world and your anxiety and everything else that appears to be assaulting you is not really aggressive toward you, but it just sees you fighting it so it fights back harder. Whenever I try to fight my anxiety, my anxiety fights back. Well, it would, wouldn’t it? Isn’t that a logical response? So I thought, what if I take this different approach and it’s very much… I love Tibetan Buddhism, and there’s a tradition in Tibetan Buddhism around the word maitri, I think I’m pronouncing that correctly. Maitri, it’s translated loving kindness.

And if somebody wants to go toward enlightenment in that system, the first step is to cultivate maitri toward everything. So the first thing you do, you offer loving kindness toward yourself. And then you go on to develop loving kindness relationships with things that are neutral and then with things that you see as the enemy. And the condition that they always put on it is that you have to be unflaggingly friendly toward everything in your own life, friendly. You have to befriend everything, and you start by befriending yourself, however you are in this moment. So the way most Americans and Europeans that I’ve met, and South Africans and other people from all over the world, the way many people who have been touched by Western culture talk about this is that once they get to be better, they’ll be content with themselves.

If I could just achieve this physical goal, I would be able to feel good about myself. If I could accomplish this in my career, I would feel good about myself. If I had this amount of money in the bank, I would feel good about myself, and then they could be friends with themselves. But what maitri asks of us is that we’d befriend the very thing about ourselves that we think is not worth befriending. So here’s what I want you all to do, if you don’t mind, you don’t have to, but if you do, it might be fun. And that is to relax and find within yourself the most uncomfortable thing that you’re coping with right now.

So I could go to my slightly sore throat and headache from my cold. I could look at, I always have little anxiety floating around. Always look for that. Discouragement, seasonal affective disorder. It’s still dark and cold most days here. So I’m looking for the things that are actually disturbing to me right now in real time. And by the way, years of meditation don’t make those things go away. It just makes you less upset about them. So that what we’re going to do now is that feeling, whatever it is that’s uncomfortable, generally we push it away, keep it out of sight, try to… Sometimes I’ll listen to audiobooks at night because I don’t like my thoughts when I wake up in the middle of the night and it lulls me to sleep to have somebody talking. So that’s a way of pushing away from discomfort.

And there’s nothing wrong with it. However, if you keep avoiding, avoiding, avoiding what’s going on within you become… You’re no longer fighting yourself, you’re fleeing from yourself, you’re always running from yourself, and you never catch up. So what we’re going to do now is take the uncomfortable feeling, whatever it is, I can use my sore throat. You may use your depression or anxiety or whatever, and acknowledge that it is what it is. So the first thing is stop running. Stop running. It’s maybe not a battlefield anymore. So just find the feeling and let it be uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable. I’m not trying to put a happy face on this. It’s not comfortable. You may be in deep grief right now. You may be facing terrifying things and your emotions are absolutely legitimate. I know I’m sitting here talking about trivial things, but I’ve had some things to worry about that were bigger and this works with them too. So now I hope you found the uncomfortable feeling. And now I want you to say to that uncomfortable feeling, “You’re welcome here, come in.”

Like physically, imagine opening a door in your own body, yourself, your energy field. Open the door and say, “Come in, sit down. You seem to have traveled long and far. You seem weary to me. Have I been fighting you? I’m sorry, I thought it was self-defense. But there’s nothing wrong with you. Come in. The pain, the sorrow, the fear exactly as it is. Sit down by my fire here, I’ll get you a stool for your feet and a cup of tea and some cookies or sandwiches.” And then allow the negative thing to inhabit you completely. And if you feel resistance toward it, try to relax your resistance.

But if you can’t relax the resistance, then the resistance is something else knocking at your door, coming in out of the storm. And you can open the door to that and say, “Oh, there’s my resistance to my depression. Okay, you come in too. You also belong. Come, have another chair. There are infinite chairs here and everyone belongs, and we have all the time in the world, and the sandwiches never run out. I have all the maitri in the world at my disposal. I can pull on the compassion of the entire universe and I can say it’s okay for you to be as you are.”

So when I did that, I felt the, that happens when a whole bunch of people try a visualization at the same time, and it’s very, very cool. And I felt that friendliness come into us and into each other. And then notice that as your depression or your sore throat or your extreme physical pain, whatever it is, as that is befriended, it can stay exactly as it is. But imagine the space growing bigger around it. So every time you breathe in, you can fully feel the texture of that difficult thing, the discomfort of the physical pain, the terror, the despair, everything. Just feel the sensation of it and don’t run away. Breathe it in. And then as you breathe out, imagine it just dispersing into space.

And then say to your guests, “You’re still welcome. You get to stay. You don’t have to change. You’re exactly perfect as you are. You here to teach me exactly the lesson my soul came to learn right now. And it doesn’t matter what people think or what people say, I’m not going to fight you anymore. You’re part of me. So I’m going to befriend you now.” And then bring in other things that you don’t like so much about yourself. Things like if you think your personality is problematic, bring the problem in. Sit it down and say, “Yes, you laugh at inappropriate moments. Great. Come in, sit down. You’re my friend too.” Find the part of you that cannot do something right, but keeps constantly… I keep constantly calling you guys, even though I mean to say folks, “Come on in, malapropism. Sit on down, rusty memory. Aging specter,

Come in, come in, come in. You hoary old thing. Not whory like W-H-O-R, but H-O-A-R. Come in aging, sit down with your eye bags, come on in. You’re fine. We’re always changing.” So what happens here is if you’re on the battlefield fighting what you are, you create these little zones of safety by fighting wildly all the time. You’re stabbing and you’re pounding and you’re running away, and then you’re pounding some more and it’s exhausting and it never ever defeats the enemy and you get really exhausted. But if you sit down and start to make space for more and more and more of the uncomfortable realities, you find the compassion to contain them. And as you do this, what you will see is that what you’ve been fighting in the world, what seems to be coming at you, they’re always the things that you’re fighting in yourself.

So I can take a classroom full of coach trainees, I did this the other day. This very brave volunteer, volunteered to be coached for a while. And then I said to people in the chat, “Put in what you think she’s feeling.” And they all put in something. But it was then I said, “How many of you are actually just putting in the chat field whatever she triggered in you that you’re feeling right now?” Everybody’s always projecting. Everybody’s always projecting. So when we’re fighting and we feel assaulted and we fight back against the world and it feels assaulted, it creates this constant war of projection and reflection. And when we decide to be the first to put our armor down, lay your armor down, put it down right here by the fire, and sit with all the things you’ve been afraid of in yourself, all the things you don’t like in yourself, and say, “Well, here we are together, friends. Who’s going to tell the first story.”

And then as you do this day after day, what happens is you go out into the world projecting friendship, and then the world turns and smiles at you, and it will change everything. But that’s not why we’re doing it. We’re just doing it because every part of you deserves to be befriended. But I do promise you that if you befriend yourself sufficiently and consistently enough, everything in the world becomes your friend. You cannot have a reflection of something that isn’t projected.

So here are some questions for this topic. So Dave Carlson, says, he just got a chuckle because the translator showed a caption that said, “Be threatening to yourself.” It’s like we’ve programmed our computers to have the same neuros as we do. It’s okay, little Macintosh or MacBook or what are we using. Yeah, whatever you’ve got, whatever, Microsoft, Bing or whatever, tell it, “It’s okay. You can love it too.” You can love it’s autocorrect that is constantly changing your meetings. But actually, Dave’s comment is exactly right. You laugh when something goes wrong like that because it’s a quicker way and an easier way and a happier way than getting upset.

Tracy says, “I refused to fight cancer. I couldn’t figure out why I would fight my own body.” I was thinking about this. And Tracy, you are a hero for sure, a hero for not fighting as well as those of you who are fighting. There’s no wrong way. It’s good to be able to fight. It’s just also good to be able to put down your armor. And I was thinking about this time I went to a new doctor when I just moved into an area and I’d been living in Phoenix where there’s a lot of sunlight, and I wore sunblock except on the tops of my ears. And this doctor said, “Oh, you’ve got a little…” What do they call it, squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma? I don’t remember, but it is the not too scary kind of skin cancer. And he said, “You should see a dermatologist and get that removed right away. It’s not a big deal, but you don’t need to be carrying it around.”

So I tried to find a dermatologist who would see me, and there were no doctors around, and everybody’s patient list was full. So for three months before I could get in to see a dermatologist, I knew I had this little patch on my ear, and I would think, “What if I lose that bit of my ear?” It wasn’t a horrible thing, but I was meditating a lot. And one day I just thought, “I’m really scared of that word, cancer.” Even though it’s so many different diseases. And what I went through, I’m not comparing to what Tracy did. But I sat there and I thought, “What about those cells? Why am I angry at them? Why don’t I just talk to them?” And so I did this with them.

I would say, “I really would like you to be willing to die for me, but that’s kind of rude because I’m not willing to die.” So I worked on my willingness to die, and I got more and more to the point where I thought, “Yeah, death would be acceptable.” And I would say to those cells, “If you wouldn’t mind dying, we all die at some point. It would be a nice time to do it.” I don’t know. When I finally got to the dermatologist, it was gone. That’s all I know. And I’m not saying that I cured it or whatever, but it was weird to have that word even in the tiniest way and to not fight it. And I’m not saying that those of you who are ill shouldn’t fight. I just think there’s a rhythm that you can feel when it’s time to be brave and bold and aggressive and do things that may be physically harmful and scary, like treatments.

And there are times when you take your armor off and you bring even the worst, the scariest things in. And see, as Tracy did, she didn’t fight it. It’s incredible. And I don’t know Tracy, but I’m guessing that that bought you quite a bit of peace. And I hope I can be as courageous when I’m in your shoes. Laurie says, “Is this similar to my thought that once this thing, fill in the blank, happens, then I’ll be satisfied, able to have fun and relaxed? What might I be fighting, a condition of not having those things?” Okay, so let’s say you’re poor. I’ve been poor. And I remember fighting, poverty. Not just poverty, but debt, a lot of debt. There was a lot of negative money. And I’ve probably told you this story before because it was a change point in my life. Someone gave me a copy of the Artist’s Way.

No, no. They gave me a gift certificate to Barnes and Noble. And I went there and I was walking through the shelves. I had not been able to buy books forever. And it was like, “Oh, this was going to be such a treat.” And the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron threw itself off the shelf at me, you know how books do that sometimes. And I just opened it to a random page and my eye fell on a random sentence, and the sentence was, “God has lots of money.” And I was like, “You make a solid point, Julie Cameron.” And I thought, “Oh, if there is some divine power, and why not just suppose, see if it works. It has all the money, all the money, and if it’s going to take care of me, and I’m going to trust that, I got nothing to worry about.”

And I went home and I talked to my then husband and said, “I am not going to worry about money anymore, and you don’t have to either.” And he said, “Did you get a job?” And I was like, “Nope. I’m just not going to worry about it anymore.” I stopped fighting the fact that we were deeply in debt with no prospects, and I just started writing books, which is a very slow way to make a very little money. But ultimately, over the course of many months, everything resolved and money came, even though it didn’t come nearly fast enough to calm my fears, I had stopped fighting poverty for good that day. Somehow it just shifted and I refused to fight it again, and then it went away. That’s the thing, if you don’t fight the negative things, they’re more likely to just say, “Oh, thank you for the soup and sandwiches. I’m going.”

So Lori says… Oh, that was Lori’s question. “What might I be fighting?” Just things not being perfect, imperfection. Another thing we fight is impermanence. Things are great now, but not forever. This is correct, get used to it and befriend it. Anne says, “Resisting feeling rejected by someone I care very much about.” Painful. This happened to me yesterday. I heard something that made me feel really rejected by someone I love really dearly. And it was still on my heart this morning when I got up and I thought, “Oh, I’m just going to befriend it.” I’m going to sit with it and say, “Oh, rejection, come over here. Oh, I remember you.” It was like nine years old. “Come in, sit down.” Doesn’t that feel horrible because a friend doesn’t need you to fix it. A friend doesn’t have to even coach you.

A friend just says… As when Roe and I got together, and Karen as well, Roe used to talk about being in a bad mood, and I would try to fix it, and she’d say, “Look, all I want you to do,” in her Australian way. She’d just say, “I will tell you my problem. And you go, ‘Ah, sucks mate.'” And I was like, “That’s it?” She’s like, “Yes, just do that.” It didn’t stick. I would try to fix it for her, and she’d be like, “Just do the Australian thing.” And I’d be like, “Oh, oh, oh, sucks mate.” And it worked better. She would wander out of the room eventually. No, she would stay put and we would have good times. And the sadness would wander out of the room.

Abundant Joy says, “How do you hold the space, which feels like drowning sometimes, but still keep going because of kids, partner, life, et cetera?” Really good question. I give myself small islands of time just to do this kind of work because otherwise it’s just too hard. I don’t have much energy. My life has been very busy at times. I’ve been very sick at times, and I can only do little bits and those little bits that I do somehow add up to a life.

But I don’t think anyone’s getting as much done as what we think they are from what’s put on Instagram. Most people are like… On their best days, they get a lot done. I don’t think most of us have all those best days. And we fight the non-product productivity because we think we’re supposed to keep up with something. So take little breaks just to sit down and befriend the part of you that is worn out from keeping going on all these different fronts and then do the minimum or a little more to keep the house going and the kids fed and the dogs and the birds. I’m always just changing the bird feeder. It’s like, “Ah, I don’t know. The birds depend on me, but I don’t know if I can do it.” Sometimes I can’t. Sometimes it’s too much. And I make friends with that, and the birds find food at other places for a few days.

Anne says, “I can do this with most feelings except shame. For some reason, shame flattens me and fleeing from this huge feeling seems like the only safe thing to do.” Yeah, that… We should do a whole gathering room on this, because that’s a very complicated monster. And running from it makes it grow, but not running from it can really flatten a person. Because here in the middle of shame, there’s something that is different from just a feeling and that is a lie. And the lie is, I’m not good enough. I’m irretrievably wrong in some way. So you need to find the part that doesn’t feel good enough and you put your arms around that. If you believe in the shame, you’re believing a lie, and that’s a lack of integrity. And that will split you. And no amount of fighting or running can heal that until you realize, “Oh, there’s a lie here and I have to stop believing it.” So shame is a special monster.

And in that case, you have to befriend it and then disbelieve it. You can have friends that tell you things you don’t believe. I have friends who are very much politically in different places than I am, and I’m like, “I don’t agree with you, and yet you are still my friend.” And you can do that with shame. You can say, “You’re wrong and have a sandwich.” Okay, Rose says, “How do you put your armor down whilst also maintaining boundaries and staying safe in the world?” Oh, absolutely. It’s important to do this because the part of you that is letting your boundaries go down with other people, letting them come across your boundaries and do things to you that are harmful, that part of you is the part that thinks you have to please others to survive. It’s a type of fighting. So I’ve said before that the fight, flight response, they put in freeze and then faint, and then they put in fawn.

Fawning, being incredibly grovelingly nice to people, people pleasing, is actually a form of trying to stay safe. It’s a way to fight. It’s a fight flight response. So if you sit down with yourself and say, “Which part of me is groveling to other people, which part of me isn’t holding boundaries?” And you’ll find the part and it’ll be like a little pound dog that’s been whipped, and it’ll be like, “Oh, I’m just trying to stay safe.” And you say, “Oh, honey, little groveling puppy. Come in, come in, sit down, have a cookie, have a sandwich. I’ll be your friend. I’ll never attack you.” And as you keep it safe, then when you go out, you’re in a position where you just don’t let anyone in to hurt the puppy. You have learned to befriend yourself, and as a result, you won’t let anyone hurt your friend, which is you.

Does that make sense? Anything you put out, anything you give to yourself is what you end up projecting to the world. So befriending yourself is the best way to self-protect. Toy Box says, “Hi, thank you for your lessons on friendliness, but doesn’t this approach put away also the weapons where they’re useful? For example, you need some anger to stand up for animal rights and the poor, et cetera.” Oh yeah, absolutely. This is not… You’re not befriending the horrors of the world. You’re befriending the part of yourself that is horrified. So when I see somebody mistreating animals or children or humans in general, or the planet, anything, it’s like a stab in the heart. And what I have to do very first is to sit comfortably and let that come in and feel, “Oh, I don’t like that feeling. I would like to fight against my feeling of horror.”

But if I befriend that and I sit with it, I start to calm down and then when I go out to deal with the actual situation, I’m calmer, I’m more reasonable, I’m not shrill. And remember, everything fights back when we attack it. So you can bring down a lot of barriers. A lot of you can address a lot of horrors in a way that is not attacking. I love the way Gloria Steinem talks about feminism. She’s so calm, she’s so friendly, even in the face of things that are incredibly enraging. But I think she’s befriended herself, and that means that when she does go to stand against injustice, she stands strong and she stands solid and nothing can really… Nothing can attack her because she won’t attack herself. That’s my impression of her. So yeah, you still have all the equipment you need to fight injustice. It’s just that it’s easier to access and your control of it is better and you have more energy.

Tracy said, “To be clear, I had chemo and immune therapy, but just surrendered to the journey for God’s sake.” That is… I’m not telling anyone that you can just think away your cancer. I have no idea. Maybe that person was wrong, the doctor was wrong when they told me that that’s what it was. But yeah, do absolutely everything. As I said, there’s a place to be a warrior. That’s fine. But there’s a place to be your friend as well. And being in the friend space, inwardly as much of the time as possible, makes us a lot stronger in a difficult world. And Tracy, I’m so, so grateful that you did that and got treatment.

Sally Reid says, “How is not fighting the same or different from giving up?” Not fighting is saying, I will accept things as they already are. I won’t try to negate what’s already happened. Giving up is saying, “Well, I’m going to keep… I’m going to do anything it takes to not feel what I’m feeling.” Giving up the struggle means… I don’t think I’m making this very clear. But when you say, “Ugh, I just give up.” There’s a kind of depression and it’s actually surrendered to the darkness. It’s not the same as going, “You know what? I have a really big conflict inside myself, but I’m just going to offer it kindness. I’m going to open the door and let everything in and befriend absolutely every feeling.” And then the energy to keep going instead of giving up when it’s the right thing to do is more available. Couple more. I know we’re over time, and I’m just going to do a couple more.

Musca in Bali says, “How do we befriend the most cruel feelings, the ones that we simply don’t want to be true? The life I yearn for feels galaxies away. This is agonizing. How do I welcome?” Let’s see. I assume the very, very cruel feelings and the things that are really agonizing, those are the most important things because those are your wounded. You open the door and something comes in that is so hurt. And instead of being afraid and running away from it, you bring in a blanket, you sit with it and you will intensely want to run. It will be scary, it will be sometimes horrifying, disgusting even. You will want to not look at your own pain, and that’s exactly the time you need to just stay. Just stay. The first quality that you need to make friends with yourself is constancy. I will stay here and relax no matter what. Stay with your pain and relax, and it will come to you. Okay.

Melanie says, “Do you recommend finding the space in the distance between the eyes when we want to run from or fight the pain loss, et cetera?” That’s a really good way to stay. We talked about that on another gathering room. And if you’re really panicking and can’t sit still, if you focus on the space inside your body, the distance be between your eyes, that fight or flight state will come down in your brain, your focus will open, and friendliness becomes more accessible. And then again, just that image of opening the door and bringing in these wounded, these aching, these hungry, these lost selves that we’ve been fighting, fighting, fighting, bringing them in and making friends with them and saying, “I will not leave you and I will not hate you. I will sit with you until I feel comfortable.” Everything starts to change for the better when we do that. And I think this is what Rilke said, maybe everything we most fear is in its essence, something helpless that needs our love. And that is really true of all the parts of us we’ve pushed away, the parts of us that we’ve fought.

So today, whatever you’re feeling, even if it’s really unpleasant, see if you can offer it a welcome. See if you can be peaceful with it. See if you can find a way to give it a blanket and a cup of tea and slowly start to love it, and do that again and again and again, and I promise you, you will walk through this world and everything will start to befriend you. So I love you all very much, and I’m so grateful for you, my friends, coming in to sit with me. I wish I could give you soup through the computer, but it’s wonderful just to be able to see your names and feel your beautiful presence. I’ll see you next time on the Gathering Room. Bye.

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