Image for The Gathering Pod A Martha Beck Podcast Episode #148 Big Change. Now What?
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.

Big Change. Now What?

Martha Beck:

Today. Today is the due date for my most recent book, which is now called “Beyond Anxiety: Curiosity, Creativity, and Finding Your Life’s Purpose.” Yes, and today is the due date. So according to my code of integrity, it had to be done. So it is. I sent it in, and in September when I came back from Australia, Ro and I came back from Australia with our youngin, I realized I hadn’t really written anything worth reading. And it was September, it was mid-September, and my book was due in January. So I said to my beloveds, “I am going into a hermit-like existence.” I went and I got a whole bunch of bottles of iced tea. I will not say what brand. This is not to advertise. But I got exactly enough bottles to last me from that day till today if I drank one bottle a day. And then every morning I would get up early, slug my tea back, gulp, and then just stay in my bedroom writing, often until mid-afternoon.

And I did that for I think 105 straight days, and it changed a lot of things. I grew flabbier and weaker. My eyesight got really bad. All I can see anymore is a screen exactly a certain distance from my face. My farsightedness, which is supposed to be age-related, went away, but somehow I became nearsighted instead. I have to wait to see if it changes back.

Anyway, that was my whole life. And even when I went out and did things in the late afternoon or talked to you all, my mind was always like 95% on this book. It was just in this book. And I stayed riveted there, and then I stopped to do a second draft. I finished it before Christmas, and then I took five days off, slept the entire five days, thought I was just getting old, weak, and flabby. It turned out I was also very tired. Then wrote a second draft, and now it’s in. And this has been my life.

So I got up this morning having sent off my draft last night and went, “Okay, I have half a bottle of tea left,” and that’s all that exists of my prior life. When you’re in something that hard and deep for that long, it’s a little bit like when you are busy being pregnant, and then you have a baby, and you’re not pregnant anymore, and now there’s this baby to deal with. It’s a big change, and you have no idea what comes next for a while. Sometimes you have to just jump into things, right? But when your life really shifts, this is what my whole life coach training thing is based around, is something I call the cycle of change. And what I believe is that we’re always moving forward, but we’re moving forward in a spiral, a vortex. So we’re going around the four seasons of change but also moving forward.

And when you get to a really big change, whether you chose it or not, if something fundamental shifts inside you, you go into this phase I call square one. Square one is when you get up and go, “Big change. Now what? Now what?” And there is no answer. There will be. This is not one of those things like, what am I really, where you’ll never get a complete answer. It’s not about the spiritual reality of what we are. It’s about, what does this body do next? And what people tend to do when they get to a change that is try to sort of bring elements of the life they had before into the life they have now and sort of make it work.

Like if you’ve ever moved house… The first time I came back from South Africa after falling in love with the country, I brought back all these little tchotchkes and stuff and tried to make South Africa in one room of my house. What I was actually moving into was a life where I did a lot of travel, and I went back and forth between there and have friends there. But I was trying to bring that trip forward, and I hadn’t yet learned that when you have a big change like that, you need to just take your grubby hands off the steering wheel, take your feet off the pedals, and let God drive. Because you do not know what you will become next, because life’s changes aren’t just things you plan in your calendar. They are fundamental metamorphoses, and they happen over and over.

And if you’re on a path of spiritual development and personal growth, you change essence time and time again throughout your lifetime. And the more you pursue your personal development, the more times you’ll just get up going, “I have no idea what I’m doing, none.” I used to get clenched around that, but now I just remember the mantra for it, which is, “I have no idea. I don’t know what the hell’s going on, and that’s okay.” Because I know this sense of having jumped off a cliff and not landed yet may persist for weeks. It might even persist for months. On the other side of it, I will probably be a person who needs glasses, and I’ve sort of been coming to terms with that. Well, I have to wait and see, like a caterpillar waiting to see what kind of butterfly it’s going to be, but doing it over and over and over and over.

By the way, if you want a whole guide to this, I made a guide for people who asked about this, and it’s called “The Change Cycle,” and it has information, tips, and podcasts, my “Bewildered” podcast with Ro where we talk about each of the different parts of change. So I’ve been texted something that says, “Go to, or check out the link in the bio on Instagram or the pinned comment on Facebook.” Booyah, okay, I did what I had to do.

So I wanted to talk to you. Anyone out there who gets up in the morning and goes, “What am I really,” either “I’ve gone through a big change and have no idea what’s happening next,” or “I’m trying to be something I’ve never been, and I feel really scared and unready for it,” because the feelings you have after a big change, you are like this new formed, half-formed creature that’s very vulnerable to the elements, and there is no certainty and no control. That’s true at every point of in our lives, but it’s really, really clear after you’ve gone through something big, lost a job, lost a relationship, got a job, got a relationship, went to prison, came out of prison. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a gain or a loss. If it fundamentally changes you, you’ll feel confused, you will feel alienated, you will feel like there’s no way forward. You will feel like you don’t know who you are. Your identity will fall away. And you can either… All those things will happen, but you can change how the experience goes for you, because if you fight it, it’s horrible, and if you don’t fight it, it’s just kind of interesting.

And one of the things I know is that I’m going to wait for the impulse to move my furniture. Because for some reason… And the other thing is, I’m going to change my hair. Do I have any intention of changing my hair? I only have three actual individual hairs on my entire head. There’s a limit to what I can do. And yet I know that in the past, when I’ve gone into this square one, “I don’t know what I am,” the signals of change, like crocuses coming through the snow in the springtime to signal springtime, are, you change your furniture around, and you change your hair. You also may change the clothes you wear. So you’re basically reconfiguring everything. So I’m waiting for that, and then after I’ve changed my furniture and my hair, something will arise as an idea for something I want to do next. Do I know what it is? I do not. I could make you a list today and then burn it, because it is not going to be what I decide to do after going through the metamorphosis process.

I don’t even try to make lists anymore. I’m in square one. I just sort of wait. And I would encourage all of you who’ve been through a big change to just wait and watch what the force wants to make with you. Because the more things you try to do by your mind, by force… This is part of what my book’s about. At the end of the day, what constellates our lives is not the physical or mental will or intention of any individual human being. It is the intelligence of nature, and you are an implement, an instrument, and a beloved child of that force, and it has plans for you. And sometimes the plans aren’t quite ready to be launched yet. So I’m going to wait for the force to tell me to do something different with my hair. Last time it was a hairdresser in Pennsylvania who said, “I don’t like people whose hair same color as face.” I was like, “Okay.” “Mind if I darken it?” I was like, “Go for it.” Then she does her thing, pulls off the towel, and goes, “Don’t freak out.” I love her.

Anyway, we’ll see what the force wants to do with my hair and my furniture and my life, and that will be square two. And then at square three, I will get to work and do it. And that’s when you actually buy 19,000 bottles of ice tea, lock yourself in your bedroom, and freaking work. And then there’ll come a time when, like my rewrite, I already knew what I had in place, and I just had to polish it up and get comments from my editors.

So mostly I wanted to talk to anybody out there. Find an area of your life where everything’s just changed, and you want control, and you want to make plans or you think you should, and just say, “I don’t know what the hell’s going on, and that’s okay. It’s completely okay. It’s going to be given to me by the force. I am living this way on faith, and that’s okay.” And then in square two, by the way, the mantra is, “There are no rules,” because the force is going to make you into something that you don’t think you can be. I am not a writer. I still don’t feel like a writer. This is my 10th book or something. I don’t feel like a writer. The force apparently wanted to write something through me, and it keeps doing it. But you don’t know what you’re going to be.

And the rules in square two are that there are no rules, and all kinds of things will come up in your mind, in your life, that you hadn’t expected. I certainly didn’t set out to be a life coach. I haven’t set out to be almost any of the things that I am now. But there are no rules in square two. Then you get to square three. This is all, if you want to go look at the guide, just letting you know what the lay of the land is. Square three is you work and you work and you work, but it’s joyful, and it’s fun, and it’s hard as hell, and it’s great, and it’s groovy, and you’re working with the force, and there’s no better feeling, except getting to square four where you’re done. And I’m there. I was there last night, “Yay, square four.” I sent off my book, and I woke up this morning going, “What am I? Who am I? I don’t know what the hell is going on, and that’s okay.”

So I want you to know that everything is going to turn out okay. It really, really is. And the more you surrender to the not knowing, it’s a little bit like going body surfing and getting caught by a big wave, where the force of that wave is so strong that the only options you have are to tighten up and get the crap beaten out of you or relax and see when your head pops up. I always loved that. I loved being caught in the wave and pounded around, and maybe that’s why I do what I do. But if you don’t like it, I promise, relax and allow, because there is a plan for what comes next. And you’re going to start getting little things that go, “I don’t like that chair where it is. What if I parted it on the other side? Maybe I’ll grow a beard.” And that means something exciting is coming that you’ve never done before, and you’re going to work really hard on it, and then you’re going to get to the point where it’s done, and you’re going to feel fabulous, until everything falls apart and you don’t know who you are anymore. This is our life, folks, and it is wonderful as long as we don’t get stuck thinking we have to control anything.

So I thought I would just give you that little mini lecture. Y’all who are coaches know all about it already, but I’m going through the whole thing again today. So I thought, never hurts to review, and I thought then we can do our space stillness and silence meditation. Because that is a really great way to deal with not knowing what you are. Because what you really are is mostly space, stillness, and silence. We’ve gone through this so many times. So let’s do it, folks.

In the honor of Les Fehmi, the Princeton professor who figured this out, we will start our meditation by relaxing and asking the strange question, can I imagine the distance between my eyes? Can I imagine the distance between the outside of my left shoulder and the outside of my right shoulder? Can I imagine the distance between the crown of my head and my sit bones? Can I imagine the almost complete infinite space, almost pure space, that exists inside every atom of my body? Can I find the stillness beneath all the activity, the stillness that holds my heartbeat and my eye movements and the electrical currents in my brain? Can I listen for the silence below all the sounds? Can I remember that space, silence, and stillness are alive and that I am life wearing this strange physical suit for a few years until I surrender back to the sweetness of space, stillness, and silence?

Thank you for that, people. That was very powerful energy for me. So let’s look at some questions, as is our custom.

All right, from Becky, “Do you have any advice for someone going through a spiritual change or a awakening of sorts?” Yes, I do. Go for the gusto, like, be freaky. Go to the outside edges. Anthropologists call it “putting brackets on something.” If they go in to, say, work with a tribe that believes in tree spirits or something, and the anthropologist doesn’t, but the anthropologist will put his or her or their own belief in brackets and then step into the belief system of the other people.

What I like to do is just put moments in brackets and say, “I am going to be really, really wacky here with my spiritual quest. I think actually my houseplant does seem to be a friend who’s giving me advice. I’m going to allow that. I know it seems insane, but if I don’t do something that’s beyond the bounds of what the culture [inaudible 00:16:53] is saying, I’m always going to stay within this very tight secular materialist culture that really is not broad enough to account for my personal lived experience. So I’m going to put some brackets on it and go all out. I’m going to read every weird spiritual thing from the 13th century ‘Cloud of Unknowing’ right down to some New Age thing that was put on TikTok yesterday. And I’m going to feel for what happens inside me as I play with these different beliefs, and what feels true to me I will keep, and what doesn’t feel absolutely true, what feels a little weird or manic or crazy, I’m going to drop it.”

So you narrow it down, but first you’ve got to open it up. Yeah, you get a little crazy for a while. God knows I do. That’s okay. We’re all going to die some day anyway.

Okay, City Lotus says, “How can you stay grounded through these intense transitions without feeling super chaotic and panicked?” I just wrote an entire book about it. The first thing you want to do is remember that no matter what the fear is, you are dealing with just one thing, and that is a panicky animal amygdala, or some very close copy of an amygdala if you happen to be like a cockatoo watching me right now. Birds, their amygdalae are a little different. What you’ve got is a little panic center in your brain. Its whole job is to look around for anything unfamiliar and go “Ah” whenever it sees anything unfamiliar. So allow yourself to have panicky moments, but treat your little amygdala like the very ancient brain structure it is. It is very, very, very highly developed, but not really wise to the ways of humans. So it will freak out when you see anything unusual, and your job is to slow it down and see if there’s something really dangerous in the room. If there’s something really dangerous in the room, you deal with it. You run, you fight, you hide, you do whatever. For most of us, most of the time, there’s not something actually physically dangerous in the room. So then what do you do?

Every time you breathe out, an impulse goes from the right side of your brain down your vagal nerve to your heart and slows your heart rate. If it didn’t, your heart would speed up indefinitely, and you would have a heart attack and die. You can do these little physical things, and it slows your heart rate. And then the amygdala says, “Oh, I guess things aren’t that bad,” and the level of fear goes down. Most of us take that little spurt of fear, and then we tell stories. “Oh my God, I feel scared. There must be something wrong.” And the story, there must be something wrong, goes back into the amygdala and increases our anxiety up and up and up. So just breathe out, do a lot of exhaling. Every time you inhale, try to exhale. Works for me. And let your body be still.

And the method I call kissed, kind, internal self-talk… You’ll be okay. Just say to your little amygdala, “It’s okay. You’re going to be okay. Everything’s all right. Even if you have no control over everything, it’s all right. It’s okay. I’ve got you. I’ve got you.” We can say to each other, “I’ve got you.” I kind of feel like you guys have got me. I always feel very loved by you, and I’m like, “Oh, they’ve got me,” and I’ve got you for sure. So we’ve got each other, and just saying things like that calms down our weird little amygdala, which as I said is very good at spotting anomalies or innovations, but not so good at interpreting what’s happening.

All right, Reyna says, “Martha, can you tell me what you know about divine will? I’d love to hear your wisdom.” I would love to hear divine wisdom. My wisdom is nothing. I believe that when you are completely relaxed… Liz Gilbert may be there now. So there’s nothing more, I think it was revolutionary, than a relaxed woman. We’re not supposed to relax. I think when you relax away from the demands of whatever cultural pressures are on you, what’s left is divine will. And a lot of the time it just says rest. It just says, be loved, enjoy, bask in being, bask in the experience. Any experience you have right now that is beautiful or cheering or exciting or interesting, just bask, and divine will can catch you there when you’re in enjoyment, when you’re in peace, when you’re in relaxation, and it will pick you up and take you to the next stop. I’ve gone through this change cycle thing so many times by now, and the one advantage of having done it so many times is I trust it. Is it trustworthy? I don’t know. I trust it anyway, because if I didn’t trust it, I’d go completely insane, and I’ve always been able to trust it in the past.

So my belief is that the second we really relax, we are divine will. We are never separated from it. There’s just a part of us that can fight it, and that’s no fun. Let it go, let it go.

So Dr. Donna says, “Struggle all the time with letting God drive. Often I don’t even realize I’m trying to control things. How do we know we’re driving and shouldn’t?” Well, if you’re in stress and struggle, you’re not really letting divine will drive the car. Stress and struggle are the sign that you believe that you have to do something that really isn’t your job. So the very sensations of stress and struggle are enough to help us say, “Wait, wait, let’s back off.” Like today, I got up and went, “What do I do? I don’t know.” And for just a minute I was like, “Eh,” and then I was like, “Wait, that feeling isn’t divine will. Okay, exhale, think about it. What have I got on the slate? I’m going to talk to the peeps on The Gathering Room about how I have no idea what I am today or what will come in my future, and it’s okay. Now I don’t feel stressed. Now I feel interested. Now I feel excited, curious, all the good stuff.” That’s how you know that the divine is driving or not. Just my personal belief.

So Pearl Smith says, “How does this work as a parent watching your young adult children making choices? It’s so hard to get them to pause.” Society sure doesn’t encourage them to do so. Yeah, and as a parent, you may want to control your child’s choices. You can’t control your own life. You can’t control your toddler’s. You certainly can’t control a young adult. But what you can do is say, “I’ve got you. I’m here. Maybe I’m not going to ask you to move back in, but emotionally I’ve totally got you.” And if they want to come talk about how it’s hard, remember how hard it is, and love them. Did you make all the right choices as a young adult? Did you really want your parents jumping in and doing things for you? No. So instead, relax with the anxiety about wanting to control someone else, and stop that, any control effort. Once you’re on the change cycle, the one thing you never really have is control. When you’re talking about another person’s life, you really don’t have any control. Believe me. I have spent a career trying to fix, help, save other people’s lives. Never worked once, but here we all are on the ride together, and that’s pretty cool. So this is fun.

Okay, L says, “Question. I’ve been in a prolonged square one and don’t have the impulse to move forward yet. However, I need to start making some practical life decisions for income, where to live, et cetera. What do you do if the force hasn’t moved you yet, but you have to figure the practical things out?” I have done this a lot, and I just go with the old idiom, “Any port in a storm.” Didn’t know a soul? Find someone to talk to, even if they seem a little odd, eccentric. I have had some interesting friends, especially at times when I had just moved someplace, and I would just pal up with somebody I met on the street because I was completely isolated in Asia, and I just had to find someone to connect to some way to get through.

And I’ve done a lot of little patchworks. There’s a whole chapter in my book about patching together things. And if you just keep patching together the little bits, you will get through those times of waiting. And then the big thing comes. And my experience is usually that whatever you’re meant to become is fed by the things you patch together, even though you didn’t know that when you were doing the patching. So you just do whatever is right in front of you, you make your best choices, and you continue to say, “I don’t know what the hell is going on, and that’s okay.”

All right. Rose Bree just says, “I’m going from a time of being very busy and productive, and now in 2024, I feel like there’s not much to do.” Yay. “Do I wait until things spark my curiosity and things start happening again?” Follow your energy. If you want to rest, this is the perfect time to do it. Don’t waste the time to rest. If you just want to sit and eat bonbons, do it. If you’re curious, go with your curiosity about anything. Curiosity, I quoted Liz in my book. “Curiosity is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. It is the heart and soul of a life lived creatively.” So follow curiosity, whether that’s watching a documentary on TV… At one period when I didn’t know what to do, I watched three seasons of a show just about storm chasing. It was awesome. I think it’s going to fuel some things later. I don’t know what, but go with your curiosity, always.

Carrie says, “I’m fine, but all around me are freaking out. What to do with them?” Just go, “Yes. Oh, yes. Hey, here’s a little guide to the life change cycle that I got from Martha Beck’s website.” Now, then you can either send them off with love or charge them money. No, not really, I jest. I believe in being highly trained and certified. But honestly, if you just sit with someone and say, “Yep, that’s what you’re going through.” And Ro, the gracious badger from Australia, taught me a great Australian phrase that you say when they’re really in pain. This is what you do. You listen, and you say, “Eh, sucks, mate.” That’s it. That’s the whole thing. When I started doing that instead of trying to fix her life, that’s when our relationship finally bonded.

Okay, two more questions. Steph says, “How do you stay surrendered and relaxed and allowing when square one, the messy not knowing stage, takes a long length of time, like months or years?” You, again, follow curiosity and trust. That’s the two things. Do “any port in a storm” stuff. Whatever floats in, if it feels good, do it. And trust that something is building, something is being made for you, with you, in you, through you. And see if you can find the place of trust. And it will feel almost like when you’re hitting a note and it’s a perfect pitch, it just resonates through your whole body. And stay in that state of trust.

The first time I learned that was when I was pregnant with Adam and didn’t know what my life would be as a mom with a kid with Down syndrome. And I heard this song from “The Jungle Book” called “Trust in Me,” and a snake sings it to Mowgli because it wants to kill him. But that song mesmerized me. And something was saying to me, trust, trust, trust. And I didn’t care that it was a murder song by a snake. To me, it was the voice of God at that moment. And I went into trust and fell asleep for the first time in weeks, and it was a life-changing moment. Find trust. It’s worth going through chaos to get to it.

Finally, Jeanette says, “What about self-doubt? I just moved to a new state, and I’m shocked. I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’m doubting my decisions. I left because I felt stuck.” Good for you. That self-doubt is a great sign that you have truly made a good move. And if we didn’t have self-doubt, we’d all be colossal narcissists. What you need to do is learn to think of self-doubt as not such a bad thing. Just see it as part of yourself.

“Hello, self-doubt. How are you?” “I’m panicking. I don’t know what to do, and I think you’re an idiot. You shouldn’t have left.” “Oh, I got you. You’re going to feel that way for a while. That’s fine. Why don’t we go get a cup of tea. I’ll give you a cup of tea. You’re okay. You’ll be fine. I’ve got you. I’ve got you.” Self-doubt is part of this, folks, and loving ourselves through it is the answer. Control is not the answer. Curiosity and love and trust and hanging out for each other, that’s the answer. So drop the control issues, and if you can’t drop them, stop trying to control your control issues, and just say, “I will sit here right with you, control issues, and I will be here for you. Sucks mate. Can’t control anything. That sucks.” And then life won’t suck. So I don’t know what I’m going to be the next time I talk to you, and we all don’t know what we’re going to be, and that’s wonderful, and that’s okay. I love you.

Thanks for being here. See you soon again, right here on The Gathering Room.

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