Image for The Gathering Pod A Martha Beck Podcast Episode #126 Calm Down, We Can Do Both!
About this episode

In this episode of The Gathering Pod: Calm Down, We Can Do Both!, Martha talks about how calming yourself frees the brain to come up with creative ways to get everything your heart desires—even when those desires seem to conflict with each other.

Calm Down, We Can Do Both!

Martha Beck:

So, let’s get started on today’s topic. It is a strange topic, and I got the title from a two-year-old. We were worried about something. She wasn’t feeling well. We were worried how do we get our work done, take her to the doctor? What if nobody can babysit? What are we going to do?

And suddenly this baby hand went up and said, “Calm down, we can do both. Calm down, we can do both.”

And we’d say, “Okay, thank you Lila, thank you for your input.” Now what are we actually going to do?

And she kept saying, “Calm down, we can do both.” I don’t know who said that to her recently, but it made a very deep impression, to the point where anytime people seem at all troubled, she now holds out that oracular hand and says, “Calm down, we can do both.”

So, we all started to laugh about it, and I started thinking, I spent my whole life coaching career basically saying, “Calm down, we can do both.” People come in, and they’ve got all kinds of blind spots and heartaches, and it’s usually because they think they have to choose between different aspects of themselves, different things they love, different people they love, and the culture tells them the two can’t coexist.

And so, I sit there and say, “Oh, this is a Rogerian false dichotomy,” or, “This is polarization of parts within the psychological system.” Or whatever. It boils down to calm down, we can do both.

So, people come in and they say, “I want to love my life, but also pay my rent.”

“Calm down, we can do both.”

“I want to be super-mature but also childlike.”

“Calm down, we can be both.”

“I want to travel, but I’m also a homebody. I just don’t want to leave.”

“Calm down, you can do both.”

I know that sounds odd, but just hear me out, here’s a big one. “I want to be super-productive but also completely relaxed.”

“Calm down, we can do both.”

“I want humans to thrive but not destroy the planet.”

“Calm down, we can do both.”

And finally, we just, two seconds ago, Rose said to me, “Okay, the dogs are going to have to stay in this room with you because there’s a thunderstorm, and they’re terrified, and there’s no one to be with them, so they’re going to be with you where you’re recording the podcast.”

And I’m like, “Calm down, we can do both.”

So, if you hear dogs going, “Ahh,” it’s because they’re afraid of the thunder, and they’re in the room here with me. And we can do both. We can do both.

So, the reason I love the way Lila framed this is she didn’t just say, “We can do both.” She said, “Calm down, we can do both.” Whoever said this, I really think it was somebody in South Africa, she had so many wonderful people who were looking out for her while we did the seminar during parts of the day, someone told her, “Calm down, we can do both.”

And I love that they said that, and I think it was a certain wonderful woman named Leah, who has degrees in early childhood development and is also basically an angel on Earth. And I think she knew to tell the children, “Calm down first, and then we can do both.”

Because if you’re not calm, and you’re in the frantic way of thinking that our culture espouses… Yes, I just used espouses in a sentence, I can do both. You’re not calm. Hence, my class, the Art of Calm, which you should all go to because honest to God, it’s going to be a riot.

Go sign up. We’re going to have so much fun. Anyway, you get to calm and suddenly your creative brain wakes up, kapow, kapow, kapow, and it starts seeing its way past the false dichotomies of your culture.

So, let me give you an example of a cultural false dichotomy falling apart. So I think many of you will be old enough to remember this and the others will know it as legend. I’m talking about… Well, let me first pose it as a word puzzle, which was I first saw on the show All In the Family, which was a TV show way, way back in the Bronze Age when all the TVs were bronze, and they served up this word puzzle.

Okay, there’s a terrible car accident. There’s a man and his son in one of the cars. The man is killed instantly. They take his son to the hospital. The operating room surgeon comes in, takes one look at the kid and says, “I can’t operate on this boy. He’s my son.”

Can you figure out what’s going on here? Most of you can. The answer is that the surgeon is the boy’s mother. Okay? But in 1960, whenever I saw that, everyone was stumped by that, “This is impossible. It can’t happen.” And of course, the feminist movement blew that dichotomy apart. You can be a woman and study medicine. Calm down, we can do both. We can be a woman and be executives or do all kinds of things like astronauts, everything. Yay. We got very angry about it. And I say we, because I was already an adult in the Bronze Age, and I was very upset about the whole anti-feminist situation.

So yeah, I was very upset. And then, oh, I get to a frustrating impasse. And you may know if you’ve been watching regularly that that’s how the brain gets to its creative solutions. It has to come to an impasse. So, this feeling of, “I want two things and I can’t do both,” it feels like an obstacle. And sometimes it feels like absolute despair, “I really cannot have all the things that I really yearn for in my heart.”

And I always tell people you can’t get everything you want in a sort of surface-y way. But if you yearn for something, and the yearning won’t go away, you’re meant to have whatever you yearn for. And people, even people who are very greedy and ego-ic, when you get to what they yearn for, what they long for in the dark of night when nobody’s looking, it’s not stuff. It’s belonging, safety, peace, love, sometimes relationships with specific people.

And if you can get to an impasse in your yearning, and you think that all is lost and you can never have both these things, push hard against the frustration. Let the yearning be bigger. Do not try to crunch it down because this is how the brain gets to, calm down, we can do both. It’s the yearning in two directions that feel opposed to each other and the sense that, “Well, I’ve thought every thought I can think,” that there’s no other option.

And then go out and do something completely idle. So, push your impasse and push your double desires, the things that seem to conflict with each other. Get really intensely frustrated about it. Let the frustration that’s already there be big.

This was my experience of the feminist movement. This was my experience of, oh, I don’t know, having a child with Down syndrome and still having a happy, enjoyable, creative career. They told me I could not do that. I had to make a choice, one or the other, a slave to something horrible, some kind of situation that is less than ideal, or don’t have a son with Down syndrome. Just get rid of that.

So, push it to the point where you think you can’t have both things you want. And then let go, let go, let go, let go, let go. Surrender, surrender, surrender. That’s when you get calm. You get to the very moment of the impasse, and you let it be as big as it can be, and then you calm down.

I have a very weird story. I don’t think I’ve ever told this story publicly. I’ve told it to a few small groups of people, but I had a strange example of this when I was trying to work out how to hook up a keyboard to my computer. I had bought this musical keyboard that wrote music. If you played the music into it, it would write music. And I really wanted it.

And it came in the mail, and it had 9 million buttons and no labels of any kind. And there was no manual. There was nothing. I didn’t even know how to turn the thing on. I could see how to connect it to my computer, so I did that and it sort of popped up as a thing on my screen, but it was just a patch of code. And I didn’t know what to do with that. And I kept thinking, “I can make it work. I can make it work,” pressing buttons. I press a lot of buttons when I’m frustrated.

And then I had to get in the car to go pick up my son, Adam, at the Elder Care Center where he worked. And in the car, all my frustration about my computer just burst out, and I threw a huge tantrum at a stoplight, “I don’t like this. Why aren’t the forces out? Angelic forces should be keeping me from having a deal with this frustration.”

And then I had to pick up Adam. And Adam is very, very sensitive to energies, plus he radiates a kind of levelheaded calm that is sort of the model for anybody else who meets him. So, I knew to go to that place when Adam got in the car, and I calmed way down. We were just fine going home.

And then I went up to my computer, I sat down, and I typed another patch of HTML code into the box where the HTML box had appeared. Now, I knew about HTML, but I didn’t know what I was typing or why. All I know is that suddenly the computer connected to the keyboard and they could work together.

And that for me, was the very weirdest experience of I desperately wanted something. I pushed and pushed and pushed to an impasse, and then I totally relaxed and let it go. I mean, I just let go of the whole thing. And I somehow was given the capacity to do something that I didn’t know how to do.

So the thing was, “I want to know how to do this. I don’t know how to do this. There’s no way beyond this. Calm down. You can do both.” Somehow something in me through me, I don’t know, knew how to write that HTML code to connect those two machines.

So, we need to get to the place where we’re super-frustrated, we’re in a frustrated impasse, then allow the entire brain to come online by calming down.

And that right there, the creative process starts because the part of the brain that gets calm is also the part that’s creative, which is also, there are many ways to do it. I’ll teach you how in the Art of [inaudible 00:11:12] course, which is going to be very soon, it starts in July.

So, before we go to questions, I want to go back to the few things I mentioned at the beginning of the little broadcast here, “I want to love my life, but also pay the rent.”

Okay, calm down. You can do both. One of my favorite statements about this is from a man named Matthew Fox who wrote, “Your mission in life is where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. So, find a place where what makes you glad can feed the hunger of the world and people will pay you for that thing.”

And I have spent my entire life selling something that is not really a product. It is the ability to see past frustration and into the realization of heart’s desires. What I’m doing right now is the way I think, but it’s also what people hire me for. People, organizations, sometimes large organizations.

Okay, so, “I want to be mature but also childlike.” I love that one. I just read a wonderful novel. It’s called Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow. And it’s about these two who meet as children and then again in college. And they love video games, and they start writing video games together. And the amazing thing about the book is that they retain this childlike relationship with play online, but they’re also creating great art. They’re in an art form that is fully mature. They have to know math and how to form a great story arc and mythology and all this stuff.

And they’re also playing children. And the combination is so delicious. And I don’t really play video games, but after this book, I’m like, “I think I want to,” because it’s a way I can be mature but also childlike.

“I want to travel, but I’m also a homebody.” Okay, Zoom, what we’re doing now. Hello, Instagram, Facebook. Another thing that Ro keeps talking about is Van Life. If you’ve listened to our Bewildered podcast that she’s obsessed with Van Life because you get a van, and you make it your home, and then you buzz around in it. You’re at home and you’re traveling.

Another thing I thought of while I was in South Africa a few weeks ago was I want to be with my global family, and they are literally everywhere, all over the world, and I’m just going to find a way to hang out with them.

So, I’m thinking creatively about how to hang out with the people that I missed during the lockdown, but interacting often with people from literally all over the planet.

“I want to be productive but also completely relaxed.” It turns out that when we use our whole brains, this is exactly how we function automatically. We are completely relaxed and highly productive at the same time because we’re not grinding away from that left hemisphere, that little tight anxious point of view.

We’ve learned the art of calm, and it becomes part of us that we just function that way, the way a cat can, the way they sort of flow upstairs and things. That’s the way you move through your life when you actually are occupying your whole brain. And I want humans to thrive, but also not destroy nature.

Just got back from a place where they’ve restored a whole bunch of nature, an area as big as Switzerland. And also reading all this stuff, if we did nothing more than restore the soil microbes, if we could give that some attention, we could actually repair all the damage that climate change has done. So, those are some things like break your dichotomies. Break your dichotomies, and the way is from the mouths of babes, calm down. We can do both.

Okay, so let’s look for the questions. Donna says, “How do you cope with people who say to you, ‘You can’t have it all,’ when you believe both things can be true? For example, I believe I can be a life coach and a research professor. The anxiety comes because the culture says, ‘No, you can’t. You can’t have it all.'”

Well, you do have it all. You’re already doing both things. So, hello. In that case, what I say to the critics is, “Just watch. Watch.”

Yeah, I remember thinking this a lot when people told me, “You’re going to fail. This absolutely cannot succeed.” And I would think, “No, but I have that yearning in my heart. I also know that the odds are stacked against me, but nope, yearning won’t go anywhere.”

So, I see what you’re saying. I know that you believe it. Watch. And then you do what you damn well want to do in your heart of hearts. And it’s amazing. You get that whole brain online. You know how there’s that trope in science fiction that says we only use 1% of our brain or 10% of our brain or whatever? If we could use the whole brain, we’d be incredible geniuses.

First of all, I think that we do use a whole bunch of our brain. I think they’re taking snapshots of the brain and it’s like taking one picture of you a day and saying, “This is all you do.” So, I do believe that the brain is more accessible, but I also have seen in the research I’ve done that most of us are cramped into a very tiny part of our perceptual and cognitive capacity in a little place that goes, “Oh, no. Okay, I’ve got to control everything and stay really anxious, or I won’t be able to stay safe.”

So yeah, get into your whole brain. Read Jill Bolte Taylor’s book, come to the Art of Calm class that I’ll be teaching, which you’re not the same thing. I’m not ripping off Jill, but she does a really good job with it. And learn that when you’re in touch with everything you know that you know that you know in your deepest core self, “I can do both. Watch me.”

So, Jessica says, “Is anger and frustration an important part of the equation, Martha? This delightfully pushes against the idea that anger is bad.”

Oh, anger is not bad. Without anger, for heaven’s sake, oh God, we’d still be in the futile ages with peasants in the fields working for a few nights and lords and kings. No, without anger, we don’t move forward. Anger is the immune system of the soul. When something is present that’s not tolerable like a virus, anger heats us up like a fever to get rid of it.

When something we need is absent, like food, we know that we need it, and we go to get it. And we get angry because it’s being withheld sometimes. So, anger is always a signal that something is unjust in our environment. And if we can target that, and we know what’s unjust, that’s what the feminist movement did and what I hope all the social, the diversity and equality systems are doing now is that you get angry enough that you have to decide that there’s a way to do this. And then relax, and boom, yes, you are given creative solutions from your own brain. And yeah, it is an important part of the equation.

In fact, to come up with really new ideas, you almost have to be at an impasse so frustrating that you’re feeling a little angry. And it feels like a little kid tantrum because little kids are learning, learning, learning, learning. And sometimes they can’t solve a problem, not quite. The brain’s growing a new idea, and they’re like, “Ah.”

We are like that too when we’re growing. When we stop growing, we’re like, “Okay, I don’t ever have to be frustrated. Don’t even bring that to me. I don’t want to think about impossible desires.”

No, no. Get in there. Get into the impasse because it’s when the brain comes to an impasse and then relaxes, boom, everything, all the options open wide. So, be angry, be frustrated. Don’t hurt anybody, but use it. That is a fire energy that can be used in many, many helpful ways.

Deborah says, “It just occurred to me that all apparent dichotomies are false.”

Woo-hoo. I would cheer much more loudly, except I’m trying not to blow out my machines here. When you actually start to look at anything that is deeply frustrating, any dichotomy, it falls apart eventually. It cannot stand because we live in a world of dualities where for every up there’s a down.

I think I say this every week, but it’s worth repeating. But we move through a field that is reality, a field that is life, a field that is consciousness and love. And we come into it and out of it as form. As Alexander Pope says, “Like bubbles on the sea of matter borne, They rise, they break, and to that sea return..”

So, we’re always coming. We come into being a bubble and pop a bubble, and we’re out of it. And the field through which this is all happening and within which it’s all happening, that’s the reality. That’s what’s holding it all together. So yeah, apparent dichotomies and dualities, those fall apart if you meditate long enough. Good catch, Deborah.

Alicia says, “Is that the how-to when it comes to that getting out of your own way aspect?”

Yes. And get in your own way first. Get frustrated, and then think about a two-year-old boy saying, “Calm down. We can do both.” And go out for tacos or something. Go watch the fish. Go roll in the snow. Do something completely unrelated. This causes the pressure in the brain to relax. The whole brain comes online when we’re moving our bodies and we’re out doing different things, eating, using our senses, enjoying life.

The right hemisphere then has the chance to make new connections and pop them into consciousness fully formed. It’s a wonder. It’s called the Eureka effect, and it’s one of the most fun things your brain can do. So, yay.

Anne says, “Does this work when you really want something but you believe you cannot afford it?”

Abso-freaking-lutely. I can’t tell you how many times I have been, “I really want this, but I absolutely can’t afford it.”

And I’ve sat there for years on end, and then finally I calmed down, and it was, “Wait. Wait. That could work.”

The biggest example is that I really wanted to live on a ranch in California, and I was living in Arizona, and I knew what this ranch looked like. I was getting images of it. When I’d wake up, I’d have these images of this ranch in California, and it was always the same. And it was so specific that I could actually go and look for it on a real estate site on the Internet, and put in the different buildings and the acreage and everything. And only one ranch came up, and it was for sale. And I couldn’t afford it, and I just could not.

And I offered. I could almost afford it if I gave all my resources for this one thing. And mind you, I am no rancher. No, I didn’t know why I was doing this. I just knew I yearned for it. So, I offered them all my money, and they were like, “Ha, ha, ha, funny, go back to the poor house where you were born.”

And I felt all miserable and frustrated because I knew, it was magical. I’d seen this thing. Didn’t that count for something? To see something magically in your mind for years and then find it in three dimensions, that had to be worth something. And I wrestled with it, and I was deeply frustrated.

And then as I do every year when there’s not a lockdown, I took myself off to Londolozi, South Africa and dropped everything while I watched elephants and lions and worked with beautiful people.

And I completely relaxed after two or three weeks. And I came back, and in the week, another real estate agent called me, and he’s like, “I want to show you some ranches. So, right after getting home from Africa, I flew to California, and he showed me the same ranch. And I’m like, “No, no, I want this one, but they won’t give it to me.”

Said, “Let me talk to them.”

He talked to them, and then they came back and said, “Okay.”

And I was like, “What?” So, I could truthfully say I got out from Africa, and in the first week I was home, I did two things. I made it to the grocery store to buy basic supplies, and I made it to California to buy a ranch. This was not possible, but oh, I forgot to tell you the best part.

First of all, magic does tend to happen. It really does, when you’re out there. It doesn’t just connect your brain, it connects you with everything, with consciousness. But before I even started looking at real estate stuff, I was like, “I don’t make enough money to afford a place like this.”

And then I thought, “Well, wait a second.” I relaxed. And it occurred to me that people could come to the ranch to do seminars the way they go to Londolozi to do seminars, and they would pay me money, and that way I could pay for the ranch, and it would be a business expense. I was like, “Wait. That would work.”

So, that is what we did. That is what we did. It just was a way of thinking that I hadn’t pictured before, and there it was.

Okay. So, Sally says, “When I ask myself what I want, I get immediately anxious. What can I do?”

Come to the Art of Calm course. I have six weeks of stuff I am dying to put into your little heads. So, what can I give you right now? Watch the immediate anxiety as it arises. See if you can get the anxiety itself to feel very big, and then imagine it wrapped in a ball of light, and see if you can just push it, split from it, just a little bit far enough away for you to have a conversation with it. Okay?

So, “Oh, okay, anxiety, you are,” and this is what you say, “You are wonderful. You are perfect the way you are, and I’m taking care of you. Don’t worry, you don’t have to work on this problem. Other parts of my brain are figuring it out. What can I do to make you feel better?”

And then you do whatever the anxious part says you need. And this loving the anxious part allows it to be out of the way of you. You connecting with the creative part of your brain, and actually the imagined light and moving away, that activates the right side of your brain because it’s imagination and storytelling and image. So, try that, Sally, and all of you all.

Deborah says, “I want to take risks, not submarine size, but just out of my comfort zone, but I also want to feel safe.”

This is a big one. I actually had this on my list of things, but I think I exchanged it for something else. And yes, again, there are many ways to do this, and I will teach them all to you if you come to the course, but let me think of when I could give you now for free.

The best way is probably to, well, horse tranquilizers. Not really. The best way is to do it in the company of somebody else who doesn’t have that particular fear, someone who has no trouble believing that your dream can come true and no problem believing that the risks you will take, even if things go wrong, will be worth it in the end.

You need that calm presence with you. And if you can’t muster it up yourself, get yourself a life coach. This is what we do. We sit around believing that people can solve insoluble problems, and then watching them solve them. So yeah, find a friend, find a relative, find a coach, a therapist who believes in your dream, and then rest on their calm. And they will say, “Calm down. You can do both.”

Jean says, “How do you balance your yearning for adventure and creativity with the responsibilities of parenting?”

You take your two-year-old to South Africa, and when she gets sick, you let her throw up in your cupped hands. As it turns out, I think I said this last week too, but I’m deeply scarred by it, and I need to talk about it to everyone in the world.

Yeah, I think actually the people we work with at Londolozi, Boyd and Bronwyn Varty, whose parents restored the land and built the buildings of Londolozi, a little camp there and created the relationship with animals where the animals trust us. They had their kids in a boarding school, and the kids were miserable, and they were miserable, and they just looked at each other one day and said, “We’re not doing this.”

So, they got our wonderful friend, Kate Rock, to be a tutor, and Boyd and Bronwyn did part of their education flying around, restoring ecosystems, going, “You want to learn French? Let’s go to France. You want to know about spirituality? We’ll go to India.” She just took them all over the world on a very, very tight budget and educated them that way while their parents were with them.

So yeah, there are things that you can do that you would never think about unless you got very creative. Calm down. Calm down. We can do both. So, two more questions.

Connie Marie says, “Can you say something about age? I feel like I’ve been searching for something since my early 20s or 30s, and 30 years later, I’m not sure I’ve found it. Assume there is nothing?”

Oh, no, no. Assume there is something. Calm down. You can do both. You can be as old as you are and have the things you dream about. I promise you, if it’s something like, “I want to be an Olympic gymnast,” that’s a want.

“I want to be able to absolutely do magical things with my body and feel the joy of all the movement I can make,” that’s something you can yearn for and something you can create no matter how old you are, no matter what your condition is.

Yeah, I’ve talked to people who’ve had different types of disability who have just broken free from that and calmed down. They could do both.

Finally, I just want to… I can’t take more questions right now because we’re way over time, but I have to say it again. And I’ll stop screaming at you about this soon. If you want to know how to calm down and do both, if you want that yearning to manifest, if you’re sitting there going, “Oh, yeah, but what I want, I’ve wanted it so long and it never happens,” learn to calm down and do both by coming to the Art of Calm.

Go to, or I think it might be in the bio or something. I will ask with my people. Calm down. We can do both. You can go to the website, or you can look at the links. I don’t know how these things work. Somehow, I once wrote a patch of code.

I love you all very much, and I hope to see you later on the gathering room, subsequent gathering rooms, and in the course too. Have a wonderful, wonderful day, and I will see you very soon. Bye.

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