About this episode
Do you ever struggle to do things you know you have to do, even though you don’t really feel like it? We’ve all been there—including Martha—and she’s talking about it in this episode of The Gathering Room: Keep Swimming. Tune in to the full episode, Ep 146: Keep Swimming, for more encouragement to keep going despite challenges and to participate in Martha’s guided Silence, Stillness, and Space meditation.
Welcome to the Gathering Room Podcast, the audio version of my weekly Gathering Room broadcast. I’m Martha Beck. Hello, welcome. Thank you for gathering with me, with all of us. Today I’m going to talk Last time I talked about how we can play with the universe and the universe is conscious and it responds to us, and animals are wonderful and that is all true. And there is another side to the story. That other side is something I saw in a biopic that I just watched with Annette Bening and Jodie Foster, who are like my goddess role models, because they’re actresses of a certain age who appear never to have anything shot into their faces.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it’s really amazing to see two women just going, “Nope. What you see is what you get.” I applaud anyone doing anything. God knows I’ll do anything I can to try to feel better about myself. Anyway, it’s called Nyad. In it Annette Bening plays a real person named Diana Nyad. Nyad, if you have never heard that word defined means water nymph or water spirit. Diana Nyad was named to be a swimmer and she grew up swimming, swimming, swimming. She was a long distance swimmer. And when she was about 30, she tried to swim from Cuba to Florida, which is I believe 102 miles as the crow flies, or the seagull, or what have you. They put her in this huge, they had the boat beside her and they had a big shark cage around her because there are a lot of sharks in that area.
She was going to be swimming for a long time, like days. There are all kinds of exciting things that happen to you when you swim for 60 straight hours. Now, after 24 hours, she was vomiting helplessly while she swam. I guess you swallow so much seawater and the stress of it every time she tried to swim it and she tried it, I believe four times, she would lose like 20 pounds per swim. She’s swimming for three days. She burns so many calories in those three days that she goes through 20 pounds of body fat. The toll on her physiology is just horrific. She didn’t make it when she was 30. I don’t remember why they turned back, weather, I think. She decided to try again when she was 61. She’s like, “Why not? I never finished that.”
This is a true story. She climbed back in the water and she’s tried to swim to Florida again. Turned out that in the 30 interim years, box jellyfish, which usually only live around Australia because of global warming, they were now breeding like crazy in the Atlantic. She ran into them and those little critters would kill you soon as look at you, they’re like this big, they’re transparent, you can’t see them, but they have a neurotoxin that is incredibly painful. Two of her attempts in her sixties, she swam and swam and swam for like 24… I don’t know. 24, 36 hours, like long periods of time only to be stung by box jellyfish and almost killed. They told her, “If you get stung again, that’s it, you’re dead. Nobody survives the third time.” She went again and she was wearing this weird alien getup where every part of her body had to be covered and masked in case of the box jellyfish.
That time she hit a storm. I’m ruining the movie for you, but actually not because it really happened. It’s all a matter of record and just the visuals are so stunning of a woman trying to swim in the dark of night in a storm at sea, these huge waves. By the way, she got seasick too, as if vomiting from stress weren’t enough. You see her literally swimming up these waves and then down the other side trying to make a straight line while these huge waves are going and the boat is going up and down. She had to quit that time, too. Then she did it again. When she was 64 years old, she finally made it and because of the way the currents were carrying her, she swam 110 miles all at once when she was 64, and it’s true. It’s all true.
I was watching this thinking, “The universe does like to frolic with us and everything is alive and responsive and life is joyful.” Yes. For some reason we are the kind of creatures… Now, Diana Nyad is obviously an exception. She’s way out on the bell curve and still humans of all shapes and sizes can get focused on something we want to do and it can be very, very, very challenging and almost impossible. We can fail over and over. If something won’t let go of you, the dream won’t let go of you, there are times when you just keep doing it, you just keep swimming. For the last 10 weeks, I’m dating this particular podcast and that’s just too bad.
I don’t know if I’ve been telling you about this. Everything’s blurry for me because 10 weeks ago I realized I’ve got a book due in January and I don’t like the hundred pages I’ve written, and now I have two months to write the whole thing. I started out, I usually in our family, we have what we call morning communion. Everybody gets up, meets around the fire, literally, in the wintertime, and we all check in with each other. We get grounded for the day, we get a little bit of caffeine in our bodies and we’re bonded for the day and then we do it again in the evening. Then again, we are always communing. It’s awesome. What other reason is there to be alive than to sit and commune with your loved ones around a fire? Which is basically what we’re doing now, computers and cell phones, they’re all just bits of the sun’s energy, right?
We’re using the sun’s energy and electricity so we can all gather around the fire and be together, and that’s the reason for living. But in order to do that, sometimes you have to keep swimming. This book is one way that I’ve had to keep swimming instead of morning communion, I wake up in the morning, I have my little iced tea that I’ve put on the bedside table before I go to sleep, throw that back, gulp. Now, I’ve got a little caffeine in me. I get up, brush my teeth, take care of my ablutions, and then I go back into the bedroom because I write lying down because of my fibromyalgia and back problems and everything. What I do is I lie down on the bed and I put a pillow under my knees and I put the laptop on my thighs and I start to write.
I start that seven, sometimes eight in the morning and sometimes I don’t stop until two or three in the afternoon. I don’t know how many hours that is, but never do I stop before one or two. Then it’s only to go do other work things. For all the time I spend saying, “Play is the nature of joyful action and we should all feel good all the time,” that I don’t want to write every single day from seven in the morning until two in the afternoon for 10 weeks. It has been really, really interesting. There are a lot of times when I’d rather not, but I open the computer. It doesn’t matter how uninspired I feel, I start putting words on the page or I start in my head thinking… I have you all in my head with me. I’m like, “Okay, how do I tell the people this?” Then it starts in my mind and as soon as I have something to type, I start typing.
It makes me think of all the other times in my life when I have had to just keep swimming. Maybe you’re in one of those times right now, too. In the Northern Hemisphere, it’s winter and things can feel pretty dark and gloomy and a lot of you are going through parts of your life that are either very, very difficult and challenging emotionally, physically, financially, or you just have to keep doing something day after day, or you’ve chosen to keep doing something day, after day, after day, because there is some idea you want to realize. I’ve talked a lot about how we always have puzzles going and puzzles… I was just doing one to relax because today I took a day off writing. I feel so guilty. I’m within 10 pages of the end of the book. We’re going to get through. But I was doing the puzzle because I can’t stop wanting to bring order to chaos.
Writing is one way of doing that and puzzling is one way of doing that. We all want puzzles. The brain wants a puzzle to crack. What I want to do today, we’re going to go into our meditation. It’s a very simple lesson today because there are times when there’s no bells and whistles. There’s no, “Here’s the handy trick.” There’s no shortcut. It’s just like “Keep swimming.” I knew some people who went to a meditation retreat and they meditated for three days all day, every day. Then one guy decided that he was going to stay and do a month-long sit in this little dojo, zendo, whatever, and everybody else went home after their three days. He was still sitting there and they’d go to the movies, they’d go on a date, they would go to school, they’d get a job, maybe quit a job, and then sometimes they’d meet for coffee or something.
Then at some point in the conversation they would just look at each other and go, “He’s still sitting there, he’s still just sitting there. That’s all he’s done is just sit there.” There was a time in my life when all… I knew I felt compelled. I don’t know what made Diana Nyad so obsessed with swimming from Cuba to Florida, but I know what it feels like to be compelled to just sit in the forest for hours and hours and hours thinking, “I’m in my fifties. What am I doing with my life?” Then saying, “That’s the voice of culture. But what I know to do is keep sitting here and I don’t know why, but I’m moving towards something by not moving at all.” Something inside me knows to keep doing it, to just keep swimming, to just keep sitting, to just keep writing doesn’t happen well every day.
But although when they have writing coaches judge people’s written compositions and then they ask two groups to write. One group writes every day whether they feel like it or not. The other one waits until they get a bolt of inspiration, then they write, give the written material to judges who don’t know any of the people and they don’t know which one was in which group. It turns out that the people who just write every day write better, write much better actually than people who wait for inspiration. There’s something to be said for just when Diana Nyad’s been in the water for… I don’t know, it must’ve been like 50 hours, swimming the whole time in an open ocean. I’m sorry, I know I keep saying this and you already know it, but it actually cannot… I can’t get it to land that someone actually did that.
But there’s a point where she gets so disoriented and she’s hallucinating and her friend… Nobody’s allowed to touch her. Her friend dives into the water, Jodie Foster, and just swims next to her and under her and around her. It means that her body remembers how to swim again in its total and absolute exhaustion. That is sometimes what we have to do for each other. We’re just, “I’m right next to you and I can’t touch you, but I know you can do this.” Jodie Foster’s like “Just give me a stroke, just one stroke. Okay, just one more.”
Whatever you’re in right now, if it’s a just keep swimming, just keep riding, just keep sitting, just keep going for chemo, just keep raising that kid, just whatever it is. I just want you to know that I’m swimming beside you and we’ve all been there, like everyone on this broadcast has been to this place and we are swimming around you like a pod of dolphins. We may not be able to touch you right now, but we are carrying your spirit along with ours and we believe you can do it.
That’s my whole message of today. Keep doing it, it’s going to pay off. Now, I’d love to do our meditation and we start, as you know, by getting loose and relaxed and then looking at the space in front of your eyes. Between whatever device you’re looking at and your face, there is an empty space. Look at the empty space instead of at me, or at your phone, or computer, or whatever it is. Breathe regularly and say silently to yourself “Can I imagine the distance between my eyes?
Can I imagine the distance between my eyes, the space, the tissue in my head between my eyes and then the molecules in the flesh and bone between my eyes? Then can I imagine the atoms between my eyes? Can I imagine the empty space inside the atoms right here between my eyes?” Now, go to “Can I imagine the space inside from the top of my head to the bottom of my chin? Can I imagine the space going from the base of my spine up to the crown of my head?” Straighten your head and neck and feel every vertebra and feel the spaces inside the tissue.
“Can I imagine the space inside the volume of my torso? As I let myself imagine the space inside my torso, can I imagine the stillness that supports all the motion of my heart, my lungs, my guts, my kidneys, all of it? Can I imagine the silence underneath every sound right now?” I’m just going to ask you to listen for the silence for a minute. Can you imagine? “Can I imagine the space inside my body connected with the space in which we’re all sitting, the space inside the volume of the whole earth and the entire universe, all of it continuous with the space inside my body and between my eyes?”
Okay, now I’d love to see some questions from anybody out there who’s still got to keep swimming. Hayward Boyce says, “How much time does Martha spend doing Byron Katie’s The Work each day? Anyone know?” It’s an all day everyday thing. It’s actually, I truly believe that I did it so much that my brain just works that way. If something, immediately, if I say to myself, “I’ve got to keep writing,” immediately, I know that actually I don’t have to keep writing. I could choose to stop anytime I wanted. I’m like, “Oh, okay, well then I’m not a captive, I’m not a victim. Everything’s fine. This is a choice I made.” With every thought comes its opposite.
I was actually reading a wonderful book the other day. It’s called The Matter With Things. It’s about 2000 pages long by an Oxford neurologist. It talks about how a statement and its opposite are like the two sides of a harp string and it pulls, they have to pull apart. We live in a binary and dual type of existence with matter. Everything has an up and a down. Everything has its opposite. Because it has an opposite, there is a tension between every two ideas, the one and its opposite. That is the tension that means that we can pluck the string and make music. It’s actually having both those polarities in our minds and realizing, “Oh, both can be true. They’re not always, but both can be true.” When you see two things that are both true, it pulls the mind and the music that comes into matter occurs because of the polarities in the tensions. For me, it’s like everyday playing with ideas and their opposites.
The idea and its opposite comes in one little package that creates a tension through which I can experience beauty and music. All of that is of wrapped in the silent stillness in space where there is no duality. I’m always finding that space of no duality, but noticing that with a strange pleasure, the pull of different polarities against each other, because I think that’s what we’re here to appreciate. All right, PC Longston says, “Can you repeat your advice for getting lots of sleep and rest during these times when we’ve chosen to keep going? Financial, personal and emotional turbulence right now.” Oh darling, I have so been there. You do need to try to get enough sleep. If you can’t get enough sleep, so this is an example of the polarity. You’ve got to get enough sleep to make it through this. Okay, I’m not sleeping.
Okay, could it be equally possible that I have to not sleep to get through this time? What I know is that there have been many times when sleep deprivation has knocked down my ego defenses to the point where I had to allow my view of the universe to collapse out of sheer, exhausted sleep deprivation. I can say to you, I’m so swimming next to you, and yes, you need to get a lot of rest unless you’re not getting a lot of rest, in which case reality seems to have dictated that you should not get a lot of sleep right now. Don’t be afraid of whatever happens. Get as much rest as you can, get as much joy as you can. If you don’t feel joyful, if you can’t get rested, if you can’t sleep, try to embrace that and the suffering of that as part of the experience.
As soon as you say, “I’m going to accept…” Like yesterday I got up and I said, “I cannot do this for another day. I can’t write for another day.” I went down to morning communion and I was like, “That’s it, no writing today.” Then I had an idea and I just had a little notebook and I wrote something down. Then there was another idea and then another idea and then another idea. I ended up writing for six hours and it really, really flowed because I had said, “It’s fine that I’m completely blocked.” There’s this paradox of getting past stuckness by accepting either extreme, both sides of the polarity, even if they seem to be opposites. Weirdly, you rest your soul when you make it okay that you’re not getting a lot of rest. Those of you who are raising new babies or have sick people to care for, or are sick, oh my heart is so with you and get lots of sleep. Don’t worry if you don’t get lots of sleep.
All right, Anna Roquita says, “Can you give some indicators to help decipher whether we’re in square three and should keep swimming or if we’re headed into a square one situation and need to let go,” those of you who are Wayfinder coaches who’ve been through my coach training program or who’ve read Finding Your Own North Star, know what this means. First phase of change, you’re just kind of like, “Whoa, something just happened. My life is changing and I don’t know what’s what.” The way to deal with that is just to hunker and observe and keep yourself alive. Then you get to a place where you’ve totally reimagined your world and you have a dream you want to realize and that we call square three or the hero saga, and that’s where you just keep swimming and keep swimming.
Here’s how if you should keep swimming or go back to square one. Is there still joy in the process? Is there still that drive? Even after Diana Nyad had after she’d swum through the ocean storm, which is just… You got to watch the movie, it’s on Netflix, just to see this visual is incredible. Morning came and they were like, “We’re calling this, you can’t do this.” She was like, she had drifted like 10 miles off course or something and she was like, “I’ll make it up. I’ll come back. I’ll just do it. I’ll just do it.” She was in square three and that monomaniacal obsession with making it happen was just, it wouldn’t let go of her. I’ve talked about the book, What You Want Wants You, if something still wants you and you can’t shake it, you’re in square three, just keep swimming.
If you don’t want it, if you’re really clear that you don’t want it, don’t keep swimming, just jump on the boat, go back and see if the fit still takes you later. Okay, Celestine says, “How did you know it was time to stop sitting? I’ve been in a pattern of resting, square one, and each time I start to try and move forward, I end up back in resting.” Well again, this is about desire. It’s all about desire. If there’s a passionate intensity that says, “Keep moving forward,” even when it says, “Keep holding perfectly still,” then I keep doing it. But I’m always listening to the nature inside me. We’re all nature, right? We’re all embodiments of natural intelligence, of nature’s intelligence, and it moves us through desire. We get pulled through our lives by the heart. If your heart is in something, go for it. Just swim and swim and swim however long it takes you. If your heart says, “No,” don’t even try. Cave early, I like to say, but if you don’t cave, keep swimming, no matter what.
Inimitable, indomitable, Jonna says, “Are there ways to remember yourself when there isn’t another swimmer nearby?” I think we’re doing that right now. I love to go on and find podcasts or lots and lots of autobiographies, memoirs, stories about people that I identify with. That has always been a major thing. I have hyperlexia. I tended to get all my social input from books when I was a kid. There are so many wonderful things that you don’t have to be a reader. You can go online and watch people’s videos. You can sign up for a forum with people who are dealing with the same stuff you’re dealing with. There are ways to swim together now that we’ve never had before, and that makes all the difference in the world, I promise you. If I were just going to make a video every week and you all weren’t here, this would not be happening. It’s you other swimmers that are the reason I’m here. I would not keep doing this without you. Thank you for that.
All right, Amanda says, “Hi, Martha and Ro from morning in Australia.” Yay. She says, “How do you reconcile the, ‘Just keep swimming,’ with your beautiful mantra ‘I am meant to live in peace,’?” Well, if you’re meant to keep swimming and you stop swimming, you don’t feel peaceful. I can be going flat out exhausted and in a number of different ways. I used to be a distance runner. I’ve done a lot of long distance things in my life because I have no speed whatsoever. Just pit bull, relentless obsession with things. It is very, very peaceful to keep swimming when swimming is what you’re meant to do.
It goes to the same question we were talking about a second ago. Because when the desire is gone and there’s no peace as you swim, that’s when you call it. That’s when you have the courage to say, “It’s over.” But as long as peace is in your heart, you can keep going when your body is feeling creaky and arthritic or however it’s going to feel. Aim Tooey says, “What if you’re no longer sure of the goal or destination? Does the ‘Just keep swimming,’ make sense anymore?” If you started out and the key was to make it to the destination? No, no. If you forget where you’re going, then get on the boat until you remember. But there are times when you swim for the sake of swimming. The reason I’m writing every day is to finish a book. But the reason I meditated for longer periods, for years, for about a five-year period. I’ve been doing it for 30 years, but for five years I did it a lot. There was no goal or destination. I was sitting because I longed to sit there.
Then I stopped longing to, and I was like, “Oh, I’m ruining my… Now, I’m breaking down.” I had this great meditation practice. I still meditate a little, but it wasn’t doing the same thing. I actually felt at the times when I did sit that I was being sent deeper into the world of ordinary human life. That is the real swim, that is the real puzzle. Sitting for five years was an incredible experience. It led to re-engaging with my life as a human being in a human culture, interacting with other humans, which was never all that easy for me. I’ve been swimming a long time, and sometimes I think when I was 20, I thought, “Dammit, if this were a marathon, I would only be at mile six. I don’t want to keep running that long.” Now, I’m at a place, I’m like, “Ooh, I’m at mile 20. I can keep doing this a while, but I’m getting closer to the finish line,” and it feels wonderful and delicious for me.
That’s one thing. All that sitting in the forest did for me was sort of break down my attachment to being physical and break down my attachment to anything needing to last forever. But as long as my heart says to, as long as my passion is strong and as long as there’s something I want to achieve, I’m going to keep swimming no matter what. Let’s all swim together this week. Even though we won’t be seeing each other, we can hear each other’s sonar clicks, our little dolphin sonar clicks across the world. Thank you so much for being here. Keep swimming and watch that biopic if you want motivation, it’s never too late. I love you all. Thank you for your presence, and your questions, and everything. I think you are wonderful. Bye.