Image for The Gathering Pod A Martha Beck Podcast Episode #127 Keeping Your Seat
About this episode

“Keeping your seat” refers to finding the core of peace that is always present at your center. This simple skill changes everything. Listen in to this week’s episode to learn how to do it and the heartbreaking reason Martha had to practice it this week. Content Warning: This episode includes details of a beloved pet passing.

Keeping Your Seat

Martha Beck:

I was just thinking. Do we start with the stillness in space meditation or do we end with it? And I think we shall end with it, so I’m just going to be jumping into our topic today, and it’s called Holding Your Seat. I do not mean clenching your beautiful buttocks and your fists. Although, if you want to do that, knock yourself out. But holding your seat, if you are an equestrian, you know what that means. It means you stay in the saddle, even though the horse is doing strange things.

For meditators, it means that you stay in your place of calm. You stay in a place internally that is peaceful and joyful no matter what, and the world will try to unseat you. And the whole practice of meditation is to find a place to be that is still and grounded and calm and joyful no matter what’s going on. Trigger warning, I’m going to be talking about the death of a pet today, if I look a little puffy. I’m always a little puffy, but I’m especially puffy today because I will be talking about the death of a pet and it just happened. And if you are feeling pretty raw, I’m going to say a few things about that. It wasn’t a horrible death, but it wasn’t super fun either, and yeah, I just want you to know that.

So today was supposed to be the day we got back to normal, not that we’ve had anything bad happening, it’s just that we’re super busy since we got back home from our international travels. I’ve got my two books that I’m still writing. I’m totally revamping my company. I’m doing a lot of interviews. I’ve got books I’ve got to read and blurb, I’ve got two books I’m … I said that. It’s on my mind. I’ve got this summer class called The Art of Calm that I’m prepping to begin tomorrow. It’s a busy time. But I had set aside all the busyness because we had wonderful guests, so we stopped work and we spent time with our guests. One group came in, another group came in. It was fun. It was loud. It was family. It was beautiful.

The dog did get sick. Our Golden Retriever started having nosebleeds, fairly dramatic nosebleeds, and we didn’t know what it was. We called. We took her to the vet. And they said, well, they’d have to do a very expensive CAT scan, which is weird for a dog to find out what it was, but they were pretty sure it was cancer in her nose, which for a dog has got to be pretty miserable. And her leg doesn’t work, and she’s an older dog. And we were like, “Yeah, yeah.” So we’re sitting around while the guests were there, trying to schedule a time to have someone come euthanize this beloved pet. I know there are many, many of you who have been through this and much worse, but it’s still a really weird thing to be calling a dude and saying, “Hey, can you come over and kill my dog, essentially?” And they’re always so wonderful, but it was a dark [inaudible 00:03:05].

But today, we were going to deal with it, schedule it, get it on the calendar because all the guests were leaving. And although we will miss them, it’s time to get back to normal and all the things we were putting off. And then today unfolded, and it was a day to challenge you when it comes to holding your seat. So first of all, our toddler, who had been so thrilled with all the company, I think she hit some sort of adrenaline limit, she had been so, “Ahh,” for several days, just loving everybody, that she ran out of dopamine, or serotonin, or something, I don’t even know. But she just hit the wall, and she hit the wall loudly and she hit it continuously for a long time. There was a lot of screaming.

At one point, we were up in the forest behind my house and she was barefoot, so I had carried her for a while, and she was sitting on a swing. And I said, “Okay, we’re going to go in,” and she was like, “No.” And when she does that, we always give her a choice. But the choice is always you can either walk or I’ll carry you, but one way or another, we’re going to bed, or we’re going to dinner, or whatever it is. And she gets to choose and she always chooses walking, so I went for that option. And I said, “Okay, two options. Either I’ll carry you or,” and I looked around and I was like, “I have to carry her,” so I said, “All right, here’s the deal, we either go calmly and I’m carrying you, or I’m carrying you and you will scream.”

She thinks for a minute and she says, “I choose screaming.” So I picked her up and she commenced screaming, “Wah,” and screamed all the way to the house. And it was an interesting look into the mind of a two year old and it made me suspect that not all her screams come from deep anguish. Some of them are just a hobby almost. Anyway, so she reached her adrenaline limit. There was an enormous amount of screaming. And it’s just always there. Right? Then all the flights in the world were canceled, well, all the flights in our neighborhood were canceled. So our beloved guests, who’d been anxious to get home, couldn’t get home. And other family members that got stranded in a nearby airport had called and said, “Can you handle five more?” So we were trying to figure out a way to fit that in because we don’t …

I mean, there’s going to be people bunking on the floor, but at least we’ll have a roof over our heads. In the meantime, the baby is screaming, “Ahh.” Then the dog sneezed and it was a bright red sneeze, and it went on. And basically, there were trails of blood through the, on the walls, on the … Yeah, I will not go into too much detail, but it was gnarly. And the dog’s freaking out, and so instead of scheduling the dude to come euthanize here some day next two weeks or something, we called and saw who can get here the soonest. So this lovely gentleman, veterinarian agreed to come. So we’re sitting around, the baby’s still screaming, “Ahh,” the dog is still bleeding. We’re wiping it up. We’re wiping everything up. The guests are like, “We can’t leave.”

One of them was this beautiful nine year old boy who has just lost his dog, and he sits me down, looks at me with these huge eyes and says, “Is Claire going to be okay?” And I was like, “Kind of. I mean, in a way.” It was just one of those things. And then every car that came, we were sure it was the vet. And then he came and he did what he needed to do and we all cried. And I thought to myself, “This is something that in martial arts when I was taking martial arts, I would’ve called it a black belt test,” when they want to test to see if you really are centered in yourself and able to deal with conflict calmly no matter what, like my brown belt test. You go into the middle of a circle, and around you are all these people. And you have to look down. And then the sensei, the teacher, will point. Sometimes you’re blindfolded.

He’ll point to two people, or three people, or one person and that person is supposed to attack you in whatever way they choose. And you have to figure out where the attack is coming from. Is it coming from both sides? How do you react? Can you punch one person and kick backwards at the same time? It’s quite exciting, but you have to stay really calm and relaxed because it’s coming from every side. Right? And they call that being centered or holding your seat. So about halfway through carrying the screaming child back to the house, I thought, “I’m going to really have to … This is a test day.” And I know that the way you hold your seat when things are going crazy around you is to allow whatever is happening without resistance, and then to watch your own emotional reactions and mental reactions from a place of compassion.

You don’t have to stop your feelings, but you have to surround them with kind attention. So you watch yourself freaking out, I watched my nervous system being completely frayed by the screaming and by the grief of this sweet little boy, and my own grief about the dog. And Karen and [inaudible 00:08:56] were all like, “It was a tough day.” And so I kept breathing and I kept allowing and I kept watching. And as you practice staying in your seat and as you allow what is happening to happen outside you, and you allow what is happening inside you to be without any resistance, test days can lead to something really interesting, which is they push you into a place of attention and presence. And you start to feel a central well of calm come up.

And it was amazing when the man finally came, the vet finally came to euthanize the dog, of course we were all crying. We got her on her bed. We’d been giving her loves and treats and everything all day. And we all got around her, but I got to be by her head, and I put my head by her head and I could tell she was very, very … She was an anxious dog. This dog lived a very anxious life. And she was more anxious because she knew something was up. And so that anxiety was hard for us to hold her down for this to happen. This is the trigger warning part because it was hard. And then he gave her an anesthetic, and then she went into basically unconsciousness. But I could hear her breathing because it was hard for her to breathe through the cancer and it made a noise.

So she starts to breathe very, very deeply, and I started to match my breath to hers and try to keep my seat, try to sink down into presence and allow what’s happening, allow my own freaking out, allow the screaming, allow the other people’s pain. And then I felt myself sort of tune right into the dog, and I put my head down on her head, and her breathing got slower and slower. And then I felt the most amazing sensation of a breath coming in that was not oxygen, of a breath coming into a different level of her being. And it felt to me, as I had my head on her head, this bolt of absolute wonder flooded through me, and then this, “Ah,” it was like someone coming out of water when they’ve been drowning and, “Ah.” I swear to God, I felt her go through me and find herself without the pain in her leg and without her anxiety and without the blood in her nose and without whatever was blocking her breathing.

And it was exquisite. And I think if I hadn’t had such a rough day, I wouldn’t have gone deep enough to feel that. And it reminded me that these test days, they aren’t there to just bother us. They aren’t because we were bad. They are black belt tests that are given to us to allow us to go deeper into our practice, deeper into the ability to hold our seat no matter what, so that’s what I bring to you today. And I thought, “Let’s all do it right now,” even though I always suggest this. No matter how many times you get reminded to go back to your seat and get into that calm space, the reason you can do it under pressure is that you’ve done it a million times. Sure, I do it when I meditate formally, but I also do it throughout the day.

And so I’m coming to you kind of rattled, kind of grieving, kind of we still don’t know what’s happening with all the guests and everything. But I thought, “Let’s just get in our seats right now,” so take a deep breath and look around you. Look around you at the room and then look around you at the world where things are going to hell in a hand basket. Right? Look around you at your loved ones, some of whom are probably having stressful times or difficulty. Look at the places in your life there is conflict. Look at the places in life where you’re afraid you won’t get enough done. Look at the places where something might be too hard for you. Look at the places where you’re alone and lonely. Look at all the things and just let them be as they are.

Give them permission and actually say in your mind, “I give each of your permission to be what you are in this moment. I will not resist you. I will not resist you, grief. I will not resist you, worry.” Worried, I get that, stay worried. I’m here for you. Sad, I get that. Stay sad, I’m here for you. You don’t have to not feel these things. But you have to offer them kindness, offer them kindness. You have anxiety, love it. You get to be as you are, anxiety. It’s okay. It’s okay. I’ve got you. So as you allow, then look inside yourself at the inside of your own body, and then imagine dropping a point of energy from behind your eyes right into the center of your solar plexus and ground into that. And imagine that it’s just a point of bright light. It’s warm. It’s sweet. It’s whatever color you want to make it. And imagine yourself diving down into it.

And when I did this after our dog died and I felt her go through, it turned out that when I got to the still point inside me, she was there, and so was Karen’s mother, who died a few weeks ago, and so were my parents, who died a few years ago, and so was everything I’d ever loved. And that is why we can hold our seat, because when we get to it, everything we’ve ever wanted and enjoyed and loved is still present. So I would love to take some questions now, but I don’t see any coming up. So people are just saying that they’re having a black belt week too, and that they’re sorry about sweet Claire. In the scale of human suffering, this is literally the blink of an eye. But we have thousands of blinks of eyes all day, every day, that allow us to practice getting back into our seat. So let’s add in the meditation that I promise to do every Gathering Room because this will take you deeper. Usually, I do it at the end. If you have any questions about your own lives, you can send them in.

But Brooke, my friend, Brooke, still misses her dog, Pugsley. He was so beautiful. I loved that dog too. So let’s do the meditation that takes us really deep. Right? For this one, put both feet on the floor, of if you’re lying down, straighten your legs and straighten your arms. Don’t criss-cross anything. And you’re going to first start by asking this strange question that I love so much. Can I imagine the distance between my eyes? You know this one. It’s so weird, but it always works if you really focus on it. Can I imagine the distance between my eyes? So can I imagine now the distance between that point between my eyes and the center of my head? Can I imagine the space between the top of my head and the center of my chest? Can I imagine the space in the atoms of my whole body? Which is by far the component of our bodies is empty space, tiny, tiny flecks of energy and matter all surrounded by pure space. Can you imagine the emptiness the space inside your atoms?

So when you get there, you find this profound stillness, so those are the three keywords of this meditation. They both have two … They all have two Ss, stillness, silence, and space. So find the stillness in which your heart is beating. If you’re moving your hands or your feet, focus on the stillness in which that movement is occurring instead of the movement itself. Find the stillness beneath every light bulb that’s humming a little near you, and the sounds made by your computer, anything that’s moving or changing at all. Find the stillness through which all life moves. I love this quote by Alexander Pope, “All forms that perish, other forms supply. By turns, we catch the vital breath and die, like bubbles in the sea of matter born, we rise, we break, and to that sea, return.”

So Claire came into the stillness, she rose through the sea of matter, and she left. And all of it took place in the field of life itself, which has no opposite, and which is the same as the stillness. So can you imagine the stillness within your body and around you that is alive? Can you feel the aliveness of the stillness through which we move? Then move into the silence beneath the sounds. Even as you can hear my voice, pay most of your attention to the stillness and silence that carry my voice through the air. The silence is the source of all the sound, and all sound comes into it and then disappears out of it. So I’ll stop talking for about 10 seconds, and I want you to just follow the end of my voice and then follow it after it ends all the way into total silence. And the silence is full of love and the silence is alive.

Now bring in the space in which things happen, the stillness of it, the infinity of it, and the silence. And allow yourself to dissolve into stillness, silence, and space. We’re so afraid they will hurt us, but that’s what we are. They form us like bubbles in the sea of matter, and we get all excited about this life and we get all attached to these bodies and to the bodies of those we love, and then the bubbles break, but they just go back into the sea of life. And the joy, I haven’t died yet myself, but I plan to, not any time soon, and every experience I’ve had of actual death, not the loss which is terrible, and not the suffering leading up to it, which is terrible, but the actual fact of death is like breathing in when you come up out of water and you were desperate for oxygen.

So there are questions now, thanks for that. And looks like our guests have had a lucky break while we were doing the meditation. And I have to say, y’all, it’s when I get still that the things that are blocking my life start to move. Always, it’s when I accept them that they start to go away, always. It’s when I stop focusing on what I want that it comes, always. Okay, so someone asked, EM McVay asked, “Keeping your seat while going through something hard seems really helpful. But what does keeping and holding your seat look like when you’re happy?” I’m so glad you asked. The interesting thing about emotional attachment is that when we attach to things we love, it ruins our happiness because we know we’re going to lose them. We can’t actually hold onto anything, including our life.

And the hard thing about suffering when you’re attached to it is that it lasts longer, so it ruins your joy and it extends your suffering. But when you detach by finding your seat and resting deep, deep, deep into the stillness, the silence, and the space, what happens is that the happiness lasts longer and goes deeper, and the suffering becomes much shorter. I had reached a point where there was constant screaming, blood all over the house, grief, I reached a point today where I knew I had to find my seat again. And it seemed to go on forever while I was resisting it. And the moment I started focusing on holding my seat instead, all my suffering diminished very quickly, and the time it took seemed less. And then after the vet came and we were all sharing pictures of Claire and crying and loving on each other, I looked around at all these people I love and knew that none of them would live forever either, and I didn’t mind.

And so the joy could land, the love could land. It took me so long in my life to let things that are good land with me by letting go of my fear of loss, by detaching. So happiness gets deeper and it lasts longer when we hold our seat, but suffering becomes much less and doesn’t last as long, so we’ve got everything to gain from this practice. Emily says, “How do you hold your seat when you have to continue to work your 9:00 to 5:00 job that you need to get out of?” What a great question. It’s a really, really powerful, I’m one. Emily put a little smiley face after that, but this is dead serious because a lot of us, a lot of you out there, are in situations that are very, very, difficult. And you can’t just leave, even if you really want to. So holding your seat there means that you love the part of yourself that can’t stand this job or this situation, but you allow it to have its anger. You allow it to have its resistance. You allow it to have its sense of deprivation, and you love it all.

Oh, there’s my sense of deprivation. Come into my heart, you little emaciated thing. Come sit with me. Come, rage, come, rage. You can burn as hot as you want. I’m going to let you just be inside me. I’m not going to fight you. Come, fear of what will happen next. Come on in. I’m going to be as scared as … You can be as scared as you want to be, but I’m here for you, so it moves you in the brain back to the compassionate witness that is not involved in all the emotions. And the emotions are still tumultuous, and the stillness, the space, and the silence are holding it all, and holding it with such love and such infinite wisdom and capacity and fearlessness and healing, the power to heal from the stillness, silence and space is infinite.

So do that even at your job. In a meeting, do it. Do it when somebody’s yelling at you. Do it. Learn to hold your seat in a black belt test, and you will use that time in that job to become a person who has a steady seat and can handle everything. Ann says, “I’m so sorry. Why is it so hard to accept things as they are?” Because that’s the way our egos are constructed. We’re taught to grab at things. I look at my little two-year-old and her little brain is telling her you have to grab stuff and get it and keep it, and it’s bad when it goes away. And she’s so overwhelmed by the experience of being human and having these emotions. And she just flails around, and we just sit with her and say, “Those are some really huge feelings. Aren’t they?” And if you can sit with someone who’s in a tantrum and know they’re okay, then you learn, I can sit with my own tantrum and be okay.

And you can see this is the human condition. We set out to learn this particular martial art, to learn to experience life as a human being and keep our seat, nevertheless. It’s designed to be hard because we wanted to learn a big lesson and we wanted it to be a fun ride. When you start to learn to do it, and you experience deep peace and fearlessness, and you go, “Ooh, that was interesting. I enjoyed that. Give me another test,” and then it comes and you’re like, “I take it back. Don’t,” and so we go. It’s hard because it’s meant to challenge us and it does.

May Elizabeth says, “How are we able to stay in this space of profound silence and stillness while still being alert enough to tend to all of life’s demands, especially the constant demands of a toddler and infant child?” This is why I think I’d like to take everybody who wishes to be enlightened and put them fully in charge of a new baby and just have them do it by themselves. They either die or achieve enlightenment. Thank God I’ve never done it by myself. And some of you are doing it by yourselves, and all I have to say is in those moments that you know you’re going to lose it if you don’t get some space for yourself, you use what we call toddler storage. You do whatever it takes. You put them in their highchair and let them have a handful of Cheerios, organic Cheerios. Or you allow them to watch a TV show, or play a game or something, so you can get your sanity back, so you can get your seat back.

And if you can do that every day, and it helps if you get enough sleep, which you won’t, then even when the screaming starts, as I carried Lila flailing and screaming down through the forest because she’d been given a choice and she’d chosen screaming and we’d agreed on it, I was like, “This is not unseating me. I’m not afraid she’s in agony. I know this is okay.” And you’ll find that a lot of the anguish and worry of raising small children is your projection about what they’re going through in addition to what you’re going through, and you come back home to yourself and you embrace yourself. You hold the crying child or the tantruming toddler that is your own loneliness, your own frustration, your own exhaustion, your own sorrow, and you love it.

And as you do that, it’s like when I put my head next to my dog’s and she reached up and touched the face of God, part of me did too. And when you feel that and you find it, you can go back, and go back, and go back, and that’s what I plan to do for the rest of my life. And thank you so much for doing it here with me. I love you for being with me on The Gathering Room and for everything you’re dealing with in your lives. And I will see you again very soon. Muah, muah, muah, muah, muah, love you all. Bye.

Read more