Image for The Gathering Pod A Martha Beck Podcast Episode #165 Kindness In Motion
About this episode

There’s always a place where you can be kind to yourself, Martha says, and soon you’ll start to see your self-kindness reflected back to you from others. To hear some inspiring stories of kindness in motion (plus a couple that might crack you up), tune in for the full episode, where Martha will also lead you through her Silence, Stillness, and Space meditation. Be extra kind to yourself and join her!

Kindness In Motion

Martha Beck:

Welcome back. Welcome! I’m welcoming myself back because I took a few weeks off to go and teach some seminars in Africa as you may have heard. Some of you have been there, so I know you’ve heard. And I had a wonderful time. I was feeling a little, I left not feeling my absolute best physically, and I thought, oh, I’ve got a bug, it’ll pass. Only it didn’t really pass. It was, I just felt a little ick, physically, through the whole three weeks I was there. But emotionally, there’s just, it’s such a wonderful, I mean, it’s such an incredible place to be, and the people who come are so wonderful and I love coaching, and it’s just generally a fantastic time. So I didn’t really mind, but I had to take extra good care of myself because I was feeling a little under the weather and I didn’t want anybody’s coaching experience to be, you know, I didn’t want it to detract from their experience.

So I was doing a lot of what I call Kind Internal Self Talk. I was like, “Okay, this will be all right. It’s fine. That was okay. That wasn’t as, you didn’t handle that as well as you wanted to, but I think the person is kind and forgiving.” I was basically keeping up a patter of kindness to myself the whole time. And on the way back, I was going through the airport lines and thinking, “Why is everyone so nice? I don’t remember the airport as being so nice. I mean, everything, everyone is so darn nice.” And then I realized that objectively they weren’t being that nice. There were the big gangs of big hunters who worked for the oil business, and they’re going to Africa to kill things. There were people, at one point, a security guard literally tried to pull a kung fu move on me, “You may not go there!” And I was like, “Oh, that’s okay.” And the whole time I’m thinking, “Oh, everyone’s so nice.”

And I realized that having spent the entire month being nice to myself, deliberately extra nice, I had changed the filter in my mind to other people being nicer to me. And it reminded me of another time when I was basically making the same trip coming back from South Africa with, at that point I had my son and my beloved partner Karen with me. And Karen has a bit of anxiety disorder, she will gladly tell you, and she was quite anxious about traveling and taking care of Adam, who has Down syndrome, you probably know. So she was doing this thing, she was over-functioning. And that meant that when we got to, say, the place where I was supposed to present my passport, I would get out my passport, and then Karen would shout, “Give him your passport!” And she would grab it from my hand and shove it through the little thing. And then we’d go and we’d sit down, and then suddenly she would just pop to her feet and go, “They want us to stand up! Marty, stand up!’ They want–” “Uh, what?”

One time, I don’t know if I’ve told you this story, there was while we were actually in South Africa at Londolozi, we met a lovely ostrich by the name of Jennifer. And Jennifer had moved onto Londolozi property all by herself some years earlier. And she saw us and well, this is what happened. People would get out of their vehicles, their Land Rovers, they’d be out viewing animals, doing safari things, and they’d stop for a sundown, they’d watch the sun go down, have a cocktail, whatever. And they started having problems with this ostrich invading groups. She’d come running up, and they were nervous. They’d get in the Land Rover and drive away and she’d follow ’em, and ostriches are fast. And then there would be another group and she’d go up to them. So this ostrich was just a plague on the people until some rangers went out and they just decided, “No, we’re braver than this ostrich.” So she came up to them and just stopped and stood there, and they had a sundowner with an ostrich. And they realized that the ostrich was lonely and that she wanted to stand around with people approximately her height, or creatures approximately her height, and she reminded one of the rangers of his girlfriend and so he named her Jennifer after his girlfriend.

And Jennifer was a frequent flier at all the drink stops for many, many moons at Londolozi. And then one day something wonderful happened. Two male ostriches came onto the property and discovered Jennifer, and they all palled up together in a lovely throuple, and they had eggs and they had chicks and Jennifer’s life got much, much better.

And when we saw her, she was with a bunch of chicks and with the two males, but for some reason she really liked the ranger who was sitting on the front of our Jeep. They sit in a chair on the very front of the vehicle. This was a wonderful gentleman from the Tsonga tribe named Exxon. And he was like a wise elder and very inscrutable and kind of a strong warrior. And Jennifer came over, she walked over to the car, and she put her wing on Exxon’s lap and Exxon, I saw one big hand go out and just gently hold the part of her bones for the wing’s attached. So they were holding hands and they just sat there together, Jennifer and Exxon, and I suppose reminisced about old times. It was the most lovely thing. And then they said, if you reach out to her, if you make an ostrich hand, she’ll come and give you a kiss. And I said, “All right, I’m not missing that!” So I held up my hand in an ostrich formation like that, and I held it out, and Jennifer saw, and she came walking over and gently, gently, she stuck her head out until it almost made contact with my hand. At which point I feel a violent blow on the back of my head, “Marty!” Bam! “She’s going to kill you!”

My editor’s not going to like the volume of that. But it was like I thought, “This is how I die? Smacked in the head by my loving partner while being kissed by an ostrich?” That is not a normal– Anyway, my point is Karen has anxiety disorder, and it makes her do odd things when she travels. And so I was getting increasingly annoyed with her, I have to admit, as she grabbed my passport and forced me to stand up when I didn’t have to and whatnot. But I had spent, I think at that time, I’d been there over a month and I had spent the time meditating for hours a day and teaching people. And I was in this state of such deep peace, and I just would watch her freaking out and think, “Be patient.” So I never said anything, never said anything. But it got to the point where it was starting to feel dangerous to go through the security lines because she was a little crazy. And so we got to one place where you put your security screening, where you put your luggage through. And I said, “You know what, honey? I’ve been traveling a lot my whole life, so I have this system that’s my own for going through the security line.” And Karen looked at me and burst into tears and said, “Why are you always telling me I’m bad?” And I was like, “Oh, honey! I’ve not even thought that you were bad for years.” 

And I realized then it was the filter of the mind. And so I’m sitting here in the airport thinking, “Everyone is so nice,” and then remembering the time when Karen really felt like I was always telling her she was bad and thinking, it’s the voice in our heads, whatever it says, we think is coming from the world, we think is coming from our loved ones, we think it’s coming from other people. We can unilaterally shift the screen inside the head so that it only brings kindness. 

And I started to call it “kindness in motion” because I do all this kindness practice meditation and stuff, but this was kindness while doing things. And I’d been doing it all through the coaching time, and now I was doing it on the plane. And sure enough, everything was so nice.

And then I started to see, after I got home, I was watching one, this brilliant watercolorist doing a video, he was painting, and I noticed that he did kind self-talk through the whole thing. He’d be like, “Hmm, wow, okay, I didn’t expect that, but you know what? It’s okay. It’s not a disaster.” Or “Oh my goodness, I don’t know what happened there. I think, huh? I must have dropped water on it. Oh it’s okay, it’ll add a little sparkle. I think I like that. It’s all right. It’s not a disaster, it’s just a piece of paper.” And he’s just kept this up the whole time. And he is like, brilliant, but he’s just kind.

And then I had a Pilates class, and my wonderful teacher, Ray Humphrey, he’s such a great Pilates teacher, and he’s always saying, “No, we don’t have to do that. My back’s not great either. How’s yours? Let’s be nice to ourselves. Let’s be kind to ourselves.” He’s just constantly giving kind reinforcement. And then I’ve been learning, trying to learn Spanish a number of ways. And one of ’em is this teacher named Michel Thomas and his theory for learning languages is that you can’t learn while you’re upset. So the first thing he says is, “There are two rules. Relax. That’s the first rule. Second rule: Don’t try to remember anything. It’s my job to teach you. If I do it right, you’ll remember.” Which is quite frankly what I used to say to my students when I taught college.

And then he says things, it’s recordings of him talking to two students who don’t know anything. And he’ll say, “How would you say, okay, here are three words. How would you then construct a sentence like this?” And they struggle through it. And he’s always, he’ll say something like, “You know, it wasn’t exactly right. I’ll tell you what’s exactly right, but people are going to try to help you. Nobody’s going to tell you, you said that wrong. Everybody is going to try to help you and everybody, they’ll help you by correcting you sometimes. But the fact is you’ve got the meaning across. You got it over the net, and that’s all you have to do.” So he’s just constantly relaxing the students by being kind.

So all these people were kindness in motion, and I started to realize that just by telling ourselves we’re okay, that we’re not bad, that we’re good, we can change the whole complexion of the world. We can start to literally see that kindness reflected into the world, and then it comes back to us. And even when people throw a kung fu move, we just look at ’em and say, “Ooh, she should try decaf” or whatever. Or when Karen smacked me on the back of the head, “Oh, she really loves me.”

So moral of this story, I am going to try doing a lot of continued kind self-talk. I’m going to do kindness in motion everywhere I can. And I think it would be fun if you all tried it too. What if you just, I don’t care what you do for work, what if you constantly told yourself, “You’re doing well at this. This is okay. You’re doing things a lot of people couldn’t do. This is amazing. You’re doing really well.” Or if you are, for example, I’ve posted before about the sleep ladies, the women who taught me to sleep. I met them on a trip, these three brilliant women who work with people who have insomnia. And one of the things they taught me was to do kind self-talk when I can’t sleep and say things like, It’ll be all right. You’ve worked without sleep so much of your life, and you’ll be back on track soon. It’s all good. You’re going to love it. You’re going to have a wonderful sleep soon.”

Anyway, it’s just about constantly telling yourself the kindest possible story. So that is my assignment. I can’t stand the way I make assignments. Ro is always like, “Why do you still have to be a professor? You haven’t been a professor for a million years and you still talk like one.” But I give myself little projects, little assignments, and what I’d love you to do is if there’s something that’s frustrating you, as you go through it, be as kind to yourself as you would be to a very vulnerable little kid who had never tried it before. Just constantly tell yourself it’s okay.

So now we’re going to look at some questions. Let’s see. Megan says, “My partner and I have been having a conversation about generosity and what separates generosity from kindness in motion. Thoughts?”

Okay. It’s pretty much the same. I mean, they are two words for the same kind of thing. It’s very generous to give yourself kindness. The shade of meaning that is slightly different, I think, is that generous implies that you’re depleting something, that you’re giving something that in a way is hard to give because if you were just giving stuff you didn’t need, it wouldn’t be generosity, it would just be trash disposal. So there’s this idea of having to give something, and I love that word, and it’s a wonderful word, but kindness in motion is just a continuous way of being, of seeing the world. You start to see the world more like a dog sees it, frankly, just like, “This is amazing. I had six things to eat today, and I got to go outside and pee on things.” Just continuously putting a lovely face on the world. And I know it doesn’t work when you’re in deep grief or horror or bad, bad, bad things are happening. But then you say things like, “This is horrible, but you’ll get through it. No, you really, really do deserve to feel as bad as you do, and it’s okay, and you get to rest, and you get to cry, and you get to do all the things that– you get to be unproductive.” So there’s always, always, always a place where you can be kind to yourself.

So Melissa Ann says, “I just joined in, but this is exactly what my physical therapist was telling me as she was trying to help me help my severe joint pain. Tell my joints I’m safe.”

Okay, Melissa Ann, that is literally a little, I just have to share, that was a huge synchronicity because my knees were hurting today after a long walk, and I have a physical therapist, and I thought, I’m going to ask a physical therapist how to help me with joint pain. And you just chime in and tell me that the very thing I’m talking about is part of the cure, and I believe you. And it makes me feel so happy that just by talking to my knees, I can make them feel better. And by the way, if you don’t think that’s real, the body-mind connection and being kind to the body part that you feel has betrayed you or that is hurting, you just have never tried it because it’s some good magic. It really is.

All right, let’s see. Kate says, “Can you give us examples of things you’ve said to yourself in this practice and how to shift when we’re in a tailspin?”

I haven’t been in a tailspin for quite a long time because that way it’s hard to get back from them. So how do you get back when you’re in a tailspin? You really, when you’re in a tailspin, you have to go with, “It’s okay, you can spin out, but it’s not as bad as it seems. It really is not as bad as you think it is. You’re going to get through this. All things pass. This will pass too. You’ve survived things before.” We really do heal stronger at the broken places, so you can be kind to yourself in extremity. But then you can also, if you want things that I’ve said to myself, it’s stuff like, okay, well, I didn’t, for example, I was taking this walk, and the reason it was a long walk was that I got lost going around the block. That’s kind of me– and in my own neighborhood. So when I realized I’d gone about half a mile past the turn I was supposed to take, and I now had to walk half a mile back to it. So I was adding a total of a mile to my walk, and it was hot, and it was a long walk already. And I just said to myself, I went from, “I cannot believe I drive this way every day, and I walked, I zipped right past my exit on foot. On foot, I missed my turn.” So that was the first thing, like, what an idiot. And then I was like, whoop. The thing is if you practice, your brain does it automatically. So almost immediately, my brain was like, “How amazing. I’m going to add an entire mile to this walk. Isn’t it a gorgeous day? I wouldn’t have wanted to miss this. I’m going to be outside longer. This is amazing.” And it just happens automatically. I come in and I still don’t feel great. I can’t eat certain things. And I’m like, “I get to eat rice pudding and nothing else for three days because the doctor said I could? This tummy thing is a real benefit.” It is just everything, everything, you find some cheerful thing that will, and the pessimists in your life will want to clock you with a baseball bat, but you know what? You’ll just make something positive out of it, so the jokes on them.

Okay. Anyway, Fatima says, “Can you say more about the sleep ladies?” 

This is from Ro, thank you very much, they’re called Sleepworks—one word, Sleepworks—based in Canada, their Insta handle, their Instagram handle is the word sleep, all lowercase, sleep underscore works. @sleep_works. And they are doing a retreat in Costa Rica in November. That’s how I met them. I was at a retreat for people, ironically, for people who do retreats, and I met them and they changed my damn life. And I want everybody who has trouble with sleep to talk to them. I did not believe it would work. Sixty years of not sleeping well. It worked. I’m almost afraid to say it.

Okay, Fein Photo says, “If using kindness in motion to shift a relationship in difficulty, can you still identify whether it’s time to step away? Thank you, Martha.”

Yes, you can. Key thing, this is all about self-kindness. If you think I sound selfish, I guess I am, but all I can tell you is being selfish about kindness makes you kind to other people automatically. So if you’re in a relationship and somebody is screaming at you, you don’t say to them, “Oh, I love you so much. And it would be nice if you would stop being violent.” You’re kind to yourself. So you might sit there and think, “Oh, this person is very upset. But is it about, no, it’s not about, I think he would say that to a tree. I think I’m doing okay. I’m going to try to do better in some ways, but I don’t need to take this on board. I don’t need to take that on board. That’s what he’s projecting.” When Karen grabbed my passport and said, “Why are you always telling me I’m bad?” I’d been in this deep place of self-kindness, so I just thought, “Oh, the poor thing. She’s so anxious.” So it made me respond differently. It didn’t change her anxiety. And if she were a person that I really couldn’t tolerate, then that kind of thing, she might, I might’ve gotten to the point where the kindest thing to myself would’ve been to leave. I am very grateful that was not true. But that’s what you do. You’re always kind to yourself, always kind to yourself, always kind to yourself.

Ah, Cleo says, “This is perfect. I’m on board. Do we apply, do we simply apply the same kindness to the critical voice?”

Oh, yes! When the critical voice comes up, you say, “Oh, wow, you try so hard and you really, you’ve pushed me to do a lot of things better than I thought I could. But gosh, you must be exhausted. Oh, it’s okay to rest if you want. It’s all right. Or you can yell at me some more. It’s okay.” But then you say to the part of yourself that’s being yelled at, “Yeah, I don’t need to listen to that. I’m just here.” So you’re kind to all the parts of yourself. If you are into Internal Family Systems Therapy, Dick Schwartz, the founder, wrote a book called No Bad Parts. And it’s really about how there are no parts, there is no part of the human psyche that is bad, even though some of them do things that seem extremely bad, their motivation is never bad. And kindness helps them all. It helps them all.

So Barb says–we’ll do this question and then we’ll probably do our meditation. What do you say? Okay, so Barb says, “It seems to me that I can stay in that space until someone I care about is experiencing anxiety. Then the mirror neurons move me out of that kind place. What do you do, then, to stay in the kind place?”

Very good catch on the mirror neurons because you really will find your brain shifting to reflect the experience of the person near you. Now, this is going to happen, statistically it’s more likely to happen to you if you’re a woman, and also there are types of neurodivergence, for example, they used to think that people with autism were unfeeling, but in fact, they feel so deeply that they can’t quite process the amount of emotion they feel coming from another person. Sometimes. I don’t want to generalize about everyone, but what they used to think was an unfeeling neurodivergence is actually a deeply feeling neurodivergence. So if you have a neurodivergence, if you’re female, if you were born and raised to be nice to everybody, your mirror neurons are going to more actively follow whoever is in front of you. And if they are enlightened and sweet, you’ll find yourself feeling enlightened and sweet. And if they’re pessimistic and grouchy, you’ll feel that way. If they’re anxious, you will feel that way, especially anxiety. Anxiety is extremely contagious. 

If you’ve ever seen those videos online of people pretending to be scared, and then the person who’s with them gets absolutely panicky and there’s nothing to scare them, it’s just that we’re hair-triggering anxiety. When one person gets anxious, people around get anxious. So my goal, and what I hope your goal could be too, is to be the anchor. In every room you go in, you are the anchor into peace. And what you do when somebody’s freaking out and anxious is, first of all, don’t look at them for a minute. Look away. Look down. Focus on your heart, focus on your breath. Turn your eyes inward. Obviously that’s not literal, but you turn your attention inward. And if you feel the piece of yourself wanting to go into anxiety with the other person, you get in touch with that and you say, “Oh, I really understand why you would get anxious. They’re acting very anxious, but I don’t think there’s actually any danger here. And I think their anxiety is probably exaggerated compared to the situation where we’re just sitting in a room. It’s not really threatening, but they’re really, really anxious. And that’s hard on you.” You just keep talking so that your mirror neurons start to mirror the Self, capital S, which is the part that is always in peace, and you become a mirror of that. That’s—one of the big Zen koans was: What is reflected in two mirrors that face each other perfectly? And I don’t know the answer to that. It’s meant to be one of those things that blows your mind. But when I think about becoming the Self until the mirror neurons in the mind reflect the Self, it’s a little bit like that, the endlessness of the two perfectly clear mirrors reflecting each other. And I think that’s the enlightened state, and it cracks us open to a whole new way of being.  So we’ve got to the end of our half hour, so let’s just do our meditation and then we’ll sign off. 

Okay, so first ask the question. Can I imagine the distance between my eyes? Can I imagine the distance between my eyes and the back of my head? Can I imagine the distance between the top of my head and the nape of my neck? Can I imagine the distance between the nape of my neck and the entire front of my torso? Can I imagine the space inside my atoms? Can I imagine the silence under the sounds that my ears can hear now? And the stillness under the motion? Can I be in this condition of complete simplicity, costing no less than everything, as Eliot put it? Can I imagine the space inside my body blended with the space that goes to the ends of the universe? Can I imagine the distance between my eyes and the eyes of another Gathering Room person sitting on the other side of the world? Can I imagine the space that connects us? And can I imagine that in that space I will find nothing but kindness?

It’s so lovely to be back with you all again. I feel you. I really do. I think I physically feel you. I think we feel each other, and I hope you go through this week being very, very, very kind to yourself in everything you do. And I’ll catch you back here on The Gathering Room. Bye for now.

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