Image for The Gathering Pod A Martha Beck Podcast Episode #164 Listen Again: Want Out? Lean In!
About this episode

How do you respond when you’re in a painful situation and there’s no way out? The answer is paradoxical. Come learn how to do it with this week’s Gathering Room!


Martha Beck:

All right. So you know how just sometimes Facebook doesn’t work and you don’t get a good night’s sleep, and people you love are sick and other people you love are having arguments and the like? Things are just going wrong, and you wish you could just not have that be happening. And so much of life is like that. I woke up this morning and there were a number of things like that, and I was like, “Ugh, I want to have a good day. I want to be super happy.” And I could feel myself wanting to pull away from the situation because I was having experiences that weren’t pleasant. Well, I fortunately know what to do when I want to get out of a situation or get out of a feeling or get out of the reality of something happening, like not just one person, but people I love are very ill.

Stuff like that is happening. And as my favorite spiritual teacher, Byron Katie says, “When we argue with reality, we lose, but only 100% of the time.” So the first thing I want to do is pull my mood up to a happy space where I’m not reacting to what’s happening. I want to be so enlightened or so adept with my self-help and my cheeriness, that I don’t have to feel the negative sides of what’s going on in my life or in life generally. And that immediately creates this tension. And in that tension, I’ve lost my integrity, right? Because what I’m feeling is not so hot, but what I’m pretending to feel or what I’m trying to feel is much happier. So I’m split.

The very first thing you have to do when you want to get out of a situation, well, the first thing is to let go. I was going to call this Want Out, Let Go, Lean In, It Works. And it involved a lot of punctuation. It was not a good title, but that’s the full unabridged title of this. So the first thing you do is you notice that you’re resisting a situation because it’s unpleasant. That’s the first thing. So you allow yourself to be in resistance. You let go of trying to fight the fact that you’re fighting. I don’t want to be here. All right? I can live with the fact that I don’t want to be here. And I always love to talk to the different parts of my psychology, “Oh, I see that you don’t want to be here.” So helpful to you second person, because the moment you address the one who’s distressed as you instead of me, then you force yourself to come into a perspective that is a wiser, more compassionate witness.

It doesn’t split the self. It integrates it by loving all the pieces. So I said to myself this morning when I woke up, “Oh yeah, you’re in denial about today, and that’s all right. Go ahead, be in denial.” Well, the moment I said it’s okay to be in denial, then I was like, “Oh, okay.” I relaxed a little. I was still resisting things like grief and confusion and things that are just present. So then I said, “Ah, okay, I am going to lean in instead of pulling back.” And the way you lean in, I’ve said this before from my favorite Buddhist monk, Shinzen Young, mindfulness and equanimity. Actually, he’s not the only one. I like the way he talks about those. But all the Buddhist teachers talk about those two things, mindfulness and equanimity.

So the way you lean in, super simple. The first one is mindfulness. The second one is equanimity. The acronym is ME. So just think ME. I’m going to focus on ME. That always goes down well with your parts. So mindfulness, sit and become really, really conscious of every single feeling. Sit quietly as if you’re… When I sit down to paint a subject, the first thing I do is I get really, really conscious of, well I soften my eye gaze and I look at the object in front of me and everything else goes away, which probably means I’ve moved into the right side of my brain so I’m in the present and I’m in a visual sense instead of an analytical sense, and I’m just like, there is in front of me something that I find beautiful or interesting or whatever. And I just study it.

So the first thing I did this morning with the negative feelings, I sat up and I said, “I’m going to study my resistance. I’m going to look at it as though I want to draw its portrait.” And you know how sometimes you can draw a portrait of a supermodel, and it’s like cool, she’s pretty? But sometimes the portraits I’d rather draw are of people who have some living in them, who’ve got gnarled faces, and they’ve seen suffering, and they have wisdom and the wrinkles and the facial hair and whatever make them interesting. Those are sometimes the most fun portraits to paint. So you look at all the gnarled and wrinkled parts of your feelings, and I was like, “Wow.” I mean, it was as simple as I smashed my kneecap yesterday, and the entire right side of my body hurt. And I was like, “Yeah, I’m not liking that.” Okay, there’s resistance to physical pain. There it is. And there’s the pain itself. Oh yeah, there it is.

Have kindness and equanimity toward the pain. I’m getting ahead of myself. Mindfulness is just, you get granular. Okay, where else is there a problem? Oh, all right. Some people I love are having a dispute, not in my family, but people I love. And oh, so the energy of that is so difficult and prickly and challenging. And yeah, I can see why I’m holding that with a certain amount of not discontent, but sorrow, regret, things like that. So I get really granular with that. And then as each feeling comes up and I’m mindful of it, then I find equanimity with it. And the equanimity just says, “Oh yeah, I can make a space around that feeling that’s big enough to hold it.” And the space is very, very still. So equanimity, you know what it means? Everything being equal, so like flat, unaltered, equivalent.

I see equanimity as something so still, it’s not even air. It’s space. We’ve talked about this before. You find inside yourself the space that exists around whatever is happening, whatever is moving. Remember, everything that’s physical or emotional is moving. It’s all vibrational in a physical universe. And the emotions you’re feeling are causing vibrations in your brain. And one of the things that I like to do is find the space in which the vibration is going up and down and then shift my attention from whatever’s happening to the space.

So the way I like to sum this up is to say that I like to quote Eckhart Tolle. He says, “Life is not the opposite of death. The opposite of death is birth. Life has no opposite.” So life and death, life and death, life and death, life and death. Consciousness comes into form, out of form, into form, out of form.

Same with every emotion, in, out, in, out. Everything’s vibrating, but it’s moving through the field of life. And life has no opposite. Space has no opposite. You can’t find anything oppositional in it. Everything moves through it, and it never moves at all. And you’ve heard me use this real number before too, but I’m going to say it again because I love to. If you look inside your body, 99.999999999999% of your physical body is empty space. 99 point 13 more nines before you get to what could actually be considered matter, you are made up mostly of the space in which your life is happening.

And for some reason, these researchers at Princeton found out that you can sort of activate an awareness of that by going into a soft brain focus. And the fastest way that they found to do that is to focus on the part of the bridge of your nose between your eyebrows, the third eye, the famous third eye. And they think it’s maybe because the ocular nerves cross at that point. And we’re very visual animals. And so the unity of vision happens at that point. And you ask yourself the question, one way to get into equanimity, and it’s phrased as a question because in space, nothing is absolute. So questions put the brain into a state where it’s more able to access space. And the question is, “Can I imagine the empty space in the distance between my eyes?”

Now, I know this is a very long way from people I love are sick or arguing, and it’s upsetting me. It seems that way to us. We think we have to jump in and solve all these problems that are happening in life, but consciousness spirit is not functioning in that way. It’s functioning as the compassion, the love, the space that holds it all and is never ever even slightly bothered. So I really want to do this meditation with you, and I want you to try it with me, and I will be able to feel it if you do it. If a group of people does this online, I feel the energy. So drop your eyelids halfway and look in front of you and then bring your attention inward to the point between your eyes and just think the thought repeatedly, “Can I imagine the space between my eyes? Can I imagine the space in the distance between my eyes? Can I imagine the space in the distance between my eyes?”
You’re doing it. A lot of you are doing it. I don’t know if you can feel as I can feel my whole body being bathed in a kind of whoa. I mean, there’s no way to describe the feeling in my body right now. And I know it may sound stupid to some people. It is absolutely subjectively true. I can feel you entering the space because it’s connected to me. I’m connected to you. We’re all connected to each other. And as we get into space consciousness instead of matter consciousness, that which is one thing in all of us begins to resonate very, very beautifully. Thank you for that, by the way. It was literally like having an immersive experience in something incredibly sweet and peaceful, and you all did that, and it had that effect on me. It’s absolutely delicious and exquisite.

So now when you’re in this delicious, exquisite space, when it’s very still, then as the stillness, you hold the part of you that wants out. You lean right in and you put your arms around it and you say, “You can stay forever. There’s all the space in the world for you here. You don’t have to leave ever. I’ve got you. You’re okay. We’re going to be fine.” And if you slip out of it, go back to the space in the distance between your eyes. It seems so strange, but it’s like a shortcut to the fruit of 20 years of meditating. And I hope that it’s given you a little bit of the tool that the next time you’re feeling a little stressed, you can say, “Oh, I don’t like this. I’m resisting. I want out. I want to think about me.”

Mindfulness, equanimity, look quietly, look with granular attention. Come back into the consciousness of the space that is the true consciousness, of which we are all manifestations. And then hold it gently, endlessly. You will never get tired from that space, and it will never overwhelm you no matter what it is.

Okay, let’s go to some questions. Tracy says, “When you’re talking about the vibration of the emotion around a difficult truth, are you talking about the vibration/feeling in your body when the emotion is present?” Yeah, that’s one of the things you look at. You look at all the places that affects your body. But emotion has a different qualitative flavor, like the body reacts, but so does the heart. So you describe all the physical feelings, and then you describe all the emotional feelings as best you can. And sometimes using the physical can help you describe the emotional.
So if my son, Adam, who doesn’t have a whole lot of language, for him, if you say, “What are you feeling? How does your heart feel?” And he’ll say, “It feels heavy.” And it’s like, “Okay, yeah, I got that.” And if you say, “Are you sad?”, he’ll say, “I don’t know.” But if you say, “Do you feel heaviness in your heart?” He can go there. So start with the body and then move into as much emotional description as you are capable of identifying with. It’s really good to have that physical basis, Tracy. So I’m glad you brought that up. The closer you see it, the easier it is to hold it.
Okay, Jessica says, “Can we mark this kind of stillness by paying attention to the feeling of awe we experience in nature in order to activate it easily as well?” You may be able to. I can’t. For me, if I try to bounce to a positive emotion like awe, or if I try to think of something that makes me happy, and it’s a very slight disturbance, that will work. But if something is really weighing on me, if somebody’s got a terminal illness or something and I’m trying to deal with that, and then I say, “Oh, I’m going to jump to awe.” It feels like I’m trying to get out. I want out. Instead, I have to lean in, “Oh, don’t want to feel this. I don’t want this to be happening. Okay, it is happening. All right, see where I’m tight, see where I’m anxious, see all the things.”

Hold it in the stillness of space until there’s a softening. And it’s almost like you re-identify with the biggest aspect of yourself, the eternal aspect of yourself in order to hold the emotion. And then that emotion becomes the very catalyst for rediscovering the Im amenity of your ability to find peace. And then you don’t want to bounce out of it. It’s like it’s the pathway to this deeper peace. Donna says, “Is there difference in types of resistance?” For example, is there resistance that’s intellectual, not to do something that might harm yourself resistance you should honor instead of leaning in? Or is the leaning in the listening?” Well, obviously, if you’re getting physically harmed by something, you want to pull back from it. So you want to use good sense. Do everything you can to feel better. And if you still don’t feel better, even if you’re like, say my knee got smashed yesterday, so I did everything I could to take care of my knee.

And then there was still some pain left over. So you get as far out as you can physically, but then when you’re dealing with something that you want to get out of and you can’t get out of it, you need to lean in. That’s where you need to lean in and listen.

Okay, Tracy says, “Do you try to visualize the actual space on your face between your eyes, like on your skin?” It’s actually about an inch behind your face. So if you touch the sides of your eye sockets, then move back about an inch, if you drew a line there and then straight back, it would be right at that juncture. That’s where you want the energy to be focused. And it’s weird. The people who discovered this at Princeton found that they could stop people from experiencing fear on roller coasters and stuff. They could really bring down people suffering when they were in chronic pain. There’s something about the ability to focus on that spot that we don’t really understand, but many, many traditional cultures have found that and advise a kind of meditation that focuses there. It’s a fascinating neurological thing that I don’t yet understand, but it works.

So Gail says, “How do you stay in that space while at the same time tackling stressful tasks?” What a great, great question. Yes, I was trying to wrestle with this while dealing with a very large poo today, not my own. It could have been. No, it’s our little one. It’s no problem that she had a very large poo. The problem was that she wishes to deal with it herself and she wants to do everything herself, including cleaning that up. So I’m having this regular stress going on, and then I’ve got a kid who’s riving and a very strong kid who’s wiggling and squealing and well, I am trying to deal with something quite unpleasant. And in the middle of that, I was acting kind of ugh. And Roe said, and just touched me on the shoulder, and she said, “We don’t want her feeling shame about this.” And immediately I was like, “Oh, okay. I’ve got to find my own equanimity.” So I take a deep breath, let it out, dropped in, and helped the experience of I don’t want to be wrestling with poo right now.
And it was okay. I am going to do this until it’s done. And I could find equanimity really fast, really fast just by someone touching me on the shoulder and saying, “Your energy’s up.” So sometimes they talk about how in Zen meditation, the teachers used to walk around and hit the students with sticks sometimes, and the students would thank the teacher, and a lot of people from the West thought that was really weird, like punitive or torturous or whatever. But actually, it’s a sharp touch that tells the student that the teacher has noticed that the student has fallen out of attention, and it’s to bring attention back. And that’s what the touch on my shoulder did. And sometimes you need that from someone else, but eventually, if you’re in a bad mood and you want out, the suffering itself will be the trigger that says, “Oh, I need to lean in. I need to do mindfulness. I need to do equanimity. And I need to hold this experience with compassion, and then I’ll feel so much better.” And you will.

Okay, oh Roe says that you were really feeling the buzz on the meditation and ask to do that sort of thing together more often on the gathering room. Let’s do that right at the beginning, just to drop in and then see if we can say, “Oh, I love that.” It’s an invocation to invoke our connection and the one life that we all are. I love that. All right, I’m going to institute that. I also have ADD really badly, so if I forget, please remind me. But I think Roe will probably remind me and I will remind myself. Thank you for that.

So Laurie says, “I’ve been thinking a lot about what you just called space consciousness. How does others’ resonance in this space consciousness impact me and my ability to release resistance and create equanimity? What do I do with others’ resistance that I feel?” Okay, so the other people’s resistance is not part of space consciousness. Resistance is not in space consciousness. Resistance is in the physical, is in the human aspect of us, and the spirit doesn’t feel it at all.
So if somebody else’s mood is very dark or angry or whatever, there are a number of things that are going to impact you. Your mirroring neurons will go to the place where they’re going and you’ll feel their emotion. That will get you sparked up, and you’ll get your own anxiety about that. It will trigger all your own traumas around any kind of experience with other people or your own history. So other people’s energy can impact you and make you really skew out of equanimity. But that’s not space consciousness.

Anytime that happens and you notice it, you’re having an argument and you think, “I hate this. I don’t want it to be happening. I want out.” That means lean in. Okay, wait. Start watching the other person. Oh, they’re driving me crazy. That is so unfair. That is so wrong. Okay, look at my own outrage. Look at me fighting back. Look at me becoming the very energy I say I don’t want. Okay, that’s all right. That is absolutely okay. You get as angry as you want in there. You say to the part of you that’s angry and then drop in.

Can I find the space in the distance between my eyes? It cuts into any argument or calamity with such a weird question. And it always shocks me out of the flow of narrative in my head that says this shouldn’t be happening. Whoa. That’s what you mean by space consciousness. Oh, that’s all this energy. Oh my. It’s like a little baby getting their diaper changed. Nobody wants it. Of course, you’re thrashing. This is really difficult for you, both of you. Whoever’s in the argument, right? Ah, I can hold that with compassion and equanimity. So yeah, if somebody else triggers you, it’s not your space consciousness they’re triggering, but they can give you an incentive to go to your space consciousness, and from there you’ll be just fine.

Anne said, “Would you do that with feelings of rejection?” Absolutely. Absolutely. You feel rejected. Oh God, that hurts. Let’s look at it in detail, but not to feel self pity, just to say, “Oh yeah, look, it clenches my chest. I feel so heavy. I feel so crunched in. Wow, rejection really feels intense.”

All right, can I imagine the space and the distance between my eyes and suddenly I am the awakened one, holding the one who feels rejection. As Nisargadatta says, “Mind is interested in what happens while awareness, space consciousness is interested in the mind itself. The child is after the toy, but the mother watches the child, not the toy.” So the rejection, the argument, the sickness, the pain, that’s all the toy. Your human mind grappling with it is the child. And the child is focused on the toy, but the mother, the parent, the father too, watches the child, watches the mind itself, watches the human experience itself. The toy is not really that important. The incident is not really that important, but the child is, the experience of it is. And holding that experience until it’s complete for the human, that’s important.

Okay, [inaudible 00:26:03] says, “I’ just moved into college and I’m struggling with basing my worth on academic achievement. My whole identity is falling apart. How do I find stillness in utter chaos, internal and external?” What a beautifully put question and so perceptive. So first of all, you say, “Oh, my identity is falling apart.” Oh, let me watch that. Wow, there are pieces of me just coming unglued everywhere. Please know that the falling apart of identity is the path to awakening. And so when it happens to us, everything that feels destructive to us is actually trying to get us to drop the limited suffering identity that is a human sense of self and hold the collapse in space. So if you can find the space to let yourself fall apart and to collapse, space will always hold you. It will never be moved. And you don’t need to be afraid.

Equanimity says, “Watch this, watch it, watch it. It continues, it continues, it continues.” And if you’re always watching it from space consciousness, eventually it stops being as frightening. So you’re way ahead already, being so young and already being aware that this is happening to you. Most of us go through several rounds of it before we know what’s happening, and you are way ahead. It’s a terrible experience. You want out. It’s happening. So lean in. Lean way, way into soul, to space and hold that. And it will stop being painful as soon as it does, faster than you think.

Peace with Purpose says, “It seems like you’re talking about radical acceptance. Is this possible in all uncomfortable and painful situations? Thank you.” They say so. The great ones say so. I haven’t been in all uncomfortable or painful situations, but throughout the ages, people who have found this consciousness, this mindfulness and equanimity, this ability to be present with suffering without fear and resistance, the great Christian image of it is being tortured to death and finding it there, finding it even there, saying, “No, no, no, I don’t want this.”

And then finally saying, as Jesus reportedly said on the cross, “It is finished.” And letting go, and maybe death is the way we let go ultimately. And maybe we all get to experience that when we pass to the next way of being. Whatever I’ve experienced, I’ve been able to hold with this energy and stop the suffering from being suffering.

Okay, last question. Enlightened Edit says, “What would you advise when there’s resistance because you know that the thing that is being told to you is wrong? Like when someone is given a prognosis, but they know there’s another way?” Then you hold with peace not only what you know your truth, but the fact that you know the other person is wrong, and any anger you may have about someone giving you the wrong prognosis. So you hold the whole experience of your own presence in that situation.
You don’t have to accept the other person. They are their own business. But how you feel about your resentment of them is your business. And it’s okay to be angry with them and to push back and to say, “No, no, no, no, I’m not going to accept that.” That’s part of the way of your psychological immune system protecting your integrity. So you notice, “Oh, this person is pushing at me to believe something that I know is not true for me.” And that’s creating anger and resentment and there’s fear. All right, let me focus my attention on the distance between my eyes and step in to space and hold my own human self in this, not in even the arms, but in the vast eternity that is space consciousness, the perfect, pure, still compassionate water that quenches all thirst. I don’t even know how to describe it, but you’ll know when you touch it and when you are in it. Then even though you will still want out, you’ll just keep leaning in and in and in and in and in, knowing that if you go infinitely in, it somehow ends up taking you out of every form of suffering.

So thank you for coming with me to the gathering room today, and thank you for your meditation and we’ll do it again later. And I am so grateful that you are here, and I love you very much. Let’s come back and join each other again on the Gathering Room next time.

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