Image for The Gathering Pod A Martha Beck Podcast Episode #153 Setting Sail
About this episode

Where does your life want you to go sailing? In this episode of The Gathering Room, Martha is talking about the pull for adventure that all humans have but are often too scared to follow. To build up your adventuring spirit, Martha recommends going on “little adventures” every day—things that push you out of your comfort zone and into your growth zone.

Setting Sail

Martha Beck:

Hi, everybody. The topic today, someone asked, is “setting sail.”

So it’s really appropriate that people are coming in from all over the world. I just love being able to connect with people in all over the world in my bedroom because I am a very, very committed homebody. Aside from the horror and the death and the disruption of the world economy, the pandemic was a really sweet time for me because I didn’t have to go anywhere. And truth be told, I’m not very adventurous in part of my personality. So we’ve talked on the podcast before about how there are different parts to us, and I’ve done a ton of traveling in my life, but I’m not a good traveler. I’m not like one of those people who’s like, “Yes! I’ve got everything in a go bag and just put me on a plane.” I’ve done things, a lot of things because I realized when I was 14 years old that I have to do something every day that scares me, or I’ll end up living under my bed or in a refrigerator box somewhere.

And my answer to agoraphobia is to just do something that scares me every day. You may have heard me talk about the three zones of comfort. There’s your comfort zone. I’m sitting in a comfort zone. Then there’s the panic zone where you’re just taken, a situation is too difficult for your nervous system and you just flood and cannot cope. Done that too. Sometimes I just lose consciousness. Pass right out. In between those is what psychologists call the growth zone. It’s in a place where you’re kind of nervous, but you also kind of are curious and you want to go forward. And always my nature would default to going back to my comfort zone. I’m not that adventurous. However, I spent my whole adult life telling people that life is a game of you’re getting warmer or you’re getting colder, right? So if you feel like every day you consult what you’re really truly feeling in your deep, deep, essential self, and you feel different things you could do in a day, and you do what feels yummier, what makes you happier, and you do less of what feels colder.

So on many days, this is like this morning I got up and I was like, I could have for breakfast a bowl of cereal or some chicken salad. Whoa, the chicken salad feels warmer even though it’s not a typical breakfast food. I’m going to go into the adventure of following my inner compass and eat chicken salad for breakfast. This is the easy times. Then there are the times when you’re just going along and you’re like, boop-ba-doop-boo, and something occurs to you or comes into your field of attention that feels very warm, but is also not convenient and quite scary. And travel has always been this way for me.

I’ve been to Cambodia, I’ve been to different parts of the African continent. I’ve been to different parts of Europe, I’ve been all over Asia, really, all of it because something came up that was like, you kind of have to go there for business or whatever, and it would be an opportunity and it would feel warm and I would do it. It gets even weirder when the thing that feels warm is something no one asked you to do. So for example, when I was in my forties, I started feeling like there was a ranch in California where I was supposed to live, and by the time I was 50, I had located the ranch from my strange inner vision of it and actually bought it and moved to it and stayed there for six wonderful years. And then it was time to move to a different place.

And it looks, when you live your life in the growth zone, it looks like all kinds of adventures are coming to you—because they are. But you have to say yes to them. All of this, all of this that I’m telling you about is because I am freaking out. I am in my growth zone because I’m getting ready to go to Costa Rica. Why? Because several years ago it just occurred in my head, “I want to go to Costa Rica.” I didn’t know why. I didn’t look up vacation rentals or anything. It was just like, “That sounds fabulous, I’m going to go to Costa Rica.” And then sure enough, this a wonderful man who runs a retreat center called Imiloa in Costa Rica got in touch with me and he said, “I really love your work and we have this fabulous retreat center with all this great pure food and wonderfulness,” and he sent me pictures and they look great. And I was like, “Oh crap. Now life is giving me this opportunity and it’s like on a silver platter, but I have to say yes to it.” So I was like, “Okay, yes.” And then there was a pandemic and I was like, “Oh, back to my comfort zone.” And then people started traveling again and it came back.

And here’s what I do, a little life coaching clue for you, when I get a feeling of strong “it’s getting warmer” that takes me into a travel place, I make up a cultural cover story to explain why I’m doing it. Because if I said something like, “Okay, I’m going to South Africa every year just because I want to.” Well, okay, why? I don’t know, it feels to me like that’s the place where humanity originated, and that is the place where a transformation of consciousness might take root. That’s not a good cultural cover story. It’s what I believe. But instead, it’s like, “Oh, I run seminars with my friends.” Yay! And people come. And it’s like I’ve given them a cultural cover story so they can come to the wilderness with me, and we go out and we see animals and we have a fun time. So that’s the same thing I’m doing with Costa Rica.

You may listen to my other podcast with my partner Rowan Mangan, the Gracious Badger. It’s called Bewildered. “Wild” as wild: Be-Wild-ered. And our whole premise is if you get a chance to strip off the cultural socialization of yourself and you get a chance to go find your pure wild self, then you have to say yes to that to keep growing. So Ro, when she was in high school in Australia, used to, she had a typical hobby, I think, for a teenager: She sailed tall ships with a bunch of her friends. I don’t think I’ve even ever been on a tall ship, but they’re beautiful. You know the paintings of those ships with the full sail that they used in the 19th century and people would get on, Charles Darwin would get on board The Beagle, and they would set sail for all these wild places in the world?

Well, Ro actually was like a sailor on one of these ships and would climb up in the riggings and throw the topsail down the main, the folk sail down the poop deck, and there were things, man, there were sails and rudders and things. And I was like, “Dang, you must’ve really, really loved the water and sailing.” She’s like, “No way. I hated it. I feel very nervous climbing on high things. I was seasick almost every day. And I felt really weird about the whole thing.” Is she glad she did it? Wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Because once you’ve done it, you’re a genius. Once you’ve done it, it’s like, “Of course that was in my life plan. Of course I had to do that.” It changed everything about me. It forced me to see things from new perspectives. So I’m kind of in the middle of this process, and I thought I would just be super transparent about it because I am in the, “Oh my God, I have to pack for a place I’ve never been! I don’t know these people. I have severe social anxiety. What if there are spiders there that kill small animals and wear the pelts?!” I don’t even know.

And still, when I get quiet at night, the signal that says, “This is a place you need to go, and now,” it keeps feeling warmer. And yes, I made up a seminar so that I could say to people, “Yes, I’m going there for business.” We’re doing it in like 2025. The info, by the way, if you want to come sail with me, should be in the bio. Is it in my bio? Yeah. Or in a comment on Facebook.

Anyway, what I wanted to ask you all is where does your life want you to go sailing? When Charles Darwin climbed on that ship, most people didn’t even come back alive, let alone married to the same person. I mean, they really took their lives in their hands when they climbed on those ships. And there’s that saying, I’m sure you’ve seen it: “A ship that is always in the harbor is safe, but that’s not why ships were made.” Metaphorically, you may be looking at just life as it usually is, and chicken salad over cereal is the biggest step out of your comfort zone you’ll have to make today. Or on the other hand, maybe something’s happened to you that makes life feel really, really scary.

Someone we know and love is sick, and it just forces you to be really, really brave. So that’s another way of setting sail. But there in the middle, the place where it’s really inconvenient to do something that feels like it would be a life adventure, there in the middle is where you actually have to take the steps forward.

And for me, the Universe throws a lot of things at me: Here’s this dude with a gorgeous retreat who wants you to come do retreats at his place. But I still had to look him up after the pandemic and get it all going, and Ro and I, well, I made Ro do it, but she’s doing all the technicals for this too. But yeah, sometimes you need a fellowship. You can’t sail a ship alone, so you get somebody else to come with you, and it’s like, come play on the adventure. Instead of, “Oh, I’ve got to get up and punch the clock and go to work.” It’s a way of stepping outside the non-demands of our culture as well as the demands, the demand that says you get up every day, you do something fairly monotonous, you do something reliably. It’s the factory model of producing wealth, and you ignore your true nature and you stay inside buildings with fluorescent lights and climate control and you never see the jungle.

This is, where is a place in your life–oh, I forgot we don’t have zoom chat things, but maybe you can ask questions about it. Where is a place in your life where you could conceivably do something that feels like a life adventure? Should be outside your comfort zone but not yet in the panic zone. Is there–the last time I talked about going to New York and seeing Ani DiFranco in Hadestown, it was very inconvenient, but it literally changed my life. Not completely, but a little. So I’m looking at, Anne is saying she has “severe social anxiety and an incorruptible desire for adventure.” So familiar. I don’t think it’s just me. I think it’s the way humans are put together. We love adventure, we want to set sail, and we’re terrified of it and we all get seasick. All right, here comes some questions that Ro’s been sending over.

So oops, hang on, I’ve got to get the first one here. Oh dear. I’m having technical issues. There we go. Here we here’s, this is from Macy: “What do you do when you feel that warm feeling but are still so paralyzed with fear? In my case, flying on my own.” Then you start problem solving. You start saying to the universe, “I don’t want to fly and I can’t do it on my own, but…” Just the fact that you left a loophole there, it means given the right companionship, I might be able to. So go to a therapist, get yourself some—when I had to go on TV and I was so, so, so terrified, oh my gosh, the first time I went on the Oprah show nearly killed me. And so I went to a psychiatric nurse and I said I need something that will erase—I don’t need it dulled down, but I need something that will kind of help me deal with the shaky voice and the shaky hands. And she gave me these medications that lower your blood pressure. And she said, “I use it for golf.” So I mean I wanted to do it, but it was just too scary. So I went and found someone who had helped me be a little less scared. And then it got so that when I took this several times, I took beta blockers several times to go appear on TV, even the thought of going on TV would have the effect of the beta blocker on me, and I got really relaxed about it. That’s what happens when you go to the growth zone! You start to get relaxed with stuff that was impossible before. That’s why ships were built.

Okay, Laura says, “I would love to live in the growth zone, but no adventures are coming to me and I lack ideas to make some up. How do I attract adventures in new things? Nothing ever seems to happen. Why?” Well, it could be that you’re so socialized that you never notice the things that are pulling you. So what I’d love you to do if this is your issue, is think of someone whose life you envy and ask why do you envy them? What are the opportunities they have that you don’t have? One time when Liz Gilbert was appearing in Australia, I think Ro was in the audience, this was like 10 years ago, and she heard some people talking and somebody said, “Yeah, it’s all fine for her. It’s all well and good for her.” It was her tour for Eat, Pray, Love. “Yeah, to just go off to India and Italy and Indonesia, but I would have to divorce my husband and sell my house to do that.” And her friend said, “I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what Liz Gilbert did.”

So think of someone’s life you envy, and then you may find out that the opportunities that they were given by the universe come partly from making decisions because they really wanted something to happen, and they figured it out. So find people who make you jealous and then don’t live resenting them. Go live that life, and you won’t be jealous anymore. It’s inspiration.

Okay, Jessica says, “I love to adventure and hate the traveling part, Martha. What is your number one thing you do to keep yourself grounded when you set sail?” Okay, I’m going to tell you this, and it may be a bad word, but I have an airport personality. I freaking hate the mechanics of travel. I have a really weird body. I need a lot of sleep in regular hours and I don’t do well sitting up for 24 hours at a time and so on.

So what I do is I’ve developed this part of me that I call the airport hobo. I don’t think that’s a good word to use, but it’s sort of like in the 1930s, the guy jumping the rails with a little package of stuff and I literally just say, “I exist in airport mode and I am a traveler.” And I have to get into a completely separate personality and airport hobo. I always have an airport hobo name. I give them to my friends. Mine is, it used to be Numbum Eyebag was my name now. Most recently it was Immaculata Tinkleplenty. I’m always making up new names and new adventures for that part of myself and sort of telling the story of it in my head because for me, travel is so frustrating and scary and uncomfortable that if I don’t laugh at it, I’ll go crazy. So I try to make it funny and I realize that journeys always create stories. Tolstoy said that all great literature only has two plot lines. One is a stranger comes to town. And the other one is someone goes on a journey. And I have found this to be true. No matter how much I hate the trip, in fact, the more I hate the trip, the better this usually is. There’s a great story to tell afterwards.

One of my favorite stories when I was a little kid was The Odyssey. And it’s Odysseus, that whole book, that whole epic book that has survived millennia because it’s just such a damn fine yarn. It’s nothing more than a guy having travel delays. That’s just all it is. And his travel delays are horrendous. And that’s why we have the word odyssey as a journey. And there is something to ending this life with a damn fine yarn, right? To tell about your life, to look back and go, “Yeah, I went on odysseys and it was amazing.” So that’s part of the whole travel persona that I used. And I wouldn’t call it grounded, I’d keep it rooted in spirit because once you set sail, you’re not on the ground, but you’re in the spirit. The traveler, the master can travel all day without ever leaving home, says Lao Tzu. So yay!

Jess says, “What if saying yes means leaving not just emotional comfort zone, but financial comfort zone, leaving one secure job for a new one or paying for a new degree, etc.?” It always costs. It always costs, y’all. When I bought that property in California when I was 50, when you’re supposed to be saving for your old age, it cost all my money. All the money that I’d saved, I spent on this ranch in California in the wilderness for no reason. I did not ranch things. I had barely ever ridden a horse. I had a cowboy hat. But it just was because it felt so warm to go there. And the stuff that happened there is the reason. I mean, I started The Gathering Room while we were there because away from society and in my pure wild self, I started having spiritual experiences that were so intense and so real and so reliable that I thought I want to gather with people and share this. This is too incredible. And it never would’ve happened if I hadn’t gone there, but it was financial devastation. It’s all right. You lose money, you make more. The adventures always seem to be funded afterward by the Universe. You make, it’s that jump and the net appears thing, but it looks pretty insane at the moment that you’re jumping. So make sure that the energy really is warmer, warmer, warmer, because I don’t want to be responsible for you throwing away tons of money. But if something I insistently pulls at your spirit and you decide, “No, I’m going to spend that money to get a new roof, even though we just had the roof done five years ago,” you, you’re going to look back and not remember much except paying for stuff that never took you anywhere. So yeah, spend it on setting sail, and the adventure is going to be worth the cost. That’s my theory.

Lindsay says, “Do want and warm always align?” No, they don’t. Isn’t that weird? When my son was diagnosed with Down Syndrome and they asked if I wanted to terminate the pregnancy, I didn’t want to terminate, but I also did not want a child with Down Syndrome. I didn’t know much back then, folks. So if you have Down Syndrome, I’m very sorry to say this. I think you are wonderful and my son is wonderful, but that was panic zone time. I did not want that, but it was so warm. It was so absolutely you must have this experience. You must. There was so much warmth. And I was young, so I didn’t understand that I could surrender the part of my head that was socialized, and I could drop into spirit, and I would have nothing but the joy, nothing but the warmth. There was no downside, pun intended, except to my cultural mind. That’s what really that unrooted me from the culture that experience. Did I think I wanted it? No. Did my soul want it? Absolutely. So I think our souls want the adventures, the odysseys. Our minds? Heavily socialized not to want them. So that’s that conflict. Just figure out which part of you is really wanting it. And if it’s your soul, then you politely explain to the rest of you that you’re going to do it anyway. All right, PB Langer says, “When you set sail towards something that feels warm, what do you do about the guilt of leaving important family members behind because they are so disagreeable?”

I love the quote from Audre Lorde that said, “I can find no creative use for guilt, not yours nor my own.” You can carry the guilt with you. You can give it some lip service and leave it at the door. I would, if I were you, picture putting it in a little imaginary Tupperware. Okay, my guilt toward the disagreeable person that I don’t want to take with me, I’m going to put it in the Tupperware, I’m going to put the Tupperware, seal it properly, put it in the fridge. I’ll feel guilty later. I’ve got to get on a ship and climb up the rigging and see what’s off on the far horizon. And there’s really no creative use for guilt on that trip. So if it comes up, it comes up. But for the most part, I’m going to leave it in storage. It’s weirdly workable.

Try that. It sounds like it wouldn’t be enough to get rid of the guilt, but it actually can really be very effective, especially when you’re leaving the place where you’ve started to feel the guilt because you have a whole new set of inspirations and experiences that make you very present. Adventure, doing something new, whether it’s travel or something else, it makes you extremely present and alive in the moment. And that’s why I think people who love it do love it. And that can knock you right out of your old guilt tracks. So Jess says, “What happens if you say no?” Nothing. Nothing. Oh, well now one thing happens: Your comfort zone shrinks and your panic zone grows. So your comfort zone gets smaller. It’s not neutral, it actually shrinks. So you kind of have to always push towards something that makes you a little uncomfortable or it’s inconvenient.

You have to have some level of odyssey or you’ll just end up with a very tiny life. So it’s not a disaster if you say no to this, that, or the other. But it will be a disaster if you say no to everything. And when people get to the end of their lives and they interview people on their deathbeds, they don’t talk about regretting what they did as much as regretting what they didn’t do. So jump, get to the edge and jump, and you will fly. Ashley says, “Question: How do you reassure the part of you which needs so much safety if you want to set sail out of the harbor?” I literally sit and talk to it like it’s a small child because it’s usually for most of us, a part of our psyche that is young and small and it just says, oh, I don’t want to go.

And I think of it as a little animal because the part of your brain that feels that fear impulse is a very, very ancient one that all animals have. So it’s a really, really primordial fear and you just hold it with your other selves and say it’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay. And again, find a travel companion who loves it, whether it’s figurative travel or literal. Going with Ro, for me, I mean she was a tall ship sailor and she was born in Australia and now she lives here and she’s been all over the world. She went to Kyrgyzstan to go skiing! And it wasn’t a good experience from what she’s told me, but by damn, she did it. And it’s a great story. So yeah, get a companion and comfort your little scared self. Getting to the end here, Ellis says, “What if you follow what feels warmer and it seems only to lead to disappointment and heartbreak?” That’s when you learn what your psychology is doing as opposed to your soul. Because there are a lot of things that you’ll do because– for example, if you grew up with a narcissistic parent and you always wanted their love, later on you may fall in love with somebody who’s very narcissistic and you’ll think, “I found my person. I’m going to go on this adventure of love” and it will break your heart because it’s trying to teach you how you got socialized into an illusion. It’s trying to break your illusions. So what you do when you have a heartbreak, you say, okay, then you go to therapy and you say, why did I do that? Okay, I had this set of illusions. Okay, you can’t make a narcissist love you. Got it. Then when you go out and you feel that same impulse, it’s like wanting like junk food.

And it’s really different from the feeling of wanting a beautiful, healthy gourmet vegan meal. Like they are going to give me at Imiloa by all reports. There’s a different kind of appetite, and you learn what makes you feel icky afterwards and what gives you a bad hangover and what makes you feel healthier. And you learn to choose the healthy and that’s how you choose. You find your spirit instead of the psychology of the socialization. Three more questions, then we’ll do our meditation. Okay, Steph says, “I feel very out of touch with my body. I’m recovering from an eating disorder. What does warmth in the body feel like? And how do I know it’s not just my head convincing me it’s something I want to or don’t want to do?” Yeah, if you’ve had an eating disorder, you’ve tortured your body and you’ve hated your body.

And what you need to do first is learn to love the part of you that was in so much pain that they tortured and hated your body. There will be a very small and gentle soul in there who was bewildered and swamped and overwhelmed by the world and that tried to take it out on you, rather than on anyone else. And that’s a very, very heartbreaking thing. I’ve done it, so I know this. Love the part of you that had the eating disorder, and your system will come back into alignment, and you’ll start to feel your spirit because I will tell you the truth, the part of you that is real, that is your pure wild self loves all of you, including the parts of you that don’t like themselves. It accepts and loves everything. And when you find a way to love all yourself, you can go anywhere in the world without ever leaving home.

You’ll be okay. Take it slow. Two more. Danielle says, “What would you suggest when saying yes feels like all output and no input, at least at first? Sometimes the doing or the spending output feels like such a primary energy rather than the balance of in and out.” Yeah, give it some time. Give it some time. Usually my discomfort and my fear that I’m doing something crazy gets worse and worse and worse as I get up to the moment of leaving. I’m trying to pack my suitcase and I’m like, “I don’t know how to do The Gathering Room when I have to pack to go to someplace I’ve never been.” So I know from experience, that’s the maximum resistance point. And then if you can get past that and into the voyage itself, into the odyssey, the world will start feeding adventure cues into your psyche and you’ll start to realize, “Oh, this is a rich experience. This is not just an effort, this is not just the loss of familiarity. This is feeding my soul.”

And if it’s not doing that, you need to change direction and do something else and it’s all either a great experience or an education.

Okay, finally, Sue says, “How can we support those we love to make the leap into the growth zone?” What I would do, because I’ve tried to push people in the past and it makes them balk, they go “Grrr!” And well they should because nobody should be making our decisions to go on odysseys except for our own selves, our true selves. So what I would do if I were you is lead by example. Take the jump into the odyssey, whatever it is for you, set sail, and then show them the joy of it. Show them the delight and the wisdom and the great stories you bring back. And then when their opportunity comes, they will have a model in their heads. That’s not just our typical culture of go to work every day, come home, take care of your family, and die.

So thank you all for being on this part of my odyssey with me doing The Gathering Room. It was like, “I want to do a gathering room. Why? I don’t know!” And here we are. It’s a thing now.

So let’s do our meditation and I’m going to carry your energy with me to help me get into my airport mode. Because I have companions that I’ve told about my journey, and you’ll all be there in spirit when I’m getting through the awkward parts of it. All right, so. I just love you and I thank you so much. Here we go.

Let’s start with the deep breath. Relax your body and ask yourself if it’s possible to imagine the distance between your eyes. Can I imagine the distance between my eyes? Ask that question. Can I imagine the distance between the top of my forehead and the bottom of my chin? Can I imagine the space in the atoms between my forehead and my chin? Can I imagine the space that goes all the way through my body, every atom through my head, down through my shoulders, far more empty space than matter? Can I imagine the empty space inside the contours of my body? Can I imagine the stillness in which all movement occurs? Can I feel the stillness holding all of us around the world? Is it possible to imagine the silence beneath all sounds that holds and loves and guides and supports us? Can I imagine the distance between me and the beautiful others on this broadcast? Can I imagine it unboundaried, alive, and full of joy?

So take that and imagine going on your next adventure. Imagine going on your odyssey. Thank you for listening to me kvetch about my own problems, and thank you for coming with me on the next leg of my odyssey. I love you all. Go have adventures, and I’ll see you soon.

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