Image for The Gathering Pod A Martha Beck Podcast Episode #158 The Perfection of Connection
About this episode

If you've been struggling with the desire to be perfect, and you want to learn how to drop into imperfection and connect to yourself and others, be sure to tune in. You’ll also be able to experience connection through Martha’s guided Silence, Stillness, and Space meditation.

The Perfection of Connection

Martha Beck:

Okay, today’s episode is called “The Perfection of Connection” and the reason that I thought to say this is that I have been trying to learn Spanish. Oh, please don’t hold me to this. As you may know, Ro and I are doing a retreat in Costa Rica next year and we love, love, love it down there, in this beautiful place called Imiloa. And because we don’t speak any Spanish, we are like, it’s time to learn. So we’ve been studying Spanish using apps on our phones. There’s some wonderful, wonderful apps and this one was recommended and we’ve been doing it, And it’s super fun and gamifies it, and I often get it to praise me, but I am under no illusion that I’m learning to speak Spanish. I am playing a game with my phone that is setting me up to maybe speak Spanish someday. That would be nice. Because yeah, I’ve studied so many languages, and I’ve never felt completely competent in any of them, including English.

So I went to get my haircut and I was in the chair while they’re washing my hair and I’m doing my little thing on my phone and trying to get the answers right. It’s so gratifying when you get an answer right. It gives you a green light and a sweet sound that becomes your life and breath. And when you put in something wrong and it says meh and it turns red, I literally go completely blank for a minute and have to find another reason to live. Very, very tied into the human nervous system. So I’m doing that and then I go get the shampoo washed out of my hair by this incredibly lovely lady who is from Central America and who always has beautiful conversations with me in her second language, English, and she’s amazing, and she starts speaking to me in Spanish. She is onto me that I’ve been studying it on my phone and I just went, everything I knew went out the window.

I have learned a lot of words. I can sort of put them together, but I’m trying to think of anything to say. My mind is blank and I start stammering things like, “How are you?” but not saying it right. She asked me, “How are you?” Of course I said that– I used the wrong verb to say, “I’m fine.” That is not a complex sentence, Martha Beck. And she was gently correcting me and being so sweet and I managed to gag out something. Asked her about her son and she told me he likes to read and he’s reading a book about a man who turns into a dog and then she wanted to talk about other things, but I was so completely obsessed with the man that turned into the dog. I was like, “Is it a big dog or a little dog?” She’s like, “It’s big, whatever. Let’s talk about my son.”

I’m like, “No. Is the dog ferocious or is the dog kind?” Anyway, in the end, we communicated in Spanish and I realized something that I have never had the opportunity to do. I have studied all these languages, well, like six languages, but always in classrooms, always in places where I was being told, “Green light, you did well,” pat on the shoulder, or “Red light, you are bad, you get a bad grade.” And you want to run away and never see anyone ever again. So I’ve always been after perfection, perfection, perfection. That’s what the whole school system teaches us, that we’ve got to get it perfect. There’s an exam on your desk and you have to get the math perfectly right. You have to show your work and it has to be perfectly done. And on the grammar test, it has to be perfect grammar.

No child ever learns language, an original first language, that way. What happened to me in the hairdressers was a connection with a human being in another language that was incredibly sweet. I did get a little of this in Japanese because I had a Japanese tutor when I was living there briefly, and I made mistakes so hilarious that even through her Japanese politeness, she once laughed so hard she fell off her chair. But I loved her because I had a friend and I had a friend in Japanese. When I was studying Chinese for years, it was just, “Did I get it right? Did I get it right?” It was always in a classroom and it was really hard and I often didn’t get it right. Will I ever be truly fluent in Chinese? No. Even though I’ve tried harder to learn that language than any other.

When I was in Germany, I went there for a little book tour once and we didn’t have phone apps at the time, but I listened to tapes in my car, those tapes that are very inadequate. Once I got to Germany, I would sort of bumble around speaking English, trying to make it understandable, and at one I would draw cartoons on transparencies as I talked to try to make my point because I did not speak enough German to even lift my head in any kind of pride. I was so not perfect at the language. And I remember one German woman stood in line to get her book signed after I had drawn my transparencies, and she came up to me and she said In German, “I don’t understand you with my head, but I understand you with my heart.” I don’t speak German. How do I know that that’s what she said? Maybe she didn’t, but I could swear I didn’t understand her with my head, but I understood her with my heart. That’s what happened to me in the hairdresser, and I realized that we are trained to look for perfection and we are always trying to be perfect. We go to a party and we want to show up perfectly.

You are not going to show up perfectly, but if you show up not to perfect but to connect, nobody cares that you’ve not done it perfectly in a classroom sense. If you show up, I always say this to writers, don’t show up to get attention, show up to give attention. So whatever you’re having trouble with and you’re trying to be perfect about, I’d like you to think of something right now that you’re trying to do perfectly. “I’ve got to be a perfect parent.” You’re not. But if you stop and connect with your child, even if the child’s not there, if you stop and imagine their experience and feel that connection, you may not understand it with your head, but you’ll understand it with your heart. “I’m trying to be a perfect person.” You’re not. Okay? Connect with your inner self. Connect with the part of you that feels and hopes and longs and dreams.

That part of you can’t do anything wrong. It’s just trying to connect with the world. Connect. If you want to get your whole life right, you won’t, you can’t. Connect with this moment right now. Like this, it’s been said before and it’ll be said again, this present moment is your life. This is all you ever need. So let’s right now, whatever you’re trying to do, instead of trying to be perfect, drop in, connect with this moment. Connect with the part of you that’s trying so hard to be perfect. Give it kindness. Kindness connects. And then whoever else is involved, if you’re trying to get a book published, okay, connect with editors, with readers. You don’t have to have them in the room. In this present moment, they are alive somewhere. Find the connection. If you’re trying to find love and nobody seems to love you, stop looking outward. Connect in this moment. Connect with your true self, connect with the knowledge that the love in your heart is going to be met by the love in other hearts. Connect, connect, connect. This is why E.M. Forster said, “Only connect.”

I was doing some watercolor and I’ve been really trying hard to do watercolor, and one thing I’ve learned is that if you draw a little, I’m really pretty good at drawing little separate things. Like I can draw a car and I can draw a building and I can draw a person, but they don’t work as a painting unless you connect them. Everything in the painting has to look connected and then suddenly, instead of being like any other, like a photograph or whatever, it becomes something that speaks to you. So I want to show you this, hang on.

This is a picture of a church facade in New York that I snapped a picture of as I drove past it and I thought I’d go back and paint it sometime and I drove past it again and it was gone. It had been next to a women’s shelter and the women’s shelter caught fire and it burned and the whole church burned, but they were able to save the facade. So I painted it, and I want to show you a little bit of just painting. I was painting the, so all the little bits of the church and everything, and then these cars, I was painting all these little cars and I got really into painting, how does a car really look? And I do I have the perspective right on the car? And then I realized that the cars weren’t connected. So I took a brush, a big flat brush, and I dipped it in some blue paint and I just brushed it all the way across the cars and the blue of the cars connected all the way through and they became something that was more than a bunch of cars.

It was part of a message I wanted to send about the fact that this beautiful church, which is connecting the heaven with the earth, that we all come from the unmanifested, and then we manifest briefly as something physical and it crumbles, and then we go back into the unmanifested. And it’s the soul connecting with the earth, connecting with the soul again. So that was my way of connecting something visually, and it’s so literal. You literally have to draw a brush through all the different things and make them one thing. So as you’re trying to be perfect in whatever it is you’re doing, take a big, beautiful, ethereal paintbrush and just draw one streak of light between you and everything you want to connect with. And then you’ll realize that the reason it feels so good to connect is that any separation is not real. What’s real is the spaciousness.

It’s the meditation that we do every week that we’re going to do again today. The spaciousness that is most of the volume of our bodies has no boundary. It’s connected with all of space. It’s connected with the space in other people. It’s already connected. So when we drop our attempts to be perfect in our culture’s way of being very singular and perfect, and we just draw a brush across the whole experience and make it one, we’re returning to the reality that in our hearts we know is greater than picking things out and making them perfect. So I want you now to look back on your whole past and all the imperfections that were there. Take a big deep breath, let the imperfections go, and draw that brush of light through all of them. You don’t have to perfect anything, you just have to connect in your imperfection, like me stumbling along and telling this poor woman, “What kind of dog?”

The joy I felt when I was actually talking about a man turning into a dog with a real Spanish speaking person. It was a little return to the sacredness of communion. That is what we’re all looking for all the time. We come here to appear separate, and then we work all our lives to be connected. That’s what Picasso said, “I have worked all my life to paint like a child.” You’ve been struggling all your life to get past the desire to be perfect at small things and instead to drop into the imperfection of your being and allow yourself to connect with all these other folks who are feeling exactly the same way.

None of us feels perfect, and that is perfect. Because when we connect with each other in our desperate desire to be perfect and our failure to do so, we feel each other’s hearts. We get out of the head, and that’s what this is about, relearning that we are one. That’s perfect. So let’s do our meditation and then I will take some questions as per usual.

Okay, so I hope you’ve already connected with the present moment. Let’s get comfortable in our chairs. Lie down. Sit down. If you have to stand up, get relaxed, take a deep breath and ask yourself the question: Can I imagine the distance between my eyes? Can I imagine the space inside the atoms that create the distance between my eyes? Can I find the space that is seamlessly connected between the two eyes that appear separate? Can I imagine the connection, the space between my eyes and the back of my head? Can I imagine the space inside my neck? Can I imagine the spaciousness inside my skull and connected with my spinal cord and going all the way into my torso? Can I imagine the space connecting every aspect of my body?

Can I imagine the space within the room where I’m sitting or standing or lying? Can I imagine the seamless connection in the space in this room and the space in my body? Can I imagine the space inside my body in connection with the space inside the bodies of all other creatures? Can I imagine that they can imagine me? Can I imagine the stillness? Can the action that seems to be happening in this world, can I imagine the silence under the sounds I’m hearing now? There is only one silence. There is only one space. There is only one stillness, and it is infinite. It holds everything, and you are limitless, boundless, all connected. That’s who you really are.

Remember that when you come into a place where you’re trying to be perfect and your imperfection will be perfect for that situation, for that job.

Okay, so PC Longston says, “Can you say more about how to drop into the present moment? Thinking about your advice to think of a place you’ve been where you’ve got that aha feeling?” Well, it’s a bit much to strain for an aha moment. An aha moment, you’re looking for something singular, you’re looking for something perfect,. But the best way to connect is with a moment that isn’t aha, that is ordinary. In Zen, you go higher and higher through levels of enlightenment, you have greater and greater realization of your true nature, and the highest level of all is ordinariness. You realize that every single thing you do is the aha moment. They say, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” But after enlightenment, every little task you do, vacuuming the carpet, changing the diaper, washing the dishes, every single moment is the aha moment that connects you with eternity, with infinity. You feel the water flowing over your hands and connecting you with the dishes, the heat of it, the slickness of a porcelain cup, and in that moment of absolute attention, the walls can drop away and you can become infinite. After the ecstasy, the laundry, but in the laundry, the ecstasy. That’s where I left my ecstasy. It’s in the laundry. No, I don’t have any ecstasy, not in my laundry or anywhere else, except my heart.

Okay, Leanne says, “This connection idea, can it be used to heal the regrets we have for how we have or may have hurt others?” A hundred percent. Find a place, if there’s a place in you that hitches that says, “Oh, I shouldn’t have done that,” go to that part of you and understand that right now there are dozens and dozens of people right now doing the same thing you’re doing, looking back on the thing they regret, and we are all connected in our imperfection. We’ve all done that wrong. We’ve all got those little wincing regrets or waves of shame. So let the wave of shame be part of the stillness that carries to other people and connects with what they’ve experienced as a wave of shame. And when you see it in everyone, you realize, “It’s okay in me. I don’t have to be perfect because I’m here to be connected with a world in which all of us are imperfect.” And who wants to connect with a perfect person? Would you want to see a movie about a person who starts perfect, stays perfect, and ends perfect? That is not interesting. What’s interesting is the imperfection and how we reach across the divide and across our shame and our pain and find the love for other people that reflects to ourselves and makes us all one. So yeah, think of something you regret. Realize that everybody on this broadcast is thinking of something they regret and that we’re all together in that and that we can love each other. And guess what? You get to be included in the “each other.”

Kate says, “Most people on this earth see the solidity of reality. Reality, not the spaciousness. How can those of us who live more in the reality that things are empty, interact deeply with those who see things as more solid and separate? Do you find this challenging, Martha?” It’s not so much challenging as there are sometimes moments of like, oh, nah, it’s not exactly sadness, but it’s like somebody’s having a real meltdown over something that’s not perfect, and you know that they think that this thing they’re working on for work or this thing that’s happened in their family or in their relationship, it’s got to be perfect, and they’re looking at the things and not the spaciousness in which it’s happening, and you stay inside that spaciousness and there’s just a lot more noise over the silence. There’s a lot more action over the stillness, but you can still connect with the stillness. 

I used to get pulled into the frenzy a lot more. I still have that ADHD frenzy thing, but when someone’s hurting or someone’s hysterical or whatever, I’ve had so many clients over 30 years who have gone so many directions, I can just breathe and look at them and feel the spaciousness inside my own body and feel the spaciousness connecting with them and fill that with love. It’s love already. You don’t have to fill it. It’s full. It’s brimming over. So you hold them and you get more still and you get more silent in your heart. You go down and down and down. That’s what I did in Germany when I went on that book tour. I didn’t speak any German, but I’d get up and I’d speak English from a place of—I would drop way down and try to find a connection with the hearts of the people in the room. And it worked. It actually worked because all of them study English. But no, it was that “understand with the heart, not with the head.” That was the real thing that made that a beautiful, beautiful experience.

Let’s see. Aimee says, Aimtwee says, “What would you suggest for a mean little voice that says things like, ‘They didn’t like you’ or ‘You really annoyed them’ after interacting with others? This happens with strangers and even with friends.” Yeah, because it’s always imperfect. It never plays out exactly the way you want it to. Something is always wrong with my hair, always. Something’s always wrong with what I said. I stumble over words, but only always. Only always is there something imperfect. So the little voice comes up, “Oh no, you have to be perfect. You made them upset. If you were perfect, they would love you.” No, if you were perfect, they probably wouldn’t love you anyway if they were stuck in the quest for perfection. If they’re judging you on every little thing, if they’re going to throw you away for wearing white shoes after Labor Day or whatever it is, they’re not in the place of spaciousness, not in their awareness, but we’re all always in the place of spaciousness because it’s more real. Our bodies, we come from, we come from nothing, we become a thing, we become nothing again, no thing. And yet we’re still there. We’re still real. We’re still humming with vitality. Life is not this body because life can leave this body. 

So when you start to get caught up in other people’s opinions, you know that you can drop into this present moment into what you really are—the space, the silence, and the stillness, which is remember, it’s conscious, it’s aware. It’s not nothingness. It is no-thing-ness, but it is absolutely brimming with awareness and compassion and all the things that we truly are. And then you kind of go, “Okay, that was imperfect. They saw my imperfection, they judged me on my imperfection. I’m not going to judge them for judging me on my imperfection, even though their judgment is imperfect. I’m just going to remember all the times when I’ve judged people and go, I can understand them. I’ve been in that place.” Boom, you’re back in the present moment, you’re back with your real self. You are connected and everything other than the connection will always have imperfection.

Okay, Monica says, “I’ve been wondering this for months now. I get a headache every time I try to imagine the space between my eyes. I can’t do it. I can imagine space between most other things just fine. But that one I have to turn the sound off because it’s painful. Any ideas about why that might be?” Okay, so in a lot of mystical traditions, there is the concept of focusing on the third eye or the space between the eyes. I believe that there’s something that happens neurologically because the optic nerves cross right behind the bridge of your nose, this place here, and I think that’s a place where you can access both sides of the brain because that visual cortex is getting feedback that crisscrosses from the two sides. So there’s this strange space there that if you can drop into it, seems to illuminate your whole being. If you can’t feel it, it’s probably because you’re fighting and trying to feel it. 

So one day what happens, Monica, is you will just be going along and lightly, gently you’ll realize there’s a space between your two eyes, and you’ll imagine it as just peaceful, still like clear water flowing, nothing stressful, no trying, and all of a sudden you’ll have this little burst of this freshness, this awareness, this presence in the moment, and that could be called satori in Japanese. The sudden awareness of what you really are. So the fact that you’re trying and stressing and getting headaches is a good sign. You’re doing it imperfectly. And after you try and try, try to do something perfectly, and I have had this experience with language, you try and try and try, and then one day you stop trying and it’s in you, and suddenly you find yourself saying something and it comes out right, and the imperfection and the connection come together. So that’s going to happen for you because of the push, and then relax, trust that process.

Couple more questions. Dr. Donna says, “What do you do when those you work with, and for, expect perfection?” You realize that their expectation is an imperfection in their understanding of reality, and you love them and you love yourself, and you feel the connection between them, the part of them that is judging themselves, that is also judging you, the part of you that’s judging yourself, that’s also judging them, and you realize that that’s not the real thing, that the imperfection is something held within the connection and the connection can’t have flaws. It’s no thing.

Jenny says, “How do you forgive yourself for all the mistakes that live inside us and appear as shame? How do we ask for forgiveness for the same from others?” The mistakes don’t live inside us. They are stories that we tell. They are thought forms. They are not alive. Nothing that hurts us, spiritually, emotionally is alive, is real. They are stories, thought forms that we tell. They are false, they are not true. This is why I wrote a book about integrity. When you start to question every thought that brings you pain and suffering, it will always fall apart when you compare it with something truer. So “I made a terrible mistake.” What’s the opposite of that? “I corrected a terrible mistake.” Well, have you ever done that? Think about that and watch all your focus on imperfection fall away as you look for a connection between those experiences, other experiences that you’ve had, other ways of thinking about it. 

So to connect and reconnect the stories inside our little left hemispheres where we hold all our stories of shame and guilt and the need for forgiveness and the need to forgive, all of that, in the grand scheme of things in the universe at large, those are so small. Those are the mistakes you made speaking Spanish to a beautiful friend who was washing your hair and you got it all wrong. That’s what we’re here for, to bumble around to try for perfection and fail, and in doing so, to drop into the truth of our connection where the perfection we’ve been looking for has been just sitting there smiling and waiting for us all along.

I love you all so much. Thank you for joining me here on The Gathering Room. Thank you for connecting with me. You are perfect. We are all perfect, and we are all connected, and that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Bye. See you later.

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