Image for The Gathering Pod A Martha Beck Podcast Episode #123 Tracking Your Spirit
About this episode

This week, we all go tracking! Your spirit is leaving footprints everywhere; join Martha to learn how to follow them!

Tracking Your Spirit

Martha Beck:

Today’s topic, you have seen, is tracking your spirit, because it’s tracking weather in Pennsylvania, which means I spent a couple of hours outside with our two-year-old in what they call gum boots in Australia, in galoshes, splashing through muddy puddles and seeing the tracks that were left on the edges of the muddy puddles in the mud by the animals. So we had raccoon, we had a possum, we had, I think a porcupine, a skunk. Skunks have the weirdest little feet. I’ve got to tell you, no offense, but their feet are bizarre. I love tracking. And if all of y’all have not tried tracking animals, I know you probably have a more than ordinary interest in the natural world because you’re here. Hello. And tracking animals is, I believe, the origin of reading, because you follow a line of marks that tells a story, and it’s absolutely gripping when you get out there and you have your little guide and you find a footprint and you see these tiny toes and this little foot, and you can see where it dipped something in the water, whatever it was. And you can see where it rolled over.

I remember I used to track bears when I lived in California. At one point, we had three wild mustangs that had been herded into trucks and then shipped out of an area because that was better than killing them. It was ranch land and they didn’t want wild horses. We had to build a special high wall paddock and everything because they jump. Really wild. So they put these two mustangs into their new paddock, and there they got used to it for a while, before they could get trained to be with people, which they ultimately were. But the reason I’m telling you this is that I went out one day and I found the tracks of a mother bear and her cub, which were so cute because it’s a black bear.

Brown bears are very dangerous. Don’t get close to them. Don’t get close to a bear, just don’t. It’s not good for you. But black bears are shy and smaller and less likely to munch you. So I was tracking this mother and cub, and they went all around the property in up hills and down hills, and then they came to the paddock with the wild mustangs and their tracks walked all the way around the paddock and then in a little bit of dust so that the track was perfectly clear, were the imprints of these two bums, these four little buttocks. Well, the babies were small. The mothers were not as small. So the imprint of two tushies who had clearly sat there like spectators at some sort of freak show, watching the wild mustangs like, “This is weird. We’ve never seen this before.” And how delightful to be able to know from marks on the ground that these two animals, well, they’d taken their attention off foraging and sat down to watch two mustangs.

Now we have the internet. We know that animals play a lot. Inter-species play goes on and they take care of each other sometimes. They often interact peaceably. And before we had the internet, we didn’t know that except from tracks. Tracks are fun. And in fact, when you’re on the internet, you’re tracking, and the algorithms of the internet are tracking you and your likes and dislikes and sending you more things. It’s getting a little weird out there, but tracking is just in our blood. So, the things we make tend to be trackers.

Now, you could get very weird about how AI is going to take over the world and it’s all very dangerous. I’m not going that direction. I would rather talk about how the ability to track also makes us perhaps, we don’t know, but I think it makes us more able to define what a spiritual experience is like. I think that I don’t know what happens to animals. I think that they actually live in a state of enlightenment where they’re just themselves and they don’t have all the weird paranoia that we do about what will happen in the future, and remember 17 years ago, what happened to me, I’m still angry at that person. They’re just in the present and living in a state of grace.

But we, because we can fall from grace, also have this tracking capacity to go looking for whatever aspect of spirit we have lost. And then the rediscovery of it is one of the most beautiful things a human can experience. I’ve probably quoted T.S. Eliot a million times before, but when I was a depressed teenager, I was very struck by his lines, “We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

And that’s the beauty of tracking spirit. “We come to earth trailing clouds of glory,” as I think Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, “and not in utter nakedness and not in total ignorance, but trailing clouds of glory do we come from God who is our home.” Beautiful lines. So we come that way, then we fall from grace. Life is a bitch and then you die and that’s it. Horrible. But then you start to rediscover, as you get deeper and deeper into the suffering of a purely material creature, you begin to track your spirit sometimes, things that fill you with a little bit of inspiration, of joy, of peace, of all the things that you know that you need, even though you may never remember having them. It’s built into our spirits to be trackers of spirit.

And this is what my real tracker friends tell me, the people who have spent years and years and years tracking and are really expert at it, say that finding your destiny in life is like tracking. And what you track, this is from Boyd Varty, whose books you should definitely get. He says, “What we track is joy through the body.” So the substrate that we’re tracking on and it’s so counterintuitive because many western religions scorn the body. The spirit is everything and the body is evil. I don’t believe that. If God made it all and he gave us … Whatever God is. I actually don’t believe in a single personality named God, I believe in universal consciousness or whatever. But I don’t think it just made something evil and then housed itself in our brains and hates our bodies. No, our bodies were created by the same universal intelligence that made the bears and the horses and everything.

So when that animal self responds with joy, the spirit is coming closer to it, because I do believe we’re meant to live in that integrated state of grace in which animals, I think always live. Well, we started with a little toad yesterday and we saw some crayfish and the birds were coming close, and the sense of grace around us in the forest was so deep. And there I was with a two-year-old who hasn’t yet fallen from grace. And there’s so much joy for her. When we found the crayfish, little Lila, our two-year-old, she kept coming up and taking my face in her hands and saying, “Thank you, Muffy.” She calls me Muffy. “Thank you, Muffy. Thank you so much for I found that crayfish, thank you so much for I found that crab. I found a crab.”

These are the things that filled us with joy when we were innocent and they fill us with joy if we get innocent again. How do we track it? How do we track this joy through the body? I was thinking about this, looking through my books like porcupine looks a lot like skunk looks a lot like raccoon and possums. There are slight differences. How do you know it’s really the thing you’re after? How do you know it’s really a spirit track? And I thought, here are the signs of a spirit track. First of all, it’s incongruous. When you feel something, a joy in the body or something that comes to your attention over and over that is not what you typically think, but it’s very insistently there.

I found out yesterday that yet another person I love is on his deathbed. It’s happened a lot lately. For some reason, there’s just been this bunch of deaths in the people I love, and I haven’t seen him for a long time. But there was a song playing very, very loudly in my head. Does that ever happen to you that a song comes into your head and will not leave? It happens when I hear a catchy song, but this one I hadn’t heard. I didn’t remember ever hearing. I think when I was a kid, I heard it. It was from the ’70s, but I just kept hearing a phrase from it, one phrase of the lyric, and it would not stop. Now I know that this is one of the ways my spirit has given me instructions, or whatever is out there has given me instructions through my whatever we have. I have a song angel, I call it. You may have a song angel.

And when it plays me a little bit of a song that I’ve not really known, and I go Google the lyrics, the lyrics are always weirdly appropriate. And this one, I went and looked up the lyrics and you’ll recognize it maybe. It goes, “Name your price. Ticket to paradise. I can’t stay here anymore. I’ve looked from shore to shore to shore. If there’s a shortcut, I’d have found it, but there’s no easy way around it. Light of the world, shine on me. Love is the answer. Shine on us all, set us free. Love is the answer.” I didn’t know those words, but I think my loved one knew it. He was a teenager at that time and he would’ve heard that song. It’s a song about somebody letting go of life, and I had no idea. It was incongruous.

The other thing is that it’s artful. I’m really into studying art and its effect on the brain, and any kind of art has a really special place inside the human psyche. It could be your own art that you’re making. You could suddenly feel compelled to make art that’s on a certain topic or find something coming and say you’re a writer and suddenly you’re writing about something you hadn’t meant to write.

Liz Gilbert has a wonderful new novel coming out and we got to read it, and the end was a complete surprise to her. It was a surprise ending to the writer. She didn’t know what was going to happen. So sometimes it pops in through your own art. Sometimes it comes through other people’s art, like my song angel. I also have a book angel. I have multiple art angels. I was remembering a time when I got married at 20, had three kids. I was very much trying to live the American white picket fence dream. And in my late 20s, I started questioning everything, including what sexual preference I actually was born with or developed at some point. I was in a bookstore in Washington DC and someone had given me a gift certificate for one book, and it was like $25. So I was walking through the bookstore and I was feeling all these weird feelings inside me that I didn’t understand, because I’d never identified as gay, not ever.

These two books just jumped at me and I felt so intensely drawn to these two books. They were both biographies and I didn’t read a lot of biography back then. I looked at them and it was a biography of Simone de Beauvoir, and another one of the writer Daphne du Maurier, two French writers. And I thought, okay, well I should choose one. They were both $25. Each of them was $25. So what I did was I bought the one on Simone de Beauvoir, took it back to my hotel, read it, brought it back the next day, exchanged it for the one on Daphne du Maurier and read that one. So I shoplifted a book by reading it and getting it into my head. The thing they both had in common was that they were married to men and then came out as gay and had female partners.

I was raised Mormon. I did not know this was a thing that could happen. I thought you either knew it or you didn’t. I did not think you could be gay and marry into a hetero marriage and not know that you were gay. Daphne du Maurier and Simon de Beauvoir told me different. And it was like out of the blue, I had to have these books and I never heard of such a thing. The fact that they both had this same theme, it really made me think, this is possible.

And the last thing, so spirit is in congress, spirit is artful, and spirit is above all things, peaceful, because here I was reading these two books about women who had these very unorthodox lives and feeling a sense of intense peace welling up in me, even as my mind said, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. That is so not … No.” Peace, rising, joy in the body. I was tracking. And it was so strong. When you get something that is that repeated, so incongruous, so artful and so peaceful, you’re tracking your soul. Your spirit is talking to you.

So now I’m going to get into the questions. Yay. By the way, I’m sorry if you don’t like the gay agenda thing. Once I posted, I went for a walk with our golden retriever in California after a rain and a rainbow formed and it came right down onto her head, and there she stood illuminated by this rainbow. So I took a picture of it. I put it on Facebook and I said, “The golden retriever at the end of the rainbow.” And I got an angry message saying, “Stop shoving your gay agenda down my throat.” I didn’t even know that it was gay pride day and I put up a rainbow and that made someone angry. Sorry. I tracked my spirit through my body and thought, that’s fine, and talked about it online.

So Laura says, “I always doubt my initial leanings or intuitions and try to talk my way out of the pursuit of it, and usually successfully. Luckily that attraction doesn’t go away. And I’m especially now at the cusp of my 69th birthday moving toward the things I love. Why do we wait so long?” I think that’s why we’re given the four score and 10 or whatever our lifespan is. We’re given a lot of time to lose grace and find it again, because I think that’s the job. Boyd always tells me it’s not to stay on track. That’s not your aim when you go out tracking. It’s to lose the track and find it again. That’s the joy of it. It’s almost addictive.

So I think we’re given plenty of time for things to come back and come back and come back. I think we’re given many chances, many tracks, and if we follow them when we’re 30, great. But following them when you’re 100 is just as good. It’s the experience of retrieving your soul. And that I think is one of the great jewels we’re here to collect in this material form. So you haven’t wasted any time, but it’s actually fun if you get the guilt and regret things out of it to look back on your life and go, oh, when did the tracks show up? What were they showing me? When did I follow the tracks and it took me to something good? When did I resist the track and then felt it pushing me and felt frustrated? It’s all part of becoming literate in a metaphysical medium when we’re in a physical form. And it’s always an exciting, beautiful experience even if you lose the track over and over. So Laura, go for it. It doesn’t matter.

Jessica says, “I was given so many beautiful opportunities to work in the ways I love this last week, but I pooped myself out pushing too hard. How can I stop the self-sabotage track when I say yes to too much?” This, my dear, is where you have to go for the peaceful. That has to be in place. Peace is the language your spirit is speaking. Sometimes joy will be big and abundant, and sometimes joy is saying, “I’m going to put this off for another day,” or, “Don’t put something off for another day, if you can cancel it.” So I’m going to get in bed, give myself a really yummy thing to watch on Netflix or whatever it is, and be kind to my body because it’s exhausted, and that will be the track of the spirit.

We get stuck in doing a thing, but that’s our culture saying you’re supposed to keep doing a productive thing. Your spirit will say, “Do this thing.” And then five hours later, two hours later, it’ll say, “You know what? Let’s do the thing where we get to relax and sleep and rest until we feel like playing and then play until we feel like resting.” And that’s the rhythm of our lives if we follow the spirit. It gives us time to rest. In fact, Jesus says it in the Bible, “Rest give I unto you.” No, peace. “Peace give I unto you. Peace not as the world giveth give I unto you.” And he also said, “Come to me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Isn’t that interesting? Can you give rest to another person? Your soul can do it. And I think he was speaking from the position of spirit. Your soul can give you rest if you’re willing to receive it. So, pay attention when the track goes that way.

Donna says, “How can we quiet the noise of culture and our perception of what is important to attend to in order to attend more completely to the tracks of spirit?” I think taking time. The time that I put aside to do the gathering room every week, it keeps me on track with my spirit and I like to set up little things. It’s like having a coach who cheers you on. If you have something set up. I have a physical therapist who makes me workout. I wouldn’t workout that hard without her there.

So it helps to set up little signposts and companionships along the way, little agreements with other people that will pull you. Even if you’re locked into something, if you make an agreement with a buddy of some sort or even put an alarm on your watch that says, see if your spirit is leaving tracks anywhere and just stop and look for tracks. Where’s the track? Where’s the joy in my body? Oh, I want to go be with people. I want to go be away from people. I want to hear some music. Whatever it is, make an alarm or an agreement that you will stop culture and track spirit. That would work beautifully.

Muscinvalley says, “How do I differentiate my spirit’s track and the fear track, who is so convincing, especially when it screams the same things as culture? How do we follow our tracks and live in a society that hates it?” What a great question. The first part’s easy. You can differentiate the fear track from the spirit track because there is no peace in the fear track. The most peace you will here is, okay, okay, everybody’s going to be mad at me or I’m going to do something wrong. I’ll just do what everybody else says and maybe that’ll keep me safe. Maybe that will keep me safe. Don’t rock the boat. Those are fear messages, and they may feel comforting to your social self, but your soul won’t feel the deep peace of following its own track.

So, second question, how do we follow our tracks and live in a society that hates it? Here’s the thing, I don’t think we can. I think we are in the world, but not of the world. Right here, right now, this group is a kind of social forum, but it’s very unusual and self-selected for a preference toward tracking spirit. So we’re not having to live in the broader culture because we have our little subculture of spirit. And that’s very peaceful. And if society doesn’t like it, they can send us angry messages on Facebook, and that’s what the block button is for. So yeah, get out, find other people.

Natalia says, “I have this belief that it doesn’t matter how much searching or tracking I do, I’m worried I’ll never find my true path. I’m interested in too many things and worried I will never find the one.” The idea that there’s one thing you should be is also completely western cultural. And not only that, but it defines the one thing you should do according to materialist jobs, which are basically dead on their feet anyway as society changes. Here’s the thing. I get a lot of people who come to my coach training program who fit what I call the archetype of the medicine person or the shaman or the wayfinder, depending on which culture, and they always have a collection of skills or preferences that their spirit is guiding them toward, but the culture splits those.

So if you were born loving nature, psychology, philosophy, the mystery, botany, languages, storytelling, healing, medicine, if you were born with this clutch of creative and healing arts in you that your spirit is leading you toward, society will tell you to split into a million different professions, and that’s what you’ll be. I say you were born to be a healer of some kind, and your archetype can be found all over the world in every culture. Usually those people would be recognized by the elders and trained up as a medicine person. And I’m sure there are other clumps of characteristics that our spirits can indicate for us that don’t go the way the culture says is possible. So again, pull back from the culture and don’t worry about finding the one. The one is you. The one is peace. Find peace and it will take you all sorts of places, but you’ll always be in peace. Peace is the one. There really is no other one.

Cindy Lotus says, “How can we stay alive to the magic in the face of medical issues?” I actually think that medical issues can help us find spirit because they’re so frightening and they can be so painful, that we go looking for something to heal us. And I believe that spirit is healing and doctors know that they can put the body in position to heal, but then it has to heal on itself because there’s something about the essence of life within us that can mend the body until it decides not to. So if there’s a medical issue, the important thing is to stop with the fear as much as you can.

This is why I think research is showing that a single dose of certain psychedelic, like psilocybin mushrooms or whatever, can take away somebody’s fear in the face of death. And when the fear drops, somebody who’s terminally ill, what comes in is this incredible rush of spirit and peace. They sometimes give it to whole families who are losing a loved one. And years later, those people will say this is one of the top five most beneficial and healthy experiences of their lives and most memorable, right up there with falling in love, having children. So our culture sees that as crazy psychotic drugs. I think if you get the fear out of the way, and that’s what some of these not substances, but fungus, plants, traditional plant medicine can do is take the fear out of it and then allow you into the spirit. And the closer you get to the body not operating as well, the more strongly spirit will come forward and you can track it if you can get out of the fear space. Yeah.

Finally, Veronica, and then we’ll do our little meditation. Veronica says, “Hi Martha. Right now, I feel like I’m right on the precipice of retrieving my soul, but I can’t quite get to letting go of the barriers or defenses that I use, too much weed, overeating, alcohol. There’s much good in my life that has come from me listening to myself and being kind and being me, so I know I can do it, but I’m just so bloody freaked out to take that final step toward it and keep taking steps back then forward, back then forward. Wonder if any ideas on that would help.” Yeah. I actually put out a little video years ago about this cluster of characteristics that are the medicine person archetype.

One that I forgot to mention is substance addiction, because I think people with really sensitive souls who don’t have a cultural lexicon or guidance that helps them use substances like mushrooms in a soul healing way, will try to self-medicate and try to find their way. And things like alcohol and weed, they’re altering and they can help numb you and keep you away from sensing your spirit, but if you’re using them all the time, needing them more and more and more, you probably would do better to step back from the substance, get a journal, and start writing down what you might do if you had no fear that it could possibly go wrong. I think you might get some answers straight from your spirit, and they may look weird.

When I became a life coach, it didn’t even exist. I didn’t have anywhere, not even that cheesy term, and yet I kept being pulled, pulled, pulled, pulled toward doing something I didn’t understand, and it was very frightening. I just would retreat into overworking and stuff like that, or worrying. Whatever your addiction is, it’s going to get worse as you get to the edge of culture. And that’s where you need to grab hold of a subculture, like the one we’ve got going here, a subculture, even if it’s just one friend or a therapist or somebody who will say, “No, I believe in the tracks of joy through your body.” If it is incongruous and artful and peaceful, then pay attention to it and choose it over everything else. Take that step off the cliff of culture and into what looks like the void, and that’s how you learn you can fly. And if that person is there and you fall, they’ll pick you up again. Take some risks, go out there, check it. You can always run back, but you won’t want to.

All right. So I hope everybody’s having good tracking times. I hope your book angels and your song angels are going, “Hello, hello, hello.” That’s how they sound to me. “Hello.” And I hope your souls are listening and rising as we talk about it, because that’s how it feels to me. And it really helps to give space for the tracks to be formed by having a ritual that takes you into stillness.

So that’s what we’re going to do now, is our stillness ritual, that begins always with the question research based, can I imagine the distance between my eyes? Can I imagine the empty space in the atoms, in the tissue between my eyes? Can I imagine the space between my eyes? Can I imagine the space inside my body? Can I find the motionless space on which my body and in which my body moves? Can I imagine the stillness beneath all the noise, beneath all the movement? Can I imagine the silence beneath the sounds, stillness in the space, silence? Can you imagine them?

Wow, what a strong pulse that was. I never want to leave when I get to be with you because my own meditations are sweet. But boy, having people here with me, it’s like sitting on top of a fountain of energy. It’s amazing. And all our spirits, I think are in league with each other out there. So track yours through your life this coming week, and then we’ll meet again here on the Gathering Room. I love you all so much. Thank you, thank you, thank you for coming. Bye.

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