Image for The Gathering Pod A Martha Beck Podcast Episode #156 Your Secret Superpower
About this episode

To learn more about how to recognize and follow the pulse of creativity to unlock your superpower, don’t miss this inspiring episode, which concludes with Martha’s guided Silence, Space, and Stillness meditation.

Your Secret Superpower

Martha Beck:

It’s a song we keep singing no matter how many times we need to say it. How are you, everybody? I’m home in Pennsylvania, and I wanted to talk to you today about your secret superpower. I think I told you last time, it was just you and me together, that I was in Costa Rica and I decided I wanted to see monkeys. So I sat down and I meditated and felt for monkeys in the environs, and I found a feeling of monkeys. So I said, “Come and see us right now.” And I imagined them coming to see us. And they did. They came in droves and they were hilarious and adorable and beautiful. And then they scared some members of my family, so I had to tell them in my mind to go away and they did. So I keep doing this thing where I call to animals and it keeps working and I don’t know why, but what I do know is that when I was a little kid, I once faked being sick for two full weeks because I heard there were some vaccinations I was going to have.

I’m not a courageous person when it comes to being stabbed. And what I did during those two weeks was go through my parents’ encyclopedia and they didn’t have the internet, of course, in those days. In fact, the books themselves were made of parchment and had been scratched by monks. I went through the whole encyclopedia and I found every animal I could and I drew every animal I could. I was obsessed with animals, still am. And it turns out I seem to have some sort of connection to them that sort of qualifies as a kind of superpower. I can never test that because it could always be a coincidence, but more often than not, when I’ve gone to a place and called for a wild animal and felt for that animal and felt it coming, it came. The animal came. Another thing I was thinking about was, and I may have mentioned this to you recently, you’re like a friend I go to coffee with once a week and then I tell you the same stories over and over again. Please forgive me. I have ADHD really badly. I mean, I keep learning how much badly I have it and I’m giving myself more and more breaks.

So anything that you did obsessively when you were a little kid and all the things you did that didn’t make sense, I think that these are keys to our superpowers. So the thing I was going to tell you that I’ve probably told you before is that I just wrote this book and I brought together all these fields of neuroscience and psychology and studies of creativity and innovation and all these different things, and they all came together into this book, which is about leaving your anxiety behind by tapping into your creativity and going nuts with your creativity. And a lot of people have said to me, “I’ve never seen the research put together this way. How did you put it together that way?” And I realized that it’s because of the crazy freshman year I had in college where I just went through this book, the book of courses, and randomly chose courses for bizarre reasons, like I took Chinese because it was supposed to be really hard.

That was it. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t just a glaring admissions error. And so I took Chinese because they said it was very, very hard, one of the hardest courses a freshman could take at that university at that time. At Harvard, sorry, now that’s better. I say that word way too often. Anyway, I went in to my freshman advisor and he said, “You’re taking Chinese, why?” And I’m like, “It’s hard.” And he said, “Okay, but you’re taking statistics too. Why is that?” I’m like, “I don’t know. It seems like an interesting idea.” It also forced me to use computers for the first time, and that was not a thing that was being done a lot then. And he says, “And you’re taking Shakespearean English and you’re taking studio art.” And I was taking one other thing, philosophy of science. That’s it. And he was like, “This is bizarre. There is no pattern to this. There is nothing you can do in your life that will combine these things that you are learning.” And I was like, “So?” I had such ADHD that it did not even impress me. I wanted those courses, what can I say? So now nearly 40 years, or more than 40 years later, all the skills that I had to learn to take those specific courses came together in this one book. And it was because I had had this weird little bug in my head to take all the courses at once that made no sense together that I was able to combine so many things and for myself take a big conceptual leap forward. And I hope it is for a lot of other people too. So I’ve been thinking about this and how all of us are born with superpowers, and we’re living in a time when our superpowers are going to come in necessary, not just handy but necessary.

Okay, I am going to talk to you about something I thought I wouldn’t mention. There’s a show called Alone Australia that I really want you to watch because it features a woman who has a lot of different superpowers, and I don’t want to spoil it, I don’t want to give away too much, but she’s a brilliant writer and she’s also really, really good at surviving in the wild. She’s deeply philosophical and thoughtful. She’s very strong, physically strong. And all these different things about her come together. And she’s become a very, very big celebrity in Australia where the show was filmed. And her name is Gina Chick and she has an interesting background. Her mother was adopted, and then when Gina Chick was about 20, from what I’ve heard on TV, her mother found her birth mother. So this is Gina Chick’s grandmother, and it turns out to be someone who was a really well-known Bohemian Australian thinker, artist, feminist, used to hang out with Leonard Cohen in the fifties.

So without even knowing it, Gina Chick had this legacy of being countercultural and going back to the wild. And she’s also a great communicator and she’s had all these life experiences that add up to her being something quite extraordinary. And when you watch it, you realize there’s a time when she’s lying awake at night–on this show they take people out and drop them in the wilderness and they just survive out there alone, completely alone. That’s why it’s called Alone. And she’s just staring into the camera and saying, “I know we can live differently on the earth. I know we can.” And I’ve heard people say that a thousand different ways, and I’ve said it myself a thousand different ways, but when she says it in those circumstances, it goes straight into your heart. And it was like it just lit up my whole body.

It was like I was electrified. Her energy was so pure and she has all the, she said in the strangest situation in the world and also in a situation whereby being alone for a very long time, she became famous. By avoiding all human contact, she’s now world-famous. The way your superpowers are going to play out in your life, I am just saying this in a very emphatic way because I really think it’s true: The things you did when you were a child, the things you did when you were a teenager, the things you did when you were supposed to be working, the things you did that you stayed up late to do when nobody knew you were doing them because they have no point—those things were put in you for a reason. And we are getting to a spot in human history where we need to drop the way we’ve been living and come up with a new way of living.

And it’s very much like my whole idea of we need to leave fear behind and go to creativity instead and the things you are meant to do. Okay? A lot of young people right now are terrified. The anxiety rates among teenagers, young twenties, that kind of age group is horrifying, shocking. They’re so anxious. They’re inheriting a world that is so trembling on the brink. What have we done to these poor kids? And so some of them, my children tell me, they talk about apocalypse skills. They have apocalypse skills. They know how to make macaroni from raw flour or something, and they do it as a kind of dark humor joke. But here’s the thing, maybe we do have apocalypse skills, but they have nothing to do with the gory, horrible, dystopian, post-apocalyptic nightmare that we sometimes project. What if the very things that felt the most magical to you as a child, the things that just floated your boat, the things you drifted into and you didn’t quite know why?

What if those things have a magic to them? What if being able to call wild animals is actually something we can do and that we will need? What if your ability to crochet things turns out to make something that changes lives all over the world? What if you just go off by yourself somewhere and by going off by yourself, you become a font of wisdom that hundreds of millions of people are going to encounter because you are by yourself. Everything is different from what we expect, but I promise you, if there is fascination, love, and a sense of sort of randomness, but also fascination, go there. Develop those skills, take the time, set aside the time, write the book, make the art. One of the things that Gina Chick says during her time in nature is, “I know this world can take care of us. I know that if we partner with it, it will take care of us.” And the only questions we really have to ask are, what do I need today? How can I supply my needs? And then how do I spend the rest of my time making art, making something creative? And it could be almost anything.

My family and friends are going into this strange creative phase. Is this happening to you too? They are like, Ro, my partner, has started beading. She’s making beautiful bead necklaces for everybody, or not necklaces, bracelets. Karen has downloaded a coloring app and colors all day long. My younger daughter, my middle daughter in England, has started composing music. She didn’t do that before. My oldest child is making amazing fabric designs and clothing and doing these cool, cool things. Everyone I know is feeling this pulse of artistic creativity. And it’s not really explicable, but I think it’s part of the creation of the new world. I really think it is. So let’s go to some questions now.

Jessica says, “I played with dolls far past what is culturally normal, and now I teach mamas how to take care of their babies.” Oh, that’s so beautiful. You do not–and boy, do we need mamas to know how to take care of their babies. That one skill could save the world. So good on you. And I hope you play with dolls today, Jessica. I hope you still have some that you carry around with you.

JustHillary says, “How do you take the leap to embrace your superpower as a living? I hate that phrase.” Oh I see, to make a living. Here’s what I think. It’s really hard, and it’s one of the things I set out to do since I sent in my book manuscript. I thought, okay, the way to live outside of anxiety is to take every artistic inclination you have and just push it to the max. So I may have told you that I was at one point drawing pictures of my youngest daughter, Lila, and somebody contacted me out of the blue, lovely person, and said, “Would you like to write a children’s book?”

And I was like, “Haha! I have all these pictures.” And so I took them and I showed them to her and she said, “Oh, I’m sure we can make a children’s book out of this.” And my creativity just stopped like that. I just stopped drawing. And the reason is that if you bring in the left hemisphere of the brain that thinks about things like how to make a living, how to add up the budget, it shuts down or it pulls energy or attention away from the part of the brain that is most creative. Now, if you’re a writer, it’s very tricky because the right side of the brain is the creativity center and the left side is the verbal center. And to try to bring those together, you’re like walking a razor’s edge. You could fall into the trap of being in “anxiety mind” just because you’re thinking in words, and your creativity has to ride this line of words, which isn’t quite its usual set of tools.

If you’re trying to write for a living, you’re really in trouble. It is super hard, but it’s also its own kind of superpower because you are learning to walk this tightrope that connects the left and the right brain. So if you think of yourself that we tend to do a couple of biased things that stop us from being able to make a living creatively, the first thing is we get obsessed with lack and possession and grasping and money, and that kills creativity. Don’t even try to be creative once you’re obsessed with money. Another thing is we think that if we have to do art as a kind of airy fairy thing that’s not really practical, and if we do it for money, then we’re not really artistic. So there’s this kind of bias where you go off. And another thing is that once you’re in artsy land, there are no standards.

You can just make. One of the books I read said you can draw a picture of, you can get the sculpture of Nefertiti, the Greek, sorry, the Egyptian queen, this beautiful sculpture, or do a scribble on a piece of paper and say that’s Nefertiti. And in this book it says they’re equally valuable because they’re both art. And you said the scribble was Nefertiti. So it is, and that’s art. I think, and the artists I admire in every field, I just went to another Broadway show, and the composers, the dancers, the actors, the musicians, everybody, they’re brilliant. They are not just out there randomly flopping around. They’re doing something really hard and really beautiful. And when you are doing something really, really hard for the sheer beauty of it, if you can keep yourself in the moment of having to learn to do better than you’ve ever done, money follows that.

Money follows it. The great artists I admire in all fields are creating because of something called the rage to master. It’s from child psychology. Little kids who know it’s time to learn to tie their shoes or whatever, they get into this thing where they’re like, they’re so frustrated that they can’t do it yet. And it’s called the rage to master. And it’s not alleviated by not trying anymore. You have to keep pushing until you learn it. Otherwise it can turn into dejection and depression. So when you feel, what I’d like you to do, all of you–because what I say matters (not!)–but this is what I’d love to see. If you take a thing that you love to do because it makes something beautiful in the world, whether that’s a poem, a song, a picture, a recipe, a flower, whatever it is, take that thing and try to make something more beautiful than you’ve ever made before.

Something that you just think is cooler than anything you’ve ever made before. So take whatever skill you love, find somebody who’s done it at a level that is unbelievable, that makes you just go, “I want to do that. I never could, but I want to.” And then push yourself as hard as you can to make something as cool as that. In the process of that, you will get so lost in creativity that people will see what you have done and they will go, “Oh my God, could I buy that?” And this is what keeps happening, has happened to me my whole life with anything I pursued for that reason–for the passion of the rage to master. Then people are like, “Could I buy that?” I’m like, “All right, well, who cares? I’m done with it.”

Do it for that reason. And you will walk the razor’s edge and then get a good finance person because you won’t want to be thinking about the money unless that’s your art. And I know people who where creating wealth is an art and they love it. If that’s your thing, teach the rest of us.

Okay, Cheryl says, “How do you tell the difference between those superpowers and the coping mechanisms we develop to survive trauma?” There’s no difference. They’re the same once the trauma is healed. So if you are stuck in trauma and you can’t find joy, then that’s something that needs to be addressed in a healing way. You need to have therapy. You need to have time and space to heal, you need to. But the process of that trauma, this is something you see Gina Chick go through on that Alone Australia show. She goes into her trauma and experiences it very, very, very deeply, and then out the other side, and it becomes beauty.

It becomes transcendence. More than anything else, the things we do to survive trauma, if we genuinely survive it and heal it and come through it, that’s what makes us holy. That’s what makes us sacred. And that is magic, magic, magic. And the people who have changed the world most and have the most beautiful stories are not the ones who’ve suffered least. They’re the ones who know how to go into the darkness and dispel it and come out shining. So if you’ve experienced a trauma, it’s not a matter of, “Oh, that’s too bad, but don’t give up.” No! You have a chance to be way ahead of the rest of us because the healing of trauma creates that beauty.

All right, City Lotus says, “Do you move that one photo behind you from place to place? Does that have a special meaning for you?”

I film a lot of different things. I’m doing a filming project now. That’s not a photograph behind me. It’s an oil painting. It’s a painting of my forest around my house. And I did it with transparent oil paint mixed with varnish in many, many layers because I wanted, I said to my daughter, one of my daughters who also draws, I said, “I don’t know why I’m using transparent paint oil. You’re supposed to use a lot of white. I can’t use white. I have to just do transparent layers of blue, red, yellow, and they shine through each other and whatever.” And she said, “Well, you’re trying to paint something.” It’s supposed to be a combination of the forest and a cathedral, and the light is the rosette of the cathedral, that window, the stained glass. And I said, “I don’t know why I can’t use white for it.” And she said, “Because you’re trying to paint something that is a non-thing. You’re trying to paint the divine, which is no thing, and it’s definitely not thick white paint. It’s the absence of everything but clarity.” I was like, okay. But Ro, who was dressing the set, put that behind me. Sometimes she does. I’ve been getting up every morning at six or seven and painting till 11, and I’m going nuts with the joy of it. It’s just crazy joy. But that painting just is there on the wall.

Jessica says, “Should we try to detect what real-life purpose our superpowers are supposed to serve or just wait until it’s revealed to us?” I think you make it for the joy of it, and that’s its purpose. Joy is its own excuse for being, and in the moment we think, but what am I trying to do that will be serviceable? That’s also thinking in terms of, oh, the world is broken and I have to come in as a rescuer. That’s very true from my perspective. But I think this new way of being requires that we create for the joy and beauty and love of it, and the joy is the purpose. And then, yeah, it serves the world. I really don’t think that a lot of the people who have changed the world, I think they were doing things for their own sake, and because they were doing something so purely for their own sake, they changed the world.

The Buddha was out to figure out how to not suffer anymore just for himself, and he changed the world permanently. And a lot of the other great mystics and artists have done the same. So do it for joy. Do it for the rage to master. It’s not always fun. It’s hard, but that’s part of the fun. And then let it serve the world. It’s none of your business. Your business is to find joy and creativity and then serving the world, that’s what the force does.

Monica says, “What do you do with anger and resentment from betraying yourself? You want to cry from saying yes to things not meant for you.” Oh, isn’t that awful? And just know that it’s a specific kind of trauma that you can get back by healing. So the first thing is start pulling away from the things that you don’t want to do. I’ve had to cancel some things that hurt some people’s feelings a little because I want to paint all the time.

There’s so much fire in my belly from the times I said yes when I shouldn’t have, that I treasure every moment that I get back. So you don’t need to be–you can be angry if you need to be, that’s part of the healing process. That’s part of the grieving process. But don’t get stuck in the anger. Use it as fuel. There’s a fabulous saying from a feminist author that says, “Our task is to turn the anger that is affliction into the anger that is determination to bring about change. Use your anger to say never again, and give yourself the gift of your superpower.” And you can cry. You can cry the whole time. It’s fine as long as you keep creating.

Tracy says, “When I inquire about my purpose, all I get back is to be, that my knowing or trying isn’t necessary. Does your purpose need to be known?”

No. Because ultimately what I believe, my personal belief is that we are all consciousness dressed in monkey suits. And that the real reason for our being here is the joy of consciousness creating in matter in these forms. And that consciousness, again, is its own excuse for being because it is made of love, because it is made of beauty, because it’s made of joy, and that is what we essentially are. So yeah, when we do that, there’s nothing left to do, but the force may decide to do a lot of things with us and it’s going to feel like fun.

Oh, I’ve got, let’s see. I just realized we haven’t done our meditation yet, but there are a couple more questions.

Dr. Donna says, “How can I find what I used to do for no reason as it feels culture has erased that. I can’t remember doing anything for no purpose.” That’s depression/trauma/stuck. That’s the stuck feeling we get when we haven’t healed from trauma. So address that, rest, heal, and wait for the joy to come back. It rises up when you do the things that are necessary to heal.

Ford Graylen says, “How can I harness my superpower in terms of finding my purpose in life?” I don’t know. Do it and see what your purpose is. I don’t think it can be harnessed. I think it can only be allowed. So allow it to play and see where it takes you. I have no answer for that, but the world does, the universe does.

Adrian says, “What’s the difference between, what’s the relationship between community and superpowers? I found my tribe professionally, but not for a sense of family or home. What’s up with that?” The more you go into your superpowers, the more they take you home and you’ll start to find the people who are meant to be with you. And I’m glad you found your tribe professionally. You’re a step closer. There are probably trauma things, trauma scars in your life of personal relationships that are getting in the way. So again, go and find a way to heal the wounds, but really, really enjoy the tribe you’re in professionally. And that joy, that creativity is going to bring in other people, just the way animals come to me. Your tribe will come to you.

And City Laura says, “How do you turn the range of frustration phase into motivation to complete a project?” And here’s what I do. I go look at the work of other great artists in every field. Going to a Broadway play gets me deciding to write a novel, gets me interested in– it motivates me to do things that have nothing to do with a Broadway play. I go online. I look at great artists in all kinds of media. I listen to Ted Talks by scientists who are doing incredible things. Let yourself be inspired by this thing that is happening in the world where people can go, by themselves, and because of communication media, create things that are seen by hundreds of millions of people because this is the way we transform our minds. And that is what makes culture. And so that is how we transform the way humans live on the planet.

So find your superpowers. You’ve got them. You have them, and you will know them because they will make you happy. And I’m going to stay a minute longer. I’m sorry if you have to run off, but I’m going to do our little meditation, and I’d like to dedicate this one to inviting your superpower to rise up and give you that feeling, that itch, that desire to go and play in creation. Because that’s how we change the world.

Okay, so get relaxed. Breathe out. And ask the question: Can I imagine the distance between my eyes? Can I imagine the space inside my forehead, between my forehead and my chin? Can I imagine the distance between the crown of my head and the base of my spine? Can I imagine the space inside my chest? Can I imagine the space that makes up most of the atoms of my heart? Can I imagine the stillness in which my heart is beating? Can I imagine the silence underneath the sound of my own heartbeat? Can I imagine the space and the silence and the stillness in my body, my whole body, and also the floor underneath me, the chair where I’m sitting, the bed where I’m lying down? Can I imagine the space in which all of this is hanging like a dewdrop on a spiderweb? Can I imagine this space full of joy and love and creativity? Can I allow that to be who I am and not what people see? Can I imagine all the others connected through the space in these bodies that are really clouds of energy in a huge field of energy? And can I find my superpower inside that buzzing, beautiful power that is all of us?

Ahh. Thank you for joining me here on The Gathering Room. It’s so good to speak with you, and it’s so good to feel you. Much love. Go have fun with your superpower, and I’ll see you next week on The Gathering Room. Bye!

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