Martha Beck shares her four-step process to get your life back on track. Stillness, truth, desire, trust...what area of your life do you need to work on the most? Take Martha's quiz!
Step One: Get Still
Why Become Still?
In Oprah once emphasized the importance of seeking inner stillness as the key factor for "hearing" our best lives calling to us. Of course, if we can't get still, our lives still communicate with us, but they often have to shout with such deafening voices that we can't ignore them. Our true selves are always whispering instructions about what we should do next, whether that's changing the world or just changing our attitudes. If we're still enough to hear our own inner voices at this subtle, almost silent level, we tend to choose the course through life that feels most blessed and least traumatic.
Obstacles to Getting Still
If you've recently suffered pain, loss or great confusion, becoming still may feel threatening. Many of us sustain a high level of mental "noise" so that we won't fully experience the difficult emotions of fear, anger or sadness. Getting still requires being willing to experience these feelings without doing anything in the short run. You don't have to do anything in the stillness except fully acknowledge what you are feeling, without judgment. You'll find that if you can sit still with strong emotion for just a few minutes, even the worst emotional pain rises, crests, breaks and recedes like a wave on the surf. Staying mentally and physically still as we watch this process gives us the experience and courage to face whatever our lives may bring. Here's how to get still, if you're unfamiliar with the process.
How to Get Still
Fortunately, stillness is not a feat of mental discipline available only to meditation masters. It begins with concrete, physical behavior. The first is simply to sit or lie down without moving; the second is to breathe. This is so simple (though not always easy) that it's hard to believe how central it is to inner peace and the ability to navigate safely through life. Neuroscientists now know that breathing patterns change our brain states, allowing us to create—simply by inhaling and exhaling—the calm and peace necessary to survive difficult circumstances.
Try this now: Sit with your spine as straight as possible. Imagine that you're suspended from a string attached to the crown of your head; then picture that string dropping down through your spinal column as a thin, bright beam of light. Keep your back and neck aligned so the light finds its way through the core of your spinal column.
Next, breathe in so deeply that your entire torso expands outward. Fill your lungs, but also drop your diaphragm so that your belly expands (you can suck in your gut again as soon as the exercise is over). Completely empty your body of air when you exhale, then watch your body spontaneously decide when and how fast to inhale again. Continue to watch this process until you realize that you are not so much breathing as "being breathed." Your body knows its right pattern of oxygenation—you don't have to figure it out or do anything to make it happen.
Watch your body breathe seven or eight times, allowing yourself to observe any emotion or thought that comes to mind, without trying to stop it. You'll soon see that the mind thinks the way the lungs breathe—on its own. As you notice this, you will have achieved a measure of distance from both body and mind. You will be in the still place at the center of consciousness from which your true self is always whispering to you. Martha Beck shares her four-step process to get your life back on track. Stillness, truth, desire, trust...what area of your life do you need to work on the most? Take Martha's quiz!
Step Two: Know The Truth
What Does "Know the Truth" Mean?
This step doesn't require that you achieve some philosophical epiphany about All Truth Everywhere. It simply means that you must be able to consciously acknowledge what is happening to you, and what is happening within you—your life circumstances and the thoughts and feelings you have that relate to those life circumstances.
There are many aspects of the truth we hide from ourselves, because they would make us uncomfortable or necessitate change. Hidden truth actually cements negative situations in place. At the moment we finally own our truth, almost miraculously, positive change begins. The truth really does set us free. That's why an alcoholic begins recovery the moment he or she says, "I'm an alcoholic." It's also why your life can only begin to work well if you acknowledge that some of your efforts are failing, or that you simply don't feel good about them.
Obstacles to Knowing the Truth
It's peculiar that we can hide from truths we already know, yet we do it every day. You may tell others you feel "fine" (in fact, you may think it's true), when you're actually tired, sad or angry. You may pretend to be comfortable in an uncomfortable situation in order to make social interactions run more smoothly. Or you may "go blind" to someone's immoral or cruel behavior because you desperately want to believe that person is wholly good. Most of all, you may hide from the truth because once it's out in the open, it will cause your life to change. That's always scary—but spoken truths always cause change that is positive in the long run, even if it's frightening at first. Opening up about your anger toward someone who abused you, about your fear of aging, about the fact that your child is an addict, etc., etc., is the only way to conquer fear and begin healing everything that may be wounded in your life.
How to Know the Truth
Once you've reached a place of inner stillness, get a pencil and paper and finish these statements:
What I really don't want to know is that...
I'm avoiding looking at the fact that...
The absolute bottom-line truth about my life is...
The thing I'm avoiding thinking about is...
If you have no unexamined thoughts, this won't be difficult; you may find only that your sweater is too scratchy or that your father's jokes are boring. But if you've suffered any of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, you may find anger, fear or grief rising into consciousness as you dig up the raw truth. Don't be afraid of the feelings or thoughts that emerge—remain in stillness and they will soon lessen. Remember, you don't have to do anything right now, you just have to see the truth of your life with an unsparingly honest eye. Martha Beck shares her four-step process to get your life back on track. Stillness, truth, desire, trust...what area of your life do you need to work on the most? Take Martha's quiz!
Step Three: Feel Your Soul's Desires
Why is Knowing the Soul's Desires So Important?
Many people go through life unwittingly expecting other people to figure out what makes them happy, and then give it to them (anyone who's raised a baby knows that this is actually how we must care for our infants, and in some cases, the infant mentality never leaves). The problem is that others aren't mind readers, and even if they were, they could never fulfill your desires until you become fully aware of them. Again, many of us aren't aware of exactly what we want—we feel a vague sense of lack or jealousy about others' good fortune, or a kind of inner void that aches to be filled.
All of these symptoms are indicators that it's time to clarify and specify our soul's desires. My belief is that we already know these desires, and that recognizing them requires only one thing: We must stop listening so obsessively to our minds.
Obstacles to Knowing the Soul's Desires
The biggest obstacle to a recognition of our soul's desires is the mind. Our minds are conditioned to think in narrow little patterns, usually established by our families and our culture. The soul tells us what we want and need, while the mind tells us what we think we want and need.
The soul knows, "I want freedom from worry," and the mind thinks, "I want to win the lottery." The soul knows, "I want to feel connected with all things," and the mind translates that to, "I need the perfect romantic soul mate to make me feel connected." The soul is always right. The mind is usually wrong. In stillness and truth, we can tell which is which. The truth of the soul resonates with a deep sense of passion and conviction. The mind's desires feel frantic, clinging and grasping. Any hint of these desperate emotions is evidence that you're stuck on your mind's desires. Breathe deeply, let them go and dig deeper to find your soul's desires. Here's one useful method:
How to Know Your Soul's Desires
Get another piece of paper and write at the top, "Things I want." Then, list as many things as you can think of—a new car, a better job, thinner thighs, whatever. When you've listed everything you can think of, turn to a new page.
At the top of this page, write, "Things I yearn for." Then, start listing. You'll find yourself coming up with things that didn't appear on your first list, which was made mostly by your mind. We want cars—we yearn for freedom and mobility. We want hot sex—we yearn for intimacy. We want to be beautiful—we yearn for total self-acceptance. As you list the things your soul yearns for, let go of the need to figure out how they might be fulfilled. Your methods will probably not work (cars, sex and beauty don't automatically lead to freedom, intimacy and self-acceptance). Allow yourself to be okay with not knowing, for the present moment, how the universe intends to fulfill your soul's desires. The more you let go of the process, the sooner it will happen. And it will happen. Martha Beck shares her four-step process to get your life back on track. Stillness, truth, desire, trust...what area of your life do you need to work on the most? Take Martha's quiz!
Step Four: Trust Your Life To Unfold Perfectly
Why Trust Is Crucial
The way to let go of your soul's desires, to achieve nonattachment, is not to go into "martyr mode" and expect a life of blunted appetites or unmet needs. Letting go is the natural result of trust—trust that the Force, or God, or whatever you want to call it, fulfills its own nature by answering your soul's requests, once you have articulated them. To sit patiently with a yearning that has not yet been fulfilled, and to trust that, that fulfillment will come, is quite possibly one of the most powerful "magic skills" that human beings are capable of. It has been noted by almost every ancient wisdom tradition. If you can master it, you'll see your soul's desires being filled in ways that are often amazing, and sometimes flat-out miraculous.
Obstacles to Trust
One morning during the Miraval Spa contest-winners' retreat, I knew all the women had received certificates telling them to come get a free outfit from New Balance. When I asked them how they liked their new outfits, I discovered that every woman in the room had thrown away the gift voucher, because they assumed they would be charged for the clothes.
This became a touchstone experience for me, one I've thought about a thousand times since. Here the universe (in the form of a generous company) was trying to give these women a beautiful, free gift, and they were turning away from it without even knowing it was being offered because of their assumption that it would cost too much. If they had trusted their own eyes, they would have seen that the outfit was a gift. Instead, they trusted their pain, their disappointment, their hard-knock lessons that life is difficult and nothing's free. We all have many such experiences. We take away assumptions that all of life is painful, and that we can expect the same bad treatment from the world we may have experienced in limited situations during our childhoods or difficult adult years.
How to Trust The inability to open up to hope is what blocks trust, and blocked trust is the reason for blighted dreams. Begin to hope again, then trust that your soul's desires are meant to be fulfilled.
You can start this with something small as an experiment. Choose a soul's desire that seems modest, like the desire to smell flowers or hear music. Make sure you identify something that's really coming from your core, but make it something fairly modest. Then, deliberately choose to trust that your wish will be fulfilled. Feel so sure of it that you don't even need the outcome, because you feel as if you already have it. Then watch and see. Be open to all ways in which your answer may come. Your trust will be rewarded.
I'm confident saying this because I've worked with thousands of clients over the years, and I've seen how trust works. It may mean an unexpected visit from a loved one, a chance to relax and have a quiet cup of tea, an opportunity to start your own business, the gradual unfolding of a childhood ambition.
A final exercise: Right now, make a list of every desire of your soul that has been fulfilled in the past. Then, taking each fulfilled wish one by one, recall the coincidences, strokes of "luck," generosity from other people or inspired ideas that helped you fulfill that desire. You'll find that your life has already been a linked chain of miraculous delights. And you have many, many more chains to come.
Stillness...Truth...Desire...Trust...what area of your life do you need to work on the most? Take Martha's quiz!