Four months ago, freelance writer Dixie Laite, 55, longed for a higher purpose than binge-watching Law & Order. Why wasn't destiny calling—had it lost her number? Then, in stepped Martha Beck. Over a few sessions with our resident life coach, Dixie has made great strides: She's worked on thinking less and focusing more on her physical sensations, cultivating self-compassion and paying attention to what brings her joy.

Last month Dixie told Martha about her idea for a blog called Dame Town, where she'd write about "old-fashioned dame heroes" and her own experiences. The hitch? She couldn't actually get going. Martha recommended starting small. "You're an animal, and your motivational system works the way an animal's system works," she said, advising Dixie to train herself the way you'd train a killer whale, setting tiny goals and giving plenty of treats. Every morning she'll write for only ten minutes, then stop and give herself a reward; eventually, Martha assured her, she'll be begging to do more. Let's drop in to see whether Dixie's been jumping through her hoops.

Martha Beck: I can't believe this is the end of our time together! I miss you already. How are you these days?

Dixie Laite: Okay, first the good stuff: I'm blogging. People have already been sharing my posts on Facebook and giving me positive feedback. But I can't lie; I didn't do my writing every single morning. Sometimes I'd feel depressed or sleepy, and I'd skip it. But there were also days when I'd say, "I can do anything for ten minutes." Once I started, I'd get so into it that I couldn't make myself stop—even though I know you told me to.

Above: In her walk-in closet (formerly a kitchen), she channels her own inner dame.
Photo: Jill Slater

MB: What matters to me is that you did something that made you happy. I want you to notice how that feels in your body. Next time you're caught up in your writing, register the physical sensations you're experiencing, whether it's a warmth in your chest or an exhilarated tingliness. Keep looking for even the smallest things that evoke those feelings, and you'll be on the right track. That really is good stuff! So what's not working as well?

DL: I'm still unhappy about the weight I've gained since menopause, and that makes it hard to put photos of myself on the blog. I know nobody cares, but I do.

MB: We always think a change in circumstances will transform the way we feel, but it's our feelings that change our circumstances. What if you just started acting as if you thought you were beautiful? Confidence issues can be a self-fulfilling prophecy: When you feel insecure, you withdraw; the world picks up on that energy and leaves you alone, which keeps you in obscurity. One way to break the cycle is just to put yourself out there and say, "This is who I am." It's been my experience with clients that a little fake-it-till-you-make-it will not only alter the way people perceive you, it may also give you the confidence to make other changes that wind up helping you with your weight.

DL: I have a Jekyll and Hyde thing happening. I don't feel beautiful, but I also think, Why can't everyone just wise up and love me the way they should? What's wrong with them?

MB: That's because part of you is connecting to a deeper truth. This reminds me of something that happened when I was starting to learn about horses. Do you think horses are beautiful?

DL: Of course. I'm not crazy.

MB: Exactly! But when I went out looking at horses with an expert, he pointed at one and said, "She's so ugly." I was like, "What?" And he said, "Her cheekbones are all wrong, and her ears go funny." I was dumbfounded. All horses are beautiful! They just are. The deepest part of us knows that every manifestation of consciousness is beautiful. But that's not what we see when we look at ourselves. Like that horse guy, we know how things are "supposed to be," which robs us of the beauty that is genuinely present. If you can reawaken to the beauty that is genuinely present in you—which is what happens when you think, What's wrong with people who don't think I'm beautiful?—you're actually reconnecting with truth, which is going to free you.

DL: I do believe that as I get older, I lose some assets but gain new ones. If you stop caring about the way you look all the time and focus instead on supporting others, you become more interested and interesting. And more valuable and beautiful to other people.

MB: When you look back at your life and what really mattered, those moments of insight are what you'll be thinking about. It won't be how successful your blog became or anything else that happened. You'll think, When I made that shift, that was the most important thing I ever did.

DL: Can I ask you about another of my obstacles?

MB: Of course.

DL: Sometimes I get really upset about the terrible things that happen in the world. As I've told you, I love animals. If I happen to read a story about suffering animals, the sadness overwhelms me. I don't think it's crazy to feel bad, but I can't stop feeling bad. I get very depressed.

MB: I think suffering is often a steering mechanism. Witnessing others' pain can lead us to challenge our views of the world, which is how positive change occurs. There's a vast intelligence working through you, and maybe this empathy you feel for animals indicates that you can help them in some way. One day you may realize this is what you're meant to do. But your first mission is to alleviate your own suffering. That means letting go, bit by bit, of your fixed beliefs about what you should do or be, and seek things that feel true for you. That's how you'll come in to who you really are.

DL: I've always been extremely politically opinionated, and I used to think of it as a fault. But maybe that can be a strength. It's like shopping your own closet—people think they'll feel better if they get new clothes, but instead of buying something, they could just take a fresh look at what they have.

MB: As you start to think this way, can you feel your life opening up? I've been paying attention to little else for years now, so I feel it pretty quickly when people get to this point, sometimes before they even realize it. To me, it's as tangible as if you put out your hand and I grabbed it. You're a quick study, Dixie.

DL: I know I haven't been good about doing all my homework, but I've taken everything you've said very seriously and thought about it a lot.

MB: I'm excited for you, because if you can hold this energy, you will continue to get results, and the more results you see, the more motivated you'll be. It's a self-reinforcing cycle of success. At a certain point, you'll start to experience what's called "pronoia."

DL: As opposed to paranoia?

MB: Yes! You switch from paranoia, the feeling that everything is against you, to pronoia—the haunting suspicion that everything is conspiring on your behalf. It's like having an exponential growth spurt. Suddenly things are going to work much, much better.

DL: You're one-hundred-percent right that it's hard for me to get out of my head and trust my gut intelligence. I'm going to do it, though, and not just so I can be whoever God and the universe want me to be. I also want to make you proud.

MB: I already am.

Photo: Jill Slater
Words to Live By
Dixie strives to follow these rules for "Spiritual Discipline," an antiques-fair find.

1. Never respond to devil-minded people's remarks or statements.
2. Let your spirit control your mind, which controls your body.
3. Think real good before answering questions and doing things.
4. Never get angry.
5. Be a peaceful and loving spirit.
6. Listen very closely to people.
7. Trust in God with all your spirit (and lean not to your own understanding).
8. Always be kind, and never turn to hate.

Martha Beck is the author of, most recently, Diana, Herself: An Allegory of Awakening.


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