Going in and out of lockdown has been hard on Irish people, and while sales of self-help books are increasing, I find I’m repeatedly returning to the woman I’ve been connecting with for many years, America’s best-known life coach, Martha Beck.
Often called Oprah Winfrey’s Life Coach, Martha has written for O Magazine for 17 years and is the author of Steering by Starlight and Finding Your Own North Star. Since Covid19 she’s been sharing wisdom, tips, and encouragement on Facebook to get people through the Pandemic and she’s personally walked the walk when it comes to embracing fear and change; abandoning her Mormon religion, walking away from her marriage, and even her academic career; she has three Harvard degrees.
With a PHD in sociology she’s studied Chinese, lived in Asia, life coached from Africa, moved across America, and extricated herself from years of bad health by trusting her gut instinct. Her self-belief even extended to the very first time the world’s biggest media star, Oprah Winfrey, wanted to talk de-stressing tips, when Martha was going skiing.
“I’d made a commitment to always do what felt right, anything that brings you fully into yourself that makes you feel joy, so when the Oprah Show wanted me to cancel my trip and talk to Oprah it was the wrong thing to do, it wouldn’t have made me happy, it was as simple as that.” Instead, Oprah called Martha on the ski slopes for a chat. It was the start of the ‘Oprah’s Life Coach’ label.
“If there is anyone who doesn’t need a life coach; it’s Oprah Winfrey but I guess you could say I’m in her stable,” Martha laughs.
“I’ve talked to her many times and she’s always been lovely, the first article I wrote, the whole thing was about, is your life a prison, will you live free or die and she wrote me a really kind letter and said it was very much the way she thinks. The thing that I treasure about the friends that I have who are better known is they don’t compare themselves to other people, it’s more about the path, they’re all kind of on a mission, to move towards awakening.”
Martha’s truth is just as likely to be influenced by neuroscience, history or physics as much as her own life experiences. Eerily she predicted in her 2013 book, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World that, “something big was going to happen in the future to change the way humans interacted”, that the West’s iron cages of rationalism were becoming uninhabitable. “These days iron cages are collapsing, taking with them the jobs of many people. If you don’t break out of your cage there’s a tidal wave coming to do it for you,” she said.
“I suppose it was a kind of premonition. I’ve always felt something was going to happen in my lifetime and I was here to help. By the time I was in my twenties I decided it was a radical transformation in the way people think, literally the way the brain thinks, there would be a shift in consciousness.” Then came Covid19.
“Here came this one event that affected every single human within a few weeks and everyone knew about what was happening to everyone else, so even though the old system is clanking along, in people’s houses things are being rethought and people are rearranging their value systems and when people rearrange their value systems they behave differently and when people behave differently institutions change and when institutions change ultimately the entire sociological system may be reconfigured.”
These changes can start small, from people cycling to work or everybody planting flowers for bees, working from home or being part of movements like Black Lives Matter.
“It’s all coming together in a way that feels almost calculated. The generation that’s coming up they’re looking at a world that might end (ecologically). People know the world will fry if we don’t do something different.”
As a life-long student of Asian Philosophy, Martha knows falling apart isn’t something the sits well with Western Culture. “It goes back to monotheistic religions where you’re born imperfect and you’ve to strive to become perfect, this constant forward progress that doesn’t match reality, by far the majority of world cultures see everything as cyclical and they’ve psychological preparation for things to fall apart. It’s not considered catastrophe; it’s part of the natural cycle.”
“This Pandemic is forcing us to come to a reckoning, what are my chances of getting sick or dying? It’s making people examine their lives and ask what am I willing to risk, how are you going to divide the parts of your life you want to include and the parts you don’t want anymore, it’s taken us back to our biological roots where you realise how important the company of other human beings is, it transcends the need for money, for success, the things people get obsessed within Western culture, in ways, it’s brought us into a deeper reverence for human life in general.”
Martha also knows about Ireland’s recent love and loss of Fungie, the wild Dolphin.
“I loved Fungie, too, beauty leading to awe, these are things we can explore more during lockdown.”
Martha’s new book, The Way of Integrity to be published in spring 2021 builds on her ‘truth quest’.
“I’m looking at the way the brain changes when a person undergoes awakening. You see experiences like bliss, joy, happiness appearing along with brain differences, my book is based around Dante’s Divine Comedy but I actually think he was writing about enlightenment.”
Martha advises during this pandemic people might, "use whatever time you have to do whatever you liked to do as a child. I believe if you have five months or 50 years you don’t have a minute to waste, find a way to do what you love. Find a way to make this experience enriching. We are only here for a very brief time.”
“My whole life when I’ve tried hard to make money and support my family by normal cultural means it never worked but every time I did something that was targeted to my own awakening, whenever I move in that direction money came to me in ways I didn’t expect.”
She says this is the same for hundreds of clients she’s coached. “I don’t know how it works, it just does. Getting to your destination might have some difficult patches but the choice of destination should always be based on joy, if the destination isn’t right, you ultimately won’t make it.”
Martha is a veteran of tapping into the body’s signals for information; if something scares and excites you move towards it, if it scares you and you feel dread, move away. Animals that are scared shake and then move on with their lives, and even this simple physical method is something that can be used to dissipate fear in humans.
“Silencing thoughts and opening up to experiences of the body and emotions is the basis of all healings. It’s the only way we can feel the subtle cues telling us how to find our way through life. Beauty, presence, connection and nature, these are the things that make people happy.”