Martha Beck

Another chance to get the message


About a week ago I hosted a walk in the park.  It was a perfect morning. The sky couldn’t have been more blue, with gorgeous puffy white clouds. The green of spring was deep and the sun was making everything sparkle.


And no one came.  I don’t know why – it may have been post-Jazz Fest quietness, it may have been odd timing, because this particular walk is usually well attended unless it’s raining or freezing.

However, there was no one.  There had been six, then five, then three, then two, and now none.  Some changes of plans, some last-minute cancellations.

I had no worries about it.  I actually started to get excited.  I exhaled.  A big relaxed sigh.  No one to introduce.  No agenda.  Nothing to do for anyone but me.  What a wonderful opportunity!  I began the most delicious most leisurely walk around the park that I had taken in a long time.  I didn’t need to do anything but what I wanted and that felt fantastic.

My angels almost always take care of me when I’ve over-scheduled myself.   And I gratefully accepted this gift.

A triplet of squirrels perched coyly atop cypress knees.  The last of the purple irises showed off their perfect blooms.


Crows and jays called across the treetops. Turtles plopped quickly into the water or sunned languorously on the fallen logs.  I’d seen it all before, but it was still glorious.

Then I made a big request.  I asked for an unusual animal with a message for me.  I didn’t have much hope- I’ve probably been to this park hundreds of times.  I’ve seen everything. I couldn’t imagine what could possibly appear to surprise me.

I was wrong. I walked over to the edge of the lagoon. And there, almost close enough for me to reach down and touch it, was a three-foot long spotted gar.  It rested in the dappled sunlight, in less than a foot of water, sitting as still as possible on the leafy bottom.  It took me a long time to notice its gills moving ever so slightly.  Otherwise, there was no way to even know it was alive.  All it was doing was breathing.


Me and the gar spent some time looking at each other.  Actually, I’m not sure if the gar noticed me or not.  I had trouble distinguishing its eye from the spattering of spots on its head.   I listened for its message, which to me seemed something like this: “All you have to do is be.  All this running around you humans do, it’s not necessary. It's a choice.  If you crave stillness, take it.  Do it.  Be still.  All is well.  Look how long I am still.  I have nowhere to rush to.  It’s always ok to relax.  Especially when it feels good and peaceful.”

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know this is the message I struggle to receive over and over, even though it’s what I desire.  I love to watch and listen.  To wait.  To perceive.  To notice.  I love it as much or more than creating or moving or doing.  There’s so much already created.  I like to slow down to appreciate it.  I could spend every day watching the sky and the leaves moving in the breeze.  Just breathing.  Andmy message from the gar was, "That's cool.  That's enough." 

I am so glad I could make time to bond with an ancient fish.  And that it what I did.  I made time.  I have time for anything I want to make time for.  I’m believing that more and more.  I just got a little help this time from the angels in clearing some space on my calendar!


If you need some permission to be still, take the message from my friend the spotted gar.  It’s been working for him and his species for 100 million years.  Step away from your screens and rest your eyes on something beautiful.  Grass, leaves, flowers, clouds, water, branches, rocks.  Just be. It's enough.


And if you’re local and want to learn more about how giving yourself quiet time in nature will provide you with the energy and creativity to do what you want in the rest of your life, come to my book chat – outside! – where we’ll discuss Martha Beck’s book Finding your Way in a Wild New World.   May 24.  Details here.  RSVP via the Meetup or contact me at

White horses and the power of intention

I just returned from a sublime week in California, wrapping up my Master Coach training with Martha Beck herself.  It was beyond special.  I've had difficulty figuring out how to describe the experience with words. There was a convergence of beauty and energy of place, people, horses and nature.  There was a collective intention to learn, love and share.  I am beyond honored to be called a Master Coach, and of course I'm still learning and always will be. While I was working on my application for the Master Coach program back in March, I created a super-quick vision board one morning.  It looked like this:

horse vision
horse vision

My favorite part of it was this woman draped in filmy orange fabric, a beautiful white horse behind her, its eyes peacefully closed.  This was my intention for the horse coaching that I knew would come at the end of our training.  At that point I just wanted to survive the horse coaching.  I didn't know too much about it except that you couldn't hide anything from a horse.  I had a crazy idea that the horses would gaze deep into my soul, find me wanting, and ignore me or run away.  So this image , which I gazed at for many months leading up to my horse experience, well, it was there to comfort me.  Maybe I would be like gauzy-dress-woman and a white horse would follow me.  Peaceful.  (I ignored the reality that the horse was probably blinking from the wind machine that had the model's hair going all crazy like that.)

So, the months went on.  I completed myriad assignments. I received helpful feedback.  I cried some.  I hid some.  I stepped out some.  I tried all kinds of crazy ideas.  I took some risks.  I did my best to be present and to show up.  And finally, the time came to show up in person at Martha's ranch.

I arrived just a little bit early with Erin, a fellow Master-Coach-to-be who was familiar with the ranch and the horses, as she's an expert Equus coach. (Thank you, Universe, for making those arrangements!)  We had time to go see the beautiful labyrinth, which meant walking through a fenced area with horses.  Two white horses!


So there I was.  Me and a white horse.  No boundaries between us.  Plenty of room for it to ignore me and stay far away, disappointed with my lack-luster soul.

Ah, but that's not what happened.  No.  This horse came right up to me.  Snuffled my face with his sweet velvety nose.  Exhaled his grassy breath onto my cheek.  (How had I never had that incredible experience before?)  We took a selfie together.  Erin said it appeared that he was very agreeably posing with me.


Wow.  We hadn't even gotten to the horse coaching day and my vision had come true, minus orange see-through dress and wind machine.

Now I see white horses everywhere.  I saw this beautiful one yesterday.


I bet he dresses up like a unicorn for Halloween!

I saw a spotted white and tan horse today, but didn't take a picture.  I'm seeing them everywhere, in catalogs, in paintings. Nearly every day, a white horse.  For now, they're talismans of what's possible, just like it said in the appropriately orange words I glued across gauzy-girl's waist.  "Think what's possible." So much is possible.  Me.  A master coach.  Hanging out for a weekend with Martha, Koelle, Jennifer, Bridgette.  And my wonderful Master Coach cohort. Learning.  Teaching.  Sharing.  Being.


So much is possible.

Vision boards help  me with my intentions.  They provide images for me to connect with, perhaps even on a subconscious level.  And they are so much fun! If you're in the New Orleans area and love vision boards and wigs and dancing, it's still not too late to sign up for WIGS and WIGS this Thursday, November 14.  Who knows what you might put on your board that may come true in the best way? Intention is a powerful tool.

And if you see a white horse, please say hello for me!

30 Day Challenge - Day 15 - lizards and monsters

This morning I was reminded of two scenarios having to do with fear. The first has to do with lizards and our inner critical voices.

Do you have an inner critic?  An inner fearful voice?  One that says helpful things like, "It's too late!", "Don't bother.", "You always were the messy one.", "Oh noooo!", "There's not enough.", "What will people think?", or the best one: "I have two words for you:  Bag lady."

Martha Beck says these voices come from a very primitive part of our brain designed to protect us and keep us alive.  This part of our brain was especially useful when our main foes were saber-toothed tigers, but it's not as helpful now that our stressors are a little more complex and don't tend to improve when we simply run away from them. Martha calls the part of our brain generating these thoughts the "lizard brain" because it's so ancient even lizards have it.  It's designed to send up alarm signals when it perceives any evidence of lack or attack.

We're always going to have input from our lizard brain - after all, it's there to protect us, so it thinks.  But we can learn not to listen to it.  Some people like to name their lizard - Mo or Shirley or Gertrude or whatever suits their fancy.  When they have a lizard thought, they say something like, "Thanks, Shirley.  I appreciate your input." , and then they can go on with their original plans, before their frightened lizard weighed in.  It's helpful to remember that the lizard voice is fear-based and listening to it can keep you from living life to the fullest.

The second scenario is about a monster.

Last night, I read a parable about a farmer who couldn't take care of his crops because of this giant monster living in the woods.  He built walls around his house and stayed away from the monster, but he was miserable and his crops were failing and his family left him.  A fairy godmother came along and told him he had to go find the monster and embrace it.  He was so scared to try it, but nothing else had worked, so finally he did.  He found the giant monster and once he put his arms around it, it shrank to the size of his palm.  You probably get the moral of the monster story.

So this morning I was sitting in the yard with the cat on my lap enjoying my ten minutes of grass time.  Suddenly, the tiniest lizard I've ever seen (a newborn green anole, I think!) hopped up onto my knee from the surrounding grass and sat there for a moment.  Thankfully the cat's eyes were closed and he missed the whole thing,  giving the lizard time to jump back into the grass.  Here's her photo with a pen in the background for size comparison:

and another one... such a cutie!

To put the two stories together, here, literally jumping into my lap, was a tiny lizard that I could hold in my hand.  Not a Komodo Dragon but a just-hatched baby!  It made me think of how important it is to keep stretching, keep facing my fears, keep trying things - keep hugging the monster so it gets small and pacifying my lizard so she doesn't try to derail my plans.  What strategies do you use to "hug the monster" or "calm the lizard"?

P.S. I did draw today.  My "paint by number" project will be revealed soon.  It's not done yet!  I also finally hugged the monster and took my ten minute paperwork time to have a good hard look at our finances- I'd been a little remiss lately.  And surprise, just as the monster story goes, there's nothing to fear. Things are really ok - better than ok - in the finance department.  And I'm excited to set some new financial goals and make it fun - the way I've done over and over for the past 12 years to allow us to live debt free, pay off our house, buy two new cars with cash over the last 10 years, and still live what feels like a very indulgent and pampered lifestyle.  More on that sometime soon, I promise! It's an easy system that involves little more than paying attention (that's true about healthy eating and time management too, lol!) and I love to show people how to do it! I'm thinking there's a course on the horizon about the indulgent path to financial security - that would be fun!  Now I've said it so I need to hug the monster and do it, right?


30 Day Challenge Day 8 - Black and White or Shades of Grey?

Say you skip a day accidentally or on purpose with something you've been meaning to stick to - a diet, an exercise plan, a 30 Day Challenge... What does your mind do?  Does it immediately go into Chicken Little "OH MY GOD!!! THE SKY IS FALLING!!!" mode?  Does it tell you you're a failure?  Does it tell you to go back to square one - to start over - that anything you did up to this point, no matter how many days in a row, DOES NOT COUNT because you missed a day?

That, my friends, is called black and white thinking.  And according to Martha Beck in The Four Day Win, it's one of the hallmarks of people who have trouble losing weight (or organizing their lives, managing their time, and taming their paper piles!)  It is however, curable, thank goodness.  It's all about recognizing those thoughts.  You just have to watch your cute little Chicken Little mind and tell it to calm down.  You've got this.  One slice of pie or missed yoga class or unattended junk mail stack is not going to bring you down.  You will keep going.  You will be fine.   You will teach your mind to see shades of grey.  All is definitely not lost.

So far I haven't missed a day.  I enjoyed grass time this morning with two cats.  I went through a stack of old photos (we used to get double prints back in the age of film, and that makes for a lot of pictures that really don't need to be saved), and I worked on my whimsical cardinal drawing.

Turns out that's where my thoughts needed looking at! Here's a selection:

"This isn't going to turn out very well." "You don't know what you're doing." "Oh NO!  You're going to wreck it!"  "Real artists would have a plan for this instead of just winging it."  "Are you going to POST that for people to see?  What will they THINK???" "Why didn't you just leave it?"  "OMG."

Oh yes - another hallmark of people who struggle with weight loss, or getting things done, or managing their time, or letting themselves try creative writing or painting, is being critical.  Especially self-critical.  It can really stop you in your tracks.

So I just listened politely to my Chicken Little brain and said, "Thanks so much for your input.  We have to let ourselves mess up.  We have to try things.  It's ok to play.  I don't have plans for a gallery show at the Louvre.  There's no such thing as messing this up - we really don't need to be attached to those cardinals!  We can draw more if we feel like it!  Relax and enjoy!  This is fun!  I'm curious to see how it will all turn out! This isn't a final piece - it is just for us - it's in a sketchbook for goodness sake!  We are playing!  La la la!  Breathe!"

Yes - there's all kinds of black and white thinking to watch for.  If your brain says anything with the word always or never - or even with a version of the verb "to be" - as in "I'm disorganized", "I'm not a good artist", "I'm too heavy"  -- it sounds permanent and it's a sign of black and white thinking or assuming that things that are one way will always be that way- assuming fixed conditions.  What if we replaced those thoughts with, "My desk contains some extra papers." "I learn a lot when I play with art supplies." or "Right now my body has some extra weight." These don't sound as permanent or like they're part of our being - they're just circumstances and they are subject to change. They're not fixed conditions. They offer us many shades of grey to play with.

Here's what's happening with my whimsical cardinals (I spent a lot of the 30 minutes today staring and thinking, and stalling - see above) And here's a view of the sky from my grass time spot:

What kinds of black and white thinking or fixed condition thinking do you find yourself needing to watch for?

P.S.  During the past 6 days of this challenge, I also read all three 50 Shades of Grey books.  I will admit that I was entertained.  And I had no idea the story was ultimately so sweet.  I was prepared for something more 9 1/2 weeks and it was more like Harlequin Romance with a little steamy and kinky thrown in.  And this blog post title is totally a gratuitous reference to the Shades of Grey phenomenon - no doubt! ;)

Tricky brain and grass time

Ok, it's been four days and I've been listening closely to what kinds of little bon mots my brain tosses out there while I'm trying to get things done, stick to my plan and do my work.  If you're just arriving at this post without the background, you might want to begin here: This is what I've been hearing.  Prepare yourself - it's not pretty:

"You know, there's too much to do.  Even if you worked all day, you'll never be done. And then you'll just be working all the time.  Yuck to that!"

"Being efficient is soul sucking.  It's only for boring people who don't have a rich inner life.  Too much neatness is sterile and the sign of an empty mind."

"It's too hard.  You don't have what it takes.  Give up."

"There are too many steps!  Aaaah!  We don't know what to do!"

"Oh, see - that didn't work.  You totally don't know anything about websites."

"Well- you missed doing your ten minute thing on the Fourth of July.  You'll never catch up now. Might as well just avoid everything for another week."

"Wait until Wednesday. Wait until Thursday. Wait until tomorrow. Wait until after lunch. Wait until tonight. Wait until Monday."

"Oh my god.  Look at that list of things you want to write/change/create/tweak.  It's a mile long.  You'll never get all that done in time."

"It's too late. Too late, I tell you!"


Ah, yes.  My helpful mind!  Despite its cries, I got some stuff done.  I stuck with my ten minutes per day of working on my last little pile (I doubled up today since I didn't do it yesterday.  It's smaller.  My space is in order, overall.

But, there's stuff on the list that I was really planning to work on.  It's bigger stuff, with multiple steps, and I avoided it.  Here's why.  Everything I've done so far to help myself be more productive is rational and ought to work, but it doesn't completely, just like when people try to lose weight with very reasonable rational diets, and their bodies freak out on them.  My brain is in rebellion mode.  Sabotage mode.  It doesn't trust that I'm not going to become an all work, no play kind of girl.  It remembers how tired we used to be when I was working all the time. It's panicked.  It's resisting any form of discipline.  And my body's not helping much either.  It just wants to sleep.  A lot.  Whether I go to bed early or late.

If my brain and body feel deprived by my time management and task organization "plan", they're going to fight me.  I need a new tool.  As Martha Beck says, I just need to get my brain and body to "join up" with me, much like a horse will follow the lead mare in its herd. And that won't happen when we're in "famine" mode, and all my brain sees are rules about how we're going to spend our time and what we "can't" do, making my body anxious, fidgety and just plain tired.

Because when I'm not relaxed about how my day's going to go, when I'm gritting my teeth or dreading what I've put on my to do list, I'm not particularly productive.  Sure, I can force it and just work anyway, but I'll pay later with that sense from my body and mind that I'm not to be trusted, that this isn't going well, and next time we might as well just go to sleep.

So, how do I get relaxed and get my body and mind to trust that all will be well - that we don't need to go into avoidance napping mode?  By giving them what they want- a safe place to not have to do anything.  I call it "grass time". Ten minutes of quiet out in the grass, with the cats if they happen to be around.  And a couple of mantras - these borrowed or adapted from from Martha Beck's Four Day Win:

"Everything is OK." "I don't have do do anything at all for the next ten minutes." "In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter what I get done today.  It's much more important to be kind than to check things off the to do list.  I'll start by being kind to myself." "If I never changed anything at all about how I get things done, the world would keep revolving." "It's OK to rest."

I'm looking for a relaxation response - a sense from my body and mind that all is well, with easy breathing, relaxed muscles, and a general sense of wellness and peace. Nearby cats always help!

And then, with that peaceful state of mind, I can get to work.

Give it a try and see if ten minutes of really doing nothing gives your body and mind a little more reason to trust you, and a little more interest in happily going about your day with you.