Do you ever spend any time wondering why it is that you were born? I mean besides the obvious that your parents got together one time and got lucky? And I’m not really talking about spending a great deal of time and energy on the question, I’m instead questioning the thought behind the thought that might occasionally pop in your head. Things like have you ever wondered, is this all there is? Or what about considering that surely life is about more than just growing up, getting a job, paying bills, procreating and then hopefully retiring with enough money to enjoy some free time before we die?
Well this week I rediscovered an author I have enjoyed in the past named Martha Beck and she has a lot to say about following our life’s purpose. But she isn’t really talking about “what do you want to be when you grow up”—any more than she’s talking about “what do you want to do when you retire?” Instead she is talking about finding and then following your ongoing life path, regardless of your age.
In case you are unfamiliar with her work, Martha Beck is an author of soon to be ten books, an impressive three degrees from Harvard University, a mother of three children and considered the very first Life Coach in the country. One of the things that makes her most interesting is that people began calling her a life coach before it was even a “thing.” She herself isn’t crazy about the label—but because she’s come to be the leading life coach and trainer to thousands of other life coaches, she stuck with it.
But it isn’t her celebrity that makes her such a great teacher. It is her simple but personal approach to encouraging us to be true to ourselves. By using her own path of self-discovery mixed with her scientific background, she provides deep insight into every topic she pursues. Perhaps that is why I found her explanation of how these five paths can lead us all down the path to our true selves.
What are they?
#1 The broken path. According to Beck we all start out completely aligned and connected to our natural selves, but quickly become conditioned to our environment. Most of us quickly fall in step and try to fit the expectations of those around us—our parents, our teachers, our family. And if we feel any desire to be other than what they want us to be—we feel ashamed and usually start thinking that something must be wrong with us. Beck believes that in order to move past that “primal shame” we need two things: Self-acceptance and self-compassion. How do we heal our broken path? We learn to be completely okay with who we are. If you have been following my writing you know I’m doing my best to become aware of any place I’ve become broken and to leave it behind.
#2 The mended path. If a person is able to heal their broken path, they usually find themselves on a mended path. There is a great deal of “gold” in this path (think of the gold used to mend broken bowls in Japanese Culture.) In fact, people who have gone through hell and back often find that they have purpose in helping others overcome what they have recovered from. By healing yourself and then teaching others what you’ve learned, you find purpose in giving. And while that offers a profound purpose for a while, it usually runs its course and gives way to another.
As for my “mended path” I sometimes believe that because I haven’t had some huge overcoming like other authors (addiction, trauma, abuse, etc.) , that my example and story isn’t that powerful. Is that some of my primal shame? But Beck insists we all have a unique path to share with others.
#3 The path of fascination. Beck says, “Most of us have spent our entire lives thinking there is virtue in forcing ourselves to pay attention to things that don’t interest us.” That happens at home, at school, at church, at work, etc. And because we tend to numb what we are really guided to do; we often don’t find or see anything fascinating in ourselves or the world. However, Beck believes that we were each born to be interested in certain things and if we start to notice those things, narrow our focus on them and then name them, they become more predominent. She goes on to explain how this path actually led her to becoming a life coach when it wasn’t even a “thing.” She started with 1) curiosity about something; then 2) allowed her courage to tamp down her primal shame about what she felt called to do. Remember, if you are following your own path of fascination you can’t follow or mimic anyone else.
Thinking back I realized that my path of fascination has certainly led me to be a writer. I had little or no training, didn’t know a soul who was a writer, had no clue how to get started and had plenty of primal shame about doing it (still do sometimes). Yet I kept following that fascination and here I am.
#4 The path of mystery. If you allow yourself to follow your path of fascination you will eventually be guided to your path of mystery. This is a path where your intuition and serendipity will step in and lead you in different directions previously unimagined. How do you trigger it? Beck recommends you connect with your body in a deep way and trust the guidance that it gives us all the time—if we become attuned to it. How do you know if you are doing that? Make choices that lead you to find peace, joy and relaxation in the action, as you try to do what you believe you need to do. When there is relaxation and aliveness in the body, then your intuition is leading you on the path of mystery.
While I know that much of my life has been guided by the mystery, I also know that I have a long way to go with this path. My focus lately has been getting out of my head and tuning in and listening to what my body is attempting to tell me. Beck is big into body wisdom and with her encouragement I hope to improve.
#5 The path of truth. Although Beck admits that “truth” can mean many things to many people, she believes it relates to the true nature of All things. We find this path once we lose the falseness of acculturation. It is the space where things begin to work naturally—and we begin to live naturally. This path is all about being completely truthful with how our actions and thoughts line up in every instance of our lives. Something Beck says repeatedly, “Know what you really know, feel what you really feel, say what you mean.”
I’m guessing most of us want to believe that we are on the path of truth, but chances are good that we struggle with denial or numbing ourselves far more than we let on. According to Beck unless we are living completely, yes completely, in integrity and authenticity with ourselves and everyone else, we’re not yet on that path of truth. How do we know if we’re not? If there is tension, upset, fear or any negative emotion in our body at any time, that’s a sign we are off of the path of truth. And yeah, I’m obviously a work in progress!
What I find most refreshing about these paths to our purpose is that they don’t fit into what most people think of “purpose” at all. In fact, I don’t think we can even name “purpose” as a definitive description at all. Instead, I suspect deep inside that we each have a purpose that is more about living the journey as a unique expression of the Universe with as much peace, sense of truth, and aliveness as possible—rather than reaching any kind of destination or obtaining any particular designation. From there it doesn’t matter what we do, it is all about the why and intention behind the action.
So be retired! Why not? Be a life coach! Why not? Why not sing, dance, plant a garden, write poems, climb mountains? Does it even matter how we label ourselves—or whether it fits with what others find valuable? Forget anyone else’s approval and if you are worried about whether it will make you any money at all—that is a sure sign of acculturation. Another guiding truth that Beck says repeatedly is, “Everything I’ve ever taught in terms of self-help boils down to this — I cannot believe people keep paying me to say this — if something feels really good for you, you might want to do it. And if it feels really horrible, you might want to consider not doing it.”
I have come to believe that each of us was born to be a unique expression of the Universe during this time and place. Are we special? Only if every other person is too. And because we each have unique talents and gifts to share with the world, perhaps our only purpose then is to find the honesty to discover and then courageously share those gifts with the world as much as possible. It is fairly clear to me that our paths are never done until it’s time to leave this planet, so it’s likely that the SMART direction is the one that leads deep within.