Above: The temptress
I recently read Martha Beck’s latest book, Diana, Herself. I was pulled into it in a way that reminded me of my girlhood – before I had adult responsibilities, when it didn’t occur to me that I needed to justify a whole afternoon lost in a book or make my reading pay by edifying me. My mom would yank open my bedroom door and say with exasperation, “I’ve been calling you for ten minutes! Didn’t you hear?” I would look up blinking and confused. No, I hadn’t.
When my copy of Diana, Herself arrived, I opened it. Three pages in, the first crisis befalls our heroine: she’s fired from her job.
Watching her, you’d have no idea she’s scrabbling desperately through her mind for any trace of hope, optimism, or courage. She comes up empty. It’s time for the Furies to rise up and fill Diana’s mind with their chorus of horror.
You know how the Furies work, beloved – you have you own. Every human does.
At this my heart began to race. I closed the cover firmly, pressed the book between the palms of my hands, and slowed my breathing. I knew this was a book I’d need to clear my schedule for.
Martha’s books touch me deeply. She has a way of sidling up to an insight, so I don’t see it coming. My breath catches and tears spring to my eyes. She embodies a unique mix of compassion, radical vulnerability, and silly, gentle humor that simultaneously awes me and draws me to her unafraid.
It was Martha who validated the compulsive reading habit of my youth. She says that anything we delighted in as children, before we were fully socialized, helps us to understand our essential self, the part of us that knows our right path. Avid readers understand story – plot, character, imagery, metaphor – and thus are well suited to help people understand their own story and become the heroes of their own lives; i.e., life coaches.
So it was fitting that Martha wrote a compulsively readable book. The second the kids were out the door for school, when I was supposed to sit down at my desk and work, I sat down in my big red chair instead and surrendered to the story of Diana. It is Martha’s first work of fiction, and it may be her best self-help book yet. We remember information better when it is embedded in story than when it stands bare in transactional prose. Also, Martha is a prolific generator of coaching tools and exercises, but this book pares her tools down to seven essential “tasks.”
Two days later I looked up, blinking, surrounded by used hankies, simultaneously devastated that it was over and thoroughly satisfied with the whole experience. My first thought was, “I want to do a book club on this.” Not only did I want an excuse to read it again, I wanted to experience it with others. I find that a group consciousness is greater than the sum of its parts.
But here’s the funny part. I didn’t do a book club on it. Or anyway I haven’t. Instead I have spent the past month trying to talk myself out of it. Why?
Can you guess, beloved? Do you know right away because you do it, too?
I tried to talk myself out of delight.
I finally noticed that I was doing it and – of course – did the Work on my thinking. I’ll share my process here so you can do it along with me. What are you drawn to that you resist because you believe it distracts you from More Important Things or because, like me, you were socialized to believe that adults must justify anything that feels like play?
Write your thought down and do the Work with me. My thought is, “A book club will be a distraction.”
Is it true? Yes. Obviously.
Can I be absolutely certain that’s true? No, I cannot be certain.
How do I react, what happens, when I believe that a book club will be a distraction? I see an image of my hand being slapped away from a cookie, shamed for my desire for a delicious thing. I feel tension in my forehead, heaviness in my body, and my stomach hurts. I see myself chained to my desk, surrounded by piles – too much to do.
Who would I be without that story? (I say “story” instead of “thought” here because we understand that stories are things we make up, whereas we tend to identify with our thoughts). Without that story I just do the thing that feels delightful. Immediately I feel movement of energy in my face and body, and my stomach unclenches. I recognize this as the feeling of truth.
Turn the thought around to the opposite: a Diana, Herself book club is not a distraction. What’s the evidence that this thought is as true or truer than the original? Well, I have absolutely none that it would be a distraction! I’m just going on faith that Important Things cannot also be fun. What a dour and obviously untrue belief! In fact, I love book clubs and have never once experienced one as a distraction.
Turn the thought around to the other: The Diana, Herself book club is an opportunity. Golly, that feels good. And why wouldn’t it be an opportunity – to hang out with like-minded friends and meet new ones; to connect more of my tribe to one another; to practice the tasks. I see that my entire history with Martha has been one of unfolding opportunities and life enhancements.
Turn the thought around to the self: My thinking is a distraction. Ha! Now that is the truth! How long have I been waffling on this? How much energy have I wasted arguing with myself? Only my thinking needs proof ahead of time that a thing will be “worth it.” And how is thinking’s track record? It gets me through the obstacle course of life, but I can’t think of any win of significance. Whereas my best decisions – from marrying Guy to having children to becoming a life coach – have all come from that feeling of knowing and delight that precedes thinking.
So guess what? Sing it with me, friends! I’m gonna do a book club! I am figuring out the details now and will share them soon. All I know for sure is it’s going to be fun.
And what about you? What did your Work teach you about the delight you have been trying to talk yourself out of? Share you story in the comments!