On April 16, 2012 by Eden M. Kennedy

I am reading a Martha Beck book. I didn’t know who she was until recently, but it turns out that half the women I know are super into Martha Beck and her kooky, down-to-earth, life-coaching wisdom. I am digging Martha’s vibe, despite the fact that life coaching is not the kind of work I’ve ever taken seriously. I’ve met one life coach in real life and she was full of shit, unfortunately, and any time I’ve read about life coaches their stories make me nervous, i.e., they woke up one morning and realized it was their calling to get other people to pay exorbitant, ongoing sums to wake up and find their callings.

Be that as it may, I’ve loosened up and come to the conclusion that it’s probably like any other profession: some people are great at it and give the profession a good name, and the rest of the people who do it fall somewhere on the spectrum between GIFTED and IF THIS DOESN’T WORK OUT I’M GOING TO GO BACK TO MY BOOTH AT THE CRAFT FAIR. (No disrespect meant to the craft fair booth-dwellers among us; the world would be a sad, sock zombie-less place without you.)

So, in this book, Finding Your Own North Star, Martha Beck talks about the difference between your social self, which knows how to get by politely in the world and make you seem acceptable to the general public, and your essential self, which may or may not want to dance with wolves, play naked in a jug band, run a marathon backwards, or leave society altogether and live in a windowless yurt in Outer Mongolia, which I’ve heard is the most beautiful place on earth.

Martha’s idea about two selves coincides somewhat (somewhat) with what yoga has taught me, which is that we have five selves nested somewhat like Russian dolls, deeper and deeper within. Your outer doll-layer is your physical body, a.k.a. the food body (or the annamaya kosha), but beneath this is your energetic body (the pranamaya kosha) which is illuminated by the breath. Then comes your mental/emotional body (the manomaya kosha) which is what makes you feel like a distinct person from all the rest of us, and then within that you have the body of knowing (the vijnanamaya kosha) which is composed of your intellect and your five senses. Lastly and most subtly at the center of it all is the body of bliss (the anandamaya kosha) a.k.a. the causal body, or the soul, “the place of joy, peace, understanding, and union—the Seer itself.

Ideally, yoga can heal them all, but Martha seems to be focusing pretty much exclusively on the leap to bliss. I love her, but I’m not sure how she’s going to help me achieve it. She has some great quizzes in the book, and I’m only on chapter three, so I figure if I go for a two-pronged approach (one Martha Beck book + yoga three or four times a week) I’ll crack through the illusions caused by the poisonous seed of conditioned existence and start an online life coaching course by the end of the year.

No, but seriously. I have no idea what to do with all this information.



29 Responses to “Selvishness”

  • All the life coaches I’ve met are full of shit, too, which is really too bad because I could use the help.

  • I bought that book years ago but have never gotten around to reading it. I’ll have to dig it out. I really enjoy her columns in O magazine too.

  • You are hilarious!

  • Hmmm….feel similar about life coaching, but now intrigued by the idea of what my essential self would do if left to its own devices. Assuming non-responsible boss of everything isn’t an option.

  • Eden, I love you, but today I love Annika more.

  • This is very timely for me, as I’m craving some external direction. I’ve gotten pretty good at suppressing my gag reflex as far as these things go. I’ll check her out. :-)

  • This post makes me want to say creepy internet things like “OMG I love you” and “If we lived in the same town we would SO be best friends” & etc.

    I admit things like this now because I read Martha Beck’s column in O magazine a lot, plus the North Star book, so just be careful, is what I feel like I should say now.

    Quizzes, man.

  • I feel as though I ought to defend myself, or at least my profession. But it’s late at night where I am, and I browsed over here from my Google Reader not at all prepared to be informed that people who do what I do are full of shit. I’m somewhat taken aback.

    I’ll try not to take it personally. Because you’re right. Some life coaches ARE full of shit. You definitely shouldn’t hire them. (We’re people. And, to be fair, some people are just full of shit, no matter what they do for a living.) I’m glad you’ve loosened up, though, and spared the whole bunch of us your derision. And I’m glad you’re getting something useful from Ms. Beck.

    • I’m really sorry what I wrote made you feel defensive, Lisa. To be fair, I could have said the same thing about yoga teachers — I’ve met only a few truly insightful, inspiring ones and the rest are imitating the good ones and either they’ll stick with it and become amazing or they’ll end up jumping on whatever the next bandwagon is. I got all smirky on life coaches because to me, and my lack of experience with them, they’re a stranger breed.

  • I have to say, I think Martha Beck is full of cr@p, along with “life coaches” in general.

    But then, I aspire to be one of those craft fair booth-dwellers. ;-)

    I do believe that whatever works for a person is good, so if reading Beck’s book is inspiring for you, go for it.

  • If you figure it out, please let me know. Because I’m confused.

  • Knowledge and bliss aren’t about doing.

  • We all know what we SHOULD do, that’s easy. Finding the motivation to eat healthy, workout, have a great sex life, practice spiritual depth- whew. I’m going to go watch Facts of Life on TiVo.

  • I love it when you talk yoga! I especially love it when you link to TM’s blog! Thanks!

  • One of my very good friends is going through life coach training with MB right now, and I can tell you that she is AMAZING at it. She did some practice exercises with me and they were really useful. As you said with yoga – the really good people are priceless; they have an instinctual gift, and life coaching/yoga teaching/acupuncture/alt. med in general is just the vehicle that they use to bring it into the world. Reading the books is great, but it’s cerebral thing; being guided by someone through the types of things that are in the books is so much more effective – like when I see an article that breaks down asanas, but think, “I just want someone to tell it to me while I do it.”

  • Ha! My best friend keeps telling me *I* should become a Life Coach. Which must mean she thinks I’m full of shit. Because, sadly, yes, most of them are.

    Haven’t read this M. Beck book, but I like her others and I LOVE that she is a former Mormon, now fully out and proud lezbo. Whoohoo!

  • First-time commenter here. Ooh, this is scary.
    I actually discovered beck recently (no tv at my house) through her memoir-ish books. I prefer biography to self-help any day. Loved them- felt like I got to know from whence she came (but then maybe that was all fiction?-good storyteller, then.) plus I was fascinated with the whole Mormon mommy blog thing and her views/experience with Mormonism is soooo bizarre. Fell in love with her only to discover that she’s this big celebrity etc. Was crestfallen. I have her self-help books and sometimes find them useful but I really am trying to chart my own course…I’m a bit rebellious that way! Never liked assignments either so I try to walk that fine line, taking what I like and leaving the rest.

  • Well, you inspired me to download Light on Life, so that’s good [for me].

  • Hi, Eden, it’s Martha! And I frequently end sentences with exclamation points, even though I think this really does make it more likely I am full of shit! Wait! Let’s call it fertilizer! Just to set the record straight: I wake up each and every morning to find my brain chock-a-block with freaking fertilizer. My continuous effort to clean out my Aegean Stable of a psyche is the cornerstone of my life-coaching career. I tried to do something more impressive-sounding, such as smoking crack, but didn’t have the money. Anyway, THANK YOU for reading my book. I really mean it! Yes! Thank you!

  • HA! I was hanging on every deep word thinking “wow” we’re really going there this morning…and then WHACK/laugh. I’m reading Jung right now….same stuff really (kinda, isn’t it all?). And here I thought you were about to make sense of it all. Do the homework for me. Anyhow – Right….so what to do with all this “knowledge”???? Please make sense of it for us – will you? (and I totally agree…I worked for a life coach(s) eye roll)

  • I’m going to come out and say that “Finding Your Own North Star” is the best self-help book I’ve ever read. I love Martha’s way of describing the breaking down/rebuilding process we go through during our lives…I gotta say, it really made spoke to me as I looked back on the big ups-and-downs.

    I also love that she never takes herself too seriously. She’s got a great way of using humor and humility to lighten the “I am about to impart the secret of life.”

    I’ve made fun of life coaches for years. But I now have one, and she’s a true gift. She’s like my Jewish Grandma who helps me wade through all the conflicting internal dialogue along with very practical organizing and prioritizing help (and she cusses, which just CRACKS me up every time).

    I think it’s tricky — anyone can call him- or herself a life coach so there are plenty of kooks out there. But, as with therapists, when you need help and you find a good one, it can change your life.

    • I should clarify: I’m a cheapskate who rarely buys stuff for myself (the joke about packing for a trip is that I throw all my clothes into a suitcase and yell PACKED!). When insurance paid for a therapist I felt like “Hey, it’s medical” and “it’s just a co-pay.” But when I no longer needed that kind of help but still needed practical support, spending $ out-of-pocket was a big stretch…something I avoided for a long time b/c it felt so self-indulgent. I finally swallowed my pride and coughed up the $ and I’m so glad I did.

    • Asha! That’s what I like about Martha, too, that she takes the work seriously but she doesn’t take herself seriously.

  • I read the North Star book last fall right after I quit my soul-sucking job and before/during I took off for a 6 week hiking/wandering trip. The quizes and exercise were actually pretty helpful in terms of lessening the ohmygodwhathaveIdone feeling and giving some structure to my thoughts about what (and how) I wanted to do next. I’ve never been a fan of the self-help genre either, but I don’t know, something clicked with me for this one at that time. Will look forward to hearing more of your thoughts on this process. I found my notes from the quizes again last week, and felt like, yeah, I’ve made some good changes.

  • My basic view is that even shit can be fertilizer.

    You take it, sprinkle it on your world view, see what grows. Perhaps it all sinks in over time, creating a richer loam for…well, I’d say the self but I’m not sure there is a self.

    Or you put it on your blog.

    It all feels like it should be useful for something. Sometimes I think I should use all the stuff like this I hear to be kinder and more patient. Especially toward life coaches and self help books.

  • I always thought life coaches were full of shit too. But then I had a coach (albeit not a LIFE coach, more of a business-type-coach). She changed my life! It was rad. And I am absolutely positively not a coach kind of gal.

    In other news, I always think we are friends in real life when I read your blog. Curious.

  • All those yoga words made me want to order a curry. With a long name.

  • Glad you are back. You have some of my favorite opinions.