The amazing ups and downs of my life (settling into a new home, worrying more than I need to about my mom and her recovery) have slowed my progress, but I am still working through Martha Beck’s step-by-step self-help program, The Joy Diet.

I actually have kept up my daily dose of “Nothing,” as Beck calls any basic meditation practice, but only because she’s pointed out that one can quiet one’s mind while safely driving a car. Since the idea is to let one’s thoughts and emotions flow by without getting hung up on any of them, I find that my driving is actually more safe, not less so, when I’m trying to meditate. I’m not lost in a daydream, and I’m in the present moment, so I’m more alert to every bump in the road and sudden move from other drivers. Since I’m now back to living in my house, but visiting my mom’s every day to check on her, I feel better knowing that I’m spending my time wisely during the 45-minute drive each way.

I’m also getting quite used to menu item #2, “Truth,” a series of questions Beck suggests we ask ourselves after a meditation session. I haven’t had any more truly surprising revelations, like I did when I first tried the exercise. I think I’ve simply become more aware of my underlying thoughts and emotions, so this exercise comes as a gentle reminder now, rather than a slap in the face. I’m quite relieved to find that the process gets less scary as one gets used to it.

Now I’ve spent two weeks trying to wrap my mind around item #3, “Desire,” and I’ve been struggling with it. Beck’s book laid out the first two steps so clearly, but while chapter 3 gave her philosophy of desire, I felt less clear about what I was supposed to do with my desires on a day-to-day basis. Beck asserts that we can and should have everything we truly want. If we want something immoral or self-destructive or evil—for example, to punch our boss, to kill our ex, to leave our children, or to have another six or seven beers—that want is only a cover for a deeper desire that we think we can’t have. We really want love and respect from our boss and ex, and only want revenge because we feel we can’t get it; we really want peace of mind, not seven beers in one sitting; and so on. Our true desires always feel warm and safe, and are the best for ourselves and the world.

I can get on board with that philosophy. In fact, I believe that I have always known what I truly want out of life, and thinking of those dreams makes me feel great. I just don’t know how to get them, and don’t fully believe that I can.

Once I’ve come into contact with my true desires, though, I can’t see from The Joy Diet how to incorporate them into my daily practice. Instead, I’ve been practicing the “Cherishing” exercise from another of Beck’s books, Steering by Starlight. (Yes, I’m becoming quite the rabid Martha Beck fan.) This exercise simply involves imagining that one’s desired outcome has already happened. I already have that boyfriend, that business, that play. I’m already watching my mom smilingly waving her once-painful arm. Beck assures us that imagining every day makes our dreams more likely to come true. In any event, the exercise is fun. It feels good to have what I really want, even if, so far, it’s only in my imagination. I feel more confident, more hopeful. I’m ready for the next step.

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