I went to spend the day on Friday with wonderful Martha Beck. For those of you who don’t know her, she appears on Oprah as their life coach in residence and oddly was on Oprah on Friday when she was also live with me in St Ethelburga’s Church in Bishopsgate. Go figure. Martha is awesome but I don’t think even she has managed to be physically in two places at once yet! The day was organised by the fabulous team at Alternatives and provided a lovely day out for a coach.
I was a little bit late by my own standards and my friend Jane had got me a seat in the front row. Shock horror! I am strictly a back row kind of a girl and began the day well outside my comfort zone. The man in charge of the sound wanted to take one seat out of the front row and I kept volunteering loudly for it to be me, but somehow that didn’t happen. Immediately, even before Martha arrived to stand all day on my toenails, I met two chums (in addition to Jane) and St Ethelburga’s was wonderful. A tiny church which was bombed by the IRA and has now been re-opened as a place of peace and reconciliation but with all the best bits of the church re-instated, including a clock with a bell which clanged loudly on the hour, usually just when Martha had said something incredible, as if to add divine reinforcement from above.
Anyway the point of this story is to tell you that Martha wants me for a shaman, of course she does. I bet she says that to all the girls, but she feels quite strongly that she is called to save the planet. Not in a green way, I think, although I am sure she doesn’t rule that out, but Martha believes that anyone called to (life) coaching is what would have been called a Shaman in a previous life or another culture. And once she read out her definition, I couldn’t deny her.
The best known coaching book in Martha’s oeuvre is Follow Your Own North Star and lots of devotees of that book packed the church with well-thumbed copies of said book, thick with post-it notes. I must confess though I have enjoyed it on audio, I haven’t ever managed to read the book to the end. What I love most about Martha is her autobiographical writing, particularly Expecting Adam, and I took my copy with me hoping for an autograph whilst at the same time not being sure I could bring myself to be naff enough to ask. Suffice to say by coffee break I was getting out of my comfort zone for a second time already and queueing for an inscription.
The book is about the months leading up to the birth of Martha’s second child, Adam, who was diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome shortly before his birth and the extraordinarily spooky and life-changing tales of what happened to Martha, a three-times Harvard scholar, from the moment he was conceived until his birth and on into his early years. I love this book and wouldn’t let it out of my sight*. I was thrilled to hear that Adam is now 20 and Martha inscribed my copy thus “to Shaman Judith with much love from Martha and Adam”. I was chuffed to bits, she made my day and it was still only 11.30 in the morning and we’d barely got going.
Before lunch Martha taught us a little bit more about our shamanism, some aikido and threw in a bit of kinesiology too and then Jane and I tottered off down to Pret for a sandwich and a catch-up before an afternoon which increasingly filled me with emotion until Ms Beck ended with a poem which had me if not sobbing like a baby, then at least leaking tears like a small but happy waterfall. No-one wanted to go home, always the sign of a good day.
The poem also ends Martha’s book Steering By Starlight which I bought, obviously, as its rude not to at an event like that, and is part of a longer poem by Ben Okri. I have already instructed Marion to include this same excerpt at my funeral in the (unlikely) event that I pre-decease her.**
Live while you are alive…
Learn to be what you are in the seed of your spirit
Learn to free yourself from all things that have molded you
And which limit your secret and undiscovered road…
Never forget that love
Requires that you be
The greatest person you are capable of being,
Self-generating and strong and gentle-
Your own hero and star…
Be grateful for life as you live it,
And may a wonderful light
Always guide you along the unfolding road.
* Since writing this original post, I lent my autographed copy of Expecting Adam to a client and she lost it. I have let go of this now but reading this again, I am a little bit sad.
** I might want to review this funeral thing now, since six years have passed and much more inspirational material has passed under the bridge since then. Just so this isn’t taken as gospel in the event I make it to Heaven before I have a chance to review this decision with Marion.