I stood in the Self-Help section of Barnes & Noble, staring at the shelves.
My eyes were still puffy from crying most of the night before, so I leaned toward the spines to read the titles. I had no idea what I was looking for, other than a miracle in the form of a book.
My “Rocky Balboa” eyes landed on Dr. Martha Beck’s Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming the Life You Were Meant to Live. When I pulled the paperback from the shelf, I felt a shiver of electricity course through me—something that had (up to that point in my life) only happened a couple times before when selecting a book meant for me.
I didn’t even open it to read the Table of Contents. I just walked to the checkout area and bought it.
To say the book changed my life is a vast understatement.
It launched me on an incredible journey of discovery and joy that I remain on today. Most importantly, it introduced me to Martha Beck, her incredible writing and coaching, as well as to her life coaching certification program (from which I graduated in 2008).
In the first chapter of her book, she introduces us to her Change Cycle as noted in the diagram below. For the purpose of this writing, I will only focus on Square 1 (we’ll save the other squares for another day).
First, let’s just grasp the simple beauty of this illustration, as it captures the highs and lows we experience when we experience change. Change can bring us to our knees, to the heights of joy, to some kind of maddening, stuck space, or to the yummy loftiness of creating and dreaming.
Now, on to Square 1. How do we get here? According to Martha, there is a catalytic event in our lives that sends us head first into Square 1. It could be an absolutely devastating event (death, loss of a job, a frightening diagnosis, divorce, financial ruin, etc.), or something truly wonderful (making a huge move, landing your dream job, getting married, etc.).
We find ourselves in the space of not knowing what the hell is going on, and it feels like we (and everything in our lives) are dissolving. It is a time when you need to treat yourself like a newborn baby—giving yourself tons of loving care, space, and time to grieve, rest, and recover. If you find yourself in Square 1 due to a negative catalytic event, it can be very painful, deeply sad, and an enormously disorienting place to be.
Sounds super fun, right?
Most of us try to get the heck out of Square 1 as fast as possible because it feels like you are burning alive. Who wants to feel all that agony? Certainly not me, and I can attest I used to flee as fast as possible out of the fire. I had some clever ways to do this: denial, over work, distracting myself with over doing, and not taking care of myself. I was smugly “safe,” and I was completely disconnected from myself.
I learned that I could not selectively disconnect—it was an all or nothing game. So, when in disconnect mode, I was also, painfully, disconnected from my creativity and my heart.
So, let’s travel back to the flames of Square 1 and see it for the grand opportunity it truly is.
There you are, sitting on the living room floor, with the tattered remains of your former life around you. OK, yes, not your favorite thing. But, guess what? From there on the floor, you are in an energetic and emotional state that is perfectly ripe for receiving some pretty powerful insights and divine downloads. From that place and space of despair and doubt, there is room for something you never dreamed possible to land in your mind and in your life.
In fact, Square 1 is a veritable petri dish of possibility!
You are now in “What If?” mode because, let’s face it, you don’t really have much to lose from here. This signals the Muse in powerful ways, and if you can release your attachment to how bad you are feeling for a few moments, she will come and land on your shoulder with ingenious ideas and clear connection to supremely juicy and innovative thinking. Keep your journal handy, because the torrent may catch you unaware and unprepared, and you do not want to miss the smallest of tidbits.
Each whirling aspect of this on-fire creativity will give you clues for what is next. And on some day in the not-too-distant future, you will find yourself in the dreamy Square 2, where you will begin fleshing out all the ideas in detail and embark upon deeper dreaming up what can be.
Don’t succumb to the desire to rush out of Square 1 too quickly. Give yourself ample time to fully dissolve out of your former self and begin the process of transformation. There is a special alchemy that happens in Square 1 that lays the foundation for what you will later refer to as one of the most revered aspects of your life.
Square 1 is Beginner’s Mind—a blank canvas, onto which you can paint your wildest dreams. Contained within its dark crevices is the energy that creates worlds and new lives—meant just for you.
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