Q&A with life coach Martha Beck, whose new book is inspired by her SLO County home

Best-selling author, sociologist and life coach Martha Beck, who writes a monthly column for O, The Oprah Magazine, is the author of the new book “Diana, Herself: An Allegory of Awakening.” She lives in rural Arroyo Grande.
Best-selling author, sociologist and life coach Martha Beck, who writes a monthly column for O, The Oprah Magazine, is the author of the new book “Diana, Herself: An Allegory of Awakening.” She lives in rural Arroyo Grande. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Whenever she’s not working, New York Times best-selling author, life coach and columnist Martha Beck explores the great outdoors.

She spends hours meditating outside her Arroyo Grande home, her body sprinkled with bird seed to entice birds and chipmunks, tracking a sounder of wild boar across her property or wandering through the nearby Los Padres National Forest.

“Life is awesome,” Beck said recently.

Beck invites readers to reunite with nature in her new book “Diana, Herself: An Allegory of Awakening,” published April 25 by Cynosure Publishing. Although the book is being advertised as Beck’s first foray into fiction, the author said it’s actually an allegory — a parable whose plot reveals hidden meaning.

After losing her job as a sales clerk at a big-box store, former foster child Diana Archer goes to work for author, life coach and reality television star Roy Richards on his show “Conquest,” accompanying the charismatic hunk on his monthlong quest to survive California’s fictional Sierras Oscuras National Forest.

It’s there that Diana, suddenly separated from Roy with a strained ankle and limited supplies, embarks on her path toward self-empowerment with the help of a talking boar. She must complete a series of tasks that, among other things, teach her to calm her mind, release hurtful thoughts and self-deception, and seek out stillness.

“The minute you stop telling any lies whatsoever, it starts to be very obvious what things are good for you and what things aren’t good for you,” Beck said. “You start to seek some sort of … inner life. When that happens, you have the experience of blissful stillness.”

Beck hopes readers will find a similar path to peace through the book — the first in a series she’s dubbing “The Bewilderment Chronicles.”

The second book, “Maelstrom,” will deal with the awakening of the masculine consciousness, Beck said, while the third will seek to confront “the biggest crisis that humans have ever created — the literal, imminent destruction of our ability to support our own lives on the planet.”

The title of the series, she said, is a “great double-entendre,” implying both wildness and confusion.

“Allowing yourself to know less, to be bewildered … that’s the whole point,” Beck said.

Here’s an excerpt from The Tribune’s conversation with the author.

Q: What’s one book that changed your life?

A: The book that was most powerful for me was Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the (Chinese classic text) “Tao Te Ching.” … Instead of the idea that we have to work harder to be better in the future, Asian philosophy says you show up perfect and then your mind gets clouded. So you’re not working to add more. You unlearn and you drop pretense and you drop artifice and you drop your denial until you see clearly, and that’s what the light is.

Q: How do you get to that place?

A: You say “spirituality” in the West, people think religion. From an Asian perspective, it really just boils down to being quiet. … It’s a peace that’s so deep that you can go through grief and happiness and watch from this (place) your own grief and happiness without being affected by them. It’s a peace that’s so deep it’s unshakeable, and it feels like home. …

I’ve worked with sociopaths and active heroin addicts and prisoners, and I’ve never found a single person who didn’t agree deeply with the idea that their nature, their essential home, was to be in peace. It’s not an emotion. It’s not a physical sensation. It’s a bedrock identity. And I’ve never met a single soul who doesn’t have that same identity.

That actually is all I’ve ever been writing about. How do you go there and stay?

Q:Why is it so hard for people to grasp that concept?

A: All animals have a fight-or-flight response to danger. No animal that we know of has the human capacity to imagine danger when it is not present. So what happens is we experience a trauma or a danger and our mind says, “Watch out, that could happen again.” …

We are constantly trying to think our way out of problems or act our way out of problems because we remember things that hurt us in the past and we imagine things that may hurt us in the future — to the point where we can imagine a future so terrible that killing ourselves is actually preferable to continuing with this imagined future. …

The irony is, if the imagination is used in the service of joy or peace, it is phenomenally creative. Look at the stuff we have because of the human imagination. … But almost all of us use it to hurt ourselves.

Q: You describe “Diana, Herself,” as a psychography — a mental map of the author and/or reader. What do you mean?

A: Everybody has a Diana in them, a divine element that could wake up. Everybody has a boar, the self that is always gently encouraging and not afraid of death. And everyone has a (materialistic) Roy. … The part of us that is divine, that wants to awaken, experiences more and more joy the more we learn, and the part of us that wants to grasp a material existence … becomes more and more miserable.

Ultimately, all suffering longs to end itself and all joy longs to survive forever. And we always get what we long for.

Author, life coach and O magazine columnist Martha Beck offers an introduction to her life coach training program.