Each month, best-selling author and Phoenix resident Martha Beck dispenses concrete, specific advice in Oprah's O magazine, helping readers navigate the speed bumps of careening modern life.
Her latest work, "Steering by Starlight," takes readers beyond everyday hassles to uncover the essence of their lives, and it does it in a way her other self-help titles haven't: with a frank discussion of magic.
"I just couldn't talk anymore in simple terms of, 'This will get you your Mercedes and your great job,' " says Beck, who earned her Ph.D. in sociology from Harvard. "More and more people are becoming soulful. ... The need for us to deal with people learning how to handle the mystical aspect of their lives is becoming more pressing."
Beck tackles this concept with a steady background of scientific evidence and her characteristic nuts-and-bolts counsel. Lumped with humorous anecdotes, it adds up to a read that's at once far out and firmly grounded.
Here, she discusses the book, a follow-up to 2001's best-selling "Finding Your Own North Star."
Q: What is a person's North Star?
A: It's your right life, your destiny, the life you were meant to live.
Q: "Finding Your Own North Star" introduces this concept. After years of using the analogy with your clients, you decided to write a how-to book, "Steering by Starlight."
A: I had a lot that I wanted to say that hadn't been available to me when I wrote "Finding Your Own North Star." I wanted to answer questions that people are bound to come up against that I hadn't thought of before.
Q: You say learning to live as a "stargazer" is essential to fulfilling your destiny. What is a stargazer?
A: It's the part of you that never loses sight of your North Star; there's never any delusion. There's a pure consciousness that's not damageable, and that's the stargazer.
Q: In the book, you present three phases to uncovering your destiny. Tell us about the first: dissolving.
A: The biggest obstacle to finding what will make you happy is not what you don't know, but what you do know. You know things that are not true. You've been socialized to believe a lot of things that you take as absolute truth which are actually holding you back. If there is dissatisfaction in your life, it's almost always due to a belief that is not serving you. Dissolving the beliefs that make people unhappy is the first necessity, the first step toward liberation. It's not about adding new knowledge, it's about dropping illusions.
Q: That's probably a lot harder than it sounds.
A: It's not as difficult as it is foreign. We grow up thinking the more we know, the smarter we are.
Q: Does our destiny always shape up the way we imagine it?
A: Of course not. You don't just sit down and make a list of the big-screen TV and the Mercedes and the gorgeous spouse and zap it into existence. When you get to the core of peace, in some odd way, the things you want are the things you're meant to have anyway.
Q: What do you think people are searching for?
A: I can't tell you how many wealthy clients I've had who get the Lamborghini or the big ranch or the private jet, and that never, ever, ever, ever, EVER has the power to make you happy. The power to make you happy lies within you, and no physical object can give it to you. ... As long as you're not aware of your connection to things, you feel this terrible, aching loneliness, this need, and it drives people to seek something different. Eventually material things don't work. You have to look into your own heart.
Q: Are there any starting points for people to identify their right life?
A: The first thing is to become still. When I had little kids, I would put everyone to bed at night, and then I would go sit in a certain chair where I just got to be completely quiet. Nowadays, I get up in the morning an hour early.
Q: Once you're still, do you start to notice the things that bring you joy?
A: Right. It's just like the game "You're getting warmer, you're getting colder." If you have two choices, become aware of what feels most free and joyful to you, and choose that. That's how you steer. That will take your life right where it's meant to go.