Finding Your Way in a Wild New World by Martha Beck cover

Martha Beck's Finding Your Way In A New Wild World is one of our very favourite books here at Five Senses. We've long been devotees of Martha Beck, starting in 1999 when Rachel read Finding Your Own North Star, which led her to leave a corporate job in Washington DC and take a solo trip to Scotland where she met and, two weeks later, got engaged to Malcolm. So Beck's works are powerful stuff, as they always urge you to follow your heart and soul and to hell with the rest. You've been warned.

That said, Finding Your Way is pretty far out there for most people. While the subtitle makes you think this is another book about how to find your career, it's really a book of how to do magic. We don't even mean that metaphorically.

Beck spent years tracking down, interviewing and working with shamans, healers, guides, intuitives -- what she calls 'wayfinders', those people in traditional society that guided the tribe spiritually. We've lost these roles in mainstream Western society, thinking we don't need such nonsense anymore.

But for those of us who yearn for more than we've encountered in mainstream life, who love the idea of magic and a deeper purpose, who feel they're on this planet to do something important even if -- especially if -- they don't know what it is, well, this book is for them. If that's you, you're part of 'The Team', as Beck calls it.

How do you know if you're on The Team? See if any of this rings true for you:

  • sense of having a specific mission involving a major transformation of human experience, but being unable to articulate what this change might be
  • high levels of empathy
  • urgent desire to lessen suffering for humans, animals or plants
  • loneliness stemming from a sense of difference
  • high creativity
  • difficult early life, often with abuse or childhood trauma
  • persistent or recurring illness, with symptoms that fluctuated inexplicably
  • disability, often brain-centred (dyslexia and autism) in oneself or a loved one
  • intense connection to certain types of natural environment, such as the ocean, mountains or forest

Not all of these need to apply, but as Beck says, if you read this and find yourself thinking 'I hope I'm on The Team' then you're on it.

The rest of the book focuses on learning the 'Technologies of Magic', or the four key skills one needs to practice to be most effective in fulfilling this purpose. They are:

  • Wordlessness (stillness, quiet -- we use walking and meditation to get there)
  • Oneness (feeling connected to everything)
  • Imagination
  • Forming (turning your Imaginings into reality -- aka 'Magic')

We'll admit it: when we first read this book, we gave up in frustration. We just couldn't seem to get it and we wondered if we were being sold New Age snake oil.

But then a few years passed and Rachel had what Brene Brown calls a 'mental breakdown spiritual awakening' and suddenly Wordlessness and Oneness and Imagination were the only way to get through the day.

We began practicing meditation 10 minutes every day via the Headspace app, and Wordlessness became doable. Malcolm made sure to go outside as that's where he feels Oneness, and Rachel practiced it by listening to the owls hooting in the woods outside the window. Imagining something we wanted, visualising it, became a future to look forward to.

As for Forming, well we're still learning how to Form. That's what you might call the proof in the pudding, since it's only with Forming that you can see whether the other three tools worked. It's what a lot of New Age books call 'manifesting', and we won't lie, it's a challenge.

Rachel says, so far, she can only definitively point to a new cooker oven as a successful Forming. We know, not exactly something you'd think of as magical, but it sure saved our Christmas dinner when it arrived, half price and on Christmas Eve, after our old one mysteriously broke down.

Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of this book is that it makes 21st century magic possible. You have to learn and actually practice the steps regularly to achieve it, but it can be done.

One of the magic tricks you can do to prove to skeptics and yourself that this stuff really works is the 'Push-Together versus Hold-Apart'. You'll need to have Wordlessness and Oneness down to do it, so it may take some practice first. Rachel loves doing this with anyone she talks to about this book when they start looking at her with pity for her deluded New Age ways.

Here's how Martha Beck describes it:

"Gateway to Oneness: Push-Together versus Hold-Apart

  1. Have a friend hold his or her hands up as though about to clap. Tell your friend not to let you push his or her hands together.
  2. Fill your mind with thoughts of struggle, effort and domination and have your friend do the same. Then try to push the other person's hands together. You may be able to, depending on your relative muscle strength, but it will be a struggle.
  3. Drop into Wordlessness, then strengthen your presence in human Oneness by recalling memories of love and connection. Remember your baby falling asleep in your arms, or your dog nearly swooning with joy at the sight of you, or the first moment you realised you were in love. You don't have to feel affection for the person whose hands you're trying to move. In fact, don't think about the person at all.
  4. While holding a vivid sense-memory of uncomplicated Oneness, just put your palms on the backs of your partner's hands and move your hands together.

"Again, it's one thing to read about this exercise, quite another to actually experience the sensation. Honestly, you've got to try it. When you're the person whose hands are pushed together, you'll find yourself weirdly unable to resist...If you're the person doing the pushing, the first effort feels grueling and difficult, the second ridiculously easy. Most people think the other party is faking weakness.

"I suspect this works because as you drop into Wordlessness, your heart and brain begin broadcasting those strong, high-amplitude waves that entrain other people's hearts and brains. At that point you and your partner are effectively One person."

See for yourself if this book works for you, and try one of our activities if you want some help with Wordlessness and Oneness. As with any of the books we recommend, we'd love to hear your about your own experience, so feel free to get in touch.