The Joy Diet ~ What I Really, Really Want

Normally I’m a pretty good directions-follower. Scratch that. Really good!

On this week of The Joy Diet blogging group, however, I barely read the directions.  I just glanced at the title — Desire — skimmed the text, and dove right in.

Hence: the Spice Girls. It doesn’t get more empowering than “Let me tell you what I want, what I really, really want!” I’m listening to it over and over as I write this post. Zig-ah-zig-ahhhhhh!


At the end of our coaching session — when I was walking 16-year-old Annabelle to the lobby to greet her father —  I found out: she wanted to skip our next session.

Of course, she didn’t tell me. Her dad was the one who asked, “Hey, did you ask Gretchen about next week?”

Suddenly this confident, chatty young woman turned into a slouching, whimpering mess. “See, next week … there’s this famous actor … he’s coming … he’s going to speak … but my parents want me to see you …”

I interrupted. “Annabelle. It sounds like you really want something. Stand up straight, look me in the eye, and make your request!”

She did stand up straight. But eyes darted fearfully and leaky words slipped out over a pouty lip. “I wanna watch him speak instead of come see you. I’m sorry!”

“You never need to apologize for what you truly want,” I reassured with a smile. “I’ll see you in two weeks.”

As she slipped gratefully out the door with her dad in tow, I thought about my own difficulties claiming that which I truly desire. What a journey it is, to the realization that our desires are okay, legitimate, achievable.


In The Joy Diet, author Martha Beck urges us to get honest about our “pulse-pounding, grab-you-by-the-guts” yearnings.

Wow. Ok. So here goes.

If you read last week’s post about Truth, you know that I’m seeking new housing. You also know that this is a difficult transition.

My current house is a rambling craftsman on a quaint inner-city culdesac. Neighbors play banjo on front porches and hoola hoop with their kids in the circle.  My roommates are dear friends. The delicious Cole Coffee is close by…

In the nurturing embrace of this house, I finally — finally! — came home to myself.

I quit trying to be a teacher (a job that made me angry much of the time), and stopped my anxious search to find a life partner (in my frenzy, dating ceased to be very fun).  I invented the MuseCubes, began facilitating InterPlay, and started working with teenagers as an academic coach. In other words, I claimed my new, true identity as Passionate Woman Entrepreneur Extraordinaire.

Then the landlord sold the house. I have until November 1st to move.

Confession #1 – As sad as I am about leaving, I know that it’s time. I’m ready. I’m home, and I’ll take home with me wherever I go.

Confession #2 – Although my story is that I can only afford to live with roommates, my deep desire is to live alone in a lively neighborhood near friends.

Confession #3 – My grab-me-by-the-guts yearning is to have a bright, airy apartment with room for a home office (with space for MuseCubes to thrive), an open space for stretching/creativity/prayer, and an outdoor area. I want to live alone, but in a walkable neighborhood near friends.

Confession #4 – There are gremlins who hang out on my shoulders right below my earlobes. When I get close to naming my heart’s desires, their grumblings get more vociferous.  “You can’t afford that!” they hiss. “Be realistic. To be successful you have to sacrifice. Sometimes you can be so irresponsible!” Ouch. That last one really hurt.

Confession #5 – OK, Gremlins. Stop biting! I know you’re trying to take care of me. I refuse to believe that good things are scarce, but I do acknowledge the importance of clarity and planning. So let me also be clear about what I can responsibly afford. $800/month tops (ideally, this includes utilities and internet).

Confession #6 – In the midst of the Gremlins, I have this deep trust that I’ll find a space I love for the amount I can afford. It throws me off sometimes, this peace I feel. But as Martha Beck says, when we’re in touch with our true desires, we also know that “good things are abundant” and “life is about cooperation”. It’s my job to remind the Gremlins of this, from time to time.

*******News Flash*******

As I was typing this, I got a call from a potential landlord/homeshare situation. She told me that she’d rethought her offer; living together is not going to work out for some very practical reasons.

But here’s the crazy thing. She just happens to own a business manufacturing and distributing products; she also needs help organizing a room full of product samples. I love helping people organize their stuff, and I need advice about how to take get MuseCubes mass produced. Neither of us have the cash to pay the other, but we do have valuable skills we can trade. Huh!

So here I go, off into my birthday weekend (I turn 36 on Sunday). I’ll continue telling myself — and the world — what I really, really want — and trusting that it’ll show up, although perhaps in a form I never expected.

The Joy Diet ~ Fake Truth, Real Truth

Gretchen Grimmacing

Sorry about the gross picture.

But it can’t be helped. This week I’ve been telling the truth.

And the truth is not pretty. In fact, she can be pretty darn grotesque sometimes.

All this truth telling is related to the book The Joy Diet, which I’m reading with about 100 other bloggers. One chapter a week, we do the assignments that author Martha Beck suggests. Last time we had to do Nothing for 15 minutes a day. This week…

The Assignment

…we had to tell ourselves the Truth. She recommended the following series of questions as our primary Truth Excavation Tools (adapted from the powerful work of Byron Katie):

  • What am I feeling?
  • What hurts?
  • What is the painful story I am telling?
  • Can I be sure my painful story is true?
  • Is my painful story working?
  • Can I think of another story that might work better?

Writing Down My Truth

I discovered that I was much more able to tell the truth when I wrote it down; if I just thought about the truth, I easily got distracted.  Here’s what I wrote in my journal one night this week:

I am feeling sad, grateful, and anxious. My back hurts where my bed is digging in. My throat is itchy. My chest vibrates the way it does when I’m being honest.

The painful story I am telling is that I will not have community, friendship, or love when I move to a new apartment.  I am also telling myself that the stress of the move will keep me from focusing on MuseCubes the way I need in order to prepare for the holiday shopping season.

I cannot be sure these painful stories are true. They certainly do not work to bring ease and joy into my life.

Another story I could tell myself is this: I will have community, love and friendship in my new space; those are always available to me, no matter where I live.   I will find the perfect space to accommodate my MuseCubes and I will have exactly enough energy to nurture the business.

The Truth Made Physical

This approach to truth telling is pretty brilliant, if you ask me. The questions cut straight to the core of my hurt, and help me embrace a new, more joyful story.

But there’s a serious flaw to the process — my inner toddler is stubborn!!!  Most of the time when I’m stuck in my hurt, I don’t WANT to embrace the new, happy, glass-is-full story. In fact, I just want to kick all that positivity out the frickin’ window, screaming “Lies! Lies!!  I will NOT find a perfect new apartment and I will NOT have enough time for my business, and you can’t MAKE me!!!”

That’s where exformation comes in.  Exformation is the practice of doing something physical to release all the information — the too muchness! — that we collect throughout our days.

Once a month my friend Beandrea and I meet in her living room to witness each other’s exformation.  Exformation can look like a lot of different things, but for Beandrea and me, it’s a mini-performance. One of us sits and watches; the other stands in the middle of her living room and then spends the next ten minutes (or so) doing whatever we need to do to process our Too Muchness.

Yesterday I yelled, kicked, howled and flung my limbs in a chaotic, crazy dance. Yaaaaaaaaaaa! Bam!! Boom! Awooooooo!!!

Oh that felt good. And I felt soooooo calm at the end of it all.

It occurred to me that exformation is like the truth-telling process from The Joy Diet — only made physical.

What am I feeling? Kick! Growl! Blech!!

What is the story I’m telling myself that causes pain? Life is hard! Life is too much!!

What is a different story I could tell myself? Life is full, and I have all the resources I need to thrive in the fullness!! Growl! Zoom!!! Pfffffft.

Once I’ve released all my Pent Upness, I’m calm enough to actually hear, accept and integrate the reframed story.

Fake Truth versus Real Truth

My big aha! from this week is this: that we need to tell all our truths — the Fake ones and the Real ones.

The Fake Truth is my phrase for what Martha Beck calls “the painful story.” The Fake Truth in my journal entry (above) is that when I move next month, I am going to lose all the community, friendship and love that I experience in my current fabulous housing arrangement. Technically, that’s not true. But it feels true.

Until I let myself feel the truth of my pain about moving, I won’t be willing to accept the Real Truth: that community, friendship, and love are omnipresent in my life and are available no matter where I live.

Offer Compassion to Your Inner Lying Scumbag

Thank goodness that the road to joy is to love ourselves through both the Fake and the Real Truths.

I’m so appreciative of the final step in Martha Beck’s truth telling practice: “Offer compassion to your inner lying scumbag…to the parts of yourself that seem to deserve it least.”

Ahhhhhh. Yes. Thank you.

The Joy Diet ~ Much Ado About Nothing

Kayak maneuvering turbulent water

Doing Nothing sure does take a lot of work.

For the last week, I’ve been attempting to do Nothing for 15 minutes a day. I’m doing this along with at least 75 other wiley women who are reading and blogging about Martha Beck’s The Joy Diet. This is Week One.

My biggest noticing: It’s impossible to do Nothing unless I start with Something.

The Something that Martha Beck suggests is basic meditation. Sitting and watching the mind. If that’s too hard, she recommends picking a repetitive task to do in order to help ease the mind into Nothing.

Throughout my life I’ve tried numerous Nothing practices. Buddhist meditation. Sufi prayer. Quaker meetings. Christian contemplation. Each time I’ve loved, and then lost, the practice.

The Raging River of My Mind

This time, I decided to give myself a very concrete assignment: pretend that I’m sitting on the banks of a river watching the contents of my mind flow by. Just sit back and watch the raging flood waters.

Except that, instead of watching the waters, I’m usually in the water, clinging to a broken tree branch of thought as the waters sweep me mercilessly down stream.  On better days, at least I get a paddle and a kayak to help me maneuver the twists and turns of my rapid thoughts.

Occasionaly I catch myself. Crawling back onto the banks of the river, I label the thought as a “thought” and try valiantly again to be the dispassionate observer.

Before long, though, I’m back in those turbulent thought waters. And so it goes. Onto the banks. Into the water. Onto the banks. Into the water.

Shakespeare was right: There’s Much Ado About Nothing.

What My Uncle Said

One time I was driving with my aunt and uncle. We were silent for a while, and my aunt asked her husband, “What are you thinking?” “Nothing,” he answered. Neither of us believed him.

I have no idea what it’s like to truly be thinking about Nothing. Since then I’ve checked in with other men, and most of them agree that occassionaly they experience Nothing without even trying. Jealous!

The iPhone App That’s Changing My Life

Half way through the week I was worried that, without clear accountability, I wouldn’t follow through with 15 minutes a day. So I bought an iPhone app to help me record all my Nothing time.

What a revolutionary idea! Seriously!!! Even on days when I felt too tired to meditate, I’d think, “But what about my app!?”

And so I would sit. Without struggle. On the river banks. For fifteen minutes. Just so I could record it in my app. Whatever it takes.

Next Week’s Assignment

Next up on the Joy Diet agenda: Truth. We’re supposed to keep on doing Nothing, but add “Truth” into the mix. Can’t wait to find out what that refers to?!

It’s not too late to join us, if you’re curious too. Buy the book here, and then go to Jamie’s Blog to join in.  If you don’t have a blog on which to post your own reflections, feel free to use the comments section of my blog. I’m happy to host.

Hugs to one and all!