Practice English Speaking&Listening with: The Gathering Room: Shape Your World, Don’t Be Shaped By It

Difficulty: 0

- Ah!

It says live now.


two computers in.

Only it's still going, the circle is still going around.

Ah, I think we're finally in.



Is anyone there?



Two computers in,

just a little bit of like schvitzing and,

oh, you're here!

Donna and Lydia and Ann and Tracy and everybody,

you're all here.

Gail and Karin, oh, thank God.

You guys I'm really sorry,

we tried to get the thing up and running,

just a regular Facebook thing and it wouldn't work at first

so we had to get a whole new computer

and come right back and try it again,

and thank God you're still here.

And today we are going to talk about,

I'm going to jump right in.

I'm going to talk about how to shape the world

instead of letting it shape you.

I actually said the world, how to shape the world.

That is a brash claim.

But I think every one of us has an impact on the world.

We create the shape of the world in little tiny ways.

Some people have vast influence,

some people have small influence,

but the world is always different

because someone lived in it,

no matter how small you may feel.

Now, most of us allow the world

to shape us without question.

We're sort of born into

a fully running machine that kind of sucks us up

and tells us what to be and then we become that.

And this week I've been thinking a lot about it

because I've been reading this book

by my friend, Elizabeth Lesser,

who is one of the founders of the Omega Institute.

I don't know if any of you

ever went to the Omega Institute.

It's a place in Upstate New York

where they have retreats and so on,

and it's really, really cool.

And I've been lucky enough to present there several times.

I'm going to hold this one up again

because it's a really, really, really good book.

And it's about

adding the female side of the narrative of humanity

to the history,

so that it becomes, you know,

in feminist circles they say there's hisstory

and then there's herstory.

I prefer our story,

and that's what Elizabeth writes about too.

So it's not, it's about balancing the world,

it's not about men versus women or gender

or anything like that.

It's just that one type of social pressure

has been creating what we all aspire to

for hundreds of years, and it's not working that well.

So you probably know that Cassandra

was a figure in Greek mythology

who had the ability to tell the future

but a curse that she would be able to see the future

and talk about it, but no one would ever believe her.

So I know a lot of you have talked about

different types of struggles and trauma

that you've experienced in your lifetimes,

and one of the most hellacious things you can go through

is simply having an experience and then not being believed

when you talk about it, not being listened to.

When I train coaches, it's always about, you know,

listen more than you talk,

people need to be listened to

because it's in being listened to

that we evoke the stories we need to tell,

and that's who we really are.

Well, Cassandra never got listened to.

And so what Elizabeth Lesser is saying in this book is

Cassandra right now is speaking through the voices

of many people of all genders and saying,

"Things will not go well if we don't change what we do."

And nobody's listening, nobody seems to be listening

all that hard.

I think some people are.

I think the good is rising

along with the obviously not good,

but not good makes a lot more noise than good.

So we're getting a lot more impression of the world

going crazy than the world going more sane.

Now the part of this book that really got to me most is,

there's a chapter where she talks about

these statues in Central Park.

She goes walking through Central Park

and she sees statues that

she's walked past them her whole life

every time she was in the city.

But this time she walks through thinking,

"To what does our culture pay attention?"

And she quotes someone who's saying,

"Show me to what you pay attention

and I will tell you who you are."

It's Jose Ortega y Gasset

who said that.

Don't know quite who he was, but it's a good thing.

"Show me to what you pay attention

and I will show you what you are."

So she talks about seeing a statue

of General William Sherman, who he's on a horse

and he's got an angel and he's all complete,

everything, the horse, the angel, the Sherman,

they're all plated in gold,

and it's a gorgeous work of art

that you can't take your eyes off.

And Elizabeth Lesser says, "What did he do for this?"

Well, he led the Union Army in crushing the Confederacy.

He did the burning path to the sea,

he burned Atlanta to the ground, so yay,

like in "Gone with the Wind."

Oh, and then after the Civil War,

he was responsible for what in Indigenous American circles

is called the Trail of Tears.

He was very largely responsible

for uprooting the indigenous people

who had lived on the land, killing a lot of them,

displacing the rest and making sure that

the remainder died of disease.

So this was his big thing

for which he gets plated with gold and we all stare at him

every time we go to the biggest city in the,

greatest, some say, city in the world.

And she was like, "Hmm."

She talked about a woman, a teacher,

who was in I think it was an elementary school,

it could have been a middle school,

when an armed teenager came in ready to shoot up the school,

you know, like you do these days in America.

And this one teacher stopped him,

and he had like an automatic military rifle.

And she said, "Wait, what are you doing?"

"What are you doing?"

And she got him to stop, and she talked to him and she said,

"The world needs who you are.

The world doesn't need another dead body

with a lot of dead children around it.

Tell me who you are."

And she listened to him

and she prevented another horrific school shooting.

And she was like,

"Who's going to put a statue of her in Central Park?"

To what are we paying attention

because that is who we are?

So I thought, yes, these are really really encouraging words

for us as a society,

but what about us as individuals?

And you know, I always turn everything into self-help.

And by the way, as I talk through this next bit,

if you have any kinds of little questions in your head,

type them in right away, so that our Gracious Badger,

who is behind the scenes, can grab them and send them to me,

and I can answer them in the last part

of "The Gathering Room."



you are

the sum total of the things to which you pay attention.

That's what Gasset is saying, Ortega y Gasset is saying,

and that's what Elizabeth Lesser's saying,

and that's what a lot of Asian philosophers have said,

that attention is the primary,

it's like the primary real estate of the human brain.

There are all these things going on

at every different level.

Part of our brain is helping us breathe,

helping our hearts beat.

Part of it is controlling the fight-or-flight reflex.

Part of it is thinking about a song

we heard on TV or whatever,


to what we pay attention

gets a lot more real estate in our brains.

There was, I remember reading once in this Japanese book,

a student asks his Zen master, "Tell me the secret of life,"

and the Zen master just says,

"Attention. Attention. Attention."

And I remember thinking, "What?"

And what I think what the Zen master was saying is,

once you start to watch your own mind,

you see the places where you've put up statues

to various people in your life.

And most of us put up statues to the people

who burned us to the ground,

uprooted us from our happy homes,

took everything that was good for us

and left us sick and homeless,

like whatever metaphor for that we have in our own life,

we pay a huge amount of attention to the people

who've done violence, not physical violence necessarily,

but that emotional violence.

If we shifted 'cause we're being trained as a culture

to look only at the people who caused destruction,

those are the folks.

And she goes, Elizabeth Lesser goes through the whole world

and sees what people put up monuments to,

and it's always the folks who killed the most people,

that's where we put our attention.

So she says, "Okay, let's look at the life-enhancing people

in our culture," and you can do it individually

by looking at the life-enhancing people in your past, okay?

Your own, our story, not history, not herstory

but our story.

So to give an unbiased account of your life

is to put as much attention

on the goodness you've received as the badness.

Now here is something that I may have said before

but the research is so amazing and so solid on this

that I'm going to say it again, probably more than once.

And that is that the single, when they started looking,

Martin Seligman became president

of the American Psychological Association,

and for the first time in the '90s,

he started saying to people,

"Instead of looking at mental illness,

let's look at what makes people happy.

Let's make that the focus of our attention, right?"

For the first time, psychologists were told,

"Take your attention off mental illness

and put it on what makes people happy."

They've never done that before 'cause our culture

preferentially gives attention to the negative

or at least the destructive.

Anyway, so they started looking at what made people happy.

And here's the one thing that they found

is the most happiness-enhancing single thing you can do,

that is to sit down with a piece of paper,

go through your life,

and remember the people who have given you positive things.

And it could be something that was really small

but it changed the course of your life.

It could be a teacher, it could be a parent or grandparent,

it could be a friend, but somebody who changed

the course of your life for the better.

So you sit down with that

and you write a letter to that person

saying exactly what they did,

and by doing that you keep your attention on them

and on their goodness.

Then if you can, you either send the letter to them

or for maximum happiness, you find them,

you either call them or go see them,

well with COVID you'd probably call them,

but you could Zoom them or Skype them or whatever, FaceTime,

and you read the letter out loud to them.

Now people who did this had measurably-happier lives

for a year afterward compared to people

who'd written like letters that were just random

or not particularly emotional,

just a letter to someone they loved.

They called it a gratitude letter.

Focusing on that person means that your attention

is on the good that they did you.

Writing it down means that your attention is focused

in a different area of the brain,

your cognition is coming in, your verbal stuff,

you're writing it all down.

Now when you contact them and read it to them,

you are activating the social aspects of the brain.

And let me tell you,

that's what determines most of what you are.

Last week, we talked about we're all thinking

about what other people are thinking about us.

We're pre-programmed to care a lot about social interaction.

So when you actually read that letter to another person,

it blows out the circuits on your brain

and it makes so much attention go to that relationship,

and the joy and the love

and whatever it was you got from the relationship,

that it permanently shifts your brain

in the direction of happiness

or at least measurably for a year out.

So this is one thing I'd like to challenge you

to do this week.

Put your attention, take your attention off the places

where people have burned you to the ground

and displaced you and made you sick.

It's there, we're not going to deny it, you need to be heard,

but you need to shift your attention,

we all need to shift our attention

to the ones who've blessed us.

And it's Thanksgiving week.

It's the perfect time to do a gratitude letter you guys.

And if you can do one, you can do more than one.

Imagine if you did that every couple of weeks

or every other day for a while or whatever,

if one letter can make you happier for a year,

imagine how much happier dozens of letters could make you.

And it doesn't have to be about something big,

it could be about something small,

it just has to have influenced you.

So this Thanksgiving week,

let's not let the world shape us with its pressures.

Let's shape our vision of the world

by choosing to pay attention,

and build monuments to the things that have made us happy,

to the things that have made us wise,

to the things that have made us loving.

So that's my recommendation for Thanksgiving week.

And now I will happily take any questions

except I don't have Rose there,

there we go.

I have her on another computer.

That's how advanced we are.

Okay. So Nancy Horner says,

I'm going to have to get my glasses on for this,

sorry, all of these technical difficulties,

we will not build a monument to them.

"If we stop paying attention to people in situations

that we have learned to fear,

can we trust our ability to use previous knowledge

to identify new danger?"

Yes, that is what's so fancy about the brain.

You've all heard the phrase, triggered,

like, "Oh that really triggered me."

It's a nasty experience to have our trauma triggered.

But the reason we use that word is that

the brain is so constructed that if something damages us

and we later see anything that even remotely resembles it,

all the fight-or-flight signals switch on like, "Boom!",

and then we can evaluate.

Too often we go off, we assume

that we're back in the terror,

but what it really is good for is evaluating,

"Is this really like the situation that traumatized me?"

For example, I had a client once

who had an alcoholic parent,

and the sound of people putting ice in a glass

was horrendously triggering for her.

And she'd had a lot of bad experiences like in restaurants

because she gets so triggered.

And what it was really doing was saying,

"Okay bring it to your attention."

And we worked out in the coaching

how to differentiate these situations,

but the long and short of it is,

if there's danger, your brain will pick it up.

More than likely there's no danger

even when you think there is

and you have to bring in your cognition and say,

"Ooh, settled down a piece,"

but yes, if something is dangerous to you

and you've experienced it in the past,

your brain will let you know.

Okay. So Jessica says,

"I'm cleaning up from a messy time in life,

in paying attention to resolving those messy debts,

how do I avoid unintentionally creating new ones?"

Ah, this is so fabulous.

Jessica, I love your questions.

The way you do it is by continuously acknowledging

that you may be wrong.

And that doesn't mean that you dump on yourself

or that you criticize yourself,

this is something that all my coaches learn to do

like their first day of training.

It's to say, "Am I getting this right

or does it resonate for everybody?

Could I get more opinions on this?

Could I get more perspective on this?"

One of the biggest things that Elizabeth says

we should do to change the fate of our world,

to change like global warming and all the other things,

is simply to have more dialogue

as we go forward with any project.

And she says that's sort of a,

that's more female way to do it.

I would say it's just a more,

let's use the Chinese terms yin and yang.

You know, yin is the softer element

and yang is the harder one, and our culture is very yang.

So she says, "Bring some yin yang

and just ask people as you go forward.

Is this bothering you?

Does this seem right to you?

Let me just check."

And it's actually a way to bring people in collaboratively.

I've learned so much about this

in running my own little business,

it's like six people but me,

and then a bunch of wonderful instructors.

And I used to think that I had to do everything by myself.

And what that meant was that

I basically was running rough shot over everyone

'cause I didn't realize that taking a step

and then checking with other people

is how you build a team, it's how you build a curriculum,

it's how you build a set of instructors.

I wasn't checking in enough.

Same thing with diversity training.

I wasn't checking in with people from diverse backgrounds.

I wasn't stopping to talk to the people

who'd had a different experience from me and saying,

"How does this come across to you?"

And when I started doing that more,

I had to eat a lot of humble pie

because I'd made a lot of mistakes.

But humble pie can be delicious.

And that's what you can learn if you are willing to go

into the yin part of your personality.

And that's another shift of attention.

Not where am I getting it right,

reinforce my decisions,

but talk to me, tell me your perspective.

I may not be right for you

and together we can build something

that is even better than the sum of its parts.


So Kira says, "Martha, consider this my letter to you."

Ah, it's so sweet.

"You've brought immeasurable comfort,

joy and transformation in my life.

Truly, I am grateful to you."

Oh my goodness.

That's so sweet of you, Kira.

And here's the thing,

when I hear that kind of thing from people,

which I do it sometimes and it makes me feel shy,

but what I remember is that every time I sat down to write

or to make something or to coach,

my attention went to the people who'd be hearing me.

So when I did my writing course I always say,

"Instead of showing up at the page to get attention,

a really good writer shows up to serve

and shows up to give attention to the reader."

So I cannot tell you how many nights

I've been awake all night,

I mean hundreds and hundreds of nights,

and in my mind was you.

I didn't know who you were,

and I couldn't clearly see your face,

but I knew that you were listening to me.

Like a potential reader,

if you're reading something,

or if you're watching this broadcast,

you're listening to me.

What does that do for me?

It heals me.

As I show up to give attention to you

and you listen to me, it heals me.

And this is the weird sort of feedback,

it's not weird, it's beautiful,

but it's the feedback loop of gratitude.

As soon as you start feeling

the presence of someone else who's paying attention to you

and your attention is on them,

it forms a bond of love,

and then that love creates more gratitude

which overflows as love and is received as gratitude,

and it just starts to build and build and build.

And this is why I do think,

I mean we're seeing the epidemic, the pandemic of COVID,

doing it's exponential growth thing again,

very, very scary.

The case load is going up,

the hospitalizations are going up,

and it's like vertical, it's a vertical rise.

But remember when you look at those curves

that go straight up,

that acts of kindness and healing can also go viral.

That if we get enough people into a sort of energy,

sorry it's a California word,

but it's sort of frequency of peace, love,

gratitude, hope, and so on,

that spreads from person to person,

from community to community.

I was listening Eckhart Tolle talking about

somebody was asking him about how crazy

everything seems to be these days.

And he said


"When you see the badness rising in your own view,

you can also be guaranteed that the good is rising

at the same time, more silently,

and that it's also going viral."

So I hope, hope, hope, hope, hope he was right.

And if we do the gratitude letters,

we're definitely going to push that curve.

So get contagious with gratitude.

Okay. Donna says, "What if we have a life in which

what we pay most attention to

is the emotional distress of others?"

Well, there's two ways you can do that.

One is to get wrapped up in their distress

and do half empathy.

There are four components to empathy,

social, cognitive, neurological part of empathy,

there are four areas in the brain.

One is called affect sharing,

it makes us feel emotionally the same thing

another person is feeling.

Another is self-other differentiation,

where we know what's happening to them, not us.

One is emotion regulation,

where we're able to raise or lower

our own intensity of emotion in response to another person.

And the fourth one is cognitive empathy,

where we can make sense

of what another person's situation is.

Now, when we only go to the empathic feeling,

it's like, imagine if I got hit by a car,

I'm lying there, I've got a broken leg,

you come running over, you lie down beside me

where I'm screaming on the pavement,

and you start screaming too

because the pain of seeing my pain is too great for you,

so that's only affect sharing.

It doesn't bring in the rest of empathy,

so it doesn't make us into affective actors.

So when you are, here's another coaching tip,

I always quote my coach trainees a line from Hafiz,

the 13th century Persian poet, who said,

as part of one of his poems,

"Troubled? Then stay with me, for I am not."

So when you're looking at someone in pain,

if you let yourself indulge yourself

in going to the same place of incapacity

where their pain has put them,

you're not actually using your whole brain

and you're not using gratitude,

the attention is going to the suffering

and not to the fact that as Byron Katie says,

"When you suffer, I don't, it's not my turn."

So you see the suffering

but you have to shift your attention to the fact that

you're not the one undergoing the suffering at that moment,

that you can regulate your emotions

and that you can figure things out

and get help when another person is suffering.

Now if you do that,

then you'll be putting your attention on the teacher

who talked down the school shooter

instead of on William Sherman,

who just burned Atlanta. (clearing throat)


So yeah, as you look at other people,

shift your attention to what you're grateful for

instead of what's awful,

and you will shape a world

in which the things that make you grateful are everywhere

and the things that hurt you barely show up,

they're just not in your attention anymore.

Okay. So Judith says,

"I find that I can only practice gratitude

when I'm not in upheaval, caught in anger.

At the same time, gratitude snuffs out anger.

How to go from stress, anger and fear to gratitude?"

Okay, I got a good hint for you

from someone I greatly admire, Anita Moorjani, who was,

she's the woman who was terrified of getting cancer,

then got lymphoma, fought it for years,

and finally, basically died of it.

She was, her body like weighed less than 90 pounds

and most of it was tumors when she finally went into a coma,

and the doctors put her on life support

so that her brother could get there

to say goodbye before she died.

And she had a near-death experience,

she met her father there who'd died earlier and a friend,

and they said,

"You have to go back and live a different life."

And she was like, "Okay, in what body?"

And they said, "That one."

And she's like, "Seriously?"

Well, long story short, she woke up in this body

that was basically dead of cancer,

and three days later, the cancer was reduced by half.

Nine days later, she was cancer-free.

Okay. So what she said to me in my face is,

and I should write her a letter to thank her about this

and read it to her on Thanksgiving weekend,

she said, "No matter how angry you are,

if you can get quiet, you can find a way to acceptance."

And that's not acceptance of,

for example the whole world situation,

but acceptance that the universe is as it is in this moment,

because you can't really change it.

So if you can get to that level of acceptance

where you're surrendering to the fact

that things are as they are,

you start to relax.

That's acceptance.

If you spend a long time, enough time in acceptance,

just breathing in and getting away from your,

shifting attention from what's not working

toward what is, then you can reach peace.

Like, "Alright, this room's not so bad right now.

I'm going to let it go for a minute."

Once you reach peace, you can find gratitude for something.

So here again,

we go to the active turning attention to gratitude.

And she says, "From gratitude, you can get to joy."

So even if you're not feeling good, if you follow that,

like go to acceptance, to peace, to gratitude,

and then you can find something to be joyful about,

your whole life shifts.

And if all of us do this stuff and we shift our whole life,

you know there are a few hundred of us here right now,

but each of us this week as we go into Thanksgiving

is going to be connecting with a bunch of loved ones.

Even if we don't travel,

I'm sure we'll be making phone calls and Zoom calls,

so let it be a true week of gratitude you guys.

Let us write down the gratitude

for even the smallest things.

Let us go to the effort to find that

first grade teacher or whoever it was

and track them down and read it to them.

I mean, just reading Kira's little note of gratitude to me

just makes my heart explode.

Make someone's heart explode

in that wonderful way this week.

Let it happen to a bunch of people.

Make it the focus of the next week and the one after that.

The expression of gratitude shapes the world

instead of allowing the horrors of the world to shape us.

And that's what we have to do if we're not going to undergo

some kind of awful Cassandra-like fate.

So thank you guys.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving if you're American,

sorry if you're not.

I've been Americanizing this whole broadcast

by talking about Thanksgiving,

but hey, we can make it a week of Thanksgiving

no matter where we are in the world.

And it will make us all happier

even if it isn't a national holiday.

So thank you, thank you, thank you

for putting up with the technical snafus at the beginning

and for joining me here.

I want to end this by saying

I am so intensely grateful for you guys.

You have no idea.

You just make my week, my whole week,

filled with goodness and my attention is on you.

So thank you, thank you, thank you,

and I'll see you next week. (blowing kisses)

The Description of The Gathering Room: Shape Your World, Don’t Be Shaped By It