O Columns by Martha Beck

Millions of readers enjoy Martha Beck's witty and wise columns in O Magazine as she explores ways to become attuned to more soulful living. Before becoming an "O" Columnist, she was a contributing editor at Redbook, Real Simple, and Mademoiselle. Her work has also been published in the New York Times Book Review, Good Housekeeping, Parenting Magazine, Reader's Digest, and Chicken Soup for the Parent's Soul, as well as several social-science journals. This link into the official Oprah Magazine site provides an archive of articles by Martha Beck. Here are some of her favorites.

    Impotent Rage
October 2004
It's got to be the nastiest feeling in the world. You want to scream. Beat your head against the wall. So what can you do? Get in touch with your ire power, says Martha.

"She seemed like such a nice person," the neighbors always say. "I can't believe she strangled that Bloomingdale's floor clerk with his own tie." The neighbors may be truly surprised by the outburst of violence, but many of us not-so-innocent bystanders understand it completely. We walk meekly about the world hiding our own reservoirs of anger, reservoirs that rise a little each time we experience what feels like impotent rage.

I say "feels like" because though we all encounter situations in which we have no power to act constructively on our anger, these are very rare. If you often experience rage that feels impotent, you are almost certainly failing to comprehend, let alone use, the full extent of your own power. You've blocked the healthy flow of anger through your life, and the accretion of rage may well be poisoning your happiness, scarring your relationships, and stunting your career. It's time to channel your anger into the healthy course it was meant to take.

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    Ten Reasons To Feel Good About The Future
March 2004
You can imagine the worst—or you can, like Martha Beck, sip a Frappuccino and count the ways in which the world is moving in the right direction.

Today's world is a terrifying place. Every day we wake up facing the frightening realities of our age: terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, pollution, domestic violence, psychotic criminals who steal children right from their own beds. Let's face it: Human life has always been fraught with danger, and human minds have always been fraught with the fear that comes from knowing it. But we can develop the habit of nudging our attention toward things that inspire confidence rather than fear.

Since my own nature hovers between neurotic and paranoid, I've developed the habit of mentally listing things that make me optimistic about the future. I do it every day, while I'm driving, making the bed, pretending to write. The list that popped into my mind this morning may not work for you, but perhaps they'll inspire you to create a list of your own. The simple act of hopeful thinking can get you out of your fear zone and into your appreciation zone—a habit that can replace anxiety with happy anticipation.

You see, as much horror as we have always created, we are a species that keeps moving forward, seeing new sights in new ways, and enjoying the journey. Join in the fun. Today, make a quick list of ten hope-inspiring items. Tomorrow, list ten more. So long as we keep our eyes on what is best about the world, as well as what is worst, we'll spend our lives enjoying the present, and awkwardly, clumsily, steadily creating a happy future.

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    Growing Wings
January 2004
What goes on in the cocoon of change isn't always pretty, but the results can be beautiful. Martha Beck talks you through the four phases of human metamorphosis. Get ready to fly!

I used to think I knew how some caterpillars become butterflies. I assumed they weave cocoons, then sit inside growing six long legs, four wings, and so on. I figured if I were to cut open a cocoon, I'd find a butterfly-ish caterpillar, or a caterpillar-ish butterfly, depending on how far things had progressed. I was wrong. In fact, the first thing caterpillars do in their cocoons is shed their skin, leaving a soft, rubbery chrysalis. If you were to look inside the cocoon early on, you'd find nothing but a puddle of glop. But in that glop are certain cells, called imago cells, that contain the DNA-coded instructions for turning bug soup into a delicate, winged creature—the angel of the dead caterpillar.

If you've ever been through a major life transition, this may sound familiar. Humans do it, too—not physically but psychologically. All of us will experience metamorphosis several times during our lives, exchanging one identity for another. You've probably already changed from baby to child to adolescent to adult—these are obvious, well-recognized stages in the life cycle. But even after you're all grown up, your identity isn't fixed. You may change marital status, become a parent, switch careers, get sick, win the lottery.

Any transition serious enough to alter your definition of self will require not just small adjustments in your way of living and thinking but a full-on metamorphosis. I don't know if this is emotionally stressful for caterpillars, but for humans it can be hell on wheels. The best way to minimize trauma is to understand the process.

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