2016-06-30
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Marianne WilliamsonMarianne Williamson is an internationally acclaimed author and lecturer. She has published eight books, four of which--including the mega-bestseller "A Return to Love" and the later "Everyday Grace"--have been #1 New York Times bestsellers. A popular lecturer, Williamson also co-founded the Global Renaissance Alliance (now called The Peace Alliance), a worldwide network of peace activists who hope to harness the power of non-violence as a force for good.

In person, Williamson has a luminous presence, even in jeans and a black turtleneck. With her sharp cheekbones and petal-soft skin, she looks far younger than 52--particularly after she curls up nervously on a big chair and slides her heels off onto the floor of her New York apartment. Recently, she chatted about her Texas upbringing, her teenage daughter, and her life in New York with Beliefnet Senior Editor Deborah Caldwell.


In your book, you describe this period in history as an "in-between" time. What do you mean by that?

We're at a critical juncture in history where the human race is challenged to mature to a higher level of consciousness. Our behavior is marked by extraordinary levels of violence toward each other and toward the earth itself. And the earth is literally not well-adapted for the continuation of our species. While some say that this is really no different than other times in history when there have been wars, in fact, the stakes have never been anything near as high as they are now. Nuclear proliferation has changed everything. When we were growing up, there were basically just two super powers doing the nuclear dance, both of whom for the most part could be counted on for some modicum of sanity. Today, we run the risk of global annihilation. Should we not be able to interrupt the current inertia of history?

So, in A Course in Miracles, it says that God has a plan; that God has an answer to every problem the moment it occurs and to me, God's answer is a plan, for healing our world that can only be accomplished by more mature people than we currently are. So I think everyone, whether they realize it or not, is in a speeded-up cycle of growth. Each and every one of us.

What do you mean by speeded-up?

Right now, each of us is going through whatever experiences are necessary to turn us into the people we are capable of being in order that we might then do what we need to do. Most of us have gotten to a place in our lives that we would describe in some ways as good. Many of the neurotic patterns that plagued us for decades, let's say, whether it was an addiction issue, a financial issue or relationship issue, or whatever, we seem to have for the most part beaten. But now it turns out, that that wasn't the end of the story.

Our children's children's children's children need us to become the men and women we are capable of being as quickly as possible, because only then will we have been lifted to a vibrational frequency of love and compassion that will form a radically new field of possibility for the human race.

So to say that we are in an in-between time is to say that the world is clearly not what it used to be and on a certain level, we're not who we used to be. But we don't quite see or know yet what the world is going to become.

Do you trace this change to 9/11 or is it before that?

When my sister was diagnosed with cancer in 1989, her doctor told her that the cancer had probably been in her system for 10 years. By the time cancer's diagnosed, it's usually been around for quite a while. So 9/11 was like the appearance of a cancer but the underlying causes far preceded that day.

You weave together the changes happening in the world with your own changes--getting older, motherhood. Why did you combine these two tracks?

Well, you know, the Course in Miracles says that there is no world outside you. If you're trained in metaphysics, you don't see the world as distinct from yourself. You are one with the world. The world is a projection of our collective thought world. And I think the new spirituality in American culture is being challenged to mature beyond what the individual might embrace alone.

What do you mean?

We did a lot of work in the 70s, 80s and 90s on using metaphysical principles to lift ourselves up from various forms of limitation. But now it's time to apply our spiritual perspicacity as well as every other form of power we have to healing the world. You know, Thomas Jefferson saw his view of the world is that the citizen would take until the age of 40 to make his fortune, and after that, he would spend his time concerning himself with the welfare of this country.

So the second half of life is all about meaning, about ritual, family, and meaning in the world.

Right. At a certain point in your life, nothing else, no other journey, is deep enough to sustain you. You're hungry for more. Our generation is not hungry for what we're not getting. Our generation is hungry for what we're not giving.

But a lot of people just go around in that haze of not thinking about these things.

We project a lot of babble onto people. How do you know what people are really dealing with inside their hearts? You might look at a man or a woman and say, "Oh, he or she doesn't concern themselves with anything meaningful," but for all you know, they have a drug-addicted child and just haven't shared that with you. And anybody who is living inside a haze will not be for long. Everyone, everyone is on a spiritual path-just some people don't know it.

The Course in Miracles says it is not up to you what you learn, it is merely up to you whether you learn through joy or through pain. Nature is pushing everyone right now, and there are parts of ourselves still trying to hold onto an unconscious existence, but we know that is not allowed for too long. Something will happen to open your eyes in areas where you insist on keeping them shut. That is the only way life evolves.

What do you practice in order to keep yourself on that path?

The workbook of A Course in Miracles. I'm also a student of transcendental meditation. Although, I'm not as consistent with my TM as I should be.

What about candles, a home altar.?

I love prayer candles and I use them, often. I perform rituals, I've written about them, and my book "Illuminata" is full of them. But ultimately, the deepest work right now is not external, it's internal. It's not just about lighting the candle; it's about lighting the candle for help in forgiving that person you're having a hard time forgiving. It's about praying for those who have hurt you. It's about seeking out with brutal honesty the places in yourself where you are holding onto judgment or blame or cockiness or arrogance or selfishness. That's the work now that we're called to do; it's real spiritual dirt under the fingernails. It takes more than lighting a candle, it takes more than putting a crystal in your house, it takes more than talking in a sweet, sugary voice.

What has this "gift of change" been for you, personally?

When I wrote "A Return to Love," which I began writing in 1988 and which was published in 1992, in the section on forgiveness, the example I used was how hard it can be to forgive a man who stood me up for a date. I look back on that and I'm incredulous that I ever thought that a man standing you up for a date is an example of a tough forgiveness challenge.

Not only that-I don't remember anybody pointing out to me at the time, "Gee honey, your life must be awfully easy if that's the biggest thing you've ever had to forgive." Quite the opposite, many people told me they loved that story, and I understand it, but that seems now so long ago. It's easy to espouse forgiveness when nobody's stabbed you in the back yet; nobody's really hurt you that much yet. So the last 12 years since I've published "A Return to Love" have provided me with many life lessons. And I've come to understand that for our generation, the change that most matters is not that we accumulate spiritual principles but that we more fully embody those principles.

What would you use as your forgiveness example today?

My trust was abused in a couple of very dramatic instances that I discuss to a slight degree in "The Gift of Change," and I must say that they left me quite shattered. But throughout the experiences, I thought to myself, "The woman who truly will be healed of this, wow, what a woman." I do get that. My self healing lies in praying for those who have harmed me. Only in that way can I be healed. So with "The Gift of Change," I address many of the issues I talk about in "A Return to Love," but from the perspective of a more mature woman who's had a lot more experience in the deeper vicissitudes of life and now recognizes how deep the darkness goes and how great the light is that casts it out.

Who inspires you?

I was raised by a father who personified passion for justice. My father was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. He grew up extremely poor. He was deeply immersed in the plight of the immigrant in the early 20th Century. He was born near Detroit and grew up in Rock Island, Illinois. And while he, with help from others, emerged from poverty, became educated, became an attorney, his entire career was informed by his passion for justice, particularly for the immigrant. I grew up around that and also in Judaism, there is a principle called tikkun olam, which is to repair the world. I was brought up with a strong sense of that and I suppose on some deep level as well, I'm still trying to get approval-from my father!

He's still alive?

No, he's not. He's been gone from this realm for almost 10 years. Another person who inspires me is my daughter (who is 14). I felt that when she was born I was part of the river of history; I felt connected to ancestors and connected to descendants. The moment my daughter was born, I just got that. And I think part of the reason the baby boomers were so slow to wake up is because we were so slow to have our children.

I don't know how you could have a child today and not be deeply, deeply, deeply, deeply concerned about where things are going to be in 30 years. A woman said to me at one of my talks the other day, "I've always wanted to be a mother, but now I don't know if I should bring a child into the world. I look at the state of things in our country, the state of things in our planet, relationships between and among nations, the environmental desecration, and I can't imagine bringing a child into the world when I think of what they're liable to have to endure."

And I said to her, this is the difference between you and me. I don't disagree with your assessment of where the world is and I don't disagree that this is the eleventh hour. Where you and I differ is that you seem to think it's 11:47 and I think it's only 11:03.

America at this moment is an empire in decline. We are so disconnected from our own moral compass and that is a characteristic of most empires in decline. But I believe that through the grace of God, we can emerge from that nosedive. Realism about what's happening on this earth is not mutually exclusive with a spiritual understanding of infinite possibility.

The state of the world is sometimes pretty depressing to think about it and yet, your book is very hopeful.

Absolutely, because I believe in miracles. I believe that you can become the woman you need to be to discern what God needs you to do and have the courage to do it, the intelligence to do it, the wisdom to do it, and the grace to do it. The Course in Miracles says we are going through a celestial speed-up. And who among us is not going through their paces right now. I heard a gospel song yesterday, God is like a washing machine. You know, it's true; it feels like you're being shoved everywhere and thrown around and you can drown in there but then you really look at it and realize, no, I'm being washed clean of something. I'm going to come out bright and ready and new and that is what this book is about.

The first sentence in the Course of Miracles is that there is no order of difficulty in miracles. The planet is in trouble and there's only one thing that will save it and that is raising up a new force of consciousness among the peoples of the world. I see that consciousness around me-we all do--it's not like it's not there. It's just that it's not convicted enough yet, loud enough yet. I understand it's not a political power, yet you see it among leadership in many other areas. And so I think, we have a chance.

Many people think that the spiritual movement afoot in the United States comes from evangelical Christianity because the president is an evangelical.

I do not see the president as a spiritual leader.

Why?

Traditional Christianity does not have a monopoly on the interpretation of the life and inspiration of Christ.

You must read widely in order to synthesize all these ideas.

I try.

What are you reading lately?

Right now, I'm reading The Kite Runner. And I'm reading Peace Is the Way by Deepak Chopra, which is a marvelous book.

He must learn from you and you must learn from him.

Well, I'll be honored to think that that was true. I certainly learn from him.

Your urgency and fear has helped bring about the idea for a U.S. Department of Peace, right?

The Department of Peace is a legislative initiative which would establish a cabinet -level department whose sole function would be to research and facilitate non-violent solutions to conflicts. Decades ago, there was a tremendous revolution in consciousness regarding physical healing and the modalities by which to accomplish it. For generations, we had looked to the traditional doctor as the be-all and end-all of medical treatment--but a few decades ago, the holistic model emerged into mainstream consciousness and we realized that in order to heal the body, to really effect any kind of a cure, we need to address emotional, psychological, and spiritual issues as well. We are now at a point where the most prestigious academic institutions in the United States have verified that people who've been diagnosed with a life-challenging illness, and who attend spiritual support groups, live on average twice as long after diagnosis. Studies prove the efficacy of prayer in its ability to help heal the body; people who are prayed for get out of intensive care units faster. Women who are attended by doulas during labor have fewer complications with birth. We want to hear what the traditional doctor has to say; we want to hear what the surgeon has to say. But we also want to hear from the therapist, the nutritionist, from the energy doctor, etc.

A parallel revolution should now take place in our political thinking. Our politicians are like traditional doctors; they wait until the disease occurs and then they try to manage or suppress the symptoms. You can't blame a traditional doctor for giving you a traditional perspective; that's his or her training. You can't blame a surgeon for giving a surgeon's perspective; you can't blame a military person for giving you a military perspective--and those perspectives are extremely valuable. But you want to have a broad array of options for solving the problem.

In politics, we are having a conversation that can be likened to a conversation about healing the body, circa 1950. Even terrorism is an example. You could liken Hitler, the Nazis, and the Japanese Imperial Army to an operable tumor; they could be and they were surgically removed. Terrorism on the other hand is like a cancer that has already metastasized throughout the body, but we are pretending we can just go in there and surgically remove it. And with some cancers, touching it makes it worse.

Who would be part of the Department of Peace?

The legislation as it has been offered by Congressman Dennis Kucinich calls for a peace academy as a complement to the military academy. At the military academy, we teach and learn the most advanced ways to wage war. At the peace academy, we would learn the most advanced ways to wage peace. Iraq is a tragic example of American effectiveness at waging war, i.e. destroying what we didn't want in the first days of the war, but our inability in the days and months following to wage peace.

This is not an idea that will have much traction right now. How do you make it appealing to the larger population?

When the first abolitionists spoke their minds, someone said to them exactly what you just said to me. When Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other early suffragists began speaking, began saying that women should have the right to vote, people said to them what you just said to me. When Martin Luther King, Jr. said that civil rights should be accorded blacks in the American south and that the American south should be de-segregated, someone said to him exactly what you just said to me.

Historical context is very empowering because you discover through a study of history that humanity-and this is particularly true in America-never made a radical turn toward justice because a majority of people woke up one day and said that would be a good idea. History's always moved forward by a relatively small group of people considered radicals by the status quo of their time, who--while they did not represent a majority--represented at the deepest level a better idea, an idea founded on God's truth, God's love, and God's justice. So I think progressive forces need to stop being so spooked by the numbers. In systems theory, we don't need a majority to change a culture. In fact, sociologists talk a lot about the number's being 11%.- You know, during the American Revolution, the majority of colonists were Loyalists.

So we can reach a tipping point with a small number of people.

We tend to perceive these things in terms of width rather than depth. I need more people, more people, more people, more peopleWhen you look at change from the level of consciousness, it isn't about how many people your message reaches, it's about how deep your message goesI can't imagine a kind of, sort of, casually, sometimes committed terrorist. A terrorist is someone deeply focused on the goal and willing to do whatever it takesOn the other hand, I know a whole lot of people-and I myself am one at times-who are kind of, sort of, casually, when it's convenient, committed to love. You've got far more people in the world whose lives are at least primarily built on decency and good will. And yet it's as though our world and in certain ways, our own country, is in the grip of those who build their perspective on fear.

Yeah, that seems true.

Hate has a perverse kind of courage. That goes back to what we were saying earlier about people being challenged now to be more deeply convicted around things we already believe in. That's why we have enough people. We have enough people; what we lack is enough conviction.

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