A More Perfect Vision for Humanity
Although I interviewed Marianne Williamson on the phone for this interview, I saw her in person when she spoke at Harvard Medical School last November as part of The National Institute for Whole Health’s Celebrity Speaker Series.
The lecture and interactive Q&A session Marianne delivered more than lived up to the inspiration I’ve received through reading her many books over the years including Healing the Soul of America, A Return to Love and her latest, The Age of Miracles: Embracing the New Midlife (Hay House, 2008). At the lecture, an atmosphere tingling with an Oprah-esque excitement prevailed as Marianne walked the aisles with microphone in hand, talking with individuals who bared their souls to the crowd. Sparked by unswerving faith in the power of spirit to transform, lift and sustain us, Marianne captivates her audience by offering hope and the promise of integrity.
A student and teacher of A Course In Miracles — a spiritual thought system that teaches that the way to universal love and peace is through undoing guilt by forgiving others — Marianne notes that her career began while she was working with the AIDS community in San Francisco in the early 80’s. For over 25 years, she has refined her skills at teaching and inspiring people to bring prayer as a non-denominational practice into every aspect of their daily lives. Two or three times during the lecture at Harvard, Marianne paused to say, “Let’s all pray about that,” and led the audience in a short one-minute prayer to direct our focus towards positive outcomes for the topic at hand. In a sense, her style of optimism, charisma and success reminds us that prayer not only works, it can even be hip!
In The Age of Miracles, Marianne addresses the topic of midlife and how this transitional time of life makes the current generation of baby boomers poised to take on the mantel of being the new leaders of the world, and healers of our own lives as well. By embracing our new roles at midlife, we befriend our true selves, our bodies, and gifts of life purpose and passion which may have gone unrecognized before this time in our lives. It is her faith in this awakening which renews the hope that the work we began in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s on behalf of Earth and humanity is still ripe to bear fruit in this decade.
Carol Bedrosian: There’s an incredible pool of talent, energy and resources from within the generation of the 60’s — the hippies — and the generation that came after them, which makes up the current midlife population. Many of us have professional training and life experience, we are spiritually aware, passionate and dedicated about our lives, the planet and the future, we are leaders in our fields, yet why isn’t the world a better place?
"We have a lot to give individually and collectively at this time in our lives. What we often lack is an emotional container for our gifts. A place inside us where we feel, not just believe intellectually, but actually feel that we have a lot to give and we’re ready to give it."
Marianne Williamson: We have a lot to give individually and collectively at this time in our lives. What we often lack is an emotional container for our gifts. A place inside us where we feel, not just believe intellectually, but actually feel that we have a lot to give and we’re ready to give it.
So a lot of the work, the transition into a productive midlife is inner work, emotional work. We have thick and encrusted salt forms we have to push aside in order to have a real sense of spiritual victory at midlife. Particularly for woman there is such a sense of being over-the-hill at a certain age. Our bodies change. Society looks at us differently as we change.
There are many ways in which we have to challenge some fundamental core beliefs about the aging process. We can begin to see midlife as a kind of second puberty. In the first puberty transiting us from childhood to the teenage years, one persona completely melts away and a new one emerges. And at midlife, something not dissimilar occurs. It is a very significant moment when you know that your youth is irrevocably over. So that grief, that shock, has to be moved through.
A conscious person accepts the limits of age but we also accept the limitlessness of God. God specializes in new beginnings. Every night is followed by morning, every winter is followed by spring and the last thing that could slow down God is the fact that you’re older than you used to be! You don’t have to be young to be fabulous, but in a society which pretty much equates fabulousness with youth, there’s a lot of thinking and feeling that one has to go through before we are ready to claim for ourselves the fabulousness of midlife.
Carol Bedrosian: So with all of the gigantic problems that we’re facing — terrorism, the Iraq war, the horrible response of our nation two years ago to Hurricane Katrina and what those people had to endure, why mountains of aid were not immediately available and are still not available to them, our bridges are following apart in the country, our schools don’t have funding — is it because we are stuck in our own inner turmoil and unable to address these issues?
Marianne Williamson: Now let’s reconstruct what you just said. You talked about Katrina and you talked about “the horrifying response of our nation.” So what I’d like to point out is that it wasn’t the horrifying response of our nation; it was the horrifying response of our government. Today, as much as at any time in American history, there is a big difference between the heart of the people and the behavior of our government.
I am a believer in the basic decency of the American people. Our vigilance — the vigilance which we were warned by Benjamin Franklin and others that we would need in order to keep our republic — our generation took our eye off the ball. And in taking our eye off the ball enough election cycles, it created and sustained a pattern that ultimately resulted in nothing short of the theft of a presidential election in the year 2000. So I think that as citizens of the world, as well as citizens of America, we have to dig deep inside ourselves to do whatever it takes to put the American government back on the track and back into alignment with the basic decency, goodness and compassion of the spirit of the American people — what Lincoln called the “angels of our better nature.” And that takes, as Martin Luther King said, “a quantitative change in our circumstance but also a qualitative change in our souls.”
Carol Bedrosian: Why isn’t there more of an outcry and outrage to address our global and national problems?
Marianne Williamson: People are still trying to process the fact that the basic institutions that we look to for protection have become anything but that. In terms of why there isn’t more of an outcry, sometimes people are crying silently. But sometimes the silent cries are what precede the outer cry. I think there’s a great underground river of deep concern in this country that we elected this war, re-elected Bush and chose that vision of the future. So I think hope is a moral imperative, and I think it’s very difficult to have hope right now unless you have faith in people.
But certain forces have been so successful over the last 40-50 years at misinformation, at separating people from their deeper humanitarian connection and the kind of vital civic activism that’s absolutely imperative if America’s to get back and stay on track. We are in this mess but that doesn’t mean that we won’t get back on track. We have to believe that.
America has many times in history gone in the wrong direction. We were based on genocide, practiced slavery, and we didn’t give woman suffrage or other rights. But Martin Luther King talked about the moral arc of justice. We had slavery, but then we abolished slavery, woman had no right to vote and no right to property, but then we corrected that. I think we have to have faith in the basic arc of American progress that, ultimately we can do the right thing.
Our generation are grown ups now; the longest post-adolescence in the history of the world probably was ours! We stayed adolescents too long, but that has finally changed and I think 9/11 had a lot to do with it. Let’s have faith! I think this is a moment, if ever there was one, to encourage each other. Everybody is, I believe, endowed with an internal guidance system. And God’s not giving me direction of your life, and God’s not giving you direction for my life, but God is giving you and me the power to say to each other, “You go girl!” And if we have enough of that, the miracle can happen.
Carol Bedrosian: I’m very interested in the Peace Alliance you are working on. Is that also connected with the Department of Peace legislation sponsored by Congressman and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich?
Marianne Williamson: The Department of Peace legislation’s original co-sponsor is absolutely Congressman Dennis Kucinich, however, it takes many co-sponsors in the House or the Senate to get to the point where a bill has any chance of becoming law. I think while the specific legislative focus of the Peace Alliance is the passage of this particular piece of legislation, the deeper, qualitative, focus of the organization has to do with re-empowering citizens to reconnect them to a sense of civic empowerment — making people excited about politics again. We need that re-engagement with information and political activism again in order to live the most conscious lives as citizens of this country. Expressing our voices every 2 or 4 years in an election is not enough anymore.
Carol Bedrosian: I see a lot of political and social apathy, people wrapped up in their own lives, stresses and problems, which is probably why they can’t reach out to handle other public issues.
Marianne Williamson: If you look at that in a historical context, even in the midst of our major revolutions, the majority of the people didn’t wake up one day and say, “Let’s give woman the right to vote,” or “Let’s eradicate slavery.” And when they did abolish slavery, there were still a lot of people who wanted it. I think sometimes — our generation particularly — we not only want instant gratification, we want everybody to agree with us, and when we look at people who don’t see it our way we get very, very nervous.
But if you look at history, the majority is not what drives history. All the great social movements that I just mentioned didn’t emanate from a change in the mind of majority. It emanated from deep conviction and passion and dedication and focus of the minority that held the better idea. I always say that the social axis that will lead us forward at this time is not horizontal, it’s vertical. It’s not about getting more and more people to agree with a superficial idea. It’s really about going deeper and deeper with the people who do agree with you so that there’s more reverberation. That’s how society shifts. Society doesn’t shift because a minority shifts; it shifts because there’s enough coalescing of energy around an idea that is based on higher truth.
Carol Bedrosian: What are the higher truths are for this country?
Marianne Williamson: I think the great shift in consciousness has to do with our making a historical transition from a perception of ourselves as separate from other people and separate from Earth to our realization that, in fact, we are one with other people and one with the Earth. We are deeply interconnected and whatever we do to others, we are doing to ourselves. That basic shift leads to a realization that a humanitarian organizing principal must ultimately replace an economic organizing principal for human civilization.
As long as the bottom line of all geopolitical organization is short term economic gain for a relatively few members of the population, that’s a ship heading for the iceberg. As we move towards a realization that humanitarian principals must become a new organizing principal, we understand that there’s nothing so dangerous to our security as large groups of desperate people. Answering the issue of human despair in whatever form it may occur anywhere around the world not gears us towards our moral good, but also our mortal good. That’s the shift.
I think it’s bubbling up from the bottom of things now. There are huge forces that empower the military and empower money and empower government and empower business and corporate, and basically advocate for and protect the old order — what you and I might see as the ultimately unsustainable order. But the same is true with slavery, the same was true with an age in which woman had no rights, the same was true with the British colonial empire. But the British colonial empire did fall. So from a religious and spiritual perspective, the night happens. There’s evil in the world. But that’s never the end of the story.
Carol Bedrosian: And how do you see things moving for the 2008 elections?
Marianne Williamson: I’m one of those people who have continued to hold out a prayer that Al Gore would run. Other than that, I’m just like everyone else — watching and hoping and waiting. Once we know who the candidates are I’m going to do everything I can to support the person who I feel will alight a vision for America that is more rooted in humanitarian concern.
For information about Marianne Williamson’s books and speaking tours, visit http://www.marianne.com.
Carol Bedrosian is the publisher and editor of Spirit of Change Magazine.