Of the People. By the People. For the People.
Marianne Williamson is one of this generation’s most influential teachers. She began her career as a lecturer in Los Angeles in 1983 and since then has published 10 books, several of which are considered staples of a spiritual literary diet.
Marianne has been a force for social justice. She founded Project Angel Food, a meals-on-wheels program that serves homebound people with AIDS in the Los Angeles area and co-founded The Peace Alliance, promoting legislation to establish a US Department of Peace. In November of 2011 and 2012, she produced conferences called SISTER GIANT: Women, Non-Violence and Birthing a New American Politics.
Leading by example, she has inspired many on the path of both inquiry and action. Marianne sat down with us to talk about being a teacher and a student as well as her most recent example of taking spiritual action: her current independent candidacy for U.S. Congress.
Zoë Kors: You have said, “Our ability to change anything lies within our ability to reframe it.” How do you plan to reframe our current system and bring about necessary transformation?
Marianne Williamson: It isn’t our government that needs to be reframed so much as our own relationship to it—our own thinking and experience of citizenship. Politics has become a spectator sport; this is very unhealthy for democracy because it has shifted the power from the people to relatively small and materially empowered forces in our country. There has been a lockout, but we have conspired with the lockout by allowing ourselves to be disengaged and by dissociating ourselves from the process.
We have chosen an attitude of selective consciousness, which is not conscious. It is not enough to just be conscious about food, body, relationships…everything but politics. Whether we like it or not, politics is a powerful expression of our collective self. I think the first thing that needs to be reframed is our thinking about ourselves in relationship to politics and to society as a whole.
ZK: It’s one thing to raise one’s own consciousness. It’s an entirely different thing to raise the consciousness of a society and the institutions by which it is governed.
MW: We should look at the public sphere with the same level of consciousness as when we look at personal relationships—not shouting at someone else about what we think, but being open to hearing why they think; monitoring own hearts for where we are self-righteous or judgmental; remembering that no one has a monopoly on truth. That kind of consciousness is central to personal transformation, and to societal transformation as well. It’s why those who are on a path of higher consciousness are the last people who should be sitting out the political process; if you know how to change one heart, and one relationship, then you have a clue as to how to change the world. How can we complain that the political domain is lacking in consciousness if we ourselves aren’t putting it here?
ZK: What would you like to influence in Washington?
MW: There is a conversation already happening in Washington and around the country about ridding our political system of the undue influence of money. The situation now, in which monied interests have such disproportionate leverage on our political system, is the cancer underlying most of our problems. It’s why we have such large income inequality and child poverty, why we’re not making more progress on climate change, why we’re experiencing the corruption of our food supply, why we don’t have paid maternity leave, and so forth. The American people will always be playing defense—trying to defend ourselves against encroaching control by monied interests—until we fundamentally deal with this one issue. There are many arrows in the quiver, but our ultimate goal should be a constitutional amendment determining that money will not have undue influence on our political functioning. That is a big task—but abolition was a big task, women’s suffrage was a big task. I believe the legalized corruption that now exists represents the dismantling of democracy. Correcting our course is the greatest moral challenge of our generation.
ZK: What is our biggest spiritual challenge as a nation?
MW: Spirituality is the path to finding one’s heart and living according to its dictates. America needs to own its mistakes and atone for them, and we also need to course-correct in the places where we’re not living from our highest principles.
Democracy itself is at a crisis point, because a government of the people, by the people, and for the people has become a government of a few of the people, by a few of the people, and for a few of the people. We have a system in which a short-term economic gain for a particular sector of our society is placed before humanitarian concerns. Money—rather than love—has become our bottom line.
Our economic system, at this point, is basically sociopathic because it operates without any heart at all. I think that the health and wellbeing of our children, our planet, and of our society should be our bottom line. That, to me, is spiritual.
We can talk all we want about spirituality, but if I’m not doing anything about the fact that a child is hungry, then how am I living a path of spirituality? How can someone say that they are on the path of love, yet not address the fact that 17,000 children starve on this planet every day? No serious spiritual path gives anyone a pass on addressing the unnecessary suffering of other sentient beings.
I founded a couple of organizations back in the day: The L.A. Center for Living and Project Angel Food. We didn’t just pray for AIDS patients; we fed them. We didn’t just talk about loving them; we set up an organization where they would have someplace to go every day, where they would be fed, loved, counseled, massaged. Love is a participatory emotion, not just a passive one. Must a yogic life be grounded in a deeper level of being? Absolutely. But let’s not trade a paradigm of overemphasized doing for one of overemphasized being. A balanced life is one in which we ground ourselves in a deeper state of being, so we can soar into a higher state of doing. There’s a lot we need to do today. We need more than the audacity of hope now; we need the audacity to wield power. It’s time.
ZK: Spirituality requires action.
MW: It’s easy enough to say, “I will be a more loving person.” But unless love is applied, it’s not yet at its most mature or conscious level.
ZK: As citizens we may feel dissociated and disempowered. What can we do?
MW: Americans aren’t powerless, so much as we’ve been mesmerized into thinking we are. What we need is to wake up! Someone told me the other day that within every cynic there’s a disappointed optimist. Cynicism is just an excuse for not helping. Yes, there’s been a power grab by monied forces, and yes there’s been a lockout by our own political system—but we’ve conspired with that lockout by allowing ourselves to be disengaged and distracted. Apathy at this point is our biggest enemy, because it allows the trajectory of what’s happening to continue in the direction it’s heading. Americans have an interesting character trait: We become distracted from important things too easily, but boy, there is nothing we can’t do once we wake up. We’ve proven that in our history, and I hope we’re on the brink of proving it again.
The American government has swerved from its democratic center, putting the majority of our resources at the disposal of a small sector of our society at the expense of the common good. Looking to the political status quo to fix that is pretty naive, given that they’re the ones who created the problem. If there’s going to be a pattern interruption, it’s going to come from the people ourselves.
Every individual has to ask ourselves, “What can I do? What should I do? What is love calling me to do to?”
ZK: It’s hard to know where to start…
MW: Is that really true, or do we just say it’s true? Name any issue you care about, and is it really so hard to Google it—to research the issue, to look up who’s doing the best work on the problem, and to become involved with the solution? Sometimes we just act powerless because it’s become a habit to act powerless. Start anywhere. Start where you are. Cultivate an attitude of service, and watch what happens.
ZK: Marianne, many people look to you as a teacher. What do you feel is the role of a teacher in our society today?
MW: To teach is to demonstrate. We are teaching all the time, in everything we say and do. As far as worldly teaching goes, in A Course in Miracles, it says that a teacher is someone who is half a step ahead in time. Your yoga teacher can do moves you can’t do simply because she has been at it longer. That is all. It’s a lateral thing. A teacher is just a little bit ahead in time.
ZK: How do you plan to continue your role as a teacher?
MW: I am continuing my A Course in Miracles talks on Monday nights in LA. And I think my Congressional campaign is the continuation of my teaching, because teaching is demonstrating. I’ve been talking about how it’s time for all of us to step up, to move beyond our comfort zones, to reach for what we know in our hearts represents our highest level of service to the world. I felt that if I didn’t make this move, I wasn’t really doing what I was asking others to do.
The world is not going to be transformed because any one woman is sent to Congress. What we need is a populist revolution of the heart, where everybody wakes up and participates at a higher level.
We need to move from allopathic politics (“Let the politicians handle the problem.”) to an integrative politics (“Let’s all of us handle the problem.”) We need to move from an old transactional politics (“I’ll give you this if you vote for me.”) to transformational politics (“Let us together create something beautiful for America and for the world.”) We need to move, in the words of JFK, from the Republican or Democratic answer, to the right answer. We need a new American conversation, unfiltered by anyone’s dogma. We need a level of political maturity that takes us beyond “me getting mine” to “us creating ours.” That is what I hope my campaign stands for; I want it to be a collective act of love, and a stand for possibility within a domain that is sad, and weary, and dominated by calcified thought forms. That’s my intention and my commitment, and I hope that others will join me.
ZK: It’s a beautiful vision and very inspired. What intentions would you encourage people set in the new year?
MW: We all just need to be more loving. Every moment is an invitation to show more compassion, to be a better version of ourselves. It’s simple enough, of course, but not always easy. Any moment we get it right, though, is a moment when we help enlighten the world.
Marianne Williamson is a candidate for the U. S. House of Representatives from California’s 33rd District. For more information on Marianne’s candidacy, please visit: marianneforcongress.com.
Marianne Williamson has published 10 books, six of which have been New York Times Bestsellers; four of these have been #1 on that list. A Return to Love is considered a must-read of The New Spirituality. This paragraph from that book is considered to be an anthem for a contemporary generation of seekers:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
Zoe Kors is the Managing Editor of LA YOGA Magazine.