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ONLINE EXCLUSIVE - February 2017 - Kansas City
Tears to Triumph
An Interview with Marianne Williamson
by Jill Dutton
Marianne Williamson is an internationally acclaimed spiritual author and lecturer. Seven of her twelve published books have been New York Times Best Sellers. Four of these have been #1. In preparation for a visit by Marianne to Kansas City in February, Evolving Magazine publisher, Jill Dutton, got a chance to sit down and chat with Marianne about the topic of suffering.
Evolving Magazine: Marianne, I had the honor of interviewing you about 20 years ago. In my early 30s, I had recently started a magazine called Evolving Woman. It was an outgrowth of my life experiences, and thus, a personal endeavor. At the time (and even now), I did not feel like any sort of expert on a particular topic; I felt like my gift was to provide an outlet to share the experiences of other experts—like yourself. I was impressed by your clear vision, devotion to enlightening others, and your pure expression of love through your speaking and writing. I am honored to have this opportunity again.
Let’s talk about suffering. Your newest book, Tears to Triumph talks about the spiritual journey from suffering to enlightenment. What do you mean when you say someone is suffering?
Marianne Williamson: It is about depression and anxiety, which the spiritual call ‘suffering.’ Today we say, ‘She has anxiety—or she’s depressed.’ We do not say she is suffering.
EM: What lead you to the topic of suffering?
MW: I’ve certainly had my experiences of the dark night of my own soul, but I’ve noticed something over the last few years and that is the numbers of people who were on and are currently on pharmaceutical antidepressants because of situations that I have always seen and do see within the spectrum of normal human despair. Getting a divorce is very painful--but it’s not a mental illness. Losing your job or having a professional failure or financial loss is painful--but it’s not a mental illness. Even losing someone that you love, or the heartbreak of a divorce is painful--but it’s not a mental illness. Yet there has been this psycho-pharmaceutical appropriation of human sadness. I’m not talking about bipolar or schizophrenic situations, that’s not what I’m talking about here. That is in fact beyond the purview of my experience.
Traditionally, that spectrum of normal human despair was--and is--seen as a spiritual issue and the great spiritual traditions have spoken to this. So when I think of the spiritual tools I have used to move through…tools I’ve learned as a spiritual student that have made such a difference in the transformation of my own pain, suffering, and dark nights of the soul…it seems to me that one of the reasons people are drawn so quickly and easily to the pharmaceuticalization of these issues is because they are unaware of what the great spiritual traditions have to say--or even of the fact that the great spiritual traditions speak to them.
The three examples I chose for the book are Buddha, Moses, and Jesus, but in fact, at the core of all great religions and spiritual teachings is the recognition that life lived outside the cosmic order of a divine universe is a life of suffering. Because within the Divine Order there is harmony and peace. Outside that cosmically ordered universe, there is chaos and despair. That’s simply the way it is. That cosmically ordered universe is any thought system emanating from love. It’s love, it’s atonement, it’s rising to the occasion, it’s compassion, it’s mercy, it’s taking responsibility for our own mistakes, learning, trying to do better, and forgiving other people for their mistakes. Any thinking that is outside that circle is thinking that inevitably causes despair. It inevitably produces anxiety. It inevitably induces chaos. And to simply suppress the pain that results from that lovelessness, or that chaos, is not the way to heal it. It’s just an allopathic treatment of a disease, which as we know is an incomplete paradigm when it doesn’t include that which addresses causal issues.
EM: So, how can the act of suffering actually help us?
MW: First, we have to recognize that as a society we have taken a cheap yellow smiley face and put it over our lives as though happy, happy, happy all the time is somehow an exalted state. And I’m sure once we become enlightened masters that’s true, but until then as human beings, there are seasons of life. And just as the body has an immune system and the body can take quite a bit of assault and injury—and absorb it and integrate it and heal from it—so can the psyche. Grief is the bulwark of the psychic immune system so sometimes you’ll have a sad day, let’s take remorse…you’re feeling bad about something you have done and people will say, ‘Oh, don’t be sad. Don’t feel bad.’ Well, sometimes feeling bad is the most human thing you can do. Only a sociopath has no remorse. So sometimes, what we need to do is allow ourselves a period of sadness and know that it’s a season of life. I open the book with a quote from Rilke, “Let me not squander the hours of my pain…”
I’m looking outside my window now. I’m living in New York and all the green, the leaves, are gone from the trees. It’s winter. Not because something is wrong, but because this is a season of life. A season of nature. And I wouldn’t say when you can embrace your pain…but when you can allow it, offer permission. I remember when I was a child and people would have a family member die and everyone wore black. Now, this was before everyone wore black all the time. And I remember when I was growing up that it was absolutely understood that for a year or so people would not be themselves (after a death). Now, we have this craziness in our society where we ask, ‘Aren’t you over this yet? Your mother died but it’s been two months. Aren’t you over it yet?’ And that’s what the book is about. It’s about permitting our sadness and knowing this is going to be a difficult time.
The first thing you do is open to that. The book talks about the things you must do. It involves taking care of yourself during that time period--and taking care of yourself includes surrounding yourself with people who have compassion for your experience. The deeper aspect is looking at the spiritual principles and that’s what I talk about in the book. It has to do with looking at the fact that most of the time, not all of the time, but most of the time (unless it’s the case where you’re grieving the death of someone) your own behavior might have had something to do with this. What is there for you to learn from it? You lost your job, you lost a lot of money, you lost a relationship or marriage…part of why you feel bad is because you have to look at some things that are difficult to look at. This is your own part in the disaster. Darn right, it’s going to be hard. Darn right, you’re not going to sleep some of those nights. The book is about knowing that if you do not face those things you will not learn from them. Then you will not change in those areas and then you will come out of the experience ready to just make the same mistakes next time and have the same emotional car crash again.
So, the book talks about the philosophy of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and Buddhism. It talks about the mind when it is aligned with the Divine. It talks about the chaos that results. In the Old Testament, it is symbolized by the slavery of the Israelites at the hands of the Pharaoh. In the New Testament, it’s symbolized by the crucifixion. But just as in the Old Testament, it talks about the journey, the 40-year journey to the promised land. In the New Testament, it talks about the transformation from the crucifixion to the resurrection. So when you look at these things metaphysically, whether you were talking enlightenment—the enlightenment of Buddha—or deliverance to the Promised Land, or resurrection, or self-actualization, they’re all the same thing. The evolution is into the level of consciousness where suffering is no more.
EM: On the topic of suffering, I think millions of people are struggling after the current election. What are your thoughts on the presidential situation and its effects/opportunities/challenges for women and minorities? For anyone suffering during this climate of change.
MW: I think it is that for millions of people. And for good reason. There is grief in the air because we are seeing the dismantling of some of the basic tenants of our democracy. We’re seeing the transgression against some of the moral principles and moral values on which our country has at least tried to stand. I think along with this there is understandable fear, as well. So I’m reminded that a lot of our despair is collective. The psychotherapeutic model of the last 100 years has focused on the suffering of the individual. ‘I am depressed because of this or that circumstance in MY life.’ We would do well to reclaim a realization of how much of the despair people feel is not just because of what we are going through individually, but what we are going through as a collective. And this was true even before this political season. I think that the very ideas and points that I make in the book about the individual sufferer applies to the collective.
The United States and the average American has a lot to look at here. I think a lot of us have to look at our previous disengagement from the political process—how we thought other people would take care of it. We’re learning now that this is what happens when too many of the best and brightest disengage from politics. This is what you get. You don’t take care of your democracy? Guess what? Someone else will be glad to take it over for you. There are many things for us to look at, but most importantly, it’s important for us to realize as a collective as well as individuals that we must look deep into ourselves, claim what is important, and actively stand on those things that matter. You feel that you didn’t take part in the cultivation of the protection of your democracy? Do so now. You think you didn’t give enough attention to issues of economic justice? Do so now. You didn’t really look at things like mass incarceration? Do so now. I think there is a lot of collective pain and suffering in this moment that is no different from the issues of the individual because the entire collective is a group of individuals. So, the same spiritual dynamics that apply to an individual also apply to a nation.
Marianne Williamson - Live IN PERSON Event February 17
Join Marianne Williamson for "TEARS TO TRIUMPH: The Spiritual Journey from Suffering to Enlightenment", an in-depth look at the true source of human despair and the spiritual power by which we transcend it. Presented by the Cornerstone Foundation and Evolving Magazine at Unity Temple on the Plaza, 707 W. 47th Street, Kansas City, MO 64112. 7 p.m. Tickets available online at www.CornerstoneFoundation.com or the Central Ticket Office (816) 235-6222. Use coupon code EVOLVING for advance discount.
Jill Dutton is publisher of Evolving Magazine. Two years ago, she started traveling the U.S. by rail writing articles, blog posts, and a book. Follow Jill’s travel adventures at www.jilldutton.wordpress.com