Episode 22: Marianne Williamson - The Gift of Change - Part 1

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In this inspiring and wide-ranging conversation, Duncan and Marianne dialogue about Marianne’s early life and her eventual grounding in the ecumenical vision expressed through The Course in Miracles. As with Larry Dossey, MD in his recent book The Extraordinary Healing Power of Ordinary Things (see Program 2 of this Living Dialogues podcast series), Marianne stresses the role of optimism, a kind of “positive denial” that affirms a larger reality than the pessimism of surface appearances, especially in these times. When we know (not merely believe) that the material plane is not the end, we resist the material plane less and appreciate it more. Duncan refers to the deep meaning of Joseph Campbell’s famous advice to "follow your bliss", in which by attuning our awareness to the cosmic source, we "find the Grail", and the limitless energy of the universe flows into our being. More details on this episode go to http://personallifemedia.com/podcasts/living-dialogues/episode022-marianne-williamson-gift-of-change-part-1.html

Transcript

Marianne Williamson – The Gift of Change – Part 1

Announcer:  This program is brought to you by personallifemedia.com.

[Music]

Duncan Campbell: From time immemorial, beginning with indigenous councils and ancient wisdom traditions, through the work of Western visionaries such as Plato, Galileo, and quantum physicist David Bohm, mutually participatory dialogue has been seen as the key to evolving and transforming consciousness, evoking a flow of meaning, ‘idia’, flow, of ‘logos’, meaning, beyond what any one individual can bring through alone.  So join us now, as together with you, the active deep listener, we evoke and engage in Living Dialogues.

[music ends]

Duncan Campbell: Welcome to Living Dialogues.  I’m your host, Duncan Campbell, and with me for this particular dialogue I’m truly delighted to have once again my friend Marianne Williamson as my guest.  Marianne, welcome to the program.  How are you?

Marianne Williamson: Fine, thank you.

Duncan Campbell: Great!  It’s really, really a delight to have you here on the program.

Marianne Williamson: Thank you.

Duncan Campbell: And I have to say right off the bat in the interest, as they say in the media, of making full disclosure, that the last time you and I saw each other was in December of 2005, where you were the minister at my wedding to Edna Bruin.

Marianne Williamson: I was indeed, and enjoyed every second of it.

Duncan Campbell: It was really a phenomenal experience and something that was really so spontaneous on all of our parts.  You know we were all attending and participating in the Alliance for a New Humanity in Puerto Rico, which had been convened in part by Deepak Chopra and a number of others, including Nobel Prize winners that had formed that association back in… four years ago in 2003.  And one of the things that I thought was so remarkable about it was really the spontaneity and the open-heartedness of the entire gathering, which led myself and Edna to actually announce that we planned to get married in an intimate ceremony four or five days after the conference was going to conclude and you came up to Edna and offered to marry us.  And of course you…

Marianne Williamson: Well I figured if you were going to get married, and I just happened to be there, what are we talking about here?!

Duncan Campbell: [laughs] That’s right.  And so to me that was a tremendous gift, both on our part, all three of us, to the conference, and an enormous gift, coming back a hundred-fold to us from the participants.  And you beautifully said in the ceremony that in a sense here were all of these people, all of us aligned with a heartfelt intention for global peace and for the movement of consciousness on the part of all beings, and all life forms, and you know, the planet itself.  And the celebration we had was in that sense a celebration of the very kind of things that you talk about in your most recent book The Gift of Change.  And so in a sense it was everything you’ve talked about in your career and your life and your many books, put into action. 

And I want to take this occasion to thank you publicly for what Edna and I felt was a wonderful eloquence you had in speaking the sense of what marriage means, and what sacred marriage is, that you and I and Edna had discussed in advance.  We had told you our love story.  We told you our understanding of marriage and what it was.  And you articulated that very faithfully and then added wonderful insights of your own that I thought really made this a very special moment for all of us and for everyone there.  And so I want to share that with our listening audience here and use that perhaps as an introduction, this sense of heartfelt gratitude, and the sense of experience the miracle and the blessing that can come to us in the most unexpected ways when we are in a situation where our own personal hearts are open, and when other like-minded people are present and things happen that really are miracles. 

And perhaps we can start our program then with your talking a bit about how you discovered the book The Course of Miracles in your twenties and what transformation really took place with you.

Marianne Williamson: Well I first saw The Course of Miracles when I was 27 years old.  I had already been very interested in Western and Eastern philosophy and religion, both academically and non-academically.  So the discussion of spiritual principle and its psychological relevance was not new to me.  What was a little shocking for me at first was the Christian language in the book.  I had studied a lot of Christian theology as part of a comparative religion course of study in college.  But as a Jew, to study such things academically is very different than to pick up a book on someone’s table that is there for no academic purpose but strictly for personal reasons.  So I kept the book at a bit of arm’s length. 

And then when I picked it up again, what I found, which anyone finds after reading one or two or three pages at the most, is this is not the Christian religion.  This is not Christian doctrine or dogma, far from it.  It is a psychological training based on universal spiritual themes.  And it does use the traditional Christian terms, but in decidedly non-traditional ways.  So I was able to embrace it, and embrace it as a Jew.  The Course of Miracles says, “The teachers of God,” meaning those who feel called to give love, really, “come from all religions and no religion,” which I find a very beautiful idea.  And when people say to me, “Where would you be if you…” or “What would you be doing if you had not found The Course of Miracles?”  I think about the character of Edwina in Absolutely Fabulous.

Duncan Campbell: Oh, yeah.  What a great program.

Marianne Williamson: [unclear]

Duncan Campbell: Oh yes, and it [unclear].

Marianne Williamson: My life is such a mess!  But she’s got such a basic New Age consciousness behind it.  And I always laugh and say I think I would have been on the Edwina track. I just know that this course has helped me find inner peace, you know.  The Course of Miracles says that’s the aim of the course, the practical aim of the course is the attainment of inner peace. So I’m not saying that I’m at inner peace 24 hours every day, necessarily, but I’m at peace more often than not.  And I feel in my life the fact that I do feel I have…  If you were to say to me, “Do you have a happy life?”  I would say, “Yes.”  People would say to me, “Do you have a fulfilling career?”  I would say, “Yes.”  Those two things are for me miraculous because I think that where I was headed in my 20’s guaranteed neither of those things.  I’m not saying that I necessarily wouldn’t have had those things, but I certainly was flailing and had no idea how to get them.

Duncan Campbell: And that I think is one of the really wonderful things of your books, and particularly this latest one The Gift of Change, where you do in fact share these intimate personal stories of moments, for instance, when you were at 5:00 in the morning at the end of a sleepless night, and facing certain frustrations that you talked about in your career.  And you turned to prayer and you said to God, as you do in that form in The Course of Miracles, you said something directly to Spirit, if we will, and you said, “I feel like I’m a failure.”  And at that moment your eyes lit upon a book by Rabbi Harold Kushner, which just happened to be on your bed table because he had given it to you and asked you to read it and make comments on it.  And you’d put it aside until you were able to find some time, and so that was the time.  I mean you picked it up and you read it, and it turned out that the words in the book that you happened to open it to just spoke directly to that particular crisis that you were in, that crisis of confidence, we might say, a moment of slipping back into ego and fear and anxiety, rather than that kind of inner stillness and confidence that you are constantly embraced.  We all are, by the love of Spirit and the love of God. 

And so at that moment you said, “And it was not lost on me that I was getting comfort from a rabbi form my own tradition.”  And I thought that was really wonderful, because one of the things you say earlier in your book, about The Course of Miracles, you say, and I’m quoting here, “Although the course uses traditional Christian terminology, it is not Christian doctrine.  Its terms are used in psychological context with universal meaning for any student of spiritual principles, regardless of whether or not they have a Christian orientation.”  And so, as you’ve said, originally you know you were a bit put off, literally, by the Christian terminology, but as you came to see the more fundamental archetypal deep human, and the divine meaning in the text, you began to adopt the terminology, where instead of for instance native Americans referring to “Creator”, you would refer easily to “God”, but then again and again in the book you say, “It doesn’t matter what we call God.  Whether it’s ‘Spirit’ or ‘Creator’ or ‘Consciousness’ or ‘Shiva Shakti’, whatever it is, it is that sense that we are all imbued with a greatness, with a great purpose, with a great meaning.  We are all partaking of and permeated by this greatness, which we call God.  And it’s only when we shrink and play small in our own perception of the world out of fear, that the angst and the anxiety, the lack of confidence, the feelings of failure, and all of that, can overwhelm us.” 

And so again and again you use very specific examples from your own life and from those of people you’ve met, I think to great effect, in your book, to share your own sense of experience and confidence that has come in this meaning, to you over your willingness throughout your life to, every time you are confronted with one of these human dramas to reapply this perspective.  And as you do, as you point out, it reveals to us over and over again in greater amplification the deeper truth.  And one of your earlier books was called Return to Love, return to the truth that we all are part of that great process and the process of becoming that we call love.  And I’m thinking of Brian Weiss’ book where he titled one of his books Only Love is Real.  And so perhaps you could address that dichotomy you address so well in your book, between fear and love, and how we find ourselves in fear and how we can move to our own inner greatness.

Marianne Williamson: Well when Brian titled his book Only Love is Real, The Course of Miracles in the introduction to the course it says, “This course can be summed up very simply in this way: Nothing real can be threatened.  Nothing Unreal exists.  Herein lies the peace of God.”  And that is the primary philosophy of the course, that only love is real and nothing else exists, which theoretically, by the way, is very much like Christian Science.  The work of Mary Baker Eddy is that spirit is real and matter is not.  And The Course of Miracles indicates that along in a way philosophically very parallel to Christian Science, that love is the ultimate Reality, with a capital “R”, and everything that is not love is, in a very real way, a hallucination of the mortal mind.  And it seems as real.  In fact, living on the earth where we perceive through our physical senses, that which is unreal feels to us, seems to us more real than that which is real.  We are completely upside-down in our perception.  This is all so very much like Buddhist philosophy, the idea of the world as “maya” or illusion, which is a product of the monkey mind, as it were.  Same kind of thing here.  So the idea is that our physical senses reveal to us a world which seems real but isn’t.  But it’s all an illusion. 

It’s all an illusion and is a product of the mind which has separated itself from God, called in the course, ego.  And the ego is not neutral.  It actually has as its goal the experience of fear.  And it is only when we are able to see beyond appearances and register our experience of ourselves and others not according to what our physical senses perceive, but according to what our hearts know to be true, whether you call it the vision of the Holy Spirit or anything else.  That you can achieve peace because your mind has been shifted from a focus on fear to a focus on the reality that lies beyond that illusion of fear, which is love.  And The Course of Miracles says we have a split mind, living on this earth.  And one aspect of the mind is still in touch with God and that connection cannot be destroyed.  It can just be covered over.  One expression, one way to describe this mind, is the mind of the Holy Spirit in us, “holy” meaning whole, “spirit” meaning mind.  It’s the whole mind. 

And that mind leads to love.  It leads us to bless rather than condemn.  It leads us to see the good in people rather than to concentrate on the negative or on the mistakes.  It leads us to forgive rather than to withhold forgiveness.  It leads us to a belief in infinite possibility rather than shutting down in thoughts that “this is not possible” or “that’s not possible”.  It leads us to perceptions of ourselves and others, which are full of grandeur rather than grandiosity, and magnitude rather than littleness.  It leads us to the kind of energies within ourselves that enables us to attract and magnetize more positive experiences, and to be shielded in a way from more negative ones.  It really, by transforming the mind, transforms our whole experience of life.

Duncan Campbell: And indeed, I think you very well say that it’s very similar to Buddhism, as has become quite well-known in the culture, actually progressively, with the popularity, we might say, of the Dalai Lama, who has come to be seen literally on media all over the globe in the last 25 years, and who in his own consciousness and presence embodies that sense of tranquility, that sense of serenity in the face of great struggle and in the face of great trial and tribulation that he’s experienced and all Tibetans have, you know, in their lifetimes.  And in a sense I think your relating The Course of Miracles to Buddhism… we could also talk about Hinduism and the other great spiritual traditions, which speak about a kind of enlightenment.  That terminology is I think the parallel in The Course of Miracles to the miracle of everyday consciousness, which can be transformed from being attached in a confused way to illusion, and then suddenly finding itself at peace and in serenity when it feels that larger presence. 

I believe you talked at one point in your book of your eyes one day you were in a hurry on your way to work, seeing for two minutes, you know, a phrase something like, “Holiness pervades us all.”  Do you remember that one?  It’s a phrase from The Course of Miracles where you just happened to have your eyes catch it as you rushed out the door, and then you repeated it to yourself during the day, and as you did you could feel this transformation as…

Marianne Williamson: I think it’s something like “Holiness envelopes everything I see,” something like that.

Duncan Campbell: That’s exactly it.  Yes.  Yeah, that we are permeated by that and we are part of it, and as we remind ourselves of that, you know we can think of the Pilgrim’s Prayer, you know that other famous thing, that in the 60’s a number of us became exposed to for the first time, the idea of ‘mantra’ in Eastern religions, where you repeat the name of God.  Or these days you know we have a number of CD’s out there that involve kirtan or chanting over and over again the name of Shiva, the name of Ra, or whatever; they’ve become quite popular.

Marianne Williamson: Yeah.  The idea in the course, and by the way I have two things: First of all, the course as a universal theology is neither possible nor necessary.  What’s necessary is a universal experience.

Duncan Campbell: Exactly.

Marianne Williamson: So I believe that great universal themes are present within all the great religious and philosophical systems.  Mysticism is not a religion.  It’s a conviction of the heart, as Manley Hall said.  So I believe that the great universal spiritual truths are told in all the great religious systems.  That’s number one.  Number two, when, from The Course of Miracles perspective we would not say that holiness pervades all things.  This is what we would say… we would say that, what the course says is that the world as we see it is not a thing.  It’s just a projection of your mind.  So The Course of Miracles says, “One day you will realize there is nothing outside yourself.”  So what is holy is your mind, because your mind is part of God’s.  The only reality is the mind of God.  You are a thought in the mind of God.  Everything you see is a reflection of your thought.  That is why holiness pervades it, because all that is real is an extension of love.  The mind of God is extended into you and then through you to the extent to which you perceive with love.  So the reason holiness pervades all things is because all things are in your mind and your mind is holy.  That’s a particular take on that, a nuance of difference that I find really fascinating.

Duncan Campbell: Well, and also, it’s one that came up during the appearance you made on CNN with Larry King, on the occasion of the death of Dana Reeve, the widow of Christopher Reeve, who had died in October 2004 after having had his accident in 1995 and had become a figure known to people allover the world for his courageous fight for life and survival for nine years with the miraculous loving support, we might say, of spirit, and of his wife and family.  And then she suddenly died after seven months of being diagnosed with lung cancer, despite the fact that she had never smoked a cigarette.  And this left a number of people, I think, in a quandary, wondering, as the phrase goes, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  And in that moment Larry King and his staff turned to you and to Deepak Chopra and to Maya Angelou, also to John Kerry, to Lance Armstrong, and others, to really share your view on this great mystery, the great mystery of death and the seeming, we might even call it “injustice”, you know, of someone who had obviously loved very deeply, and we’re talking now about Dana Reeve, who left behind three children, one of them only 13.  And Larry turned to you and he asked you, you know, what your experience was of this.  And I’ll let you speak for yourself, but I think it does illustrate what you’ve just said.

Marianne Williamson: Well I didn’t say this on The Larry King Show quite this way, but you know the line in The Course of Miracles is that, “One day you will realize death is not a punishment.  It’s the reward.”  You know for those of us that recognize the spiritual truth that as the course says, “Birth is not a beginning but a continuation, and death is not an end but a continuation.”  The fact that we are incarnate or disincarnate at any given moment is simply not as big a deal as this world thinks it is.  So from the perspective of something like The Course of Miracles, and I did say this on The Larry King Show, there was something for most people… I know my reaction when I heard she died, it was like, “Oh, no, she died!”  And I had about 30 seconds of “Ain’t it awful?” and then I thought, “How romantic is that?”  And I think a lot of people felt that, that theirs was obviously a great love story.  Dana and Christopher Reeve are really one of the great love stories of our generation.  It was a great love story in life, and it’s a great love story in death.  I mean we’ve all heard stories of couples, usually much, much older, where you know they’ve been married for many, many years, and one dies and then the other follows pretty close behind. 

And from a spiritual, you know, depth psychology perspective, it’s not how long you live; it’s how deeply you live.  And these people lived deeply and they burned through so much.  And maybe it’s not…  I mean on a human level it’s a tragedy she left, but maybe there’s… you know if you consider the fact that there’s a level way beyond a strictly mortal perspective on things, maybe it’s glorious beyond glorious that she went to be with him.  I mean we all know that beautiful scene in Superman when he takes Margot Kidder flying through the sky with him.  And I like to think that that’s where they are now.  Now they do have a 15-year-old boy they left behind, and from a human perspective once again what a tragedy.  But you know, in my profession you’re around these kinds of things a lot.  And what I know, and many people know, that by the time a boy is 15, who has lived with parents like that, parents of such depth and such authenticity and such dedication, he got what he needed to get.  And I think the whole world feels a love for him, a good will towards this young man, and expects to see great things from him.  So on a human level, yes it’s all very, very sad, but I think if anything the spiritual perspective gives us it’s how much there is beyond the human level, not just in what is actually true, but in how we see things.

Duncan Campbell: And in fact that is the part of it that I thought of when I mentioned your appearance on Larry King, was that at one point Larry King, after you had said this, said something to the effect of, “Well, then it is your faith that gives you hope.”  And you said, “Well Larry, it’s not like it’s an article of faith, like a concept that we believe in.  It’s actually an experience that these things are real.  And I believe millions and even billions of people,” you said, “have this experience around the world.”

Marianne Williamson: Well what he said was, he said, “Well isn’t this wonderful to believe, even if it’s not true?”

Duncan Campbell: Oh I didn’t remember that.  But I know that was the sense of it, yeah.

Marianne Williamson: I said, “Larry, for those who do have faith, faith is not a coping mechanism.”

Duncan Campbell: That’s it, yeah.

Marianne Williamson: “It’s not just something we do to make ourselves feel better.”  I said, “For millions if not billions of people on the planet, our faith in a world unseen is actually greater than our faith in what the eyes perceive.”  You know The Course of Miracles says with your physical eyes you see a plane take off and get smaller as it goes further and further away.  Well it doesn’t get smaller as it goes further and further away.  So there are many, many examples where the physical eye is obviously… it’s an optical illusion.  It’s obviously not telling the ultimate truth.  So it’s a transformation that is occurring on the planet.  You know they used to think the world was flat because when they saw people go a certain distance they no longer seemed to be there, so certain people in ancient society thought the world was flat.  Well that’s how many of us view death.  We think, you know, just because you don’t see the person anymore, we are perceiving that they’re gone.  And from a spiritual perspective, you know you look at death like somebody says, “I don’t get cable TV.”  Well if somebody’s no longer broadcasting on network, they’re broadcasting on cable, but that doesn’t mean they’re not broadcasting just because you don’t have a set that gets that channel.  And I think that’s what it really means to say, “Death will be no more.”  “Death will be no more” means we will see beyond the illusion of death.

You know I remember…  You asked me about the first time I saw The Course of Miracles.  I don’t think that I would have responded to The Course of Miracles the way I did back in the late 1970’s, had I not read all the Seth books by Jane Roberts.  And I really don’t know anyone, I mean I’m sure they exist, but I haven’t known anyone who went to The Course of Miracles who did not have some background in material that would lead up to that.  And for me in many ways it was the Seth books by Jane Roberts, The Nature of Personal Reality, etc.  I’d already been schooled in the notion that the mind creates its own reality.  And I remember in a Seth book his talking about how he said most people attend their own funerals.  He says the idea that someone just because they’re not in a physical body is not alive is preposterous. 

Now it’s one thing to have the abstract belief in that, and it’s another, you know… the human experience of losing someone that we love, and the grief of that experience.  I lost my father.  I lost my sister who was the same, when she died of breast cancer, was the same age that Dana Reeve was when she died of lung cancer.  My sister was 44.  She had three little girls.  It was in human terms a deep tragedy.  I’m not in may way minimizing the deep sadness and grief that such loss can be, and is, for us.  But at the same time, we can know that there’s something more going on here.  And sometimes… 

You know The Course of Miracles says that enlightenment is a process by which a principle goes from being merely an intellectual abstract construct through that journey without distance, to an actual gut experience, where something has really penetrated your cells.  You get it.  You therefore feel it; you don’t just believe it.  But in the meantime we do hold in faith to what we know to be true.  You know when an airplane is landing and there is low visibility the pilot might not be able to see the horizon.  But the pilot relies on his instruments to tell him where the horizon is.  The fact that there are a bunch of clouds in the sky doesn’t make the pilot conclude there’s no ground down there.  You know it’s the same with the… I remember reading in a Rajneesh book many years ago, talking about what we call a grey sky.  He writes, he says, “You know there really is no such thing as a ‘grey sky’.  The sky is always blue, but sometimes there are grey clouds in front of the blue sky.  We then say, ‘Oh the sky is grey today.’”  So I think that the great spiritual awakening of this time in history, which I believe is urgent, has to do with people realizing that there’s literally, quite literally, more than meets the eye.

For full transcript, please contact Duncan Campbell