An Interview With Marianne Williamson
I’ve lived in pain-tinged silence over my weight, both thin and heavy, most of my life. I know the food is not the enemy, but what I didn’t understand was just how cruel and abusive all the diets, binges, and self-ridicule have truly been – that until I start working on healing my soul, the turmoil will continue no matter how well versed in healthy eating and exercise I am.
Julie Anne Rhodes looking back
When my friend Marianne Williamson told me about the book she was writing last summer – I couldn’t wait to pry an advance copy from her hands, because I knew I was ready to heal. I was ecstatic to learn many of you felt the same way. Sharing our experiences while working through the lessons has given me enormous inspiration and support, and I hope it is mutual.
As you know, I’ve found the course slow going, often uncomfortable, yet infinitely rewarding. My dysfunctional eating habits appear to have realigned to my own biological on/off switch, therefore I am convinced my healthiest weight will naturally follow. I am not one that always follows a spiritual path with ease and grace, so I had some more questions for Marianne:
JA: I know you wrote the book for a friend (it is dedicated to Oprah), but where did these incredibly deep insights on weight problems come from, and when/how did you first make the spiritual connection?
MW: In A COURSE IN MIRACLES, it’s written that we think we have many different problems but we really only have one: our separation from God. I’ve known that’s true for a long time — not just intellectually but viscerally. No matter what my problems have been in life, the one constant there was me — my thoughts, my energy, my behavior and so forth.
I’ve had a long career in applying spiritual principles to practical day-to-day issues in our lives, and weight loss is just one more issue. When any area of your life becomes a challenge, one of the most significant places to deal with it is inside your own mind. I’ve seen over and over — not only in my own life but in the lives of those I’ve worked with — that changing your mind about something can absolutely work a miracle.
In my own life, I was a compulsive overeater from about 17 to 27, and it stopped when I started doing A Course in Miracles. Once I learned to reach my hand beyond the wall of protection I had built in front of my heart, the wall simply disappeared. I wrote this book because I wanted others who have the same problem that I had to experience the miracle that I experienced.
JA: I struggled a little with all the religious terminology in the beginning. Are you referring to a specific religion, or what is your intention when you use words like God and Divine Mind?
MW: I use the word God the way it’s used in Alcoholics Anonymous: as God as you understand Him. The words don’t matter, but the concept does. And without the concept — that there’s a Higher Power that can do for you what you cannot do for yourself, then you can’t receive the healing because your mind isn’t open to receiving it.
As far as the phrase Divine Mind is concerned, this concept — in Christianity, it’s the Holy Spirit – means there is literally a force of consciousness that, if consciously and willingly invited by you to do so, has been authorized by God to help you change your mind! I mean, really. How profound is that?
JA: This has been an amazing and often surprising journey of self-realization for me. Many past experiences I thought I had processed and released reared their ugly heads again. Why does this happen, and when do you know you have truly come to terms with an emotional wound?
MW: Any kind of healing is a journey. It’s a process more than a destination. And the healing often involves sadness, because it’s a kind of detox process: things have to come up in order to be released. We’ve all experienced this kind of thing: you think you’re over some loss, and then one day it hits you again like a giant wave. That’s why community is important: so that on any given day when you feel that a burden is just too hard to bear, angels can appear to you in the form of other human beings who understand and care.
This isn’t about ever coming to the point where you know all your issues are handled once and for all. That would be total enlightenment, and I can’t say I know about that one yet. But I know that you can get to the point where self-sabotaging, dysfunctional thought and behavior in an area become the exception and not the rule, and if you’ve known enough suffering in your life then that right there is a miracle.
JA: Do we need to consciously know the source of every unconscious wound before God can heal them?
MW: Yes and no. On the one hand, you don’t have to know the specific source of your pain, and yet you do have to acknowledge the twisted thoughts that the pain produced inside you. In A Course in Miracles, it says that God cannot take from us what we won’t release to him.
For instance, let’s say that a parent abandoned you. What matters is not simply the abandonment; what matters is that because of it you became a very needy person, and now that neediness is poisoning your relationships. Having been taught it wasn’t safe to lean on the person that in the natural scheme of things you should be able to lean on, you now lean on people or things – for the overeater, on food – in an inappropriate way. So it only matters that you identify the source of the pain in order to be able to identify the real wound, and then you can apply the medicine that heals it.
JA: I made a commitment to surrender to these lessons because it makes such logical sense to me that the spiritual aspect of weight loss is what has been missing in my life. Some of the lessons are easy for me, and extremely emancipating, but others I don’t feel as connected to. How do you recommend dealing with any resistance one encounters on the way?
MW: I think you should take it all as lightly as you can. If a lesson doesn’t speak to you, I’d just move on. The last thing I’d want you to feel is guilty. How can you heal a problem that is basically a form of self-abuse with more self-abuse?
When you eat unwisely, you’re being unkind to yourself. You might think otherwise at the time, of course; you might think that that hot fudge sundae is comforting you. But when you realize all the toxic chemicals that that sundae is dumping into your body, you realize that it’s anything but comforting.
In other words, you have self-abuse confused with self-care. That’s why the last thing you should say to yourself if you’re having trouble with the lessons is, “I’m bad! I’m not doing it right!” If the course is anything, it’s a course in learning to be kind to yourself. And once you really get there, you won’t want to abuse yourself, and you’ll be very clear that a consistent pattern of unwise eating is a form of self-abuse.
JA: Do you need to agree with and “feel” every lesson, or is action enough?
Boy, you ask good questions. The answer to that is simple: action is enough. And as it says in the Workbook of A Course in Miracles about the lessons there, “Remember this: you need not believe the ideas, you need not accept them, and you need not even welcome them. Some of them you may actively resist. None of that will matter, or decrease their efficacy.” I love that.
JA: There was a question posted on my blog to the effect of why do we torture ourselves with feelings of “not being enough”, or not “having enough? ” I answered to the best of my ability, but we would both like to know your thoughts?
MW: You’re “enough” for one reason and one reason only: because God created you and God does not create junk. No one’s personality is totally “enough;” who among us has never made a mistake? But we’re enough because we are children of God, and the essence within us is divine and eternally innocent. The point of walking a spiritual path is to unravel the thinking that you are your resume and replace it with the absolute knowledge that your spirit, and not your physical self, is the essence of who you are.
JA: As you acknowledge, an alarming percentage of people struggling with weight have been sexually abused. Do you believe that spiritual practice alone is enough to heal that kind of fiercely deep wound?
MW: In A Course in Miracles, it says that religion and psychotherapy are at their peak the same thing. Any fierce wound calls for a spiritual healing, but sometimes spiritual healing has a distinctly secular face. Spiritual healing, psychotherapy….sometimes there is no difference except in words.
JA: What would life look like from the perspective of a person who’s healed their inner wounds and discovered spiritual peace? How do you know when you are there?
MW: You laugh more; you are triggered less; you feel serene and act serenely; you attract more abundance and harmony and peace. We’ve all been there; the point is that we haven’t been there often enough or consistently enough. And that’s the goal.
JA: Why does spiritual practice focused in one area of our lives have so much impact on others? Is it just that we are more attuned to recognizing miracles when they manifest?
MW: You’re one person, and there’s no actual fence between your work life and your private life, or your finances and your marriage. Those categories are simply concepts. As you get more peaceful in one area, the healing can’t but seep into others. Doing this course will affect not only the weight you carry on your body but the weight you carry on your mind, and that will have an extraordinary effect on every area of your life.
JA: If you could share only one lesson in the book, which would it be?
MW: I love the last lesson, where angels come into your house and clean out your cupboards and your closets … and then what happens when they see you.
JA: I’ve bought this book as holiday gifts for many people I care about, but I’m not sure how well received it will be. Do you have any advice on making it clear it is given out of love, not judgment?
MW: Never risk hurting someone’s feelings. Maybe it’s a better gift for after the New Year!
JA: Please tell us more about the upcoming A Course in Weight Loss Retreats you are doing. Why have you joined forces with the people you have chosen to involve?
MW: Tal Ronen, the “Conscious Cook” will be there. So will yoga teacher Tracee Stanley, and therapist Grace Gedeon. It’s very, very exciting.
JA: What is the goal of the retreat?
MW: Three days of intensive work, baby! You’ll be sick of me by the time you leave!:)
JA: Do you feel the A Course in Weight Loss will be more effective in a group setting?
MW: That’s not for me to say. Everyone has their own way of doing these things. Some people will want to be alone with the book; other will want to work with others. Learning to listen to yourself and to honor your own rhythms is an important part of the process.
Julie Anne Rhodes
JA: Thank you for writing the book, and sharing your insight with us. For me, the lessons are not merely about weight loss and a healthy relationship with food; it is about learning what makes me tick, knowing exactly who I am, forgiving myself for transgressions of the past, appreciating the woman I am today, and always treating myself with the same kindness and respect I would afford others. I feel more comfortable in my own skin, no matter what my weight happens to be than ever before. What a gift!