As a spiritual teacher, author, and activist for more than three decades, Marianne decided to announce her run as a US presidential candidate back on January 28. Since then, she was able to raise enough money to participate in the official primary debates and continues to get momentum for her progressive ideas and unique perspectives. After being influenced by spiritual transformation book “A Course in Miracles,” Marianne wrote her first book, which was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Since then, she’s written a dozen other books, such as her latest “A Politics of Love,” and founded nonprofits that focus on peace-building and serving food to those with AIDS.
In the below conversation, Marianne shares how her spirituality influenced her to get into politics, her views on the mental health epidemic and her advice for overcoming insecurities, forgiving others and having a successful career.
Dan Schawbel: How has your spirituality teaching and entrepreneurial spirit influenced you to get into politics?
Marianne Williamson: For the last 35 years I have worked with people, and hopefully helped people, trying to navigate the consequences of all the damage that has been done by a irresponsible political system. Because I’ve been up close and personal with the human costs of that damage, I have very passionate ideas about the things we need to do to change. Spirituality is the path of the heart and both spirituality and politics should have a common goal and that is the diminishment of human suffering. When political systems and policies actually cause human suffering, then it becomes a spiritual as well as a political issue to interrupt that pattern, to disrupt it and to change course.
Dan: How do we overcome our deepest fears and insecurities that get in the way of our fulfillment?
Marianne: Just as light casts out darkness, love casts out fear. I always feel like whenever I have a problem, 90% of the time, the best thing I can say to myself is, “Marianne, get over yourself.” We’re too obsessed with self and that’s where the fear comes from — because the notion of a small separate self is by definition a fearful thought, because it is a thought that cuts us off from a realization of our oneness with others. Only in a realization of our oneness with others, can we feel at home in this world and at home with other people. It’s in cultivating a thought system, which isn’t so much difficult as it is different, but which repudiates the thinking of the world. It’s not about you but about extending who and what you are into the life of another.
Dan: What’s the best way to forgive someone who has caused you pain?
Marianne: To bless them and to pray for their happiness. It literally changes the alchemy in the brain. Enlightenment begins as an abstract thought and then it makes a journey without distance into the heart. You can know something intellectually, but you can’t make the leap by yourself. I can know the law of consciousness. I can know that if I haven’t attacked a judgmental thought about you, I’m going to feel attacked. I’m going to feel worse, and that if I bless you; I’m going to feel better.
Well, it’s one thing to know and it’s another thing to actually be able to make that shift emotionally. The most powerful prayer is a prayer that sometimes we say in contradiction to how we actually feel, but that’s the power of prayer. It nullifies toxic thoughts. It literally changes your brain chemistry, and if I’m praying for your happiness, I’m triggered because what you did to me hit me in a way that spoke to some deep wiring that got into my brain when I was three years old, and that’s when you ask for God’s help. You say, “I’m willing to see this differently. I’m willing to see the innocence in that person. I don’t feel it right now, but I know that my emotional salvation lies in getting off this attack train that I’m on in my own mud and so I am willing to see their innocence.” That’s really the only way.
Dan: What can we do to support those who suffer from mental illness at work and at home?
Marianne: We want to be careful with that phrase, mental illness, today because big pharma is behind a lot of that. There is a psychotherapeutic psychological industrial complex and we want to be aware that there’s a difference between the normal spectrum of human despair and mental illness. So for the sake of a large multibillion-dollar profit center, there are those who have medicalized human despair. There are such things as bipolar and schizophrenia for instance, where psychotherapeutic drugs is obviously a legitimate conversation.
But today we rush to the phrase “mental illness.” When many people are experiencing the dark night of the soul like losing your job or having a financial failure or bankruptcy or your spouse leaving or learning that you have a terrible disease, that’s not mental illness. I have a problem with the way we rush too quickly to mental illness today, because big pharma just totally takes advantage of that. However, whether it is something medicalized unduly, or whether it is genuinely genuine mental illness, the course in miracles makes it clear that if your life has lived outside your love of love, then you won’t be depressed. So the fact that everybody is so depressed these days is not because there’s something wrong with them.
We live in a society where 40% of the people in this country are struggling just to make ends meet. We live in a world where we know that if we don’t respond to climate crisis within 12 years, it could be irreparable damage. We live in a world where there’s so much unnecessary human suffering, so much unnecessary human tension and anxiety, for no other reason than that. There’ll be short-term profit maximization, or small groups of people being upset about this is a sign of mental illness, so it’s like physical illness sometimes. With physical illness, if you break your leg, millions of years of evolution had gone into the development of a brain that registers pain. If you didn’t register pain, you wouldn’t know. You have to reset the leg, the bone. You can’t just take a painkiller. You have to reset the bone.
Well, psychic pain is often the same way. Some of the psychic pain is there for reason too. We have to reset our thinking. We have to stop living only for ourselves. We have to stop living only from material things. We have to stop acquiescing to an economic system that is so oppressive against millions of people. The fact that we’re upset is not a mental illness.
Dan: What is your best piece of career advice?
Marianne: Do whatever you do for love. “Is this the way I can contribute to the upliftment of the world? May my talent be used for purposes that are beyond myself. My talents were given to me by a divine source and I placed them back into the hands of a divine source so they may be used in a way that serves the world.”