A Conversation with Marianne Williamson – Author, Activist & Spiritual Thought Leader

Marianne Williamson is a bestselling author, non-profit and political activist, and spiritual thought leader.

For over three decades Marianne has been a leader in spiritual and religiously progressive circles. She is the author of 14 books, four of which have been #1 New York Times best sellers. A quote from the mega best seller A Return to Love, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure…” is considered an anthem for a contemporary generation of seekers.

Williamson founded Project Angel Food, a non-profit that has delivered more than 13 million meals to ill and dying homebound patients since 1989. The group was created to help people suffering from the ravages of HIV/AIDS.  She has also worked throughout her career on poverty, anti-hunger, and racial reconciliation issues. She has advocated for reparations for slavery since the 1990’s and was the first candidate in the 2020 presidential primary season to make it a pillar of her campaign. In 2004, she co-founded The Peace Alliance and supports the creation of a U.S. Department of Peace. In addition, she advocates for a cabinet level Department of Children and Youth to adequately address the chronic trauma of millions of American children.

In this exclusive interview, I speak with Marianne about spirituality, love, finding purpose and fixing our broken society.

Q: What is the role of spirituality in our lives?

[Marianne Williamson]: Often, people posit spirituality as something separate from our deepest humanity. Spirituality is the path of the heart, a radar that can guide us to a better life. Every acorn is already programmed to become an oak tree, every embryo is programmed to become a baby, and every bud is programmed to become a blossom. Human beings are programmed as well, but we have something an acorn does not; free will. Every moment we live- we either allow the natural intelligence of life to unfold through us- or not. That natural intelligence is love.

The spiritual path is the path of the heart. Everybody is on a spiritual path- most people just don’t know it. Every moment we’re either opening ourselves to love, or we are closing ourselves to love. The law of cause and effect is inviolable. There are objective, discernible, laws of inner experience just as there are objective, discernible laws of the outer world. When I open my heart to love, I am opening my life to the divine intelligence that will lead me in the direction of self-actualization. When I close my heart to love, I am rejecting the natural unfolding of divine intelligence within myself. Opening my heart to love will lead me to experiences, relationships and circumstances that work.  When I close my heart to love and reject the spiritual imperative, I will experience everything that ensues from separating myself from my divine identity and purpose.

Ultimately, I will be led back to the loving path. In A Course in Miracles it says that it isn’t up to us what we learn, but only up to us whether we learn through joy or through pain. And that’s as true for societies as it is for individuals. What is not love is so unnatural that ultimately it stops working. All that’s going on- in anybody’s life- at any time- is the spiritual journey. We’re either accepting love or rejecting it – but either way we’ll experience the consequences thereof. The Law of Cause and Effect is inviolable.

Q: Is science at odds with spirituality?

[Marianne Williamson]: The most forward-thinking scientists know that spirituality and science are not at odds. People who say that they are, are stuck in an old Newtonian paradigm- a paradigm that science itself has moved past. Sir James Jeans, a British physicist, said that it turns out that life is not a big machine- but rather, that it is one big thought. It’s an obsolete, old-fashioned notion of science that posits science and spirituality as two different things. Scientists tend to stay away from words like “soul” and “God” for obvious reasons and tend to use words today like “unified consciousness” and things like that. But most of them seem to know that it’s all the same thing.

Q: What is love?

[Marianne Williamson]: In A Course in Miracles it says the Course “does not aim at teaching the meaning of love, for that is beyond what can be taught. It aims to remove the barriers to the awareness of love’s presence.”

Universal agape (unconditional) love, is something that cannot be limited to categories. We think about romantic love, platonic love, parental love… but love is one. It unites all things, and there are no divisions within it. It’s the essence of who we are and why we’re here.

Love is our deep humanity, and understanding love therefore is understanding what it means to be alive. Freud defined neuroses as separation from self. When we are disconnected from the sense of love as our identity and purpose- we are in a state of separation from our deepest human knowing. We cannot feel comfortable in our skin when we are disconnected from love. We cannot feel comfortable in this world when we think that all we are is skin and bones.  We keep grasping for something in the world that we think will ease our existential pain, but the pain itself is a result of over-identifying with the world. Nothing in this world has deep enough roots to sustain us.

Q: Why does society feel broken?

[Marianne Williamson]:  Society feels broken because society is broken.

When the most powerful nations in the world are spending billions of dollars on ways to kill each-other, and a fraction of those resources on ways to heal each other, we’re broken. When we give short shrift to build-bridges between and among people, to helping people thrive, that’s the deepest level of brokenness. It’s a complete disconnection from who we are and why we’re here.  And that is insanity.  The fact that people are looking around and saying that the world is broken is a good thing. It means we’re waking-up to something which has been broken for a very long time.

Think of it like addiction. You go through a phase where you’re functioning as an addict, but you’re not admitting there’s a real problem. If the addiction continues and enters a phase beyond immoderate to dysfunctional, to genuinely maladaptive, then your life will stop working. That’s when people bottom out, fall to their knees, and hopefully have a spiritual awakening. I’m hoping that’s what happening with human civilisation right now- that we’re having a kind of bottoming out that will cure us of our malignant hubris. There are no guarantees however, just as with an addict there are no guarantees. We are already very deep into the addiction.

Western civilisation has veered off course; we have de-sacralised the world in which we live. We are collectively insane, and we need to mount our own intervention. That’s what many of us are trying to do.

Q: How is technology impacting human connection?

[Marianne Williamson]: It’s both hurting it and harming it. You cannot genuinely connect with another human being through technology. You can only connect with other human beings through the mind, and through love, but technology can serve the process.

Nothing in the material world is inherently holy or unholy except as determined by the purpose we ascribe to it. When technology is a conduit for genuine human connection, it’s a beautiful even a holy thing. But obviously it can be used for purposes of evil, as well.

Real connection comes from the heart. It comes from a desire to show-up for a relationship. It comes from being present, being available, and holding space for the goodness and growth of others – seeing each relationship and conversation as an opportunity to forgive, to nourish our souls and to become something better than we were before.

[Vikas: What about our connection with nature?]

Our connection with nature is a spiritual portal into the larger ecosystem that nature and humanity share. The world is an ecosystem that took billions of years to develop, interlacing our inner and outer worlds in exquisite harmony. What we have done and are doing to destroy that connection is killing us.

I heard Jim Cameron speak of humanity’s nature deficit disorder. Our disconnection from nature has led to such irreverence towards the earth, a kind of murderous environmental rampage, a collective matricide. We destroy the forests, we pollute the waters, we violate the earth to the point where environmental damage now threatens the long-term survival of our species.

Q:  How can we move society forward?

[Marianne Williamson]: The universe is both self-organizing and self-correcting. When enough people up-level our consciousness from fear to love, from judgement to forgiveness, from attack to blessing, an evolutionary portal will be created. As with any species, maladaptive behaviour leads to extinction unless a mutation occurs. That’s what the great avatars are: they are spiritual mutations. If the world decides to follow the path of love that all of them set before us, we will evolve in time and the species will survive.

But individual mutation is not enough; a critical mass of the population has to participate in making the change. The zeitgeist of this moment is not about charismatic leaders but about an awakened citizenry.  When a great revolutionary change is led by soloists, the fear-based status quo takes care of that easily enough by eliminating them. They either assassinate the leader or assassinate his or her character. Anything to obstruct the emergence of a new conversation.

So each of us has to take on the mission. This isn’t an era of soloists. It’s an era of change led by the choir, where everyone is learning to sing their own note by living as authentically as we can. Whether through spiritual practice or any other guidance into more creative living, we’re changing as people and that is what’s going to ultimately change the world. Just being part of the change is exhilarating and gives our life the meaning we all yearn for.There are two parallel phenomena going on right now. An old world is disintegrating – it’s not working, it’s angry, it’s in its death throes. We can call it late state capitalism or whatever, but it’s any political or economic system guided more by short term profit than by the needs of people and planet.  The status quo is threatened by nothing so much as by radical compassion.

Simultaneous to this, there’s a powerful rebirth occurring now, the emergence of an extraordinary new field of possibility. Millions of people are creating and co-curating change. This isn’t coming from a certain group, ethnicity, or culture – it’s a global phenomenon coming from deep within our humanity.

Civilisation is a collection of individuals. The same psychological and emotional processes that prevail within the journey of an individual prevail within the journey of a nation. As individuals, and as nations, we have a built-in warning system when we are exposed to danger. It brings a sense of urgency that comes from what you might call healthy fear. In that sense, the fear people are feeling now is healthier than the denial-based false comfort and complacency of the last few decades. People were just too distracted or zoned out to care. Life was working for a lot of people… and even when it wasn’t, it was only painful for people on the other side of town, or the other side for the world, and so was easier to ignore. The breakdown now affects all of us. Nobody can shut themselves off anymore from the dangers of the world.

The universe has had it with us. The grace period is over. That discomfort is here to stay, and we must accommodate ourselves to it. Our work now is to learn how to endure the discomfort- and most importantly, to transform the conditions of the world so the discomfort will dissolve.

Q: What should we be asking of ourselves?

[Marianne Williamson]:  The only meaningful question we should be asking ourselves today is how we can best serve. Whether it’s the god of our understanding, the wisdom of our heart or our intuition, we have to ask where we should go… what we should do… what we should say and to whom… how we should use our hands, our feet, our talent, our resources, to help recreate the world.

We can make ourselves available to the higher vibrations of love and understanding that work like the immune system of the body. The body has an immune system which can take an amazing amount of assault, injury and sickness – and heal. The psyche can take an amazing amount of heartbreak, anxiety, depression- and heal. The immune system is activated when the body or psyche recognises danger, and each of us can see ourselves as an immune cell within the body politic. Civilisation has an immune system, and it’s being activated right now.

There’s a collective sense of danger and it’s healthy that we’re reacting to it.

But things should never have gotten this bad. It’s ridiculous. We were all so busy, so distracted, having such a good time, that we put blinders on and thought they were Ray-Bans. Now we must make ourselves available to a Great Correction. Meditation is probably our most powerful tool right now; it prepares the nervous system for clarity, higher wisdom, and guidance; it turns us into the people we need to be in order to do the things we feel called to do.

[Vikas: how powerful is our intuition?]

[Marianne Williamson]: James Doty is a physician at Stanford who works with the Dalai Lama. As a neurosurgeon, he’s learned that the heart guides our body as much as the brain does, and he documented his journey to that realization in his book Into the Magic Shop.

James grew-up in poverty, and he met this woman (Ruth) whose son ran a magic shop. She said, ‘I will teach you real magic…’ – she taught him the tenets of metaphysics, eastern religion, and philosophy. In his book, he tells the story of doing a complex surgery on a 4-year-old boy. There was a team of doctors doing the work.  and in the middle of surgery one of the doctors took their eyes off the ball for a fraction of a second and catastrophe happened. Blood was pouring into this brain…they were losing him… Dr. Doty had to clip the bleeding but couldn’t see because of the amount of blood leaking out. At that time, he remembered what Ruth had told him – he found his spiritual centre, then put his hand into this young boy’s brain and found that it automatically knew where to go. He clipped the bleed and saved a life. This is a dramatic example of the fact that we are more effective in the material world when we know that we’re not of the material world. When we ground our sense of identity only in 3-dimensional world, we become less empowered within it.  There is so much more going on than the body’s senses alone can reveal.

You can speak of reality (in the three dimensions) or Reality (the true nature of Reality). The latter is a world that exists beyond what the physical eyes can see, but which the heart knows to be true. There is temporal reality and an eternal reality; one is a place we’re just visiting and are trained to call home, the other the true home to which we belong.

Q: Do you believe things will change… that our world will get better?

[Marianne Williamson]: We have the knowledge we need to change the trajectory of human civilization; the question is, do we have the wisdom? One way or the other we will get there; the question is how much suffering has to occur in order for us to get the message. Even if the earth must throw this predatory species off the planet for 200,000 years, life will get to where it needs to be. Nature is always moving in the ultimate direction of a greater good.

Q:  How do we know we’re on the right path?

[Marianne Williamson]: When we feel inner peace. When there’s a disturbance in your heart it’s there for a reason. If you’re off track, you know it. If you have a sense of wasting your life, it’s because you are. One of the most dangerous things we can say to each other is, ‘oh, don’t feel bad…’ – sometimes we have to feel bad… we need to feel remorse or regret. Only a sociopath doesn’t. That’s why it’s not a good idea to numb our anxiety; better we should listen to it. It tells us to look at things which may be humiliating, embarrassing or painful, but that’s how we grow. And when your life feels right, when you feel ‘this is it…’ and there’s peace in your heart, you just know it.

Thought Economics

About the Author

Vikas Shah MBE DL is an entrepreneur, investor & philanthropist. He is CEO of Swiscot Group alongside being a venture-investor in a number of businesses internationally. He is a Non-Executive Board Member of the UK Government’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy and a Non-Executive Director of the Solicitors Regulation Authority. Vikas was awarded an MBE for Services to Business and the Economy in Her Majesty the Queen’s 2018 New Year’s Honours List and in 2021 became a Deputy Lieutenant of the Greater Manchester Lieutenancy. He is an Honorary Professor of Business at The Alliance Business School, University of Manchester and Visiting Professors at the MIT Sloan Lisbon MBA.