I could hardly wait for this week’s ‘Lunch’ with Marianne Williamson to talk to her about her new book, Tears to Triumph: The Spiritual Journey from Suffering to Enlightenment (HarperOne). When my good friend Dr. Robi Ludwig asked me if I’d like to meet her, I jumped at the chance. I have been reading her best-sellers for more years than I can remember and never miss her thought-provoking and inspiring PBS specials. Many years ago, when I was grieving the loss of my mother and was self-medicating with food, I picked up her current book—as an audiobook—at that time, A Woman’s Worth. I was listening to it while driving out to Long Island to clean our family home and ready it for sale. Suffice to say I was not in a good place. Something she said resonated deeply with me and I still remember those words today. She was describing a despondent-looking woman at a convenience store she’d seen and said, “Standing in line holding her junk food and tabloid magazines, I could feel her pain.” At the time, I felt she was talking directly to me.
Through the years her 10 (!) books have all seemed to have correlated with something that felt deeply personal to me from A Return to Love, which examines the application of love in the search of inner peace, to The Age of Miracles: Embracing the New Midlife.
Her insights and deep understanding of the human condition is what has drawn millions of fans to her work as a speaker, advisor and author in search of answers to the endless questions about the vagaries of our own behavior and the behavior of other people in our lives.
In reading Tears to Triumph, I was struck by two things. First, she’d done it again in addressing a very timely topic—the epidemic of depression and subsequent over-medication sweeping the country. In the book she writes, “Modern civilization has itself become a depressing phenomenon, predicated on principles that dissociate human beings from the feelings of connectedness and wholeness without which happiness cannot be found.”
Second, the topics in the book seemed tailor-made for this point in time, where a growing number of people have grown increasingly disheartened and downright frightened by the presidential election which has seeped into our collective consciousness in a major way. “I wanted to write a book seeing these times through a spiritual lens,” she told me.
“It’s appropriate to be upset about [the election.] Anyone who is not upset about what’s going on is clearly not paying attention,” said Marianne when I asked her what she thought about the presidential race and specifically about Donald Trump. “I don’t know how many blinking red lights we could have. Now is not the time to not notice.”
She called Trump’s rise and subsequent nomination ‘The Frankenstein Phenomenon” explaining, “The media did this. In the beginning his rallies were no bigger than those of Bernie Sanders.” Then the ratings for anything Trump-related went through the roof. “This is what happens when corporate greed overrides ethical consideration. [Now] they realize they created him and can’t un-create him. The self-congratulation among the mainstream media is unwarranted. I hope they do some soul searching.”
But, she noted, there is some light among the darkness. “This election has made us aware of how divided we are as a nation,” she said. “But I also think the opposite is also true. There is a unity in the consensus now forming that there are limits beyond which we should not go; basic human decency should characterize anyone serving in high office. I have been heartened by Republicans and Conservatives who have spoken up. The situation is fluid.”
Although we clearly could have talked of nothing else but the election, I wanted to hear more about Marianne’s thoughts on how emotional pain can and should be dealt with to lead to healing in both the personal and collective sense. “Psychic pain is like physical pain in that it conveys information. If you break a leg the physical pain means you need to reset the bone,” she told me. “Psychic pain means you need to reset your thinking.”
To that end, we first need to understand what happiness is. “Happiness is not the absence of depression, depression is the absence of happiness.” Marianne ticked off a series of conditions that prevent us from being truly happy: “seeing yourself as a victim, blaming others for your problems, withhold forgiveness from others and failing to atone for your own mistakes.” She believes that as a society we have trivialized the inner work needed as a path to claim our happiness.
Instead, there has been a “medicalization of human despair” by the pharmaceutical industry, which has exploited “the spectrum of normal human suffering for a huge profit.” Marianne wanted to stress that she was not making a blanket statement against the use of anti-depressants but rather is pointing out the dangers of numbing ourselves in order to deny our pain. “This is not a time in history for anyone to be numb,” she said between bites of Dover sole. “The traditional psychotherapeutic model focuses on the individual sufferer sometimes at the expense of the larger problem that lies behind the suffering. We focus on the person getting a divorce but under emphasize the larger problem our society has in forging deep relationships.”
She pointed out that the teachings of Buddha, Judaism and Catholicism all demonstrate that suffering can lead to spiritual enlightenment (something that she goes into at some length in the book). Marianne writes extensively about her own experiences and explores cites women like Susan B. Anthony who devoted her life to women’s suffrage but did not live to see the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote. “Would we have been better off if Susan B. Anthony hadn’t created drama everywhere she went? I don’t think so.” Women’s emotions, she said, have been misunderstood throughout history. “The age old misogynistic impulse to treat women’s sensitivities as a weakness” has had a damaging effect on our culture. “Women have exquisitely sensitive nervous systems. That’s a strength, not a weakness.”
Female empowerment and the role women play in our culture have always been common themes in Marianne’s work. Her passion was clearly evident when she told me females are always “the fiercest of the species” but in our case, “We are lacking in our collective behavior needed in the survival of the species.” She believes if the women in this country came together not only for the benefit of their own children, but the children “across town and on the other side of the world” we could end the shameful deep poverty that exists on this planet. “American women should be a moral force for good in this country and in the world.” And to do so, all we need do is ask one question: “What about the children?”
When our coffee was served I had so much more I wanted to talk to her about, but I did manage to remember to inquire where those who want to hear more from her might find her. She lectures every Wednesday evening on A Course in Miracles at Middle Collegiate Church (it’s free) here in the city. The two-hour program includes guided mediation and a Q&A. She’s doing two lectures in Los Angeles later this month. Everything is also livestreamed on her site, Marianne.com. A podcast and a new PBS special are in the works. This is all very good news since these days, we need all the help we can get.
Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:
1.Apprise Media’s Charles Mccurdy
2. Eva Mohr
3. Discovery ID’s Henry Schleiff
4. Bloomberg CEO Justin Smith
5. Herb Siegal and his son Billy
6. Andrew Stein
8. New York Social Diary’s David Patrick Columbia and Maria Cooper Janis who happened to be film icon Gary Cooper’s daughter.
9. Susan Blond and Renee Young
11. Mickey Ateyeh fresh off her European holiday and accessory designer Colette Malouf
12. Chris Taylor
14. Marc Rosen, who was kind enough to introduce me to Mark Ackerman of The Lighthouse Guild. In case you didn’t know, proprietor Michael McCarty was honored by the Guild earlier this year.
15. Alexandre Chemla
16. George Gurley
17. Liz Kaplow
18. LAK PR CEO Lisa Linden and Patrick Murphy
27. Marianne Williamson and yours truly
It’s been quite the summer season at Michael’s. We’re taking our annual vacation and will be lunching in Maine for the next few weeks. See you in September!
Diane Clehane is a FishbowlNY contributor. Follow her on Twitter @DianeClehane. Send comments and corrections on this column to LUNCH at MEDIABISTRO dot COM.