In 2013, Integral Yoga Magazine’s editor, Reverend Prem Anjali, Ph.D., shared an in-depth conversation on enlightenment with renowned author and spiritual activist, Marianne Williamson. Williamson’s 1996 book, A Return to Love, is considered a must-read in the field of New Spirituality. A paragraph from that book, beginning, ”Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure…” became an anthem for a contemporary generation of seekers. In 2019, Williamson announced her run in the 2020 presidential election. On her campaign website she explained, “My campaign for the presidency is dedicated to this search for higher wisdom. Its purpose is to create a new political possibility in America — where citizens awaken, our hearts and minds are uplifted, and our democracy once more becomes a thing about which we can all feel proud.”

Prem Anjali (PA): In your book, Return to Love, you wrote, “Enlightened people don’t have anything we don’t have. They have perfect love inside, and so do we. The difference is that they don’t have anything else.” Have your views about enlightenment changed over the years?

Marianne Williamson (MW): That’s actually from A Course in Miracles (ACIM) where Jesus says, “The difference between us now is that I have nothing else. This leaves me in a state which is only potential in you.” Light, in ACIM, is defined as understanding. So the enlightened person is someone with total and complete understanding of who they are and why they’re on the earth. It’s as though there is a lock—their level of understanding of who they are has moved into such a level of consistency and constancy that they are now enlightened, whether it’s Jesus or it’s anyone else. So, I don’t think that’s a universal principle that’s going to be changing [laughs].

PA: Thankfully not! You’ve also talked about enlightenment in comparison to romantic love, saying that the feeling of falling in love is like a mini-enlightenment experience.

MW: I don’t even think it’s like one, I think it actually is an enlightenment experience because we have a temporary cessation of judgment, because it’s a temporary cessation of the illusion of separation. It’s one of those things where you’re taken to the top of the mountain and then you have to go back down.

PA: Some of us who first began our spiritual quest back in the 1960s or ’70s had a notion of an enlightenment that takes us to the top of the mountain and removes us from worldly life. Today, we’re probably less likely to leave the world for a mountain top!

MW: Ultimate reality, theoretically, is not a sense of being lifted out of this world so much as it is a sense of deep, inner peace, while living in this world. I think a false sense of enlightenment is, “It will get me out of here,” while a real sense of enlightenment is that it will make me at peace here. It will make me feel at home here because I dwell in this body with a knowledge of where my true home is. It’s counter-intuitive that we have more effectiveness and more peace living in the body when we know that we’re not the body. So, enlightenment is not that we leave, but that we become deeply peaceful staying, because we know why we’re here, why we’re staying. And also, we’re clear and at peace with the fact that we won’t be staying forever.

PA: Beautifully put. What about other notions of enlightenment—that it’s some kind of mystical, lights flashing, almost other-worldly experience that’s unattainable for most people?

MW: Well, I think it is mystical and that many of us do see lights. I don’t underestimate the drama of the mystical experience any more than I over-estimate it. For many of us, on many different paths, we are taught that it is attainable. The way ACIM puts it is that we are not perfect or we would not have been born, but it is our mission to become perfect here. I think it’s important that we see it as attainable. It’s also important that we not have any illusions about how difficult it is, but I don’t think it serves us for us to think of it as unattainable.

There would be no purpose in a spiritual journey, a spiritual path, if it was all for naught—you can’t get there anyway, so why even try? The mystical path is one in which we look at a great avatar as a kind of evolutionary elder brother. To where he’s gotten, we too are on our way. The work of an avatar, whether it’s Jesus or another, is to help guide us, as an elder brother guides.

PA: Swami Satchidananda often said that, “Yoga is perfection in action.” Today, some bristle at the notion that we, as human beings, can ever achieve perfection and that it puts undue pressure on us to be something we’re not.

MW: But we’re not just humans. We’re spiritual beings. The spiritual being is perfect. If you identify yourself only as a mortal being, then you cannot seek perfection, because perfection is not of the mortal plane. ACIM says that is what enlightenment is: a shift from body identification to spirit identification. If you are identifying with spirit, then you are identifying with perfection. The spiritual journey is about aligning the two. That’s why the Christian Cross and the Jewish Star of David are visual symbols for the intersection of the two. The idea of the Buddha-mind, the Christ, the Shekinah, the illumined Self, is the notion of perfection and the notion of the enlightened master is the notion of someone who has fully embodied the perfect state.

PA: What is that perfect state?

MW: All love all the time. You know, we’ve all had enlightened moments. I’ve had enlightened moments, I’m just not there all the time. It could have been holding a baby for the first time, falling in love the first time—those times we’ve actually said out loud, “This is perfect!” You may be out in nature and you look at all the stars in the sky and you had one of those moments when you felt, “Oh my God, this is perfect.” ACIM says that it’s as though there’s a melody that we can never completely get out of our heads, that is calling us all of the time.

Otherwise, why would we be even having the conversation? It’s like an ancient melody, an ancient memory. I once read The Paradise Myth, a book about how every great religion and spiritual path has had a notion of paradise. Something in us knows that there is that perfect place or we wouldn’t be going on and on about it (laughs)! So, to say that the world is not perfect is different than saying that the spirit is not perfect. The spirit is changeless. The spirit is a perfect idea in the mind of God, and God is perfect.

PA: In your new book, The Law of Divine Compensation, you said that enlightenment is not a process toward which we work, but a choice available to us in any instant.

 What did you mean?

MW: I mean that, in any given instant, in any given situation, you can be there for love or you can be there for something else. You can be there standing in the fullness of your best—your own impeccability, integrity and character, your own excellence, service, compassion—or you can choose not to. For example: A flower is perfect. An oak tree is perfect. A sunset is perfect. The difference between those things and you and me is that we can choose not to be. But we, just as the sunset and oak tree, are programmed by nature to be perfect. The embryo turns into the baby, the acorn turns into the oak tree, the bud turns into a blossom—there is perfection there.

The difference is we can choose to block it. We can abort the process. We can say no. And, we do that whenever we close our hearts. Because to the extent to which our hearts are open, that which is true is moving through us, lifting us to our own divine perfection and extending out through us.

PA: Which is why you say that with every thought we think, we either summon or block a miracle.

MW: Absolutely. And it really makes no sense to think, “Well, maybe in a future lifetime I will get there.” Yes, maybe in a future lifetime we may get there more consistently than we do now. But, I think holding to the realization that that which is perfect and that which is all love is as available to us in this instant as it will ever be is an important part of claiming what this is all about.

PA: Claiming our divine heritage.

MW: Yes, exactly! “Oh, you can’t be perfect, look at you! You’re just a person, a mere mortal.” Well, nobody is saying your hair is perfect, your physical body is perfect. No, it’s that which shines within us—each one of us, no more, no less— that’s perfect. And that’s a basic tenet of the mystical path. When you look at a little baby, can you tell me that baby’s not perfect? By what measure is that baby not perfect?

PA: So, true! You’ve written that, ”Enlightenment is when we see, not as through a glass darkly, but truly face to face.” Please explain.

MW:  First Corinthians made that clear. “Through the glass darkly,” means through the filter of fear, of judgment, criticism, of the past, of an imagined future, through the filter of someone’s mistakes and guilt rather than their innocence.

(photo: Swami Satchidananda and Marianne Williamson in Atlanta, Georgia, late 1990s.)

PA: This reminds me of one of Swami Satchidananda’s favorite metaphors, which was a mirror. If I want to see my face clearly, I need a clean and clear mirror to reflect it properly.

MW: That’s right. Otherwise, it’s distorted.

PA: Right, but then we don’t say, “Oh, no, my face is distorted!” Though, we do tend to identify with the mind as the mirror and say, “I am upset, depressed, anxious” and so on when the mind is disturbed.

MW: Exactly. That’s a great image. That’s what ACIM means when it says, “Miracles are everyone’s right, but purification is necessary first. And yes, as you said, we do tend to identify with the mind, because that’s the thinking of the world—impure, meaning lacking in love, which causes the dirtying of the mirror. How do we undo that? That’s what a serious spiritual path does. I’m a student of ACIM, but the Course doesn’t claim to be for everyone. If it’s for you, you know it. It is one statement of a universal curriculum. But that curriculum always has to do with undoing. That’s what enlightenment is. Enlightenment is not a learning process; it’s an unlearning process. We are unlearning the thoughts of fear, separation, guilt, conflict and so forth, in order to learn in their stead, to think consistently thoughts of love, giving, blessing, positivity, compassion.

PA: So interesting that you used the word, “undoing.” When people would ask Swami Satchidananda what his religion was, if he was a Hindu, he’d reply, “I’m an undo.”

MW: Oh, that’s great! Someone said of Abraham Lincoln, during his lifetime, “He is so religious he is beyond religion.”

PA: That’s wonderful! You’ve said that, as an expression of divine perfection, the universe is both self-organizing and self-correcting. Meaning what?

MW: We can look at the example in nature of an egg and a sperm. From that, cells arise that have a native intelligence, a natural architecture, by which a brain is created, eyes, nose, heart, lungs, spleen and so forth—a genius almost beyond what the mortal mind can understand, much less create. That embryo becomes a baby, the acorn turns into the oak tree, planets revolve around the sun—there is clearly an organizing principal at the heart of all things. Many people say, “Okay, so the embryo becomes a baby and then you’re just plopped onto the earth and you take it from here.”

But, from a mystical perspective, there is no thought where the natural intelligence of divine perfection is not at work. The same architecture, the same impulse, the same handwriting of God—or universal order, or whatever words you name it—that turns the embryo into the baby, that same architecture exists by which you and I might be lifted to the highest level of creativity and joy and full embodiment of our perfect selves; a process by which there is total and complete alignment of spirit and matter—“heaven and earth shall be as one,” meaning that it will no longer exist as two separate states.

And, we can say no. So, the universe is self-organizing. When you and I surrender into any given moment—with no intention or willingness other than to love and to be used for a purpose higher than our own and to collaborate with other beings synergistically in the co-creation of light and love onto the earth—we are allowed then, both as individuals and in relationship, to be conduits for this organizing principal. When we do not, it’s like a GPS— if you take a wrong turn, it will automatically recalibrate an alternate route. So, the universe is invested in your self-actualization and in mine and the enlightenment of the world, which is to say the same thing.

The universe has you and me talking right now. It’s an opportunity for you to rise to your highest. It’s an opportunity for me to rise to my highest and together to be able to extend some of what we create together. But, let’s say that you’re in a bad mood. Let’s say I’m in a bad mood. It’s still going to happen. It won’t be in this particular conversation if you or I don’t show up fully, with our hearts and minds. The universe is going to bring that lesson back around. In this moment, the universe knew that the organizing principal was that Prem and Marianne meeting at this moment. It is an assignment made by spirit, because of the maximal opportunity for soul growth for both of them and those who will be affected by what they do together.

But we have free will. So, if you or I turn down the assignment or we both do, the universe is just going to recalibrate and you’ll get the assignment again in your life and I’m going to get the assignment again in my life. And, the universe is still going to make sure that everybody who would have gotten something from what we do together will still get it, but they’ll get it through another channel, because the universe corrects.

PA: In your book, The Law of Divine Compensation. You talk about this law, not just in terms of money, you write, “From a mind filled with infinite love comes the power to create infinite possibilities.” So, all we need is love?

MW: When people tell me, “Well, if you’re saying that, if you just love, then there will be money, then what about that starving child in Africa? How dare you say that!” I’m not saying, if they just loved enough, they’d be fed. I’m not saying that their hunger and poverty is due to their lack of love. I am saying, however, that it is due to our lack of love. If Western industrialized nations made love the bottom line—and that’s really where we’re evolving as a species—then love should be the bottom line in our individual and collective lives as well.

If the advanced industrialized nations of the world were to say, we are going to eradicate deep poverty within the next ten years, the way would be made. It’s not that complicated! Not if there was simply an agreement that we’re getting rid of this in our lifetime, period, end of story! This is the reason I felt so strongly about women rising up. Because, if women—even in the United States alone—said: Okay, it’s done. This stops now. It would because of the power of our numbers financially, politically. That’s why making the love the bottom line is not only the key to individual economics but to collective economics as well. We’re not depressed because the economy is depressed because in a very real way, the economy is depressed because we’re depressed. We are not living grounded in a sense of our spiritual mission on the earth and as a consequence we’re not fully alive, fully vigorous, fully exultant. Therefore, we’re not creating at our highest level. So we have a global economy that reflects that.

The idea is, from a spiritual perspective, the amelioration of human suffering. That should be our bottom line. The reason we are here is to end suffering. That’s what this game is all about, whether it’s Buddha recognizing that it was all about ending suffering, or the suffering of Jesus on the Cross or the imprisonment of the Israelites in Egypt and their suffering. Spirituality is about the end of suffering, and our goal should be to end the suffering of all living things. It should be our goal, not only individually, but it should be our goal collectively.

PA: Yes, absolutely! In the new book you wrote that regardless of what limits exist in one’s material world, that the truth is that each of us is an unlimited spiritual being. And, by remembering this truth, we summon the Law of Divine Compensation.

MW: Exactly! It goes back to the idea that with every thought that you think, you either activate the Law of Divine Compensation, which is simply a description of one aspect of how the universe operates, or we deactivate the law. You either activate the miracle and attract the miracle or you deflect the miracle. Every thought of love makes us a conduit for the miraculous self-organizing and self-correcting activity of the universe. Every loveless thought deflects that law and sends the miracle away because we have chosen not to experience it by our loveless thoughts.

PA: How do we remember this truth? Is it by focusing on our true nature, or how?

MW: Well, you can’t just mentally focus on it; it’s not just by using mental power, it’s spiritual power. It comes through prayer, through meditation, through the practice of forgiveness and surrender. That’s why spiritual paths exist. It’s not just some mental switch you can flip. It’s not that easy, though sometimes it is. A friend may tell you, “Oh, don’t be so negative,” and you reply, “You’re right, I shouldn’t be.” Those are the easy things. But what if you lost a lot of money, you lost your job, you’re really suffering? It’s not as easy as somebody saying, “Oh, just be positive.” That’s not what this is about. This is about deep spiritual surrender into a place beyond the mind. That’s what technique is for. That’s what Yoga, meditation, prayer is.

PA: Marianne you are such a gem; a true treasure. I so honor you, your wisdom and work and am grateful that you’ve spent this time with me and with our readers.

MW: Thank you so much.

Marianne Williamson is an internationally acclaimed spiritual author and lecturer. She has been a popular guest on television programs such as Oprah, Larry King Live, Good Morning America and Charlie Rose. Six of her ten published books have been New York Times Best Sellers. Williamson’s other books include, The Age of Miracles, Everyday Grace, A Woman’s Worth, Illuminata, Healing the Soul of America, A Course in Weight Loss and The Gift of Change. Her newest book, The Law of Divine Compensation: On Work, Money and Miracles, was  published in November 2012 by Harper Collins. For more information, please visit: www.marianne.com and www.marianne2020.com.

From Integral Yoga Magazine, Winter 2013 issue

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