The Gift of Change
By Marianne Williamson
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with permission from The
Gift of Change: Spiritual Guidance for a Radically New Life by
Marianne Williamson (HarperSanFrancisco, November 1, 2004).
The times in which we live are difficult, more difficult than
a lot of people seem willing to admit. There is an abiding sense
of collective anxiety, understandable but not always easy to talk
When things aren't going well for you in your personal life, perhaps
you call a friend or family member or go to a therapist or support
group to process your pain. Yet when your feelings of upset are
based on larger social realities, it's hard to know how to talk
about them and to whom. When you're afraid because you don't know
where your next paycheck is going to come from, it's easy to articulate;
when you're worried about whether the human race is going to survive
the next century, it feels odd to mention it at lunch.
And so, I think, there is a collective depression among us, not
so much dealt with as glossed over and suppressed. Each of us,
as individual actors in a larger drama, carries an imprint of a
larger despair. We are coping with intense amounts of chaos and
fear, both personally and together. We are all being challenged,
in one form or another, to recreate our lives.
On the level of everyday conversation, we
conspire with each other to pretend that things are basically
okay, not because we think they are but because we have no way
of talking together about these deeper layers of experience.
If I tell you what happened in my personal life today, I might
also mention how I am feeling about it, and both are considered
relevant. But when it comes to our collective experience, public
dialogue allows for little discussion of events of equally personal
magnitude. "We accidentally
bombed a school today, and fifty children died." How do we
feel about that? Uh-oh, we don't go there. . . .
So we continue to talk mainly about other things, at a time when
the news of the day is as critical as at any time in the history
of the world. Not dealing with our internal depths, we emphasize
external superficialities. Reports on the horrors of war appear
intermittently between reports on box office receipts for the latest
blockbuster movie and a Hollywood actress's vintage Valentino.
I see the same behavior in myself, as I jump from writing about
things that demand I dig deep to obsessively checking my e-mails
for something light and fun to distract me. It's like avoidance
behavior in therapy - wanting to share the gossip but not wanting
to deal with the real, more painful issues. Of course we want to
avoid the pain. But by doing so, we inevitably cause more of it.
That is where we are today. We are acting out our anger and fear
because we are not facing the depth of our pain. And keeping the
conversation shallow seems a prerequisite for keeping the pain
at bay. Those who would engage in a deeper conversation are systematically
barred from the mainstream: from newspapers and magazines, from
TV, and especially from political power.
One night I was watching a news broadcast about the latest videotape
purportedly sent by Osama bin Laden to an Arab television network.
The focus of the American news story was not on bin Laden's message
but rather on the technology by which Americans had verified the
recording. His message was too horrifying; it was as though we
were trying to emotionally distance ourselves from it by having
a beautiful news reporter discuss the technology of the tape rather
than its contents.
Visiting a medical office one day recently,
I asked my doctor, a member of the "greatest generation," how
he had been feeling lately.
"Fine," he said. "How about
"I'm okay," I said. "But I
feel like everybody is freaking out on the inside these days;
we're just not talking about it. I think the state of the world
has us more on edge than we're admitting."
"I think that's true," he sighed. "Things would
get bad before, but you always had a sense they would ultimately
be okay. Now I don't necessarily feel that way . . ." His
voice trailed off, his sadness obvious. As unhappy as he was with
the state of the world, he seemed grateful I had brought it up.
The fact that we go about our lives as though the survival of the
world is not at stake is not the sign of a stiff upper lip. It
is the sign, rather, of a society not yet able or willing to hold
a conversation about its deepest pain.
We are being challenged by world events, by the tides of history,
to develop a more mature consciousness. Yet we cannot do that without
facing what hurts. Life is not a piece of tragic fiction, in which
at the end of the reading we all get up and go out for drinks.
All of us are actors in a great unfolding drama, and until we dig
deep, there will be no great performances. How each of us carries
out our role will affect the end of the play.
Who we ourselves become, how we grow and change and face the challenges
of our own lives, is intimately and causally connected to how the
world will change over the next few years. For the world is a projection
of our individual psyches, collected on a global screen; it is
hurt or healed by every thought we think. To whatever extent I
refuse to face the deeper issues that hold me back, to that extent
the world will be held back. And to whatever extent I find the
miraculous key to the transformation of my own life, to that extent
I will help change the world. That is what this book is about:
becoming the change that will change the world.
Yet we seem to have great resistance to looking at our lives,
and our world, with emotional honesty. And I think we are avoiding
more than pain. We are avoiding the sense of hopelessness we think
we will feel when confronted by the enormity of the forces that
obstruct us. Yet, in fact, it's when we face the darkness squarely
in the eye - in ourselves and in the world - that we begin at last
to see the light. And that is the alchemy of personal transformation.
In the midst of the deepest, darkest night, when we feel most humbled
by life, the faint shadow of our wings begins to appear. Only when
we have faced the limits of what we can do, does it begin to dawn
on us the limitlessness of what God can do. It is the depth of
the darkness now confronting our world that will reveal to us the
magic of who we truly are. We are spirit, and thus we are more
than the world. When we remember that, the world itself will bow
to our remembrance.
Returning to Love
In 1978 I became a student of a self-study program of spiritual
psychotherapy called A Course in Miracles; in 1992 I wrote a book
of reflections on its principles called A Return to Love. Claiming
no monopoly whatsoever on spiritual insight, the Course is a psychological
mind training based on universal spiritual themes. It teaches people
how to dismantle a thought system based on fear and replace it
with a thought system based on love. Its goal is attaining inner
peace through practicing forgiveness. You will notice it referred
to throughout this book, and many of its teachings will be reflected
in what I write. When there is no specific reference for quoted
material or concepts from A Course in Miracles (published by the
Foundation for Inner Peace), I have added an asterisk to mark A
Course in Miracles principle.
Although the Course uses traditional Christian terminology, it
is not a Christian doctrine. Its terms are used in a psychological
context, with universal meaning for any student of spiritual principles,
regardless of whether they have a Christian orientation.
Spiritual principles do not change, but we do. As we mature through
the years, we access more deeply information we had only abstractly
understood before. Twenty years ago, I saw the guidance of the
Course as key to changing one's personal life; today, I see its
guidance as key to changing the world. More than anything else,
I see how deeply the two are connected.
That is why I have written this book. It is, once more and hopefully
in a deeper way, my reflections on some of the principles in A
Course in Miracles.
Looking back at A Return to Love several
years after writing it, I was struck by the example I used of
how hard it can be to try to forgive someone. I told a story
about a man who stood me up for a date to the Olympics in Los
Angeles and how I struggled to work through my anger and resentment.
I'm incredulous now that I ever thought someone standing me up
for a date was a profound example of the ego's cruelty. In the
words of Bob Seger, "Wish
I didn't know now what I didn't know then." It's pretty easy
to espouse forgiveness when nobody's ever really hurt you too deeply.
Life was more innocent for all of us not
so long ago. Today the world seems filled with such sorrow and
danger; it's not so easy anymore to simply spout off metaphysical
principles and expect everything to be okay by morning. These
are times that challenge our spiritual assumptions, as the power
of darkness seems to be taunting us, demanding, "So where's
all that love you believe in now?"
The answer is that love is inside us, just waiting to be unleashed.
The darkness is an invitation to light, calling forth the spirit
in all of us. Every problem implies a question: Are you ready to
embody what you say you believe? Can you reach within yourself
for enough clarity, strength, forgiveness, serenity, love, patience,
and faith to turn this around? That's the spiritual meaning of
every situation: not what happens to us, but what we do with what
happens to us and who we decide to become because of what happens
to us. The only real failure is the failure to grow from what we
The Challenge to Grow
Whether we like it or not, life today is different in ways we
never expected. The speed of change today is faster than the human
psyche seems able to handle, and it's increasingly difficult to
reconcile the rhythms of our personal lives with the rapidity of
a twenty-four-hour news cycle.
Dramatic endings and beginnings seem more prevalent than usual.
Birth, death, divorce, relocation, aging, career change—not to
mention the fact that the world itself seems so irrevocably altered—all
seem to hail some kind of sea change. Things we thought stable
and secure seem less so, and things we thought distant possibilities
have come strangely close. Many people feel right now like we're
jumping out of our skin. It's gone way past uncomfortable into
a haunting sense that we might be living a lie.
It's not that our relationships lack integrity or our careers
don't truly jive with our deepest soul purpose. It's deeper than
that - some sense that reality is like a layer of cellophane separating
us from a truly magical existence. We feel some loss of meaning
like a sickness we can't shake. We would love to burst out, as
though we've been crouching in a small box for a long time. We
ache to spread our arms and legs and backs, to throw our heads
back, to laugh with glee at the feel of sunshine on our faces.
We can't remember when we last did that. Or when we did, it was
like taking a vacation, visiting a tourist attraction. The most
marvelous things about life don't seem to make up the fabric of
our normal existence anymore. Or maybe they never did. We're not
Most of us live with a deep, subconscious longing for another
kind of world. We sing about it, write poetry about it, watch movies
about it, create myths about it. We continue to imagine it though
we never quite seem to find it. Our secret desire is to penetrate
the veil between the world we live in and a world of something
much more real. One thing we know for sure: this world can't be
Many of us are ready to make a break for freedom, to find that
better world beyond the veil and no longer buy into the absurdity
of a pain-laden world that takes itself so seriously. The question
is, how do we do that? If the world we live in isn't as real as
it's cracked up to be, and the world we want is on the other side
of the veil, then where does that leave us?
Who among us doesn't feel displaced at times, in a world that's
supposedly our home yet is so completely at odds with the love
in our hearts? And how do we make the world more aligned with who
we are, instead of always having to struggle to align ourselves
with the world?
Perhaps we are living in a magic hour, like that between night
and day. I think we stand between two historic ages, when a critical
mass of the human race is trying to detach from its obedience to
fear-based thought systems. We want to cross over to someplace
When we look at the innocence of children, as they love and learn,
we wonder: So why can't people remain like that? Why must babies
grow up to face fear and danger? Why can't we do what it takes
to protect their innocence and love? You're not the only one feeling
so concerned; the world is on a self-destructive course, and our
children and their children's children are pleading with us to
The times in which we live call for fundamental change, not merely
incremental change. Millions of people feel called in their souls
to the task of global transformation, wanting to be its agents
in a monumental shift from a world of fear to a world of love.
We can feel the time is now, and we know we're the ones to do it.
The only problem is, we don't exactly know how.
How can we best participate in a task so huge and idealistic?
We sense new energy rising up everywhere, calling us toward more
enlightened ways of seeing, living, thinking, and being. Books
arrayed in bookstores proclaim a better way to love, to lead, to
live. Seminars and support groups keep us working on ways to improve
ourselves, practicing spiritual disciplines and religious rituals.
We get involved in causes and politics, licking envelopes, sending
money. But somehow, still, we don't seem to be hitting the sweet
spot, the miraculous key to turning the world around.
We can't avoid the news, the war, the terror alerts, the fear.
We're doing what we can to change the world in our own small way,
but new ideas and more compassionate forces seem overwhelmed by
their opposites. A few things seem to be getting better, but many
things seem to be getting much worse. Just when love seemed to
be the hot new topic, hatred sounded its clarion call. And the
entire world could not but hear.
The Eternal Compass
The most important thing to remember during times of great change
is to fix our eyes anew on the things that don't change.
Eternal things become our compass during
times of rapid transition, binding us emotionally to a steady
and firm course. They remind us that we, as children of God,
are still at the center of divine purpose in the world. They
give us the strength to make positive changes, wisdom to endure
negative changes, and the capacity to become people in whose
presence the world moves toward healing. Perhaps we're alive
during these fast-moving times in which "the
center does not hold" in order to become the center that does.
I've noticed in myself that if something small and ultimately meaningless
has gone wrong - I can't find the file I left on top of my desk,
my daughter failed to do what I asked her to do before going to
a friend's house - I can easily get rattled. But if someone calls
to inform me of a serious difficulty - someone has been in an accident,
or a child is in trouble - I notice a profound stillness come over
me as I focus on the problem.
In the former case, my temptation to become frantic does not attract
solutions, but rather hinders them. There is nothing in my personal
energy that invites help from others, nor do I have the clarity
to think through what I need to do next. In the latter case, however,
all of my energy goes toward a higher level of problem-solving:
my heart is in service to others, and my mind is focused and clear.
When I am at the effect of the problem, I become part of the problem.
When I am centered within myself, I become part of the solution.
And that phenomenon, multiplied many times over, is the force that
will save the world.
When things in the world are troubling, our need is not to join
in the chaos, but to cleave to the peace within.
The only way to gain power in a world that is moving too fast
is to learn to slow down. And the only way to spread one's influence
wide is to learn to go deep. The world we want for ourselves and
our children will not emerge from electronic speed but rather from
a spiritual stillness that takes root in our souls. Then, and only
then, will we create a world that reflects the heart instead of
The time is past for tweaking this or that external circumstance.
No superficial change will fix things. What we need is more than
behavioral change and more than psychological change; we need nothing
less than for an otherworldly light to enter our hearts and make
us whole. The answer lies not in the future or in another place.
No change in time or space but rather a change in our perception
holds the key to a world made new. And the new world is closer
than we think. We find it when we settle deeply into the hidden,
more loving dimensions of any moment, allowing life to be what
it wants to be and letting ourselves be who we were created to
be. In what A Course in Miracles calls a Holy Instant, we're delivered
by love from the fear that grips the world.
Each of us is connected to a cosmic umbilical cord, receiving
spiritual nourishment from God each moment. Yet in slavish dedication
to the dictates of a fear-based ego, we resist the elixir of divine
sustenance, preferring instead to drink the poison of the world.
It's so amazing that we do this, given the extraordinary pain that
underlies so much of daily living. Yet the mental confusion created
by our dominant thought forms is so intense, and we are so trained
by the world to do fear's bidding, that deliverance comes at most
in flashes. Fortunately, there are more of those flashes than usual
today. While darkness seems to be all around us, an understanding
of a deeper nature is emerging to light our way.
That light - a kind of contemporary, secular star of Bethlehem
- indicates newness on the horizon and beckons us to follow it
to the birth of something fantastic. The wonders of the external
world are as nothing compared to what's happening inside us. This
is not an end time but a new beginning. What is being born is a
new kind of human, played out dramatically in each of our lives.
Freed from the limitations of the ego, free to see and hear and
touch the magic we've been missing all our lives, we're becoming
at last who we really are.
Toward the end of his life, the literary giant George Bernard
Shaw was asked what person in history he would most like to have
been. His response was that he would most like to have been the
George Bernard Shaw he might have been and never became.
A New Beginning
It is an article of faith that God always has a plan. No matter
what craziness humanity has fallen into, He has always delivered
us ultimately to the peace that lies beyond.
Today, we can stand in the midst of the great illusions of the
world and by our very presence dispel them. As we cross the bridge
to a more loving orientation - as we learn the lessons of spiritual
transformation and apply them in our personal lives - we will become
agents of change on a tremendous scale. By learning the lessons
of change, internally and externally, each of us can participate
in the great collective process in which the people of the world,
riding a wave of enlightened understanding, see the human race
on a destructive course and turn it around in time.
To some this might feel like the period of a Great End, perhaps
even at times an Armageddon, but in fact this is the time of a
Great Beginning. It is time to die to who we used to be and to
become instead who we are capable of being. That is the gift that
awaits us now: the chance to become who we really are.
And that is the miracle: the gift of change.
Excerpted with permission from The
Gift of Change: Spiritual Guidance for a Radically New Life by Marianne Williamson (HarperSanFrancisco,
November 1, 2004) .
Copyright © 2004 by Marianne Williamson
Marianne Williamson is an internationally acclaimed
author and lecturer. She has published eight books, four of which
-- including the megabestseller A Return to Love -- have been #1
New York Times bestsellers. Her titles include Illuminata, Everyday
Grace, A Woman's Worth, and Healing the Soul of America.