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Interview with Marianne Williamson
Educator and bestselling author of such books as
The Healing of America and A Return to Love

By Dennis Hughes, Share Guide Publisher

Marianne Williamson i
s the co-founder of the Global Renaissance Alliance and the editor of the powerful book Imagine: What America Could Be in the 21st Century. This book presents visions of a better future from leading American thinkers such as Deepak Chopra, Caroline Myss, Dean Ornish, John Gray, Neale Donald Walsch and Anne Lamott. Many of these authors have been (or will soon be) interviewed by The Share Guide.

Marianne Williamson photo

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Dennis Hughes: In your inspiring book The Healing Of America, you mention that a "sea change" is needed in education. Can you comment on that?
Marianne Williamson: You have to After World War II, our public education system seemingly made a tacit agreement with the business sector. We were to use the public school system to produce workers who would best grease the machinery of the American economy. We have always had a market based economy, something which few of us would criticize. But what began to happen in the last half of the 20th century was that we developed a marketplace world view. Education then became more of a support system for the economy than what I believe it rightfully should be. It should be a support system for democracy itself by fostering citizens with the liveliest, most vital hearts and minds. The economy at that time did not demand free thinkers. In fact, free thinkers were a distraction. Democracy however, depends upon free thinkers.

Dennis: So that is how the degeneration of the school system started?
Marianne: Yes. Public school should not be some place where people are trained to do what they are told, to think within certain boxes.

Dennis: I think I realized in fifth or sixth grade that the bell that rang at school was similar to the bell that rang at work for adults.
Marianne:: Absolutely. We have now moved from the similarity between schools and the workplace to the similarity between schools and prisons.

Dennis: What changes do you think are needed in education now?
Marianne: First of all, I think that many, many people are already at work in changing education. A friend was talking to me the other day about how education should be an alpha wave phenomenon: it should come from play and wonder. Instead, our education system tends to be a beta wave phenomenon: hierarchical, patriarchal, nationalistic. It produces people who can stay within the box and even think within it (sometimes brilliantly), but it doesn't feed the soul--or in the highest sense, feed the future.

Dennis: I agree with you. So to go further, it is my thinking that since we all want to transform society and make a better world, one of the very root places where that starts is in education, which leads to how we live our daily lives. Your new book Imagine really excited me. Just the concept, "Imagine What America Can Be In The 21st Century" is inspiring.
Marianne: I think that we are in the midst of a huge cultural revolution in this country. It remains unnamed and therefore pretty much invisible to the old order. It moves beneath the radar line of the status quo, but it is clearly there. People across the board in every institution, in every geographical and attitudinal sector of our society are struggling every day to move beyond mechanistic, top down, overly externalized, overly secularized patterns of thought and behavior. In countless ways day in and day out, people make subtle and not so subtle changes in the way they think, the way they live, the way they work, the way they play. These changes accumulate and are driving this huge ship called American Civilization in a new direction. In The Course In Miracles it says that exploring a spiritual path does not involve learning so much as unlearning. The highest issue of education in my mind does not just apply to children. Education applies to all of us, in order to succeed in the deepest sense of the word, and by that I mean defining success as living happy, vital, creative and actualized lives. All of us need to lose many of the constructs built up over the past century. These are mental, social and emotional concepts, which were a product of the 20th century and of the Industrial Revolution. They did not then, and do not now resonate deeply with who we are as human beings, deep in our hearts. The highest education to me is a kind of surrender--a letting go of an old world view. And the re-education process goes way beyond just the institution of education itself.

Dennis: So we need to make a shift on all levels?
Marianne: Right. If you think about it, the educational system is a product of the world view, as much as the cultural world view is a product of the that system. Education became a servant to that world view, and then what happens, of course, in turn, is that education is used to promote the world view further. So that at a certain point people don't even know what came first. What is dangerous about this is that people no longer discern that it is simply a choice rather than any kind of natural order.

Dennis: Right, it is all kind of blurred together now.
Marianne: Yes. There is an entire generation that doesn't remember a time when economics was not the organizing principle in American society.

Dennis: The book Imagine is full of visions of the future by different specialists in different areas. I liked that thinking: Aha! Imagine what the world would be like if we made these changes.
Marianne: There is something going on today which is both surprising and sad. America itself is a huge idea. We were a nation born from a radical thought--a repudiation of thousands of years of an ancient regime where power was concentrated in the hands of a monarch and a very small aristocracy. Our country was founded in a blazing testament to the human yearning to turn that formula upside down, to place power in the hands of the common people. Power was only to be lent to the government, not given, by the way. The government was to work for the people and not the other way around. So we were born out of audacity. Audacity is in our cultural DNA, and yet what concerns me is what little audacity we seem to have left. We pour the vast majority of our incredible talent and ingenuity into the private sector. We create amazing new gadgets, new computers, wild new dress designs, new kitchen utensils. All of that, it seems to me, is a distraction from the fact that we are becoming less and less creative and less audacious in the places where we need to be--mainly in the public sector.

Dennis: The monarchies have been replaced by the corporations and we are now following their agenda.
Marianne: Yes, that's true. My book Healing The Soul Of America talks about how corporations have become the new American aristocracy. Once again, the most dangerous fact here is not that this has occurred, but that we have so many people now that just don't even see it. And if they do see it, they don't really see anything wrong with it. And that's basically because of such an appalling lack of American history being taught to our young people. All too often, our young people have not studied civics or history or anything to inform them not only of the facts, but of the meaning behind the American Revolution, and how against the democratic grain corporate dominance really goes.

Dennis: Revolutionary thought is tied to the New Age, or Cultural Creatives, or the Holistic Health Movement. You can trace free thinking back through the hippies, the beatniks and the bohemians. Most in our parent's generation weren't bigger dreamers, but we have to recapture the vision of the founding fathers.
Marianne: Right. I talk about all of that being the soul of America, from the Quakers to the Transcendentalists.

Dennis: There is a quote by Peter Drucker who wrote The New Society which is, "The best way to predict the future is to create it."
Marianne: Ah! That is beautiful.

Dennis: Because my readers tend to be college age and beyond, I have often focused on higher education rather than lower education. But I want to acknowledge that a shift needs to happen in the lower education sector, and we really do need to teach kids the heart of American history so they can put the present into context.
Marianne: I think early education is probably the most important thing.

Dennis: Yes, because it comes first. If you don't start there then it is hard to change people later. For instance, all the kids who are growing up with recycling now, it is just their way of life, it is what they learned from the beginning. And children have innate feelings sometimes that can get quashed by the status quo.
Marianne: That is why I believe we need more of an education system that protects children's natural sense of wonder, because out of that a hunger for learning naturally emerges. That is why I am a fan of things like the Waldorf education system.

Dennis: Yes, and Montessori as well.
Marianne: Yes, my daughter went to both.

Dennis: How old is your daughter now?
Marianne: My daughter is ten now and in a public school, but through the second grade she was in Montessori and Waldorf.

Dennis: Well, somehow we got here anyway, you and I, even without that. I was the first person of any generation on either side of my family who went to college. I made good grades, got financial aid and went to Sonoma State University. But then I didn't know what to do with it; I changed majors a whole lot.
Marianne: So what did you do?

Dennis: I wound up in the Hutchins School of Independent Studies at Sonoma State University, where I studied Comparative Religion. This led me to living in ashrams around the nation. Then I eventually went into the natural foods movement, never getting a college degree because my own business took off while I was still in college. I became an entrepreneur and worked in the holistic health movement. After a decade of this work, I sold my business and went into journalism. I started Share Guide with my wife Janice and it is now 12 years old. We started it because we were disappointed with the regular media. Our daily newspaper had been purchased by the New York Times. Yet I was reading so many positive stories in New Age Journal and Yoga Journal and so forth that were not reported in the mainstream. I got angry and decided I could do better, even though I never had any journalism classes. We have built this magazine up just one day at a time. Right now my vision is to offer what I do with holistic health themes and interviews and so forth to local media around the nation and try and create more of a network for this kind of material.
Marianne: Do you think that a national newspaper with those kinds of stories would make it in America?

Dennis: Certainly a section therein at least, and the television channels could incorporate these positive stories in their newscasts. It will happen eventually. The question is whether it will happen in our time. There are over 100 free regional magazines like Share Guide around the nation now. And there are quite a few national paid magazines like Utne Reader and Yes Journal. These are publications that are monthly or bi-monthly. But there is definitely enough news to fill a daily newspaper. Whether or not there is enough ad revenue to cover that yet, I don't know, but it is certainly coming. As you know, everyone needs food; not everyone needs counseling or bodywork, or they don't think they do. Therefore, the natural foods movement is larger than any other aspect of the movement. Whole Foods is the chain that has bought all the little stores, so now they are my back cover, and if anyone sees Share Guide from coast to coast, they usually know about Whole Foods. I think that is related to the whole big picture. We are thinking about the future in a big way.
Marianne: That's excellent.

Dennis: Going back to education: In the future, what do you think should be the focus of the modern curriculum?
Marianne: Education should not so much teach our children what to think but how to think. Any system, whether it is a family, an organization or a nation, that doesn't prepare its young to rebel constructively is preparing itself to die.

Dennis: Right, because the youth need to be adaptable.
Marianne: When I was young we kept saying that our education wasn't relevant. We didn't see the point of studying Aristotle. Today I see it so differently! I can't think of anything more relevant to the cultivation of a fully actualized awareness than a broad experience and exposure to artistic and philosophical as well as technical subjects. Real preparation for a creative and prosperous life today has less to do with knowing a specific set of facts and more to do with the elasticity of one's mind and spirit.

Dennis: How do we keep people from dropping out of high school?
Marianne: Maybe what we need to do is think less in terms of keeping people from dropping out and more about why they are dropping out. We need to set about the creation of a more exciting environment so that they will want to stay. That would include more technical training, I think, for people who would prefer some type of trade.

Dennis: Like wood shop, metal shop, that kind of thing?
Marianne: Yes.

Dennis: I am glad that I sampled those things as well as algebra and so forth or I wouldn't have a woodshop in my garage today.
Marianne: Exactly. I was telling my mother that I wouldn't know where I would be today if she hadn't made me learn how to type.

Dennis: Yes. That's true. I wonder how much technology is going to change things over the next 50 years.
Marianne: I think we are so reckless. We don't know what effect it is having on our children's brains to be exposed to computers so often, so early.

Dennis: What about the affordability of advanced education? How are we going to deal with that?
Marianne: Once again, we are living in a society that has made short-term corporate gain our bottom line, rather than serious long-term investment in our people and our future. We are a nation that is climbing towards 300 billion dollars a year in our defense budget.

Dennis: But despite that, there is a major surge of people who care, and want to do something different.
Marianne: Yes, this is such a phenomenal moment! Millions of us are involved.

Dennis: There are books such as The Cultural Creatives by Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson, which says that perhaps a quarter of the population is thinking differently already. Seven out of the top ten best sellers on the New York Times Bestseller List in any given year are spiritual or consciousness related. So there is certainly a lot of interest in change. Not everyone is walking lock step into the future just being a clone of the corporation.
Marianne: Yes, I couldn't agree with you more. I think that is why this such a critical moment. We are having a revolution here, but it is unnamed. The old order thinks "Well, if we don't name it, or if we will give it a silly name like New Age, then it doesn't really exist and it can't really harm us."

Dennis: There is another great book I've read called The Global Brain Awakens: Our Next Evolutionary Step by Peter Russell.
Marianne: I know Peter.

Dennis: His book talks about how we are coming into this Consciousness Age because there is so much interest in it, and that's what is eventually going to replace the Information Age. Meanwhile the status quo just wants to use the information to expand the world economy.
Marianne: The marketplace--that is all the old monster really relates to. I call it a monster because it is a system that is not driven by heart, or conscience, or ethics.

Dennis: I totally agree. There was an album called "Monster" by Steppenwolf back in the 1960's. That is what they were talking about.
Marianne: Rock-n-roll is such a perfect example of something that started out as an instrument of revolution and now it's been totally co-opted and become the monster's pet.

Dennis: Yes, now you can hear your favorite old songs on car commercials!
Marianne: That's sad.

Dennis: I'd like to ask you a couple of questions suggested by Janice, my wife and partner. What do you think are the key elements of the structure of the US educational system which help perpetuate the status quo and prevent people from taking responsibility for destructive habits?
Marianne: I would like to see an educational environment such as those cultivated by both Waldorf and Montessori systems, where the natural excitement of children is seen as a prerequisite to their learning, rather than the loss of this being the price we pay in order to learn. I don't think education should limit children's creativity by an over concentration on left-brain, rationalistic, technological functioning. I'd like to see education be more relational, more playful, more joyful, and more sacred.

Dennis: Robert Thurman has said that everyone needs a "B.E.: a Bachelor's of Enlightenment" prior to getting a practical skill so that once they learn how to have power in the world they don't abuse it. And we can start with alternative useful models like Waldorf and Montessori.
Marianne: My daughter has taken classes in forgiveness and compassion and comparative religions.

Dennis: These should be taught to the youth, definitely, as a basic foundation.
Marianne: If you look at how many wars are fought on the planet today between and among religions, nothing could be more important than our children being trained to have a deep cultural understanding of religions other than their own.

Dennis: You are right. There is so much divisiveness and thinking "My God is better than your God."
Marianne: We judge what we are ignorant of.

Dennis: That's right. Here is another of Janice's comments: How we spend our money impacts industry and society, but if we educate ourselves for a conscious career, we can benefit society with right livelihood as well as conscious spending.
Marianne: She's right.

Dennis: A lot of people are now donating money. People who have cubicles in corporations have Greenpeace calendars and belong to the Sierra Club. But if they are working in their daily lives to build the monster, then they are just kind of giving the crumbs back.
Marianne: I think many people understand that. On the other hand, most of the people that you are talking about would say, "Gee, I need this job." There are at least couple of ways of looking at it. Number one, some of the people who "feed the monster" genuinely don't know where else they could work. Number two, there are people within those systems seeking to revolutionize them.

Dennis: To transmute the monster?
Marianne: Absolutely. From my vantage point, this is not an anti-corporate message--it is a message of perspective.

Dennis: And there can be socially conscious corporations.
Marianne: Absolutely, and I think there are some very socially conscious people working within the corporate sector, such as Paul Hawken.

Dennis: Some corporations are contacting the conscious speakers from venues like Whole Life Expo and the Bioneers Conference and bringing them in to conduct trainings. Even my Buddhist lama teacher gets invited to speak at corporations.
Marianne: But there's a problem with that as well.

Dennis: Which is?
Marianne: The problem of being co-opted. Unless they are willing for us to come in there and point out the destructiveness of the global corporate order!

Dennis: So can we illuminate the corporations from within?
Marianne: Well, the corporations are made of people after all. Look at someone like Bill Ford. I live in Detroit, and he says some pretty hip things.

Dennis: Isn't he the one aiming for cars that can do 100 miles per gallon?
Marianne: Yes. He's clearly trying.

Dennis: In Imagine, toward the end, there is some talk about "Spaceship Earth" and too many of us feeling like we are just passengers…
Marianne: Rather than drivers…

Dennis: Exactly. We aren't passengers on Spaceship Earth, we're the crew. We aren't residents on this planet, we're citizens. The difference in both cases is responsibility.
Marianne: Well, I think that thinking is exacerbated by the fact that we have it so good in this society. Our young people too often fail to realize the struggles, the human suffering involved in creating so many of the freedoms and opportunities we now take for granted.

Dennis: Yes, some of us are lazy and complacent.
Marianne: I heard a woman speak yesterday at a conference for women in San Francisco. She is the lawyer who argued Roe vs. Wade in front of the Supreme Court. What's clear is that women of a certain generation realize what a dramatic and significant moment Roe vs. Wade represented. Too many younger women take their right to choose for granted. So they're not politically active. Their eyes are not necessarily open to the gradual whittling away of Roe vs. Wade that is the current strategy among the Right and our new administration. They don't seem to have any sense that this right could disappear. Because they weren't around for the struggle and they weren't educated about it.

Dennis: It is not a real thing to them; it is just part of history.
Marianne: Right, and that is what has happened to education in America in general. It has become like processed food; it has no chi.

Dennis: Here's another Janice question: What do you think of the idea of mandatory community service, and/or repaying of college financial aid partially through community service?
Marianne: I love the concept; I just have a problem with the word mandatory.

Dennis: "Mandatory conscription" would be similar to what some countries have for their army. You don't think the environment is that bad yet?
Marianne: I think that there are enough people who would joyfully and willingly do community service if they knew where to go and what to do--in a way that could really make a difference.

Dennis: What if you could defray part of your financial aid for school by community service?
Marianne: Yes, that would be great!

Dennis: Like the Peace Corps or something…The Earth Corps.
Marianne: I think that would be fantastic, and I think that is the direction Clinton was trying to take with AmeriCorps.

Dennis: I have a thought about conscious careers. I had a quote that I stuck up above my desk at home while in college. It said, "Find a need and fill it." I eventually found the natural foods movement as a way to plug in, because I was looking for things that needed to be done. I recommend that people seek careers and training for work that will serve this growing cultural creative movement.
Marianne: That is a very powerful thought.

Dennis: I have worked for 25 years now doing conscious work and I haven't always made great money, but I could always feel good about what I was doing.
Marianne: I have as well, and a couple of times it did make money, but not because I was trying. First of all, I think that money should not be your primary motivation. When money is not your primary motivation, anything can happen--including money.

Dennis: That's right. My finances are definitely better than they were years ago, through my slow and steady efforts at right livelihood. Whatever I get, however, goes into good places. A great quote I have in my office says, "The truth is that loving service will save us and the earth."
Marianne: That's beautiful.

Dennis: Let's close by discussing the Global Renaissance Alliance--both how it started and where it's headed.
Marianne: The Global Renaissance Alliance is a network of small circles of people, usually 12 or fewer, who will one day form a kind of mystical bridge surrounding the planet. Through prayer, meditation and deep sharing from the heart, we seek to create a field of prayerful meditative energy to uplift the thoughtforms of the planet. The problems of the world are based in dense material reality and they saturate our reality. Traditional political activism simply does not contain enough spiritual fuel or spiritual power to fundamentally turn human civilization in a new direction. The Global Renaissance Alliance uses meditation, prayer and sacred sharing to compliment and purify the more traditional efforts to heal the world. It is a place where we process through our cynicism, our fear, our anger, and our hopelessness and move into spiritual invocation of the paradise this world could be.

Dennis: You've gotten a number of known authors who participate in this organization. What are your intentions or goals with the GRA?
Marianne: My hope is that one day small circles of sacred sharing will encircle the planet the way rings circle Saturn.

Dennis: Excellent! And you do meetings and conferences periodically?
Marianne: Yes, they are listed on the website. There is also a handbook available if people want to start their own circle.

For more information about Marianne Williamson and the Global Renaissance Alliance, please visit


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