Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending a talk by Marianne Williamson on ‘Divine Partnership’ here in Los Angeles. In it, she elaborated on many useful ideas from A Course in Miracles applicable to dating and relationships.
For those of you who are not familiar with her work yet, she possesses one of the most lucid voices in contemporary spirituality. Her 1992 book A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles” is a modern spiritual classic. There’s a famous quote of hers — often misattributed to Nelson Mandela who read it at his inauguration — that starts, “Our greatest fear isn’t that we are inadequate. Our greatest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.” For all my female readers, A Woman’s Worth (1993) is a must-read which informs much of The Tao of Dating for Women. In person, she’s a dynamic, engaging speaker. I encourage you to see her whenever the opportunity arises.
She started the talk by remarking that in medieval times in Europe, towns were built with the church at the center. Symbolically, that’s putting the sacred at the center of life. In modern times in the West, the sacred is separate from our relationships, work and finances. This means that we’re not including the fundamental ground of being in our everyday life. If we were to start doing that and put the sacred front and center, we’d get a much bigger platform from which to operate.
Much of Marianne’s teachings are informed by A Course in Miracles, which seems to be a remarkable tract judging from her references to it. In that course, we are a thought in the mind of god (and you can pick god to mean whatever it means to you: creation, nature, The Force). God can’t create anything other than itself, so we are godlike in that sense, with the only difference being that god created us and not vice versa. Are you following me? Good, because this is where things get interesting.
Now in each moment, we can either experience fear — which is the same as being closed, or being in hell — or love, which is the same as openness or heaven. When you embrace the love, you are in heaven, experiencing peace and joy. When you deflect the love, you are in hell, experiencing anxiety, fear, and discomfort. You experience the true Self (with a capital S) when you let the light and love of god in.
This idea of ‘Self’ (vs. the ‘self’ and ego) is the Christ-consciousness within. We all have this notion of pure love inside; the difference is the baggage that comes with it. At this point Marianne used the example of Michelangelo: when asked how he created his sculptural masterpieces, like Moses, David, and the Pieta, he responded: “The perfect form created by the mind of god already exists in the marble block; I merely remove the excess marble.” The difference between us and someone like the Buddha or Jesus, Marianne said, was that for them, the loving-kindness, the Self is all they had, without anything extra.
Another one of the principles of the Course in Miracles is that “if it’s not love, it’s not real.” The Course also says that god solves every problem the moment it arises. I found this to be an interesting premise, so I listened closely to find out how this works. Marianne explained that we all have an internal teacher (which the course calls the Holy Spirit, and we can call our higher self) which gives us an opening, an opportunity in which we tell ourselves “I am willing to see this differently.” That is the Holy Spirit in action.
She also talked about the ‘crucifixion’ and ‘savior’ patterns. Depending on how we relate to each person we meet, that person can be our crucifier or savior. When we follow the fear-based pattern of thinking without love, that person will be our crucifier (but really, we’re doing it to ourselves). Do it enough times, and fear-based thought becomes a default setting. You dismantle that default setting through meditation and prayer. The more you meditate, the more you will tend towards the loving thoughts, in which case each person you meet becomes your savior — once again, mostly through your own doing.
Here’s what happens in relationships between men and women (or any kind really): if each person is not aligned with god (or the sacred, if that makes more sense to you), then their childhoods and past relationships come into play and collide into one another. You get a collision of egos, with each person taking himself or herself to hell. This did not sound like a lot of fun — and, come to think of it, perhaps that’s why many relationships aren’t a lot of fun.
Each relationship we have is like an assignment, and each person is a lesson, Marianne explained. In the first level interaction, ego meets ego. The physical proximity doesn’t last long, and then the parties part. In the second level interaction, the physical proximity lasts a bit longer and then ends. But in Reality with capital R, the relationship continues. The third level interaction is a lifelong assignment. It may not even be pleasant, but it’s the homework our soul needs.
This is where Marianne explained the importance of meditation. She remembered how when she was younger, she’d go see every visiting Indian guru, and would be frustrated as hell when they would answer every question with a shimmy of the head and a single word: “Meditate.” Now, a little older and wiser, she gets it: ‘meditate’ is the answer to every question. “When you do not meditate, you are a danger to yourself and the world,” were her exact words. Meditation and prayer is like taking a shower or a bath. You don’t say, “Well, I took a shower last week, so I should be good for now.” It’s a daily practice of spiritual cleansing and mental hygiene.
As an aside, she mentioned that women don’t need men, the same way they need food and air. They desire men, and in any case, that’s much healthier and more attractive (and this audience member wholeheartedly agrees — it’s kinda the basis of this book I wrote). From there, she segued in the notion of ‘male perversity’, apparently something that psychologists have come up with. This is men’s tendency to resist giving something to a woman if she demands it. (I thought that was just called being a guy.) The ramification of that is that you will only get what you want from a man when you come from a place of self-sufficiency.
Self-sufficiency is the opposite of the ‘special relationship’, also known as the ‘you complete me’ disease. The special relationship may start auspiciously and feel really good, but it’s not the same as the divine partnership. And the same meshing of egos that starts the special relationship often leads to the clashing of egos which spells its end.
The main benefit of the talk for me were the aphorisms Marianne brought up from the Course in Miracles. You can think of these as useful rules to keep in mind when faced with a relationship question. In fact, one of them has been on a yellow sticky-note on my desk for quite some time: “Only what we are not giving can be missing in any situation.” That’s profound. Whether it’s true or not is unquantifiable and unprovable; but it is undoubtedly powerful and useful. So use it! Here are some other ones:
“The Answer (with a capital A) to any question is the state of consciousness in which you simply know the answer.” This is brilliant. It’s akin to Einstein’s formulation: you can’t solve a problem from the same logical level it was developed. You basically have to go to a higher logical level, which can be called a higher state of consciousness. If you practice this diligently and go to higher states of consciousness every time you hit a challenge — through meditation, prayer, or loving-kindess — not only will all your relationship issues dissolve naturally and effortlessly, all your other challenges will resolve as well. As Marianne paraphrased from the Course, “The issue isn’t that we don’t know what god is telling us; the issue is that we don’t like what we’re hearing.”
“Every thought you have either takes you straight to heaven or straight to hell.” We talked about that one already: open vs closed; love vs fear.
“You are 100% responsible for your own experience. The price you pay for not recognizing that is not to be able to change your experience.”
“Forgiveness is extending your physical senses to see beyond the surface — e.g. ‘You’re a jerk’ — into who someone really is — ‘You’re a child of god’.”
And finally, what may be the central prayer in A Course in Miracles, which could have come straight from the Tao Te Ching: “Let all things be exactly as they are.”