Conversation with Alice
By Marianne Schnall
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known for her literary fiction, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning The
Color Purple (now a major Broadway play), her many volumes
of poetry, and her powerful nonfiction collections. Her other
bestselling books include In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens, The
Temple of My Familiar, Possessing the Secret of Joy, By
the Light of My Father's Smile, and The Way Forward
Is With a Broken Heart. Her latest book is We
Are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For: Inner Light in a Time
Walker is on the Advisory Board of Feminist.com.
WITH MARIANNE SCHNALL
Schnall: Congratulations on this amazing book “We are the Ones
We Have Been Waiting for” – it contains so many important insights
and observations the world needs to hear. In this “me” society
we seem to have turned such a deaf ear to what is really important.
It’s said that the truth hurts. Do you feel it is your calling
to scream the truth out loud?
Walker: Not at all – I never scream and I think that
silence is the best way to get real attention. Especially from
the deep self. So I think the people who are in solitude in
the mountains, or who live in temples or are contemplatives,
the people you never hear from, you never know are there, somewhere
in some deep, dark cave, meditating – I think those people
are basically responsible for a lot of the sanity that we do
have. And in my own case, I know that what I can bring to the
world comes from a world of deep silence, and quiet. And that
is where my compass – my moral compass and my internal guide
– that’s where they live, in that deep quiet. So by the time
whatever I’m offering gets out into the world, it may sound
quite loud, maybe, but that’s only I think to people who are
not used to being in quiet and silence. Sometimes it might
seem loud because it is a voice they have been silencing.
That reminds me of something you wrote in your book, about
the need for a “pause” – a pause to reflect. And I think I
probably chose my words wrong, because I definitely did not
mean to imply that you “scream” – I guess I meant more that
part of your calling seems to bring light to the truth - that
is probably the better way to say what I was trying to say.
I think that I do feel that my nature is to express what this
self, this particular self at this time, experiences in the
world. And that is so organic – I use this metaphor a lot but
I’ll use it again – it’s like a pine tree producing pine cones,
or a blackberry bush producing blackberries – it’s just what
happens with this being, now. Going through the world and seeing
what I see, and feeling what I feel. And wanting very much
to touch other people with that.
MS: The subtitle of
your book is was “Inner Light in a Time of Darkness.” Is this
where the real change that is needed in the outer world begins,
in our own individual inner worlds, first?
has to be there. And not only that we do carry an inner light,
an inner compass and the reason we don’t know we carry it is
because we’ve been distracted. And we think that the light
is actually being carried by a leader or somebody that we have
elected or somebody that we very much admire, and that that’s
the only light. And so we forget that we have our own light
– it may be small, it may be flickering, but it’s actually
there. And so what we need to do, I think, is to be still enough
to let that light shine, and illuminate our inner landscape
and our dreams – especially our dreams. And then our dreams
will lead us to the right way.
We work with Omega Institute – and I just finished watching
your beautiful, inspiring talk that you gave at one of the
Women & Power conferences
a few years ago. There was so much in there. And you had talked
about your concern about the fascism and imperialism that’s
in the world today. Has America as a country spiritually lost
its soul? And do you see a hopeful anti-fascism, peace movement
AW: Oh yes, I do.
I mean look at us – look at the millions of people who turn
out, and who turned out against the war. The people who are
refusing to fight in the war and the soldiers who are throwing
down their weapons and going to jail. And the mothers and the
fathers who are speaking up – there’s a couple who’s taking
their son’s coffin from town to town because their son died
in the war. But there’s a massive, worldwide movement I think
that is completely anti-war. And I think of that as a kind
of enlightenment that we could not have had in earlier ages
because we couldn’t see war and its causes quite so clearly.
And people were so misled by the church and other institutions
that they couldn’t see that basically the powerful and the
rich, and the people who wanted to stay that way, actually
made these wars, most of them for their own benefit. And so
they could rip off the resources of people living far away.
Now we can see that. Now there are enough women in the world
who are educated and smart, and can really run it on down to
their parents, and to friends, and to the media. It’s a wonderful
time. It seems so bleak, but I maintain that it’s one of the
best times to be alive, and I’m very happy to here now.
I’ve been thinking that maybe things needed to get so blatantly
off-course so that we can actually see the state of humanity
in order to realize the urgent change that’s needed.
that seems to be the way it is with humans. They need to be
really scared on some level, and they need to worry about self-preservation
and survival. And then it’s an instinct - they have an instinct
for thriving and continuing. And so that’s part of who we are.
It’s a shame though, because if we could develop in ourselves
a lot of compassion for other beings, we wouldn’t have to watch
their destruction and humiliation and terrorizing of them in
order for us to be moved, to be fearful of what could happen
In the world today, there is a growing awareness and more and
more people wanting to contribute to change in the world, but
not even knowing where to start. As such a longtime activist,
what words of encouragement would you offer to other activists
in the world?
AW: There’s always
something to do – always. And the reason that’s true is that
you always can work with yourself. You don’t have to go out
and worry about what other people are doing, or how to start
this or that out there, you can start ever so much in yourself.
And that will evolve outwardly. So if you just hold that thought
– that it really is up to each of us, and we’re all trying
to get to a place where collectively we can effect change.
But we can’t really do it from being a collective before we
are actually self-collected.
MS: Do you think the rising
of women, and feminine principles in the world, is a natural,
evolutionary shift we are experiencing now?
think it is because the feminine has to rise in order for there
to be any hope of continuation of the species. And I think
that most people actually feel that on some level. What is
a little frightening though is how many women - you know people
who in this lifetime have female bodies – are really fleeing
the feminine. And you see it most clearly in language. As I
mention in “We are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For” – that
women and girls are taught and programmed actually to think
of themselves as “guys”. And it’s a way to basically evade
being deeply feminine on a daily basis. And you’ll notice too
that there’s a kind of repetitiveness – like it’s being constantly
reinforced that you are not feminine, you are something else.
And I think it bears scrutiny and it bears sitting with and
really deciding one way or the other. You might decide, well,
damnit you’d like to be guy, you want to use that word and
other things that are similar, but you really need to make
it a conscious decision. I think women have to be so conscious
about what they want to be called, what they are actuallyare
– it should be our choice, and it should not just be society’s
programming, or the media’s programming, or masculine or patriarchal
programming – which is actually what is.
of language and linguistics, with a site called Feminist.com,
I am always amazed at the misconceptions there are about feminism,
and the many women who clearly are feminists but who would
never call themselves that. You came up with the term “womanist.”
For people who may not be familiar with that term, can you
describe how that term came to be and its relevance today?
first of all it’s feminist, but it’s feminist from a culture
of color. So there’s no attempt to evade the name “feminism,”
which is honorable. It actually means womanism – I mean, it’s
French in its essence – la femme, so feminism would be womanism,
actually. Womanism comes though from Southern African American
culture because when you did something really bold and outrageous
and audacious as a little girl, our parents would say, “You’re
acting ‘womanish’.” It wasn’t like in white culture where that
was weak – it was just the opposite. And so, womanism affirms
that whole spectrum of being which includes being outrageous
and angry and standing up for yourself, and speaking your word
and all of that.
When I interviewed Jane Fonda, she talked about how later in
her life she experienced an “aha” moment where her "feminist
consciousness slipped out of her head and took up residence
in her body, where it has lived ever since." Do you think
women need to experience a type of aha moment, their own personal
epiphany, when they finally get it in touch with their own
I don’t know if that’s the only way they can do it, but anything
that encourages women to accept themselves as who they are
and what they are and to honor the feminine in them, would
be very, very helpful for the world’s healing. Because the
world is becoming so patriarchal, even more patriarchal in
some ways, but also, just more dismissive and discarding of
the feminine. And you see that in the way that very young girls
are sold – often because their parents are really poor, but
generally speaking it’s the father who does the selling. And
then these children basically are sold into slavery. And they
live and die in brothels in many parts of the world. And it’s
as if the feminine there – when the feminine is so degraded
anywhere, it’s a blow to the feminine everywhere. Now that’s
when we should be screaming – jumping up and down everywhere
– and saying that this is such an insult to the Mother and
to the Feminine that we cannot stand it, and we will not. And
we should liberate all these children from these horrible prisons
that they’re in as these slaves to just whoever can come in
and pay a few rupees or whatever the money is.
I also recently interviewed Gloria Steinem, who I know is a
friend of yours. When I asked Gloria how we can help women
better stay in touch with ourselves and make empowered choices
for our lives, she said, “I think that the most effective means
we have is to talk to each other in groups. Human beings are
communal creatures.” How important is this notion of telling
our truths to each other and being supported by friendship
and the power of sisterhood?
totally crucial. In fact, I advocate that every woman be a
part of a circle and a circle that meets at least once a month,
or if you can’t do that, once every two months or every four
months. But you have to have a circle, a group of people, women
- smart, wise, can-do women - who are in the world doing their
work, and you need to meet with them as often as you can, so
that they can see what you’re doing, and who you are, and you
can see the same. And you can talk to each other about the
world and about your lives. In a circle of trust and safety.
It’s crucial. It is crucial for our psychological health and
our spiritual growth – it’s essential.
In talking to Gloria about women’s media, she remarked that
only Oprah has the power to put some non-product articles in
her magazine. I know Oprah has been a longtime supporter, colleague
and dear friend of yours. How do you view and understand Oprah’s
importance and popularity, as one of the most powerful women
in the media, and certainly as one of the most powerful African
American women, possibly in the world?
not really close friends – we’re mutually respectful people,
I met her when she worked on - you know she was Sofia in the
movie of “The Color Purple” and later recently she became a
producer of the musical – very late in the process - and did
a lot of the publicity for it. And I have admiration like so
many people. I think we love Oprah because she speaks her mind,
and she is honest about her life, and about the processes.
And I think the world really is hungering for women of power.
We love her partly because she’s powerful. And because to see
someone with so much power, and she uses it, I think, so often
for such good. To see that is just a tonic for the spirit.
And we need so many more people like that. Now, there have
been women with a lot of power – for instance Margaret Thatcher.
But she didn’t inspire people with the love and devotion that
Oprah does, because her power was so patriarchal and because
we rarely thought she was always saying what she thought. It
was very clear that she was still surrounded by men and becoming
more male every day. And you can’t really say that about Oprah.
I’m not a big TV watcher so I don’t watch her closely as, for
instance, my sister does, who watches it every day. But my
sense is that she is living a very large life, of her own design.
You may not particularly care for the design, but it is what
she wants to be doing with her life. And if more women could
see that, and enjoy it, I think there would be much more loose
and inclusive and free feeling sense of possibility and enchantment
among women in the world.
MS: In your Omega talk you
spoke about the concept of “The Dark Mother.” How do you see
the significance of Africa for humanity and the world - Africa
as our communal birthplace?
as I’m talking about in “We are the Ones,” we have an African
mother. That is the common mother. And we have been taught
to be so different and separate. And that’s an illusion. And
it’s an illusion that has made us really murder each other
and just do horrible things, especially to people of color,
because white people have more often been in the power to do
that on a mass scale. You know, like the rape of Africa, the
absolute subjugation of the people, the stealing of resources,
the enslavement of people – all of those things. And when humanity
understands, really with the heart, that they have been doing
all of this to their mother, I believe there will be a great
shift in the world. Because you can only do those terrible
things that people do when you have that illusion of separation.
And when you lose it – it’s like when you really think that
you are so, so very different from say, your cat. Because I
have a cat and I adore her. And you hang out with the cat and
you live with the cat, and finally it really dawns on you that
basically you and the cat like the same things! You know, you
like to be warm, you like cuddling, you like food, you like
to lie in the sun – and then you kind of get it - well, you
know, I don’t want to harm this cat, I don’t want to eat this
cat, I don’t to steal this cat’s anything. So I’m hopeful that
now that geneticists have actually done the work of linking
us by DNA to our African mother that at some point that is
going to sink into human consciousness and lead to an understanding
of who the Mother is. Hopefully, the human mother and then
of course the Earth Mother.And you see how that has changed
– I don’t know if you remember this, but not so long ago only
Native Americans, and indigenous people elsewhere and aboriginal
people elsewhere – only those people talked about the Earth
Mother. The Earth as mother. And then this man - Lovelock -
I think it was, found the Greek word Gaia for the Earth Mother/Goddess
mother, and was just astonished that you know, hey – it’s alive.
Now everybody knew it was alive. All of the people who have
lived on this planet for thousands of years, praying to the
Earth and thanking the Earth – they completely knew – of course
it’s alive! So that’s a good example of how consciousness changes,
and if people can get it that they come from the Earth Mother,
then they one day will understand that they also come from
a human mother, the same mother, and she is due immense respect
and love and appreciation.
I know that the environment is a cause you care deeply about.
The other site I run is an environmental site EcoMall.com,
and I do think there has been increasing environmental awareness.
Do you think that with all the recent attention to the dangers
facing our planet due to global warming, we are finally starting
to wake up to the current environmental crisis?
do, I think so. I think Katrina did it. You know the Tsunami
in southeast Asia was amazing, but it was far away, and I think
that when Katrina hit… You know interestingly, before Katrina,
there had been an enormous amount of devastation and a lot
of terror and fear in the islands, like Cuba and Jamaica and
all of those islands because they are all in that area. And
it had been so sad to see how little attention was paid by
this country to that devastation. And then when Katrina ripped
across the Gulf, I think that woke up a lot of people. And
then politically, I think a lot of people were awakened because
then, for instance, Cuba immediately offered to send aid to
help the people who were stranded and to send medicine and
doctors, and in our country we refused the offer. And it wasn’t
the first time they had refused an offer from Cuba. And so
many African Americans especially, and Americans generally,
now see not only that we are in a lot of danger from “natural
disasters’’ and that’s what they are, disasters, but we are
also in danger because we are led by people who watch us struggle,
and suffer and die while other people outside the country are
offering help to save us – and they won’t let that happen.
So there’s a general enlightenment happening about global warming
and the inefficiency and meanness of our government.
I don’t if you know of this Native American medicine woman
named Dhyani, but she said something to the effect of,
“You can tell how evolved a society is by how much of its
garbage is recycled." How is how we treat the Earth
- our environmental awareness, or lack thereof - indicative
of the state of humanity’s consciousness?
AW: Well, I’ll tell
you some of it has to be – I have a Rolling Stone article
that I’m trying to get up my nerve to read and it’s about how
many hogs are slaughtered each year. By one company – Smithfield
Foods, I think, or something like that. It was 27 million last
year. And that’s basically the population of like – I don’t
know – thirty-two of the largest cities in the land – that’s
the number of hogs they kill each year. I mean, it’s just almost
unbelievable. And I’m going to go and check it as soon as I
get off the phone, because I read it [laughs to keep from raging]
and then I just had to sit down. Because they were talking
about the amount of waste that this one company generates,
and where it goes, and you multiply that by all of the other
pollution staying in the animal kingdom or what would have
been the animal kingdom, but now it’s like the animal dungeon.
But you know you have your chicken farms and your hog farms
and your geese farms, and your cattle places. And that alone,
just the cycle of the kind of brutality that goes into killing
all of those creatures, and then sort of mindlessly eating
them, and almost nobody even thinks about where all of their
waste is going. And it gets recycled through us one way or
the other. So I think consciousness is very poor, actually.
And that person that we were talking about earlier, like “What
do I do? Where do I start?” Well, you can just start right
there with your consciousness about what you’re recycling through
yourself.What is so striking about the photographs that accompany
the article in Rolling Stone about the factory farming
of pigs - and this is a must read for humanity - in which we
see the human look of fear and suffering on the faces of the
pigs about to be slaughtered, juxtaposed with the face of the
man who is responsible (along with the blissfully ignorant
public) for their mistreatment, and, physically, they resemble
each other so much! Only the man is sitting behind a desk and
wearing glasses andclothing, and the pigs are covered in filth
from the degrading circumstances of their captivity; and his
look is less honest, by far. We must begin seeing other creatures
as equal. Existence makes us all equal.
I know you have written a lot about female genital mutilation
and other forms of violence against women in Africa – are conditions
worsening or improving, and how can we address the problem?
someone just sent me an e-mail about the fact that some scholars
very high in the hierarchy of the Muslim world met recently
in Cairo, and they made a resolution that female genital mutilation
is not to happen henceforth among Muslims. And my friend Pratibha
Parmar is visiting and she and I made a film called “Warrior
Marks” that talks about female genital mutilation and we just
almost cried, because it’s such a major acknowledgement from
people who have traditionally ignored the problem. Basically
people like these scholars have ignored the problem for six
thousand years. So there is change, and a lot of it has to
be about making sure that men, and maybe starting really young,
really understand that they are endangering themselves. Because
they really are very self-interested people, most men – and
I say that because when I started talking about female genital
mutilation and writing about it – many men in Africa and elsewhere
just completely denied it, and just didn’t want to hear about
it. Until I said, ‘Well, you know, you notice how AIDS is spreading,
and one of the ways that it spreads is through these fissures
and tears that happen when you have intercourse with someone
who has been mutilated,” - and that really sat them up very
straight. And so you know, we have to do a lot more educating
of men, and I know that many feminists feel like they’re tired
of that and they can’t do that, and da,da,da,da,da….And nobody’s
more tired than some of us, but it seems to be really important.
Especially if we’re thinking of our sisters’ and daughters’
health. And not only that, so many of us by now have these
wonderful feminist sons and grandsons, who really are allies,
and we should give them the respect as allies, in changing
a lot of the things that are wrong and done against women in
MS: You write about how much you enjoy living
in the country on a farm. Do you find it easier to be more
creative in nature? And do you think part of humanity’s problem
is a growing disconnect with nature – that we need to be more
in tune with nature for a healthy body, soul and mind?
just think cities are unnatural, basically. I know there are
people who live happily in them, and I have cities that I love
too. But it’s a disaster that we have moved so far from nature.
That people no longer notice the seasons, really. Or they talk
about all the beautiful colors in the fall – that’s about all
they know. They don’t know how to plant – you know, they would
starve if they had to try to grow their own food. They have
no idea – some people think that apples grow underground and
potatoes grow on trees – I mean really! And they go to the
market and they buy their food there and they often have no
connection to who picked the food, the workers, and that’s
also really heartbreaking. As a daughter of a farm worker,
to feel just how much they take for granted, the people who
are buying their food without thinking about the people who
produce it. And that leads to not caring that those people
are being treated very much like slaves. Not permitted to go
to the bathroom, for instance, for long periods. And then of
course that endangers the people who eat the food, because
like, you know, with that E. coli bacteria that was in the
spinach? Part of that could very easily be if you don’t let
people go to the bathroom, you know, they have to go somewhere.
So it’s just one of those cases of insisting on human decency
everywhere, with everyone. And therefore making it possible
for your own health and well being to prosper.
are so many unbelievably alarming statistics about world poverty
these days. What do you see as the cause of world poverty and
what can be done to help to alleviate the problem? Sometimes
it just seems so overwhelming that it feels insurmountable
- is it?
AW: No, of course it isn’t.
It’s that some people have all the goods and money they can
imagine having, and they’ve taken it from the poor people.
In my book, I’m talking about a speech that Fidel Castro gave
in which he talks about how the three richest people on the
planet own more than 48 poor countries combined. Now this is
ridiculous – they don’t need all that, and why don’t people
just insist that there is a limit to what people can have!
This is where the world will have to go anyway – it’s just
inevitable. Because everything is just shrinking. Unless we
want to go back to a time when, you know, feudalism or something,
where the King had everything and the peasants had nothing.
And I don’t think we want to go back there. So it would make
a lot more sense to say that, actually, you know what - you
cannot have $50 billion dollars. You just can’t have it. Forget
about having that, and just have enough for you and your grandchildren
and your great-grandchildren, but you’re not going to have
that much while other people have nothing. Period.
You are such a hard worker – as a tireless activist, as a prolific
writer, speaker - how do you keep yourself motivated? What
is the source of your energy?
I have a lot of love. And I think that I’m by nature a revolutionary.
Some say all Aquarians are. Even Ronald Reagan thought he was
one! And I feel very keenly that things could be so much better
for so many more people and for so many more creatures, and
for the Earth – I just know that. I just know it can be better.
And that people have it in them to rise to that. I know they
do. And sometimes it’s just a matter of touching that place
that can be opened to the reality that, you know, we can do
so much more than we think we can. My deepest desire is for
people and the world to be happy. I will always believe this
is possible and seek to learn how I can contribute. I have
felt deeply blessed to have the vehicle of words, of voice.
Women often struggle with getting older. How can we help women
embrace the aging process and value their role as elders and
a source of wisdom and power in our society?
I was just thinking about that this morning because I was thinking
about how - I didn’t follow this, but apparently Bill Cosby
made some comment about something like, ‘Black people should
take more responsibility for their predicament and the choices
and ways of their children and everything,’ and he was roundly
attacked. He was really attacked, and I think several people
actually wrote books about how he dare not say such things.
And I was thinking about how, actually elders – and this has
been traditionally true in most cultures and still is in many
cultures today – elders really need to be listened to respectfully.
Even if you don’t agree. They really don’t to need to be attacked.
You know, you can giggle at them and kind of ridicule them
– maybe not to their face, I mean I wouldn’t do that. You can
let it be known that you don’t agree with them. But I think
that the disrespect of actually attacking an elder who is obviously
trying to bring some kind of light – I think that’s not a good
thing. And then elders have to be willing to assume the role
of the person who gets to speak about society and where it
seems to be going and what it needs. And because everybody
in our society up to now has been trying to stay 30, there’s
a problem with people knowing how to be, and how to speak,
and how to take on the role of the person who can actually
speak to the young, with some kind of integrity. So this is
shifting I think. And I think the war has called out many of
the people into that role, who otherwise might not have gotten
MS: On the opposite spectrum, Amy Richards, who
is one of the founders of Feminist.com and does the Ask
Amy column at our site, also co-founded Third
Wave, an organization for young feminists, with your daughter
Rebecca Walker. What do you think about the younger generations
of women today?
AW: Well, they seem
to be doing fine. I have to say that I’m not just noticing
in that way, but the ones that come across my path I think
they seem really alert. In fact, let me just be specific –
at a local college here, Mills College, there is a group of
women who founded a journal called “The Womanist” and they
came to tea last month. And we had a great time and they all
seem so feminist, so alive, so alert, so into whatever they
are doing. So I felt very happy that those of who are older
and who have blazed some of the trails, that we did that, because
I could see that these younger women are determined to have
their own lives, and they just take it for granted that ‘yes,
of course, I am going to do this, I am going to that.’ So in
that way, I think that they are doing really well.
One of the big issues for women these days seems to be creating
balance. How do you do that?
spend a lot of time, or as much as I can, in silence. And at
home. And more and more as time goes by. I think all this zipping
around the world is over-rated. In fact, I did a year of studying
medicinal plants. And one of them was Ayahauascha, a medicine
from the Amazon that people have used for thousands and thousands
of years. And one of the things that I’ve learned was that
I needed myself to more rooted. And so I’ve been working on
that. I feel that has been so helpful to me – to cut out movement
wherever possible, instead of going here and there all the
time. Talking a lot less – really talking a lot less. Being
much slower, and much more grounded with my animals, the animals
I live with, with my friends. Staying extremely simple. Dancing
more too. Just learning
to really, really love the ordinary – you know, that nice well-made
bowl of oatmeal in the morning and walking with my dog – just
what is ordinary. What is simple and true.
MS: I have also read a few interviews in which
you talk about the spiritual practices that have most helped
you, like Tonglen and meditation. Can you tell us more about
the practices that have served you in your life?
I learned transcendental meditation when I was I lived in New
York and after a divorce. And it was so much like the way I
had lived as a little child, which was just completely merged
with nature. So much so that I didn’t know I wasn’t the tree
I was looking at, you know? It was just a complete oneness
– that sense of oneness and the ego goes somewhere else temporarily.
And so that became the foundation of how I could move through
the world, do my work, balance raising a child, and being on
the road a lot - out of necessity, really making a living –
teaching. And I have maintained some form of meditation, yoga,
a lot of walking. Tonglen, which I learned some years ago,
because it’s a practice that thanks to Pema Chodron we get
from these amazing, ancient Tibetans who figured it all out.
That you don’t have to just drown in your sorrow and pain,
that you can actually learn to live with it and to accept it
and to take it in, make your heart really super, super big
to hold it, and then to send out to yourself and to the world
whatever it is that you would prefer. And lo and behold, I
found that the practice worked. And in general I find that
the practices like Native American drumming, for instance,
which I also do, chanting, sweats – all of these things really
help us. I also am very fond of the Motherpeace tarot deck
and have used it for, I don’t know, as long as it’s been in
existence I guess. And also the I Ching. The I Ching I consider
one of the great, mysterious, magical gifts to humanity. It
is such a divine oracle it comes close to being a living being,
like a tree or something.
MS: You write and talk a lot
about the role of personal transformation. Obviously in your
life you’ve been able to overcome a lot of the hardships that
you’ve faced. Is part of this learning to find the blessings
and lessons during times of adversity and crisis, to use them
as a fuel for personal and spiritual growth?
what else would you do with it? I mean sometimes these blows
are so severe that you just think, well, it’s not about whether
I deserved it, it’s just that that’s what’s happening. And
since that’s what’s happening, what do you do with it? And
so I have - you know, as the years have gone on, really gotten
to that place, where I do say to myself, ‘Well, wow – I bet
I’m going to learn something pretty amazing right here, because
this is so painful. Or this is so strange.” And that has been
MS: I’ve read that you wouldn’t necessarily call
yourself a Buddhist per se, since it seems that you enjoy the
wisdom from a lot of different traditions, but something about
Buddhism has been very helpful and appealing for you. How do
you see Buddhism’s relevance in today’s world? There seems
to be a growing interest in the Buddhist teachings.
think it’s because Buddhism makes so much sense. It is the
most sensible thing. And because it works in its sort of prescriptions.
I mean like, for instance if you have the Dharma – you know
you have the teachings, which are extraordinary. You have Buddha
as a symbol and as a model for how to strike out to find your
truth. And then you have the Sangha, which is your circle of
friends, who get together regularly to support each other.
Well, you know, that right there is major. Because the teachings
are just invaluable. You know, the things that we are learning
through Buddhist teachings, just about how to work with the
human heart, with human emotions. I mean, just the idea to
finally get it that, yeah – everything is changing, everything
is impermanent, it comes and it goes. You sit there in meditation
and you just witness that. You see. And you lose a lot of your
stress because you know that, OK, if I just am with this, it’s
going away. And so I think it’s a wonderful thing. I love it.
I just love it. It’s a wonderful gift to us.Think of what humanity
would have lost if Tibetan Buddhism had been destroyed? And
how many cultural and spiritual gifts we lose because they
are destroyed. In both the human and then animal realms. Realizing
the value of what other branches of humanity offer the human
collective could motivate us to change how we relate to whatever
is perceived as strange.
MS: As an artist, how is your
spiritual energy connected to the experience of writing – when
you’re writing, do you feel like your ability is from a higher
source, is that where your inspiration feels like it comes
AW: Well, if you take the
position that all is the higher source, you know, all is God,
all is light, all is love, all is what is – then you just feel
like this little part of it, that’s doing your part. You’re
doing your little jig.
MS: There’s an old hippie saying
about having the “juice” or being “juicy” – when you’re in
the flow, or flowing with the magic of the universe…
always liked hippies. Sometimes they seemed a little shallow
but I could really understand it [laughs]. Sometimes they seemed
a little shallow but I could almost always relate. They were
certainly, partly because of their use of the plant medicine
Marijuana, very different, startlingly so, from their usually
very white, un- medicated parents [laughs]. Racism needs a
medicine, you know. Greed. Envy. Superiority of any kind. They
all need a medicine, and plant medicines are sometimes very
helpful. Hippies were very good for the white race in general
and did a lot to make the world more trustful of it. But then
they were crushed, as a movement, as so many of the rest of
There seems to be a growing awareness of how our inner reality
is connected to our outer reality, even in the fact people
are coming to Buddhism maybe because the suffering is so much...
that will get them in. [laughs]
MS: Do you see humanity
as evolving? What do you believe is the next step in our evolution
in terms of humanity’s consciousness?
I would like to believe it is that all creatures have the right
to live without fear. And without fear of being eaten, for
instance. And that’s a real hard one because we have been addicted
to meat, to animals as meat, you know. And I struggle with
that myself, and I think most people do. But I do really believe
that is where we’re headed – that if we do survive as a species,
we will get it. That we are no more precious than the rest
of the species on Earth.
MS: I struggle sometimes with
the notion of organized religion and how it relates to spirituality
- and that so much of the wars and intolerance in the world
is over religion. What is your view of the role of religion
in the world today?
AW: Well, I
think that some of it is self-destructing, because it’s basically
set up to be that way. I mean when you have religions that
don’t like other religions and ‘my God is better than your
God’ and ‘your God is actually wrong.’ And then the foundation
of so much of the patriarchal religion is the destruction of
the goddess worship that was before it, and the destruction
of the feminine. Which would have to mean, not a good future
for them, for the patriarchal religions in the long run, I
mean the very long run as it’s turned out. Because you know,
the feminine actually has to rise again because, you know,
we are here – the feminine exists. It is what is keeping them
(and all of us) going. A world without the Feminine is a dead
world.So I think that for many of us, what has happened is
that we have perhaps taken some parts of the religions we were
raised in, and we have incorporated them into our belief systems
– with gratitude. You know, like the teachings of Jesus I really
love, and I love the Gnostic Gospels and the Nag Hammadi scrolls,
sermons, or whatever you call them, parables I guess. But we’re
making a new religion. Religion is going to be more self-styled.
It’s going to be less and less a group thing, because we’re
all taking from various traditions, and we’re all also open
to divinity just as who we are! It’s a very one-on-one kind
of thing. And once you realize that you are just part of the
whole thing, then you just kind of worship that, and yourself,
and everything – all is one.
So many of us feel like we’ve been “wronged” in some way. What’s
the importance of forgiveness and the healing process for that?
it’s one of the hardest things to do but it’s really necessary.
Without forgiving, you don’t really move – you can’t. It’s
like this little prison that you’re in. And it’s so painful,
because you feel like you don’t deserve to be in prison, it
wasn’t your fault. And how dare you have to forgive these horrible
people. But actually, you do. And that’s a good place for Tonglen
MS: You have written a lot about humanity
as one family. Are you optimistic that humanity will ever live
as one family here on planet Earth?
could. I mean, that’s about what I would say – that it very
well could, and why not? Yes. I think people can do it. I think
people have to believe more in themselves. For some reason,
and you know we can find many reasons, people have lost faith
in their ability to live the higher truth of interconnectedness
What’s your prayer for the children of the future? What would
you like to see?
AW: A certain fearlessness
of being who they are and expressing themselves as freely as
– I don’t know, as freely as a pear tree or an apple tree expresses
itself. Just be what it is that you are – and that is just
fine. You don’t have to be what you’re not in any way.
And live that and live that fully. And that is where you discover
ecstasy. You can’t really have ecstasy as something other than
yourself. And life should be ecstatic. You know, not every
minute, but you should definitely have enough ecstasy in your
life from time to time to know that you are just completely
wired into creation.
Schnall. No portion of this interview may be reprinted without
permission of Marianne
Reclaiming the Crossroads by Alice Walker
We are the Ones We Have Been Waiting For
by Alice Walker
Schnall is a writer and interviewer who has worked for many
publications. Marianne is the founder of the women's site Feminist.com and
the co-founder of EcoMall.com,
an environmental site. Through her diverse writings, interviews
and websites, Marianne hopes to raise awareness about important
issues and causes. Her new book is Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice.