Not long ago, I took a meeting with a writer seeking to publish yet another book about “manifesting abundance,” and I almost had to excuse myself to step outside and scream.
At a time when even the relatively staid Economist is noting that “the recent concentration of income gains among the most affluent is both politically dangerous and economically damaging,” it is utterly confounding that so many generally liberal-spiritual people are still doggedly pursuing the “Secret” of achieving personal wealth.
Sure, the abundance fable is always gussied up with syrupy spiritual egalitarianism about how each of us achieving our individual dreams of wealth will somehow lead to an enlightened world of love, peace and plenty for everyone.
But strip away the spiritual gloss and you find a core motive at least as old as capitalism itself: “How do I get mine, and soon?”
There is indeed a secret to getting all your personal material dreams fulfilled—it’s called greed, and it actually works for a pernicious few, the Gordon Gekkos and Donald Trumps of the world. But it drives the rest of us crazy, and keeps a growing underclass in the grip of punishing poverty.
That said, I believe we do manifest our material reality. And if you take a look at what we’re collectively manifesting in the economy, it’s a wake-up call to revise our visualizations, not to mention our sometimes unquestioned values.
We need to start regarding excessive personal wealth as a social ill, and the untrammeled power of money in our politics as a deadly cancer. Besides utilizing all the usual political methods to bring about change, we could definitely benefit from some new and powerful visualizations.
We need to creatively visualize broad economic equality instead of personal wealth, and we need to constructively imagine the maximum well-being of the human community instead of the ultimate comforts for who’s-in-the-mirror.
For those who like to think of themselves as spiritual, the problem goes deeper than the issue of money alone. There is also the broader issue of confusing the care and maintenance of the ego with manifesting what we generally call Spirit.
As exhibit A, I submit the following, hugely popular short anthem of Feel-Better Spirituality:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are we not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fears, our presence automatically liberates others.”
To this day, you can Google this famous quote and find it attributed thusly:
Source: A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson, as quoted by Nelson Mandela in his inaugural speech, 1994.
The first attribution is correct; the second is fabulously wrong.
When I first saw it years ago, attributed solely to Mandela, I immediately thought “That can’t be right.” I set out to research Mandela’s inauguration speech upon succeeding to the South African presidency after years of incarceration by its former white racist regime.
Not once did he mention asking himself if he had the right to be “brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous;” instead he pledged to continue the work of liberating South Africa from “the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination.”
He was apparently not the least concerned about “playing small” so as not to make others feel insecure in the presence of his fabulousness. In fact, he said virtually nothing about himself, instead proclaiming:
“Let there be justice for all. Let there be peace for all. Let there be work, bread, water and salt for all….”
On my website, I published one of the first public debunkings of the Mandela misattribution. To her credit, Marianne Williamson herself had already released a disclaimer, stating that the quote did indeed originate with her, and that she had no idea how it had become falsely associated with Mandela.
I’ve always been bemused by the predilection of white Westerners not only to believe that Nelson Mandela was all wrapped up with self-esteem issues, but to relate so strongly to this song of self-aggrandizement in the first place.
If you look up the definition of the word “fabulous,” for instance, you find that its primary meaning is “resembling or suggesting a fable: of an incredible, astonishing, or exaggerated nature. Example: He is making fabulous amounts of money.’” (Merriam-Webster.)
Along with the need to regard oneself as gorgeous, talented, and brilliant, that’s a pretty good description of egotistic self-inflation.
But it doesn’t strike me as anywhere near an authentic expression of “the glory of God within.”
Marianne Williamson was pretty young when she penned that original passage, and I can easily forgive her for making a spiritualist’s rookie mistake. Now running as an independent for the U.S. House of Representatives in a district that includes Beverly Hills, Williamson remains as politically radical as she has always been.
I’m sure that she will bring many crucial issues to the fore that no other candidate would, including economic issues that could conceivably make some of her well-heeled potential constituents a little uneasy, if not outright insecure. If she succeeds in that, more power to her.
In the meantime, though, I humbly submit that it’s time to rethink some parts of Williamson’s famous anthem of self-empowerment. Instead of asking ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?” how about:
“Who am I to be humane, compassionate, generous and fair?”
And who would you like to be?
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Ed: Catherine Monkman
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