Iyanla Vanzant: Clarity, Forgiveness Key To Tackling Big Transitions
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. As we begin our final week on the air, we are checking in with some of our favorite guests who've been on during the past seven years, and one of them is Iyanla Vanzant. She is a speaker and a spiritual advisor with a unique style. You can see her in action on a show called "Iyanla: Fix My Life." It's on the OWN Network. Here's a clip from a meeting she had with a crystal meth addict trying to recover.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "IYANLA: FIX MY LIFE")
IYANLA VANZANT: Anything that threatens, hinders, obstructs, denies, delays your capacity to stand fully up for yourself, within yourself, take it down. Now I'm willing to do that, are you? That would be a no.
MARTIN: Wow. We've called upon Iyanla today, not so much to fix our lives, as to offer some wisdom on how to handle big life changes. We're going through a transition of our own here at TELL ME MORE. And we figure we're probably not alone in that. A lot people are changing careers, relationships or starting or ending some chapter in their lives. So we figured who better to help us figure it out than Iyanla Vanzant. And she's with us now, once again, in our studios in Washington, D.C. Thank you for coming.
VANZANT: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: Now you've said in past interviews that you don't give advice but you give people tools to deal with their issues. What's the difference?
VANZANT: Well, advice says do this because this is what I think you should do, or do this because it worked for me. And when you give people tools, you give them something that they can keep and use over and over and over again. Because the truth is, we probably have the same challenges and issues over and over and over. I don't say problems because we're powerless to problems. But when we have an issue, when we have a challenge, when we're going through transition, you simply need tools so that you can work your way through.
MARTIN: One of the tools that you - I would say you're famous for is a phrase that seems to undergird a lot of the work that you do with people. It's called do the work.
VANZANT: Yeah. Do the work.
MARTIN: What does that mean?
VANZANT: That means that you can't look outside of yourself. You must look within yourself, and address all of the things that are going on within you, and clear out the things that are not useful. Whether it's fear or anger or shame or guilt or whatever it is - clean that stuff up. It's all attached to something that becomes your baggage or your monogram luggage. You know, when you don't clean up your baggage, it becomes monogrammed luggage, meaning that you hold onto it and you treasure it and you take care of it. People treat luggage differently than they do baggage. So when you do your work, what you're doing is unpacking the baggage so that it doesn't become luggage.
MARTIN: The phrase do the work, I think for some, implies that all the work is your work to do. What about people who are facing changes or transitions that are not of their own making? You know, people who are facing natural disasters or big economic changes. I know you were very candid, including on this program, about what you went through when your house was foreclosed upon at - really at the beginning of the recession. You made a big point that, you know, as a self-employed person, you experienced a lot of that downturn first.
MARTIN: But - so what about it when it's not - the event itself is not one that's not really of your making?
VANZANT: But the event is not what you're working on. You're working on your response or reaction to an event. You either react to it -that means you become victimized, and you say this thing is happening to you - or you respond to it and say the solution must come through you. So what is the solution? And that's where you stay focused, not on the rightness, wrongness, fairness of the event, but on the appropriateness of your response.
MARTIN: So what's step number one?
VANZANT: Tell the truth. (Laughing) And that truth may be what you feel, what you're thinking, what your fears are, what you're upset is. I say start with the upset. You know, and the upset is your initial reaction to whatever the thing is. And that's normal. You know, we don't like change. The human ego does not like change. And so when something comes as causing us a change, we go into fear or we go into upset or we go into breakdown - whatever it is. So tell the truth about what you're thinking and what you're feeling. That's the first thing.
MARTIN: So you should say to yourself I'm really angry...
MARTIN: ...Or really afraid or...
VANZANT: Yeah. This really pisses me off. And the weasel that did this needs to be stomped with a big, old boot.
VANZANT: Or whatever it is, you know what I mean? But don't say well, you know change must come. And yada, yada. And stuff your feelings because feelings buried alive don't die. And that fear or that upset or that anger or that whatever it is, you know, it'll turn into something inside of you. So you want to get it out. So I say call the thing a thing. Tell the truth first. Do that first. And then you need to look at OK, so what is my next most appropriate step? What's my next most appropriate step? Is there someone I need to speak to? Is there something I need to do. Is there something I need to do for myself? Is there something I'm not seeing? Are there questions I need to ask? Now this becomes a response as opposed to a reaction.
MARTIN: You know, people often say, don't make any big decisions while you're upset or after some big event like that. But oftentimes, you have no choice but to make big decisions. I mean, if you lose a job...
VANZANT: Well, that's not true.
MARTIN: ...Or, well, you know, you have to figure out if you're doing a buyout package or if you're going to look for other work, for example, like that. I mean, it's one thing - look, if you break up with a boyfriend or a girlfriend, you don't have to go out the next day and get another one.
VANZANT: Right. Right, right, right.
MARTIN: But if you lose a job or something of that sort, generally you do have to go out and make some decisions.
VANZANT: But not that day. Not that day. So let's say a job - a job for me - a job loss is classic. And I think it's one of the greatest opportunities that we have because then you get an opportunity to reframe your vision, and get clear about what it is that you're working toward, what is you're working for, what it is you're working with. Now most of us will think that we're working for money, but that's not always true. We may be working for some sense of fulfillment or some, you know, deeply ingrained vision that we have. So I say when - loss of a job - the first thing you do is get clear about your vision. Forget about where you're going to work or how much and you are going to make. What is it that you want to do, to experience, to express, to accomplish? Get clear about that. And then, where can you do that? Where can I do that?
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're having a Wisdom Watch conversation with Iyanla Vanzant. You probably know her from her work with Opera, her show called "Iyanla: Fix My Life" or any number of her best-selling books. You know, I'm kind of hearing the through line from you is taking time even in the middle of a very - what seems very traumatic and upsetting - is stillness. You know, taking some time for stillness.
VANZANT: You've got to take time to listen. You have to take time to listen. You have to take time to clear out your brain. You know, I work now in the world - in the television production world - which I haven't worked with normal people for many, many years. I've worked in a very - a self-created, spiritually-grounded environment. So now that I'm out in the world with people, I say well, I don't understand why you all aren't as crazy as hell? Look at - look at how you live. Everything is rush, rush, rush - get it done - got to go here - climb to the top of the calendar - I am like, wait a minute - hold up. I'm not the one. I can't roll like that. This is how this day can go. And getting people to understand that we are creating it moment by moment by moment with our thoughts and that we have the power to shape it and mold it and call it forth - people - they just - they don't get it.
MARTIN: People have more control than they think they do.
VANZANT: They have more control than they know they do. Thinking is the problem. Thinking is hazardous to your progress in life. Don't think - feel.
MARTIN: Talk a little bit more - if you would - about - there are experiences that, you know, people are in transition, sometimes, for happy reason - like, you know, they're getting married or, you know, they've - graduating college - a big achievements. But then, sometimes, people are forced to let go of something that they cherished.
VANZANT: And they...
MARTIN: And they're mad. And, you know, as - you know, a reasonable person - one would think - would have a right to be. And I just wonder how do you take the good from that?
VANZANT: If you have a vision that's pulling you forward, anything that happens - you've got to see how does this align with my vision? And if it looks like, with your physical eye, it doesn't align with your vision -what you want to experience and express - then your next step is to say, OK, what are the possibilities here?
MARTIN: Can ask you a personal question?
MARTIN: I hope you don't mind. You lost your daughter...
MARTIN: ...After a very difficult battle with cancer.
MARTIN: That you, you know - you were with her the whole way through. How did you recover from that?
VANZANT: One moment at a time - one moment. I could not do an hour. I couldn't do 30 minutes. I couldn't do a quarter hour - one moment at a time. And the one thing, I mean, looking back on it now - the one thing that I did was I gave myself time to grieve. I stayed in bed for six months. I went days without brushing my teeth. There was nothing I had to do. I was a wounded mama. I had lost my pup. I unplugged. I really did. And I'm glad I did it. And the other thing about it is that now I can say it. I didn't know it then, but now when I look back, I knew she was going. I knew she was going. And that's a transition. That's a change. And what can you do? You can find another job. You can't get another kid.
MARTIN: That's true. Well thank you for that - forgiveness?
VANZANT: That's it. That's the ticket. You said one - I said one was tell the truth - two was forgive - forgive, forgive, forgive. Forgive everybody for everything. Just forgive and start - most of us can't start with ourselves. We have to forgive the people we think did things to us. So that's fine. Start there - wherever. Start with the dog who peed on the rug. I don't care where you start, just...
MARTIN: So much going on in the world today - I think there are a lot of people who feel like they'll never forgive - just as we are speaking now, you know, there's this ongoing violence on the Gaza Strip - ongoing, you know, rockets back and forth between, you know, Gaza and Israel - Israel incursion. You know, many, many hundreds of people dead, and, of course, there's this airline that just got shot down. I'm sure that there are many people who say I will never forgive these people ever.
VANZANT: Well, see it in the world and we get hysterical or we get upset or we get angry or distressed, but we do it in our minds every day - that kind of thing. We launch missiles at our family, at our children, at our partner's every day. What's happening is in the world - I believe. This is just me - life according to Iyanla. Pay me no mind. What we see in the world is simply a function of what we do within ourselves because nothing happens on the outside that doesn't first happen on the inside. Everything that's happening in our world is a function of what is going on inside of people. We are violent in our minds. We are violent with one another. We walk past one another in the street and don't even look nor make eye contact - don't speak. We can be outraged about the missiles and the planes. I'm more outraged that somebody will walk past me in the street and not look me in the face and say good morning.
MARTIN: Well, thank you for coming in to look us in the face and say - before we let you go - as I mentioned this is our Wisdom Watch conversation - you've been giving us some wisdom along the way. So we asked people if they wanted to share some wisdom for people who are listening.
VANZANT: Tell the truth about who you are, what you feel, what you want, what you're up to. Tell the truth about that first to yourself and then to anybody else that'll listen. And number two - forgive everybody for everything. Forgive everybody for everything. I don't care what it is. Forgive everybody for any - everything. If you've got one little upset in your body about anybody, forgive it. Forgive it so that we can start clearing out some of the mind space and the consciousness of the universe. Forgive everybody for everything.
MARTIN: Iyanla Vanzant is a best-selling author, inspirational speaker. You can catch her show "Iyanla: Fix My Life" on the Own network and she was kind enough to join us in our studios in Washington, D.C. Iyanla Vanzant, thank you so much for joining us.
VANZANT: Thank you, Michel Martin.