Alright kids: storytime.
We’ll say her name was B. Profession: psychologist. She was my boss for 5+ years, and she was the founder and director of the holistic center where I worked. I came to know her extremely well, perhaps even better than she knew herself, during those years. It was the only time I experienced such a close relationship with a boss: she became a mentor and a friend. We trusted each other. I respected her as a woman, and also as a professional.
Many times throughout those years, she ‘had my back’. So much so, that I felt like I owed her many things: my attention, my time, my loyalty. I considered her a generous and loving woman. You know the type: very ‘mother-earthy’, all calm and smiles. She sang my praises wide and loud, which I considered as unequivocal proof that she valued me and appreciated me just as I did her.
About halfway through my stint there – first as her assistant, later as general manager of the center – I began feeling…different. There was a clear lack of satisfaction, an absence of joy, the causes of which I couldn’t (wouldn’t?) clearly identify. I put all my care and attention into my job. I forced myself to be tolerant, to be patient even in the face of rudeness or absurdity. Because none of the negativity seemed to come from my boss, our relationship continued to be great. Looking back I realize that there were a lot of red flags throughout my relationship with her but for some reason I glossed over them. The job was stressful and challenging many times, and it got increasingly so towards the end of it. However, I did enjoy parts of it. Income was a main concern but also the fact that I had come to cherish the friendship I had with B; so much so that the mere thought of cutting it entirely felt excessive and cruel. There were so many moments when I felt ready to throw the towel, but I pushed myself to do the ‘right’ thing, the ‘professional’ thing, and I kept finding ways to explain or justify B’s frequent fuckups. Oh, there were many indeed.
B was in her late sixties and liked to tell stories about her young days as a hippie (this is the word she used, by the way: I’m not using the term casually or in a derogatory way). She created a personal mythology in which she had been one of the founders of the now booming alternative healing / self-help trend. She said she had founded the first holistic center in the US when she was in her thirties. She spoke frequently about how she had been in she same author speaking circle alongside Deepak Chopra, Louise Hay, an Marianne Williamson. She often recalled that they used to tour together or something along those lines.
Williamson has been a constant presence in the news lately because of her decision to participate in the 2020 presidential race in the US. Her fame is, however, not new. Personally, I know a lot of people on social media who have greatly benefited from “A Return to Love”, now something of a classic among the western spiritual community. I follow some people online, mostly women, who are big fans and supporters, and I can understand this – to them, Williamson is a figure as benevolent and magnetic, as endearing and positive, as B was to me back in the day. The message that Marianne Williamson has been promoting for decades: love. It is a repackaging of christian and eastern beliefs, presented in a more digestible and relatable context. Marianne Williamson looks and sounds and feels like she would be a great friend, a loving grandmother, a nurturing mother who always knows the exact words to bring comfort and solace. In the current landscape of things, even beyond the US, with all the hatred, division, uncertainty, violence, greed, discrimination, and misogyny, it’s perfectly understandable, and even legitimate, to seek this kind of role model: a woman of a certain age, who is full of wisdom, certainty, love, and light.
When I first read Williamson was contemplating running for president, I was during my last months at the job with B. She was exhilarated with these news, of course. Someone like Marianne Williamson was who B aspired to be: the idea of having such a woman as a president was something she could enthusiastically support, without any effort or questioning. Marianne Williamson and my boss had the same roots and aspirations, they came from similar backgrounds. Nothing else needed to be said.
I remember stumbling upon “A Return To Love” one day at the local public library when I still worked for B. I opened it and began reading and something didn’t click. There was a feeling that I couldn’t identify. It felt too artificial. The discomfort I felt was oddly similar to that I felt when I was at work, but I didn’t make the connection then. Realizing this took me years. Love is not the problem, and I can’t imagine any healthy context in which it would be a problem. It is not the feeling itself that makes me uneasy, but the constant verbal emphasis on it. This talk of love, love, love. The reasoning that only light can bring love. The idea that we can solve absolutely everything in life and all the problems in the world by loving something, or someone, or everything and everyone. I can see why we must act from love when we seek positive results but: why are other feelings less legitimate, less valid? Why are we not allowed to feel anger, or fear, or uncertainty? How can we tell love from hate if we have always forced ourselves to feel nothing but love? What to do when loving ourselves is at odds with loving others? And what about “joy is all there is”? Tell that to a kid who lost their parents in Aleppo, or to the migrants who are stuck in an ICE facility right now.
Part of my job at the holistic center was to manage the practitioners. Adults who needed to be monitored, kept in check, and nudged into keeping their agreements. I lost count of how many times I had to deal with unthinkable situations involving one or more of these people who were apparently adults, but teenagers at most when it came to their spiritual and emotional development. B usually stepped in when the situations became critical but, as time went by, she became less and less involved; leaving me to deal with most of the uncomfortable situations. There was a yoga teacher who addressed me in very inappropriate ways, who began stalking me outside of work after I drew the line so that I could feel safe in my professional space. B’s attitude was never confrontational or negative when I informed her of these situations, but she also allowed him to continue teaching, even though she knew she was making me feel very uncomfortable and threatened. Fortunately this situation didn’t escalate into something uglier…but it easily could have. There were several other instances in which, I now realize, she should definitely have been there for me, but she always preferred to keep things positive (“love and light”, remember?) with the practitioners. Conflict was never an option for her, unless she was creating it among others in order to reap benefits: yes, I was both a witness and a receiver of this part of her behavior.
She gradually reduced her own practice as a psychologist when she got involved with a man, close to the time of my departure from the job. Since I first met her, she was either coupled up, or actively seeking a man. I could tell that she really struggled with being alone. She had a daughter a couple of years older than me, but she only visited her once or twice a year. Somehow her career and her many friends were never enough to fill that void. So when she met this man, she changed her whole life for him. He began participating in the business, making decisions, etc. Other circumstances came into play that made it even easier for him to weasel his way into things. Her main goal became not seeing clients anymore. She only wanted to stay home, taking care of him. He always needed to be driven somewhere, his hand held at a doctor’s appointment, and so on. A woman who had always talked so highly about female empowerment, feminism, and goddess archetypes, was now entirely at the disposal of some man. I was gobsmacked but I knew having a man, a husband, was very important for her. Therefore, I congratulated her when they decided to get married. I was certainly not going to criticise her adult life choices, and I told her so.
The workload got bigger and bigger. My stress levels were through the roof. She only waltzed in a couple of hours each day to take a look at how things were, and even though she had promised that she’d help me shoulder the burden, she always had an excuse.
One day things got really, REALLY bad. A rude client of one of the practitioners verbally humiliated me, and nearly made me have a nervous breakdown. B was there at the time because she was leading a group workshop. While this guy was screaming at me at the top of the main stairs, I kept glancing to the back patio because I saw she was taking a call on her cellphone. My hope was that she would notice that something was wrong – after all, we were so close and knew each other so well that it was easy to notice when one of us was stressed or sick or uncomfortable. The guy kept yelling, insulting me, attacking me, demeaning my work…Then I heard a door open and I sighed with relief. Indeed, when I turned around, there she was: B, my boss, who was clearly there to save me from this asshole’s rage. To support me. To protect me. I could feel I was on the verge of tears.
“Do you mind turning your voice down? I’m on a phone call. Thank you!”
*She smiles to the three of us – me, the practitioner, the asshole client- and closes the door.*
At that moment something inside me snapped. I turned away from the jerk who continued shouting and bitching at me. I went downstairs to check on the status of one of the complaints with the cleaning lady, then walked back through a dark hallway. At the end of it, I could clearly see the sunlight filtering through. B had apparently finished her phone call and was talking, not to me, but with the practitioner (who was a longtime friend of hers, by the way) whose client had just been so vile to me. She didn’t think to check on me first. She didn’t go after me.
I walked through the hallway and straight by her. I turned to her very briefly and told her: I’ve had enough. I’m out of here. Her response?
She smiled and laughed in my face.
Love and Light, I guess. She didn’t ‘do’ conflict: she used smiles and words of love and a gentle tone to relate and manipulate everyone she met, her patients and acquaintances included. It took me over 5 years to realize she had pulled this same stunt on me, and that it had worked.
I went upstairs, collected my belongings, told the rest of the staff that I was out of there, handed my keys and essentials, and got the hell out. She didn’t chase after me. She called me after twenty minutes or so, but of course I didn’t pick up.
It took me years to fully get over the anger, the disappointment, and the heartbreak of this experience. Had it not been for this awful incident, chances are I’d still be working for her, carrying all the weight of that fake love and light place on my shoulders. I never knew I was in chains because they had been placed on me so gently, so lovingly, so subtly and softly that I thought the attachment I felt to my job and to B came from love. Now I realize it came from obligation, from emotional manipulation.
Every other week I read something about Marianne Williamson’s opinions, past and present. Some have to do with her controversial opinions on health, vaccinations, positivity, or that notion that everything is possible with love and from love.
Even though humans are a very stupid species from an intellectual standpoint, we are extremely complex. Let’s face it: we are complicated jerks. However, as uncomfortable or ‘inconvenient’ some emotions may seem, they are part of our authentic self. We simply cannot expect to tune into the frequency of ‘love & light’ permanently if we expect to live the full human experience. Anger has a place, trauma has a place, as do impatience and regret. There is no ‘one answer fits all’ when it comes to how we choose to respond to the many situations we go through in life: some illnesses cannot be healed with love and light alone. Being positive and kind helps, certainly; and I’m not advocating a mindless, impulsive stance as far as living goes. But we should never, ever, push ourselves to feel something we are not ready to feel, or not willing to feel. Self love should come first, and sometimes this will mean facing conflict, or getting angry for a few minutes. Sometimes we might just need to storm out of a place slamming the door behind us; other times we may all need to unite in our discomfort and anger, in our rage, to say ENOUGH and put a stop to everything that is wrong.
When that time comes, I would not want someone as B as my leader. Much less someone that my former boss admires so much, after whose life she has perhaps modeled her own.
Real angels understand that human emotions are not one-key tunes. They don’t lead you with words of love, but actually love you and show up for you. They are honest and give you a full perspective of the situation. They are willing to rebel, and fall, and be outcasts. They wield swords when they fucking have to, and they can be as mighty as they are gentle.
No love discourse can make problems go away. Words are not actions. Words are not character. The real meaning of any discourse rests in the apparently empty spaces between the lines and between the words themselves, where silence reveals the shortcomings and the virtues of the pronouncer.
Darkness is not evil. Light is not necessarily ‘good’. Remember that light can also blind you. Whereas your eyes can get gradually accustomed to darkness in order to perceive the finer details or the hint of a shape more and more the longer you stay in the dark, light can permanently blind you. It often does.
The blind leading the blind doesn’t sound like a good alternative to me, much less a solution to an already bad situation.
What about you?