10 Questions for Iyanla Vanzant
Life coach and relationship expert tackles personal crisis of "Basketball Wives" star Evelyn Lozada on show premiere
Iyanla Vanzant's new show, "Iyanla, Fix My Life," premieres September 15 on OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network. For her first show, Vanzant chose to help “Basketball Wives” star Evelyn Lozada deal with deep-rooted issues and the pain from the violent end to Lozada's relationship with now estranged husband, NFL star Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson.
Vanzant speaks with Loop 21 about her goals for the show, her own personal struggles, and why she thinks African Americans have a tougher time than whites "fixing their lives" and realizing their potential.
Loop 21: You say of your show, "I'm here for one purpose—to support us in remembering the truth of who we are." How does one remember the truth of who he or she is?
Iyanla Vanzant: You've got to begin within and move beyond the external validations and attachments and connections. It begins with your daily spiritual practice or whatever you call it. Even for atheists—even if an atheist doesn't believe in God, they believe in something, even if it’s breathing daily.
Loop 21: How does a life class differ from a session with a psychologist or psychiatrist?
Vanzant: A therapist or psychologist is looking at the condition of your mental state, your emotional state, motivations and pathologies and behavior and beliefs. I am looking at the condition of your soul. I believe that as you recognize and understand the condition of your soul, you are empowered to change your mind and beliefs, and that will change your behavior, and that will change your situation. Your soul is the fingerprint of God in your life. If you believe that God is about suffering or that you are disconnected from your source, that will be your life.
Loop 21: Are there some people who cannot be helped?
Vanzant: If they don’t choose it they cannot be helped. It has to be a choice.
Loop 21: What is the thing that has surprised you the most in doing this show?
Vanzant: How long I can stay long awake and talk and make sense!
How deep and long people suffer needlessly, that has been shocking. How deep our sorrow and suffering is about what we think, what we feel and how long we carry that sorrow and those thoughts. The simple truths about life that people don’t know. People don’t know that the fullness of God is right where they are, regardless of what they call it. The fullness of life, love, peace, joy is right where you are. But people keep reaching out and attachment to things creates sorrow and suffering. People stay in circumstances and situations believing they cannot do otherwise. But it is a voluntary. If you’re breathing you can choose.
Loop 21: You had a very difficult conversation with Oprah on her show. What did having that conversation publicly do for your career, and personally? Did it help? Did it hurt?
Vanzant: I must have needed to do it publicly, because everything is just as it needs to be right now. I know that conversation was not just for me, it was not just for Oprah, it for was for the world. It was for the world to see how to have a hard conversation with someone who matters to you. For me, it was showing that two women of color can have a difficulty, break it down, and find healing. You cannot throw somebody you love out of your life forever. You can heal, if you are willing to acknowledge your humanness. It needed to happen publicly, and the results—well, you would not be talking to me right now if that conversation hadn’t been had.
Loop 21: How have you changed since your first rise to fame? What have you learned?
Vanzant: It wasn’t about fame, it was about discovering my purpose. How have I changed since I first discovered my purpose? I am no longer preoccupied with what people think of me. There was a time where, like for everyone when you are younger, you are worried about what people think, what they expect in order to get their love and approval. I am not there any more, maybe because I am old. I'm more committed to the truth of my being. It's hard knocks. Our show is about teaching people how and why they do what they do; after 28 years on this path, I looked at what I do and I understand why I do it.
Loop 21: You’ve worked in other countries—are Americans more in need of help when it comes to living the lives they were meant to live?
Vanzant: I think because America is the melting pot of the world and many people are stripped of their culture--that which resonated most deeply in their DNA--that it is more challenging for us here. There is no one culture here so you have to seek and find the place that is the best fit for you, and that is often antithetical to our nature.
Loop 21: Would you take this show to other countries?
Vanzant: I promised God that I would go where he told me to go, do what he told me to do, and say what he wanted me to say. So if he said to go to Haiti, Guam or Papua, New Guinea, I would go.
Loop 12: Do you think African Americans are more in need when it comes to finding our life purpose and living our best lives?
Vanzant: This is truth according to Iyanla. I have very, very thin ankles. I inherited them from my father, who inherited them from his father. I have very, very large breasts. I inherited them from my mother who inherited them from her mother. I have certain physical characteristics, but I also have a being and way of being that I inherited. I also inherited a belief, a way of thinking and being that says because I am housed in a brown body, I am less than someone housed in a white body. I have seen it played out in my life. I have lived the consequences of that pathological belief system that was passed down to me. I have an unconscious belief system that says I am going to be less than, do less than, have less than someone whose skin is not brown. We inherit pathologies of belief and emotional frameworks, psychological frameworks and truth that is at a cellular level, a cellular memory that continues to be passed on generation after generation. I happen to be educated, I have been exposed to information that gives me pause, that says “Hold up. Let me rethink this.” I have been exposed to a spiritual philosophy. But when what is dominant are the pathological beliefs that come from an ancestral history of being less than, then you have limited expectations for yourself that are reinforced, and what you get is what you see today—pathology or rage and anger connected to oppression.
Loop 21: Through all of your triumphs and low points, what is the one thing that has remained true about life for you?
Vanzant: No matter how bad I am or have been, no matter what I’ve done or said, what I haven’t done or what I’ve been or haven’t been, messed up or haven’t messed up, when my humanness takes over, in the end I’m still going to meet a forgiving God who gives me the privilege of forgiving myself.