What Makes Us Change?


I am reading a memoir my friend wrote and I am amazed. She started her life with nothing. She was born in desperate poverty with harrowing early experiences and absolutely no encouragement, yet she changed. My friend is delightful, successful, pretty, funny, and has excellent finances. What gave her the idea she could change?

I taught in the bottom track of a six track school in Trenton, New Jersey in the 1960’s. School was hell for those kids and I had a lot to learn. The kids were tolerant of my ignorance most of the time because I was honest and meant well.

Part of what I learned was that many children grow up in a culture where the TV and shop windows may show wealth but no one they actually know has any money. Nor do they have any hope.

These kids in remedial classes found the schoolwork boring and difficult and they came for the two cent peanut butter & crackers, the warm classrooms and their friend’s companionship. They didn’t come because they believed in the “American Dream.”  But once in a while, some kid caught fire and zoomed ahead.

I remember a kid called Billy who gained four grade levels in reading in one semester. He wasn’t faking; he really applied himself and learned to read. It seemed as if he was as hopeless as the others, then suddenly he was working part time and reading books.

Billy told me once he was going to make something of his life and he knew it would cost him. That was back in the Sixties in the early days of the “War on Poverty” and few of us understood how the culture of poverty keeps people down but Billy understood.

Families and friends offer love but they also hold you back. Just about the time you have the money saved for trade school, someone needs it for medicine or food.  Or someone steals it, but you can’t turn him in because he’s family.

We have learned much since then and today’s sociologists and educators are more sophisticated. Nevertheless, the question of why some people change remains a mystery. Are people born with luck? Does God reach down in a moment of Grace and lift us up?

There are plenty of dramatic success stories out there. AA rooms are full of them. So are college campuses where scholarship students make it. Our bookshelves are lined with stories from people who “made it” in America. If you dig a little, there seems to always be a component of spiritual awakening in those stories.

New Thought teaches that everyone comes from Spirit and is, at the level of Spirit, perfect, whole and complete. No matter what our circumstances are, God that lives within us, and is pressing to express more of our innate perfection, wholeness and completeness. We awaken when we open to Spirit.

These spiritual ideas have become much more public since the Sixties. The body-mind connection is accepted in medicine. Teachers work hard to inspire students. Oprah has introduced our New Thought ideas to the general public.

Oprah now has her own TV network and one of her hosts, Iyanla Vanzant also has a show. Iyanla’s life, like Oprah’s, inspires us because it demonstrates God’s promise of good when we open up.

Iyanla was born female and black, in the back of a Brooklyn taxicab more than fifty years ago. Her mother died when she was two, she was raped by an uncle when she was nine, and she had three children by the age of 21.

With such a beginning, she might be in jail or a mental institution but she knew she was better than the facts of her life. She fled a violent marriage and survived well enough to earn a law degree and work in the Philadelphia public defender’s office for several years.

At some point she changed her name from Rhonda Hams to Iyanla Vanzant. She chose her name, Iyanla because it meant “Great Mother” in the Yoruba religion. Her name change was a declaration of intention to identify with the great nurturing “mother spirit” of God.

So she had intention and she must have known how to pray because she said, “Prayer changed me.” Please note that she didn’t say, “Prayer changed the facts” but, “Prayer changed me”.

She went on to say, It changed my life from a place of dysfunction and pain to a place of clarity and purpose. It changed me from angry and frightened to full and available. Prayer changed my life.

…When you really fill your heart and your mind with the words of a prayer, the hysteria subsides, and once the hysteria subsides, the mind is clear, and when the mind is clear, you send forth, positive energy into the universe or into the presence of life that’s everywhere.

When the energy of a clear mind goes out and hits the actual living form or living substance, things shift, things are created, things are transformed, and you’re able to see and accept it because you’re praying.

She could be a Religious Science practitioner if she weren’t a Yoruba Priestess, couldn’t she? She said, “Prayer changed me.” She knows that we don’t pray to change God but to open our own consciousness to more and better. She knows that a changed consciousness creates new experiences.

Iyanla’s a perfect example of what life looks like when you release limited belief systems. Of course, she’s a special example because she has many best selling books and a talk show. But prayer works for everyone. When you pray, Spirit will change you as well.

As my student Billy knew, we must give up something to get something better. If we want to change we must we must release the old beliefs so we make room for the new.

Some people go to great lengths to hold onto to what they believe and they say, “Well, God had a special plan for Iyanla (or Billy or Oprah.)” God’s special plan was that she should express Life fully. That is also God’s special plan for you.

Unless we are alert, we will not change. We all live in a kind of culture of poverty when it comes to ideas. Let’s not resist our own good by denying that change is only possible for the lucky. We aren’t stuck. The Great Mother is always  loving us, supporting us, and saying yes to our prevailing beliefs. Love works through Law and it works for everyone.

When Hilary Swank accepted her second Oscar, she said, “I’m just a girl from a trailer park” and some cynical people made fun of her. But she really was just a girl from a trailer park who had a clear intention. The facts didn’t matter enough to stop her. She believed in herself enough to come to Hollywood and live in her car until she got a break.

How much do you believe in yourself? Are you ready to let the facts go? Are you ready to release old beliefs that no longer serve you? Are you ready to have the Great Mother say yes to your deepest desires?

Ask Yourself

What do I want?

What might be my new name?

What n belief am I willing to change ?

Shall I pray to change myself? 


2 Comments on “What Makes Us Change?”

  1. Dave Sheive says:

    Dr. Jane — Thank you, thank you for this writing. It FELT SO GOOD – so pure and true and full of the real positive nature of “God”. You said it all so succinctly and made it very easy to understand. If we could just get all the “dogma” out of the way, these uplifting truths would be so much easier to comprehend and embrace. I feel wiser and “embraced”. Thank you!

    Love, Ellen

    • janeclaypool says:

      Hi Elaine,
      As always, your comments are delightful and make me feel good about the blog. You do make a difference in many ways and one of them is your encouraging words.

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