If you’re not interested in being a better person, or going within to understand your own behavior, don’t bother tuning in to Oprah’s Lifeclass.
This class is work, people. It’s a push to deep thinking. No, make that feeling. The blissfully or stubbornly unaware need not apply.
And if you do watch, but don’t start asking yourself questions in the process, if you’re not engaging, then you’re doing yourself a disservice.
The “class” is actually a show on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) that airs weeknights; it began this week and runs for five weeks. Essentially, it consists of Winfrey extracting lessons from her 25 years of doing "The Oprah Winfrey Show" by rolling past clips and revolving them around a theme each evening.
For example, the premiere episode on Oct. 10 was called the "The False Power of Ego” and it was followed on day two by “Letting Go of Anger.” The one-hour TV show is followed by a webcast, also featuring Winfrey, as well as interaction on Twitter and Facebook. As I bounced from TV to PC to my iPad over the course of two hours, I was struck by what a brilliant use of old and new media it was.
“The classes are a catalyst for all to think differently,” Winfrey said on the webcast after episode two.
We’ve had a little time to get some distance from Winfrey, whose record-setting talk show ended in the spring after 25 years. We’ve seen networks jockey for position to gain viewers in her former time slot. We’re occasionally reminded that she has a network and that it’s not meeting lofty expectations for viewership.
But what already seems abundantly clear, is that the network was missing the regular presence of Winfrey herself. OWN is serving up a healthy dose of her with Lifeclass and it is exceeding my preconceived notions of what Winfrey had up her sleeve with this concept. She has repeatedly said her calling is to teach and she is in her element doing it in this forum, whether produced for TV or in a think-on-her-feet format online.
The series opened with Winfrey showing clips of her infamous 1988 show where she proudly struts in size 10 Calvin Klein jeans. Then she explains that the “triumph” shown there came after four months of starving and of avoiding anything that would put her in contact with food; she even cancelled a trip she’d planned to the South of France.
“I have had to pay the price for that moment over and over,” she said.
You’ve got to respect a person who digs up her own mistakes and rolls the videotape to give her take in retrospect in order to teach. With this as context, Winfrey explained the difference between the “true self” vs. the “ego self” a la Eckhart Tolle.
“The ego is a false sense of self,” she said.
Former NFL player Vance Johnson, who had come on "The Oprah Winfrey Show: and talked about his abuse in relationships while he was playing for the Denver Broncos, updated the Lifeclass viewership on his life to give further context to the ego theme. The idea, Winfrey said, is to recognize ego in a given situation, step back and let it go, thereby diminishing its power.
Next up was a show about letting go of anger and Winfrey used her past interviews – five years apart – with author Terry McMillan to demonstrate how one can go from seething to all-out forgiveness. McMillan’s lover and eventual husband, was 23 years her junior and after six and a half years he revealed he was gay. The ensuing legal and emotional battles and end of the marriage gave way to friendship.
Winfrey called her interview experience with McMillan “transcendent” and shared the insight that forgiveness is “giving up the hope that the past could be any different.” After accepting that it has happened, it’s time to ask, “Now what do I do about it?”
After the second interview in 2010, McMillan shared with Winfrey off-camera that she’d had a moment in her car in a shopping center parking lot, that the window was open and that she felt her anger go right out that window.
“That was God,” she told Winfrey.
She realized that ultimately it was her own joy she was sabotaging by staying angry. A viewer named Michele also came on and talked about how she mended her relationship with her father after hearing Winfrey talk again and again about forgiveness.
In the ensuing webcast, Winfrey was joined by relationship expert Iyanla Vanzant and what a segment it proved to be. As she fielded questions from the audience – live and via Skype – it was a reminder of just how compelling Vanzant is when she’s free to let her personality rip.
What was particularly striking about the rapport between Vanzant and Winfrey was the history there and how the pairing in and of itself was a stunning example of forgiveness and the setting aside of egos. In her final season of The Oprah Winfrey Show, Winfrey did a reunion interview with a nervous Vanzant after they’d been estranged for years; it was tough to watch at times, but a kernel of truth emerged and they came together in an understanding.
Seeing them interacting on Lifeclass was a delight. Winfrey’s respect and trust of Vanzant gives the latter free reign to get right in there and help people do some hard work.
“Invite the hurt forward,” Vanzant told one viewer.
“Get into the grace of difficulty,” she also said.
Executive producer Sheri Salata noted on air that the response to Vanzant was terrific and that so many posts coming in on Facebook and the Web site were about people having A-ha moments around the question of what is holding them back.
And then at one point there was this from Vanzant: “The best students get the hardest tests.”
Welcome to Lifeclass. But don’t get too comfortable. There’s a whole lot of work to be done.
Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is www.nancola.com and you can follow her on Twitter @nancola. Please direct all questions/comments to FOXGamePlan@gmail.com.