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“What I Know Now” by Madonna : People (April 12 2004)

Madonna - People / April 12 2004

What I Know Now

We asked some of America’s biggest celebrities to tell us about the moments that defined who they are today. Their memories kick off our anniversary issue:

“The pivotal moment for me over the past 30 years was realizing I had a bigger responsibility than I was originally aware of and that I’d been thinking small picture. It was a gradual process of awakening that began seven years ago. My life couldn’t have been more perfect—in the way it is in that 1 percent way when everything is surface. I was pregnant. I’d finished making a film [Evita]. I’d won a Golden Globe. And I was recording Ray of Light.

But despite all the success and fame, I still felt like something was missing. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t know if I wanted to get married. I didn’t know where I wanted to live. I thought I knew a lot, but in reality I didn’t know anything. I was used to being self-indulgent. But when you’re about to have a kid, you realize you have to think beyond that.

Suddenly I was concerned about the bigger picture. Why am I me? Why am I here? Why did my soul choose this body? Why am I a role model? Is this fame the be-all and end-all? What’s the point of all this? Is it downhill from here? It can’t all be a happy accident. I wanted to know why it was happening to me.

Then I went to a dinner party at my friend’s house and sat next to a lady who talked to me about this class that she’d started going to. The teacher was a rabbi, she said, and he told amazing stories. I asked, ‘What do you mean? What class are you going to? Is it at a temple? Is it at a school?’

Though the teacher was a rabbi, she said it didn’t matter that I wasn’t Jewish because the teachings were just culturally interesting stories that made a lot of sense. She invited me to go to class with her the next week, and I said sure, why not? It’s an hour and an half out of my life, and if I don’t like it I’ll never go back.

A couple days later, I went for the first time to the Kabbalah Centre in Beverly Hills. I brought my little notebook to take notes in, and I loved it. I loved what I heard. First of all, I love going to class. I loved school as a kid, and I still love learning. I loved the idea of sitting in a classroom as an anonymous student. Whether it’s dance class, English lit or studying a foreign language, I get a big charge out of learning.

And I loved the idea that I was in the back of this class and nobody was making a big deal out of me being there. In a way, everyone ignored me, which suited me fine. I could sit back, relax and listen to a very spiritual person who spoke about the point of life.

Madonna - People / April 12 2004

When I was starting out in life, I thought the goal was to be popular, though in actuality I didn’t know what I was doing. I went to New York with the dream of becoming a professional dancer. Somehow I fell into music. I started writing songs and I wanted to get them played on the radio. I didn’t have a dream bigger than that.

Then it [her career] happened, and it was just incredible. And everything that happened after that was like, oh my God. I got caught up in that. It’s almost impossible not to. But through studying Kabbalah, I’ve learned that if your happiness is based on people approving of everything you do and getting accolades, you’re doomed to failure. It can’t ever be enough.

Kabbalah has taught me the goal isn’t about myself; it’s about bringing unity. The core of Kabbalah is the same as Christianity, and that’s to love your neighbor as you love yourself. In Kabbalah, I’ve found the tools to apply that to my life.

The very first lesson I got was on restriction—the idea of reactive behavior. That everything we do is reactive to something else, and that’s how we get into trouble. It’s why we get upset, why we get angry, why we show jealousy, why we show hurt. But the teacher explained how we as humans have the ability to restrict our behavior, to go against our reactive nature, and then by doing so avoid pain and let the light come in.

To me, it was such a simple concept and not a bunch of spiritual mumbo jumbo. I liked the practicality of it and thought, Hmm, I’m going to try that.

Every day now I try to do three things. 1) I ask God to help me to restrict my reactions (and not let my ego control me); 2) I pray to receive for the sake of sharing (which means to ask for everything in life but only so you can share it); and 3) I try to go outside my comfort zone in some way, shape or form to help someone.

Kabbalah has made me a better human being. I have a successful marriage. That doesn’t mean I don’t have my ups and downs, but I have an open and honest relationship, and we work things out. Guy [Ritchie] and I understand that we’ve embarked on a journey together. There’s no way our relationship would work if we didn’t both think the same way. I can’t just write a silly pop song anymore. I feel the need to share what I’ve learned. I don’t want to be boring and preachy. I still want to have fun. But I know there’s a way to inspire and entertain people at the same time. I’m writing children’s books that contain spiritual messages. I never would have done that before.

My studies have also allowed me to feel compassion for people in a way that I never could before. When you can feel other people’s pain, you’re in a constant state of wanting to help make things better.”


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