by Tomika Anderson
There are a couple things you should know about Iyanla Vanzant. You know, in case you ever run into her on the street. First, no matter what kind of abracadabra you saw the spiritual thought leader perform with troubled Basketball Wives star Evelyn Lozada, mentally ill actress Maia Campbell, or the scores of regular folks she helped on Season One of her top-rated OWN show Iyanla: Fix My Life, she’d prefer you not ask her to solve your problems.
Frankly, giving advice is something the five-time New York Times best-selling author and life coach, formerly known as Ronda Eva Harris of Brooklyn, shies away from, particularly since she—left motherless at age 3, raped at age 9, and a single mom at age 16—is still figuring out this whole life thing herself.
“Iyanla insists that she does not ‘fix’ anyone’s life,” her rep explains. “She just gives people the tools to do it themselves.”
Second, it’s probably best not to refer to the period in the 60-year-old’s life where she lost her child, her marriage, her home, her fortune, and (nearly) her mind as a “downward spiral.” In her 2012 book, Peace from Broken Pieces, the domestic violence survivor describes holding a pink, pearl-handled pistol in one hand and prescription pills in another.
Vanzant bristles at the idea that her life’s most difficult moments, including the one in the late ’90s when she rolled the dice between Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Walters and lost, botching a lucrative talk-show opportunity with Winfrey and derailing their relationship in the process, were anything other than opportunities for healing.
“I did not have a downward spiral. I don’t even know where that thought comes from,” the former attorney begins crisply over the phone from her home in Upper Marlboro, Md. “I had a shift in my life because of the lessons I needed to learn and the healing I needed to do,” she says. “I’m sitting at my window right now looking at a tree,” she continues softly. “In the spring, that tree is full of leaves. [In the winter], it’s naked as a jaybird with little broken dead leaves hanging on it. What I understand is that in life there comes a point when we all shed our leaves. Good leaves, healthy leaves—they still fall to the ground,” she says. “From my experience, losing my daughter, ending my television show, and having a financial shift in my life was nothing more than a tree shedding leaves, and what I know to be true is that by spring this tree will have new leaves.”
One of the longest-clinging leaves shed from Vanzant’s tree was that of her hubby of 40 years, Yemi. After supporting her through her 31-year-old daughter Gemmia’s death from a rare form of colon cancer, he informed Vanzant that he wanted a divorce—via e-mail.
Looking back on their four decades together, she says that what they had was never truly a marriage.
“A marriage is the union of two souls, and what I had was the coming together of needs,” she says. “He had a need and I had a need, and so those needs came together. We spent over 40 years trying to fulfill them. Our souls never came together.”
The Yoruba priestess says she found herself there because she’d never resolved her relationship with her father, and his physical and emotional distance led her to seek similar patterns in her partners. “The dissolution of my marriage [constituted] a healing of my relationship with my dad,” she explains. “Once I really understood the pathology—the patterns of thought, belief, and behavior—and healed my perceptions of my father within myself, my marriage fell apart. I didn’t need it anymore. It had served its purpose. Took me 40 years to get there, but, oh well, some of us are slow learners.”