Marianne Williamson and Oprah

As children, we couldn't wait to get older. We embraced every second, even rounding up to 7 1/2 years old instead of just 7. As we made our way past the 20s, however, there was a shift—we clung on to the lower numbers, pining away for that last 30 as we headed into our 40s, 50s or 60s. But growing older doesn't have to be a bad thing—and it's up to us to change our perception!

"I want you to begin to believe that 50 and beyond will literally be the most miraculous—and I do mean miracles occurring in your life," Oprah says.

In her book The Age of Miracles: Embracing the New Midlife, author and lecturer Marianne Williamson tells women how to shift the way they think about aging. "It's changing if we allow it to change," Marianne says.

Celebrities such as actress Susan Sarandon and singer Natalie Cole have chosen to live their lives to the fullest as they move into their 50s and beyond. Susan isn't giving in to midlife expectations—she plans to live it up even when she's an octogenarian! "I told my kids I'm going to get a tattoo when I'm 80," she says. "My daughter was so embarrassed. She said, 'Oh, that's the tackiest thing I've ever heard.' But you kind of think you want to mark the big ones somehow, you know?"

When Natalie turned 58, she decided to pay tribute to herself. "I put on a luncheon and I gave myself a cake, and on that cake it said, 'Happy birthday to my best friend, me,'" she says. "I thought that was the coolest thing that I could have done."
Marianne Williamson

Marianne attributes many women's reluctance in growing older to what she calls "youthitis." "The breasts were higher, the butt was firmer, blah, blah, blah, and then this reality [sinks in] that I'll never have it again," she says.

Spending time wishing you were younger prevents you from enjoying the present moment. "I think sometimes as we get older in a society like ours, we go around relating more to what we are no longer than to what we are," Marianne says. "In everything in life, there's something about allowing yourself to be in the experience and allow yourself to receive the gifts that it brings you."

Marianne says pining for the past or the future doesn't begin in the 40s or 50s—most people do it all along. "We didn't appreciate what we had when we had it. We thought we needed a different career, a different husband, a different boyfriend, whatever," she says. "It's all the activity of the mind that 'whatever' is isn't good enough, and so you have the feeling you miss so much of your youth."
Marianne Williamson and Oprah

During her daily lessons on the book A Course in Miracles on Oprah Radio, Marianne defines a miracle as a shift in perception. "That's really what you're talking about here today when you talked about there are words like, 'Over the hill,' 'I'm too old,' 'He won't want me anymore,' 'She won't want me anymore,' 'They don't hire people my age anymore.' That's just a thought," she says. "Then your subconscious, out of that emerges thoughts and attitudes that will create what you just said."

To feel better about your age, Marianne suggests changing the way you think. Instead of dreading each milestone, you can view that looming birthday as a rite of passage, she says. "When a child reaches adolescence, this puberty, the persona of the child fades away and a new persona of the adolescent comes forward, and society knows this. We know this. We mark it with ceremonies sometimes," Marianne says. "In a way, midlife is a second puberty. The persona of the young adult fades away."

Children often get excited about passing their milestone birthdays, Marianne says, because they understand that growing up will be wonderful—but that's not often the case as you actually get older. "I would look to see, what do I get? And people would say things like maturity and acceptance, and I thought, 'Well, that's not very exciting,'" she says.

People can change those negative thoughts by accepting that age comes with empowerment. "Nobody hits around 40 in our society without something. It could be bankruptcy. It could be divorce. It could be addiction," Marianne says. "Most people at a certain age have fallen down in our society, but the issue is who gets back up and how we get back up, and then you are wise and you are more mature and you are more accepting and you go, 'This is pretty fabulous.'"

An audience member named Greta says she was not happy when she turned 40. "I fell apart. I got arthritis," she says. "So 40 is a disaster for me."

Marianne warns Greta that if she continues to think of her life in terms of a "disaster," it will become the truth. To change her reality, Greta must amend her thinking. "No one forces you to think anything other than what you choose to think," Marianne says. "The Course of Miracles says we achieve so little because we have undisciplined minds. You [have to] discipline your mind, exercise your mind, just like with your muscles."

Greta says she feels blessed to be 40 years old, but her physical symptoms are posing a problem. "There's something here that the body isn't what it used to be, that the body takes a little more time to take care of. That exercise isn't so we look good anymore; it's also so our health is okay," Marianne says.

Instead of focusing on the hardships, Marianne says the medical problems can help teach Greta to slow down. "My realization has been that back in the day when I had so much energy and I was moving too fast, I made a lot of mistakes because I was moving too fast," Marianne says. "This part of our lives calls us to be more contemplative, calls us to be more reflective, causes us to be more in the moment."
Marianne Williamson

The miracle for Greta, Marianne says, can be the shift in perception that allows her to see the gifts she is receiving from her current situation. "Allow your body to be what it is, to need what it needs," Marianne says. "What I submit to you is that allowing yourself to be in that place, you will find that there is some piece of your womanhood, some unintegrated place of your psyche that is going to be healed as you answer the demands of this moment."

For many women like Greta, growing older can represent a change in energy and focus. "When we're younger, we're always out there because 'If I get this, I'll be okay. I'm trying to make this happen.' There's always a grasping," Marianne says. "Then life almost forces you to sit within yourself and you go, 'This is not so bad,' and you become more magnetic. ... And your life changes from the inside out."

Oprah says she has realized this shift in her own life. "Camille Cosby said, 'You're going to love the 40s because you then know who you are and you don't have to put up with other people's stuff in the same way. ... You know how in your 20s and 30s you're running around trying to do everything for everybody? Something starts to happen in your 40s and you go, 'I'm not available,'" Oprah says. "And when you hit 50, please. Maya Angelou said this to me that the 50s are everything you were meant to be. I really think the 50s are the greatest. So for those of you who are in your 20s and 30s, you have much to look forward to because you inhabit yourself."

For Marjorie, pursuing her passion was a priority—and she wasn't going to let her age get in the way.

Marjorie got her first guitar when she was just 10 years old, but she didn't write her first song until she was 47! "I wrote 40 songs in the first four months of doing this. It was as if I were taken over by spirits," she says.

With seven children and a successful career as an associate dean at Brown University, you'd think Marjorie wouldn't have time to pursue music—think again! At 54, Marjorie has recorded four albums and has been on tour for about seven years! "Time doesn't wait for you, and I knew that it was now or never," she says.

Nancy, a 66-year-old mother of five and grandmother of 13, rules the courts as a trial lawyer. When court is not in session, Nancy hones her martial arts skills as a fourth-degree black belt! She began her martial arts training in 1994, when she was 53 years old. "I feel better physically, mentally and surely spiritually than I did when I was 30 or 40," she says.

After almost 14 years in martial arts, Nancy is living proof that it is never too late to reinvent your life. "Eventually, I will retire from law, but I won't retire from life," she says.

For nearly three decades, Robin Wood was the voice of Cincinnati to listeners on a weekday morning radio show. But after years in the business, Robin found herself living for the weekends. When she turned 50 in 2001, she decided to sign off the airwaves and open Robin Wood Flowers.

While her flower shop has blossomed, Robin earns only a fraction of her old six-figure salary—but she has come to terms with it. "I would say I'm making about 20 percent of what I used to make," she says. "I used to spend a lot of money on clothes. I used to spend a lot of money on cars. It just doesn't matter that I have a minivan with 95,000 miles and a big dent in the back. I realized it just isn't a big part of who I am. It's just stuff."

Now that she's working in a career she loves, Robin says she can't wait for Monday mornings. "I come to work as early as I can possibly get my eyes open in the morning. I happily work 12-hour days, and it's really okay, because I love it," she says. "You can't depend on your kids to make you happy. You can't depend on your husband to make you happy necessarily. They can certainly add to it. You have to make yourself happy, and you have to find something that makes you happy."
Robin Wood

Robin says giving up a high-paying job in exchange for a flower shop allowed her to express her passion. "Before, I was wearing the golden handcuffs of a big job that gave me a lot, a big salary," she says. "Once you're free of those handcuffs, you can pretty much do what you want as long as you've got the courage to do it."

Although she has always enjoyed horticulture, Robin says the idea for her shop came suddenly. "It just happened in my mind one day—'I want to garden all year round. How can I do that in Cincinnati, Ohio, where it's cold in the winter? I have to do it inside. Okay, well, I'll do flowers,'" she says.

Marianne says Robin came to this conclusion because, instead of looking outside herself to make her life better, she looked inward. "There's an emotional center of gravity inside us," she says. "What we're really seeking is a kind of gentle melting in."

In order for Robin to make such a big leap in her life, Marianne says her previous life must have created the path. "I think that at midlife, it's like God is saying, 'Okay, you've gone through everything and you have seen yourself now. You've seen where you're weak, where you're strong. I'm going to bring it all back to you,'" Marianne says.

"The Asian philosophers say life goes in a spiral—you always end up back where you were," she says. "It might be different people, different opportunities, different towns." The question is: How are you going to play it? "Where you played it weak before, are you ready to be strong now? Were you unconscious before? Are you ready to be conscious? Were you all about the outside before? Are you ready and willing to rise to the occasion? I think that's the beauty of midlife, that it all comes back around again."
Joan began a second career in her 40s.

At 47 years old, Joan took time off her job in finance for trip to Europe. While in an antique market in Belgium, she says her life was changed forever. "I saw these beautiful chocolate molds, and I just couldn't put these molds down. I just felt like I was on the verge of some discovery," she says.

After purchasing her confectionary find, Joan brought them back to New York City and taught herself to make decadent European-style chocolates in her home. Then, 10 months later, she was laid off from her job, which opened the door for a new career. "I really started dreaming about becoming a chocolatier full time," she says.

At 49, she fulfilled that dream by launching her company, Chocolat Moderne, which produces gourmet chocolates sold at the finest retailers in the country.

"This new chapter in my life is the most hopeful and exciting and happy that I've ever been, doing something that I really love to do," Joan says. "I wasn't feeling midlife crisis at all. I was feeling midlife rebirth."
Joan met her fiancé in the elevator.

Joan has found more sweet surprises in midlife than chocolate. She also found love at age 51, literally right under her nose. Joan met her fiancé, Jim, on an elevator! "I was on the ninth floor; his business was on the eighth floor," she says. "He walked in with his son, Connor, and I just said to myself, 'That's what he looks like—the man of my dreams.'"

Like Joan, Jim says he also was in the process of thinking big. "I had just, at that point in my life, decided that I would start to think about what's next for me," he says. "And it was at the time ... the elevator doors opened up."

Joan says it's no mistake that following her dreams resulted in finding love. "By being open to being a chocolatier, moving to a different part of town, I found the person that is the right person for me," she says. "If you're just open, life really can change in a split second."
Bette Midler gets better with age.

For legendary performer Bette Midler, each new age is a chance for evaluation. "Turning 50 was kind of remarkable because I actually had a minute to look back and see what it was that I had accomplished," she says. "When I turned 60, I stepped back again. I hear the clock ticking much louder than it ever ticked before."

As Bette's heading to Las Vegas to launch her new show she admits the choreography doesn't come as easily as it used to. "The work is much harder," she says. "For some reason, it's harder to get in shape and get your voice back and remember the steps."

All in all, the Divine Miss M says time also has taught her a thing or two. "I've learned a certain kind of flexibility. I can't say I've learned a lot of patience," she jokes. "But I have had brushes with patience."
Laurie doesn't know who she is anymore.

At age 50, Laurie says she doesn't know who she is anymore. She was once a married, stay-at-home mom, a role she says she loved.

At 45, she was widowed. "The title widow made me feel very old," she says.

Now, her youngest daughters are married and out of the house. "All of a sudden I wasn't a mom anymore, and the house was completely empty, and I cried," she says.

Laurie says she never expected to be in this position at this stage in her life. "I just feel like that part of my life is over now. I don't feel like I really have a worthwhile thing I'm doing in my life right now like I did then," she says. "I knew I'd get older, but I really thought that I was going to be the kind of person that was going to embrace it. And when it hit it was like, 'Where did this come from?' ... Some days I look in the mirror, and the woman looking back at me isn't me anymore. I wonder where that woman I used to be went."
Marianne Williamson and Oprah counsel Laurie.

Marianne says the act of letting children go is difficult, but it's one of the most significant things a mother can do. "You want to let them go so that they will want to call you. You're not not a mother anymore—you're just the mother of adult children," Marianne says. Laurie is also a grandmother. "A grandmother is every bit as important as a mother," Marianne says.

Oprah says a mother who has spent years teaching her children independence can build that instinct in herself. "Help your children to grow their own wings and let them fly. And then develop your own wings so that you, then, can fly," she says. "Move in a different direction."
Oprah's 50th birthday

Marianne says one important way you can welcome your midlife is through a coming of age ceremony. Many cultures have ceremonies to mark the passage from childhood to young adulthood. Some of these ceremonies include debutante balls, Jewish bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs, Catholic confirmations and Latin American quinceañeras.

But there are very few established ways that mark the passage into midlife. There is no ceremony for "second puberty." Oprah says that, without even realizing it, her own 50th birthday celebration was her way of claiming her age.

One of Oprah's most prized possessions is a letter Marianne wrote her that day. In it Marianne says, "In that holy place where you tell Him everything and He understands, there are angels who stand and wait to hear His every command. How may they serve you and increase your joy? I stand with them for this you have done for me."

Oprah says she reads that letter often. "I keep it by my bedside," she says. "This is how I refuel myself."
Oprah's Legends Ball

A year and a half after her 50th birthday party, Oprah decided to spread the life-affirming spirit with her Legends Ball.

For three days, invitees celebrated the lives and accomplishments of 25 remarkable African-American women—including authors, artists, actors and activists—who paved the way for generations of "young'uns" that have followed. "We are where we are because of these women. Because of the work that they have given," Oprah said that weekend. "I'm grateful to God that our legends are here and that you all are here to help me honor them."

To help honor the legends, the "young'uns" recited a poem by author Pearl Cleage, called We Speak Your Names.

Read an excerpt of the moving poem.
Marianne Williamson

Not having a ceremony to honor significant points in life's journey can leave a person emotionally confused, Marianne says. "If a culture or a family does not consciously and honorably mark the transition into the teenage years, the teenager will subconsciously feel the need to mark it anyway. That will often be in a dysfunctional way—body piercing, immoderate sex, drugs."

The passage into midlife works in the same way. Without consciously honoring a change, Marianne says, we'll mark it subconsciously...with a midlife crisis. Marianne says men tend to display midlife crises by acting wild, while women are more prone to unacknowledged depression.

Yet if you have a ceremony to mark the passage, Marianne says you will literally change how your mind thinks.

Follow Marianne's "Ceremony of the Elder" to honor your passage into midlife.

"If we mark [midlife] honorably, it goes from crisis to process, to honor, to ritual," she says. "And your whole spirit rises to meet that."

Launch your new spiritual beginning with Marianne's A Course in Miracles 

Find more ways to heal yourself.
FROM: The Age of Miracles: The New Midlife
Published on March 14, 2008


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