The Miracle of Aging
"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."
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."
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.'"
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."
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."
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.
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.
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
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."
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.
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
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