Authors: Marianne Williamson
THE AGE OF
A Return to Love
A Woman’s Worth
Emma & Mommy Talk to God
Healing the Soul of America
The Gift of Change
A Year of Daily Wisdom Perpetual Flip Calendar
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Copyright © 2008 by Marianne Williamson
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Jill Kramer •
Lyrics from “Nick of Time” used by permission of Bonnie Raitt, Kokomo Music, Inc., ASCAP.
Excerpt from Jung, C. G.,
Collected Works of C. G. Jung,
Vol. 8. Reprinted by permission of Princeton University Press.
Excerpt from “Little Gidding” in
© 1942 by T. S. Eliot and renewed in 1970 by Esme Valerie Eliot. Reprinted by permission of Harcourt, Inc.
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The author of this book does not dispense medical advice or prescribe the use of any technique as a form of treatment for physical, emotional, or medical problems without the advice of a physician, either directly or indirectly. The intent of the author is only to offer information of a general nature to help you in your quest for emotional and spiritual well-being. In the event you use any of the information in this book for yourself, which is your constitutional right, the author and the publisher assume no responsibility for your actions.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The age of miracles : embracing the new midlife / Marianne Williamson. -- 1st ed.
ISBN 978-1-4019-1719-7 (hardcover)
1. Middle age--Psychological aspects.
2. Middle-aged persons--Conduct of life. I. Title.
11 10 09 08 4 3 2 1
1st edition, January 2008
Printed in the United States of America
For my daughter,
whom I beyond adore
[T]horoughly unprepared we take the step into the afternoon of life; worse still, we take this step with the false assumption that our truths and ideals will serve us as hitherto. But we cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.
— Carl Jung,
Stages of Life
rinkles. Memory gaps. Can’t remember what you did yesterday. Found your glasses in the refrigerator. The skin on your thighs is uneven. Your butt is too soft. Younger people call you “ma’am” (or “sir”). You used to be able to juggle so many more balls in the air. You don’t know that face in the mirror anymore. You’re jealous of younger people. You can’t believe you didn’t appreciate it when you had it. You feel invisible. You haven’t a clue who’s making music now. You used to be hip, but apparently not anymore… .
If any of this sounds familiar, then welcome to the territory. Perhaps you could use a fresh layer of insight to help you navigate some shifting ground.
Every new experience confronts you with a choice, and aging is no exception. How the era of “no longer young” unfolds for you—how you’ll inhabit the space of midlife and beyond—is an open question that only you can answer. If you choose the path of least resistance—nonresistance not in a Taoist way but in a lazy way—then gravity will overwhelm you. You’ll grow old with little grace or joy.
But if you claim for yourself another possibility, you’ll open the door something decidedly new. Considering the possibility that there might be another way, you’ll make room for a miracle. You’ll pave another pathway, build new synapses in your brain, and physically and spiritually welcome new energies that would otherwise not find in you a receptive home.
Millions of us are entering a room we would have liked to avoid yet can avoid no longer. Yet if we take a good look, we realize the room doesn’t have to be so bad … perhaps it just needs a redesign. And then it will be in many ways a new room.
Midlife is not new territory, obviously, but what
new is how many of us are reaching for something outside its culturally prescribed norms. According to Werner Erhard, founder of the
organization, we can live our lives either acting out of circumstances or acting out of a vision. And when it comes to midlife, we can forge a new vision, a new conversation, to take us beyond the limited thought-forms that have defined its parameters for generations. The circumstances are fixed, but our experience of them is not. Every q
situation is experienced within the context of the conversation surrounding it, both in our heads and in our culture. And out of a new conversation about the meaning of midlife emerges new hope for those of us who find ourselves there.
When I say hope, do I mean the hope of more years? Not necessarily. Do I mean the hope of more fun, more meaning, more passion, more enlightenment? Absolutely. Hope, when it comes to age, is not just that the years get longer but that they get
Recently I sat next to an aging movie star at a wedding reception. Now in his 80s, he told me with manly conviction that when his time came, he would “go willingly, and get on to the next adventure.” He seemed okay with whatever happens next because he is okay with whatever happens, period. He seemed connected to some flow of life that’s too real to ever stop, that wouldn’t dare shut down at the point of his death.
I saw him half an hour later, dancing like Valentino with a woman 50 years younger than himself. Back at the table, I heard him rail against the government like a resplendent Titan who didn’t give a damn if what he said was popular or not. It didn’t seem like he had reached the end of his life so much as its peak. And at this peak, he could see that what stretched out before him was just a new piece of land, no less real than the territory behind him.
How would we live were we not afraid of death? How would we live if we felt full permission from ourselves and others to give to life everything we’ve got? Would midlife be time to shut down, or time to finally get started? Would it be time to give up, or time to claim what we really want? Would it be time to just hang out, or time to stop messing around? If we wish to age on autopilot, as a preprescribed and prepackaged experience, then it’s certainly not difficult—the status quo has signposts everywhere. But if we want to create something new for ourselves and those around us, then it’s important to recognize how limited and limiting are the thoughts about midlife that still saturate our culture.
And to realize that we can let them go.
Many of our thoughts about midlife are outdated. They are hand-me-down notions from preceding generations that no longer fit who we are or what we’re doing here.
I recently met a woman who was a political icon in the ’70s and ’80s. When I asked her if she wanted to get back into the political fray, she looked at me and said, “Oh no, I’m 66.” She pointed to a table of young women behind us, saying, “Let them take over now.”
I looked at her, horrified. The women at the table behind us were
the ones I could see steering the world in a more positive direction any time soon, and I knew that in her heart, she couldn’t either.
“Them? Are you
” I gasped, pointing to the table of hotties behind us, trying unsuccessfully to scan their faces for any sign of seriousness. And as I said that, I saw her eyes light up. Perhaps she just needed someone to give her permission to admit what she was q
already thinking: She’s actually more ready now than ever.
someone who’s got what it takes.
As she left the table, she told me, “You’re right. Let’s talk sometime. I want to do something
One shift in perception was all she had needed. Someone simply doubting the notion that her best days were behind her sent her running from a resigned and timid “It’s
turn now,” to a more emotionally honest “It’s
turn now!” And in our hearts, many of us feel as she does: that we’re finally ready to do something radical! Whatever it is we’re here for, we’re itching to do it now.
But sometimes you’re not sure you know what “it” is. And even if you do, you might secretly fear it’s too late. You’re caught between the excited feeling that you’re ready to begin and the scary thought that you might be past your prime. Yet the weight of God’s hand supersedes the weight of your personal history. God works miracles anytime, anywhere, for anyone; the last thing that could slow Him down is the fact that you’re older than you used to be.
Time seems, when we’re younger, to move so slowly. Then all of a sudden it seems to have gone by so fast. Tragic time delays dot the landscape, from women who didn’t realize they wanted children until their ovaries were too old for it to people stuck in careers they hate because for years they didn’t have the courage to go for what they really wanted. That’s why it’s so important that we not buy in to the notion that once we’ve reached midlife, our options are limited. Life will be, at any point, exactly what we program it to be. Yesterday does not have the power to determine our today. Every situation is a challenge to rise to the occasion—or, to put it more accurately, to allow God to
us to the occasion—and midlife is no exception. God is always ready to turn water into wine.
Whomever it is you were born to be, whatever your soul was coded to accomplish, whatever lessons you were born to learn, now is the time to get serious and get going. The more seriously you take life, the more seriously life will seem to take you. It is your thoughts, and your thoughts alone, that determine what’s possible for you now. It’s time to proactively reach beyond any predetermined formulas you or anyone else might have for what’s “possible” at this time in your life. No matter what did or did not happen in your past, the present remains an endless fount of miraculous opportunities—the law of divine compensation guarantees that. “Endless possibility” is not just an abstraction; it is a yearning of the universe, an active force of constant and infinite elasticity. It responds not to your past, but to your present state of mind.
It’s not what’s happened in your life so far that has the power to determine your future. It’s how you interpret what’s happened, and learn from what’s happened, that sets the course for your probable tomorrows.
Life doesn’t always (or even usually) move in a consistently rising arc of progress. By the time we’re in our 40s, most of us have stumbled in at least one or
two major areas: marriage or divorce, problems with kids, career, finances, addiction, or whatever. But the point of a life journey isn’t whether or not we’ve fallen down; it’s whether or not we’ve learned how to get back up.
falls because it’s a fallen world. It’s who gets up, and how they do it, that determines what happens next.
I have a friend who is a fantastic singer, wowing audiences with her voice for years. She’s also gorgeous to look at. Everyone has always said she was destined for stardom. But did she get her big break at 20, 30, or even 40? No, because like many of us, her demons held her back for years. She would miss a big meeting because she was hungover, or say the wrong thing to a record executive because her style was immature. She consistently sabotaged her own success. It wasn’t until after her 40th birthday that all the pieces came together, her talent and personality aligned at last. And what she could see once that happened—what everyone around her could see—was that the long and winding journey she had taken only added to the luminosity of her success, once it came.
What do I mean by the “luminosity” of her success? I mean the layers of understanding that went into it: the large and small lessons learned along the way that ultimately affected not only her singing but her way of being in the world, a new essence not only to what she does but to who she is. It wasn’t just her voice but her personality that had needed to ripen.
Sometimes you can’t lift your legs as high in aerobics class anymore, but you can lift a knowing eyebrow in a way that comes only with years of experience. In a way, that eyebrow is more impressive than the leg lift. That’s what maturity offers: a new richness to your personality. An understanding that could only have come, as my father used to say, when you’ve had to
“take the good with the bad.”
The new maturity is optimistic—not the unknowing optimism of our youth, when all things seemed possible, but rather a bittersweet-yet-knowing optimism, held to in spite of the fact that we now know certain things are
any longer possible. We’ve lost some things we would have rather not lost, but we’ve made some gains we didn’t even know existed. We’ve “been there, done that” in enough areas to feel we’ve achieved some mastery, not so much at this or that, but at living a more responsible life. Looking at my peers, I’ve concluded that many of them are secretly thinking the same thing. Once we’ve accepted that life is not as fabulous in some of the ways we thought it was, we realize it’s even more fabulous in ways we could never have known.
It’s not that you’re deluding yourself, refusing to gracefully accept that your youth is over. You accept the limits of age, but you accept the limitlessness of God as well. Something has ended, it’s true, but something new has also begun. Your youth has not been ended so much as your
youth has been interrupted—not as some bum deal that comes at the end q
of the party, but as your salvation from ultimate meaninglessness, your one last chance to get it right. The generation now experiencing midlife cannot stand the thought that this was all for nothing. Dysfunctional, obsolete patterns of thought that blocked the pathway to your higher destiny are being interrupted at last. And while you might be feeling a bit depressed that you’re no longer young, you’re ecstatic that you’re no longer clueless.
T JUST ABOUT THE TIME WHEN THE WORLD
seems about to literally blow up if some sane grown-up doesn’t come in here and do something quick, our generation is finally becoming sane grown-ups.
The state of the world today is one big rite of passage for the baby-boomer generation, like a trip into the jungle alone to see whether or not we can survive. If we don’t, then obviously we don’t have what it takes. If we do, then “You’re a man, my son!” Well, that’s the line for half of us anyway.
Midlife today is a second puberty of sorts. The experience, including its length, is being redefined. It is a period distinctly unlike youth, yet distinctly unlike old age. It doesn’t feel like a cruise to the end of our lives so much as a cruise, at last, to the
of our lives. People who were still whining “I don’t know what I want to do with my life ”at the age of 40 suddenly feel as if they know. It feels more like being a teen than like being old.
In her book
The Longevity Factor,
Lydia Bronte writes that we’ve added 15 years to our lives … but in the middle, not at the end. We should name and claim this period as a new midlife, for indeed it
new. This period was not acknowledged before because it wasn’t
in quite the way it is now. As we acknowledge the existence of this new psychological factor in the makeup of contemporary life, we build a container for otherwise dispersed, inchoate yet remarkable energies.
We can bless and transform the midlife experience. We do this by changing our
about it—thoughts that inform our physical cells and constitute the blueprint for our worldly experience. The work is to do two things: drop our limited thoughts, and accept unlimited ones instead. Our thoughts are reflected in our experience, from the state of our bodies to the state of our world. As we reprogram our thoughts, we reprogram everything.
For women, it’s become common to say that 40 is the new 30 and 50 is the new 40. I’ve asked myself if we just want to believe that or if it’s actually true. Conveniently for me, I’ve decided on the latter. But it’s a double-edged sword, if you think about it: On the one hand, it’s an acknowledgment that we’re looking so much better for longer; on the other hand, it’s also an acknowledgment of how long it’s taken us to finally grow up. What generations before us seemed to figure out much sooner, we’ve taken years to even begin to understand.
Those of us now maturing into midlife and beyond will not be called a “lost generation,” but we
be considered a generation that had to lose a decade or two in order to find ourselves. In the end, we weren’t so much wasting time as we were working through issues that previous generations hadn’t had to work through. We took longer because on a psychic level, we had a lot more to do.