Marianne Williamson is an internationally acclaimed lecturer, a leading thinker in social change and spiritual development, and the author of nine published books, including the New York Times bestsellers A Return to Love, Everyday Grace, and her latest, The Age of Miracles: Embracing the New Midlife. She also edited Imagine: What America Could Be in the 21st Century, a remarkable collection of essays by a diverse array of respected luminaries (Deepak Chopra and Paul Hawken among them) about humankind’s pressing issues and visionary solutions to them. Ms. Williamson is also a prominent force in charitable service, including founding Project Angel Food, a meals-on-wheels program serving over a thousand people a day in Los Angeles, and the Peace Alliance, a nonprofit grassroots organization fostering peace.
On October 13 Ms. Williamson will be in the Hudson Valley, joining Robert Thurman, Therese Schroeder-Sheker, Frank Osteseski, and other presenters for “The Art of Dying” conference at the Menla Mountain Retreat Center in Phoenicia. The conference, in its fourth year, is open to the public and explores spiritual, scientific, and practical approaches to living and dying. (Information at www.artofdying.org; 845-688-6897.)
I spoke with Marianne Williamson by telephone last month.
Your latest book, The Age of Miracles: Embracing the New Midlife, is a powerful reminder that our middle years are a time to live with intention, and that accepting that we’re aging can be the catalyst to doing that.
Carl Jung said that failure to deal with the issue of death robs the second half of life of its meaning. There comes a time in our lives when our morality dawns on us. A younger person holds on as long as possible to a kind of magical thinking. We know that we are going to die one day, but we don’t really believe it. But something happens, usually around our forties, where the knowledge that we may one day die settles into our cells in a whole new way. Powerful, even if, statistically, you may still have decades left.
Jung’s comment is so very relevant because if we deal with the issue in an enlightened way, it isn’t depressing but powerful. You owe it to yourself to demonstrate mastery in your own affairs and not run off into tangential projects and career choices. No more five-year detours into things that you know will be a waste of your time and resources.
Interestingly enough, the subject of death, held nobly, is an important ingredient of a well-lived life, a healthy life, a vital life. I think when you are young, you take so much for granted. Intellectually, you know you don’t have forever, but you’ve never known not being vital. Once you pass through those years, a common experience is that we look back and regret that we didn’t know them more fully. But for me, and other people I’ve seen, having felt I missed some of my youth has made me deeply committed to not missing my years now. I live life more intentionally, in large part because I didn’t when I was young. The time I have left on this Earth is not what it used to be, and I want to live it with care.
You describe in your writing how helpful it is to start the day giving thanks, and that doing so for even five minutes can help to keep things in perspective throughout the day.
When you pick up a newspaper today, you’re so horrified by what you see, and you wonder, by what grace of God was I not born, for instance, as a woman in an Afghan village held by the Taliban? In so many situations, I have thought how lucky I am. I’ve gone to give seminars in prison, and once I met a young woman who was the most beautiful, sweetest woman. She was an alcoholic, and one night she was drunk and driving a car and killed someone. She’s now in jail—though that’s not going to serve society—and the tragedy is that she did not get sober in time to avoid that.
To me that is the gratitude issue—that despite the problems we have, whatever issues we deal with, everyone reading this right now lives like a king. A billion people on this planet live on $1.25 a day. Seventeen thousand children die of hunger every day on this planet. Fifty-six million children don’t get to go to elementary school. And we are upset because we cannot afford the new MP3 player.