2016-06-30
Iris Krasnow is known for chronicling the spiritual journey of the Baby Boom generation. Her first two books examined how women reared on feminism could find happiness in marriage and motherhood. Her new book, "Surrendering to Yourself," looks at finding fulfillment in the next stage of life.

This is the third book you've written with 'surrendering' in the title. What does surrendering mean to you?

Many people look at the word surrendering and think of defeat. When I think of surrendering I think of total victory. You're letting go of something beyond your control and you're yielding to the higher power of something else-with motherhood you're yielding to the higher power of your children, with surrendering to your marriage you're yielding to your sacred promise to stay married come heaven, hell, or high water.

Surrendering to yourself is the really ultimate victory. You embrace who you wholly and truly are, you excavate your shadows, as Carl Jung called them, you dare to be outrageous, you rid yourself of unhealthy relationships and careers that are eating at your soul and chewing out the heart of your family life. You surrender to the higher power of yourself. And you don't have to wait 'til you're 84 to do it.

Doesn't surrendering to yourself sound a little selfish?

When you become a whole person and know who you are, it's totally selfless, because you can become a person with more compassion, who can love others more fully. It's a highly unselfish transformation.

You're not navel-gazing and saying, "I'm going into a corner alone." What I'm talking about is really integrating your whole life into your heart. It's very powerful. All you have is yourself. You can't count on your external universe to make you happy. You can have the best kids, you can have the best marriage, but ultimately they don't make you happy. Because kids grow up, a spouse can leave. Ultimately all you have is your inner life. You'd better know that self-and during hard times you have the rock of self to fall back on.

My mother is a Holocaust survivor. My mom has always had herself to fall back on. She lost her parents, she lost her brothers and sisters. Seven nieces and nephews. She had herself. My father died unexpectedly and horrifically 17 years ago, but my 65-year-old mother didn't fall apart. She put one foot in front of the other. She had inner resources. She went to a psychologist because my sister said, Oh mom, you really should go talk about your grief, and the psychologist said, Mrs. Krasnow, you're OK. You don't need to be here. Goodbye and good luck. My mom was back to work in a week. She'd seen death, she'd seen destruction. All of us have seen death and destruction. We all saw September 11. We need to count on ourselves.

Wouldn't a lot of people say that that's putting the self ahead of God? That you should actually surrender to God to help you with these things?

I'm talking to you very much as a believer. I believe in God-however I don't pray to God to make me happy, or to get me this book contract, or turn this book into a movie. My God fills me with hope and light and strength. The God I believe in isn't the God who you pray to that some bomb isn't going to go off, I don't believe God takes airplanes that are spiraling out of the sky and puts them back. The Abraham Heschl quote at the beginning of my book says it all: "Pray as if the whole world depended upon God. Act as if the whole world depended on you."

I think spirituality is everything, and materialism is nothing. It doesn't make you happy. And I'm glad the `80s and `90s are over. I'm an old hippie and proud of it. We're seeing a renaissance of people who are trying to build a better world. And we are seeing soul seeds of a movement that is reminiscent of the sixties.

So how do you surrender to yourself? What's the process?

I can put it into real prescriptive terms: In order to surrender to yourself, to feel whole and happy for the rest of your life, you have to connect with the passion of your soul.

How do you do that if you're working 90 hours a week as a lawyer and you don't particularly love your job, but you have a family and you've got to do it. I always use an example of a lawyer because there are so many disgruntled lawyers.

I ask them, what did you love to do as a child? What passion, hobby or activity did you abandon because you became a grownup? Every single time I ask that question, people's eyes light up with a fire that you can't believe, and they catch their breath and say, "I used to play basketball," "I was in my fifth-grade play and people thought I was going to be Sarah Bernhardt, and instead I'm a lawyer."

As for me, I rode on horseback, I'm a good horseback rider. I didn't ride for 24 years and I've started riding again once a week. It's brought back myself. Some people say, "I don't have once a week." You used to be a great artist in high school? Go buy some charcoal and a pad and keep it by your bed, and instead of reading the Wall Street Journal at night, draw something. Reconnect with some creative act that made you happy in your youth, and I can guarantee you will live a fuller, happier life.

Everybody I know is being treated for depression, it's so common, and I think there's a better way to get out of your depression. Go do something you love to do.

Was there any specific event in your life that triggered this book?

Well, I had four kids in three years-all boys. When I wrote Surrendering to Motherhood, the children were ages three, one, and newborn twins. My whole self was immersed in motherhood. I quit daily journalism to raise them and moved my whole life to home. But recently I noticed that my 13-year-old is two inches taller than me-they're really beyond the cling to Mommy" stage-and I asked myself, Who am I beyond Mommy? That stage of life where it's "need me, love me, you're everything to me" is fleeting, so that was part of it. Another thing-I had a miscarriage at the age of 47. I was so excited when I was pregnant again. But I realized when I miscarried that it was time to do something I'd never really done: I'd birthed books, babies, magazine articles, but I'd never birthed myself.

So many baby boomers are going through the same thing at the same time-dealing with disappointments, aging, the transition out of parenthood.

The thing with the baby boomers is we're going to be cool at every age. I'm 48 now. I work out twice a week, and the people next to me are always older than I am.

Though I'm still in the parenthood stage-I have 9-year-old twins at home-I want to be strong before I'm out of it. The time to get strong is when you're still in the thick of it, and not to be like so many of my 50-year-old friends who flounder when that last kid goes to college. I want to know exactly who I am, exactly how I can get through the day right now! There's work to be done on the self that's apart from the family.

How could something as simple as getting back to your childhood passion-riding or joining a choir or playing basketball-be such a transforming experience?

You validate yourself by yourself. It's not someone telling you how well you're doing. It's the thrill of accomplishment, the thrill of the ride.On horseback I just joy-ride. I'm not competitive anymore, I just get on my horse and go. I'm not doing it for the reward. I'm doing it because it makes me feel happy, I'm capable at it. Too often as parents we're relegated to the sidelines of life. We watch as our children exult in new sports, they get up on water-skis for the first time. They score a goal or they place in a state tennis match, and what do we do? We shlep `em around. I say, get back in the game.

I know a lot of people taking piano lessons for the first time at 50, I know a lot of people working out with weights for the first time at 67. My mother is not the only 83-year-old working out at her gym in Chicago.

What do you tell people who are disappointed with their lives, who look back at all the might-have-beens?

We have the power right now to live our lives with urgency. The people who are disappointed with their lives need to change their lives right this minute. And they can! And it doesn't mean leaving your job, it means doing something that makes you feel good about yourself. Don't let yourself die. You're still alive.

In the chapter "Can Botox Fix Your Soul?" you come down hard on plastic surgery. Why are you so critical of it?

Men and women seeking plastic surgery need to make sure they are doing so for the right reasons. Those who think a facelift or lifting other body parts can resurrect a sagging life are setting themselves up for disaster. ...We all have friends who go at it again and again, with repeated liposuction and implant procedures, and multiple Botox treatments. To what end? Even in the hands of the [best] surgeons, you can never win the race against time. Wrinkles and rolls return. So I say we work on accepting the vision in our mirrors as the aging process naturally unfolds, staying in the best possible shape with a healthy diet and committed exercise program.

Those of us striding swiftly into middle age need to band together to shatter any lingering myths that being sexy and whole has anything to do with age. I would never want to be 27 again. At 27 I was floundering. At 48, I know exactly who I am. There are plenty of mature, unretouched people in my book with sexy, adventurous, very hot lives. When you are passionate about who you are and what you are doing, added lines and increasing strands of gray don't seem to matter as much.

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