Mariel Hemingway rises before dawn each morning at her Malibu, California, home to greet the sunrise in silent meditation. It is a way to embrace the peace that eluded her for much of her life. It is also a way to demonstrate the benefits of mindful living — a message she spreads as a speaker and author on mind-body-spirit health.
As a Hemingway, Mariel inherits the legacy of her famous grandfather, Ernest, who battled alcoholism and depression before his suicide at the family's home in Sun Valley, Idaho. She grew up with a sister, Margaux, who also struggled with addiction and depression before her suicide. For Mariel, embracing health in all its forms is a way to show her children a better way forward.
Hemingway will speak at Bastyr University's May 22 Spring for Health Luncheon, which raises funds for low-income patient care at Bastyr Center for Natural Health. She received an Academy-Award nomination at age 16 for her role in Manhattan with Woody Allen, and she's appeared in numerous other films. She has authored multiple books, most recently Running with Nature, with her partner Bobby Williams. She spoke to us in advance of her talk at Seattle's Fairmont Olympic Hotel.
Natural places have been an important part of mindful living to you. How did you develop the health approach you describe in Running with Nature?
I was always really attached to nature and the outdoors. That was sort of my saving grace growing up in Sun Valley — the fact that I was in this really beautiful place. That was where I found solace and where I didn’t feel alone, where I felt a connection to something greater than myself.
Over years of studying and running from "crazy" and now running with my boyfriend, I‘ve learned that health is about a ton of different things we do. There’s not a one-size-fits-all plan for how we eat, there’s not a particular way of worshipping something. Everything is so individual. We have to find our own unique tapestry to live a life that is balanced.
Bastyr University's approach to health emphasizes the interconnected nature of body, mind and spirit. How have you found those connections in your life?
I started out with yoga. First I did it as an exercise, but I realized that it has a deeper effect on me. I wondered why I felt so calm afterward, and after a couple of years I became really serious about meditation.
Then I realized it’s not just doing yoga or meditation or getting outside, it’s how I wake up. The water I drink and how I breathe. All these things we take for granted. We all breathe but most of us are breathing really shallow breaths, from the neck up. If you have a sense of mind-body-spirit connectedness, you understand that breath is the stepping stone to a higher consciousness.
So I’ve really been on a journey to discover what works for myself. I was depressed most of my life, and I didn’t even know it until I wasn’t. It kind of felt like a low-grade fever all the time, and I was tired and a little bit sad. But I didn’t know anything different until I was out of it. It’s been about self-awareness, finding a balance of food, water, exercise, silence, mindfulness about waking and other small things.
Your recent film on your family legacy has a frank title — "Running from Crazy." What are you trying to teach through your advocacy on mental health?
When a friend told me I should tell my story, I said, "That would be nuts." Then I realized that was the point. I wanted to tell my whole story, and use my name recognition to give people who are struggling a sense of not being alone. The worst thing about mental illness, depression and suicidal thoughts is the sense that you're alone, isolated. There's so much stigma attached to these things, or people are embarrassed and afraid, so we don't talk about them.
Mental illness is something that many of us go through at different parts of our lives. We go through depression, we go through shifts in hormones as teenagers, or we go to university and feel so much stress and pressure to be something. When you're young, you don’t have a history of being in the world and knowing that many people feel the same way as you do. Adding alcohol and addictions can make things much worse. We can heal from this, and lifestyle choices have a lot to do with it. But it starts with talking about our struggles.
You speak often about sunrises. What is sunrise like at your home in Malibu?
We both get up before sunrise. Bobby goes up on the mountain and I sit in meditation and wait for the sun to come up over the mountain and hit the house. We believe that looking at sunrises and sunsets is very healthy. It’s one of the greatest simple things on the planet that creates happiness. My life is really about how we can be more balanced, more happy, more joyous, more connected, more in sync. It's about an understanding that even though we have our own individual way of getting there, once we get there we are still connected.
When I speak with audiences, I feel such a kindred connection with everyone. It's a very powerful understanding to reach in your life — that we are all connected. It sounds a little woo-woo, but it's the truth.
You offer a sort of model for healthy living at its pinnacle. Most of us aren't there yet. What do you say to those who admire your lifestyle but aren't sure they can reach that standard?
We are trying to offer up a lot of things people can do. Not everybody has a garden, but you can have a windowsill with herbs growing. You can go to a farmers market and get eggs from a local farmer. Those are connections to nature. Yes, Bobbie and I do a lot of things, but there are many versions of what we do.
Everybody can play, which is so important. For children, play is the most important part of their lives. We're trying to say it shouldn't be different for adults. Our backyard is crazy. We have a trampoline, slack lines, kettle balls, tires to flip. We play made-up versions of golf. We do Cross-Fit games, but not to be intense or crazy, just to have fun. The things we have done to the backyard are not very expensive. We don't have a ton of land, but every little corner is a place to do something fun. It's very doable.
Play is creating an environment for yourself that speaks only to you. It creates a sense of health.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.