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11/29/2012 10:55 am ET

Jean Houston Talks to Oprah About Love, Life... and Her Near-Death Experience

Recently on "Super Soul Sunday," Oprah talked with American philosopher Jean Houston, author of The Wizard of Us. Here are the thought leader's wise answers to a few of Oprah's biggest questions -- about love, life... and the afterlife.

OPRAH WINFREY: What is the soul?

JEAN HOUSTON: I believe that the soul is the essence of who and what we are. It transcends our leaving this mortal coil. It is also a pain in the neck because it says, "Wake up. Don't go to sleep." I think it is also the lure of our becoming.

OPRAH: Wow! Got to take that in a minute. "The lure of our becoming." How did you even come up with those words? "The lure of our becoming." That's fantastic. Next question: What happens when we die?

JEAN: Well, I've nearly died on several occasions. When I was 19, I used to jump out of planes. One day, I hadn't packed my parachute well. And I was pulling and pulling on it and nothing was happening. My whole life from 0 to 19 went by in its own time. Not every little pork chop and Hershey bar, but.... [Then the parachute opened.] Once I had typhoid fever in Crete, and nearly died. But I had a profound sense of continuity. So I really believe that we are continuous in one way or the other....

OPRAH: In each of those examples -- at 19, with the jumping out of the plane; with the typhoid -- were you afraid of death in that moment?

JEAN: I have never been afraid of death. I've always had a sense of continuity from the time I was a child.

OPRAH: I think it was Joseph Campbell that said we're not afraid of dying, we're afraid of how we die. So, you sensed the continuity from the time you were 6 years old.

JEAN: I think it's a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. So I think we're always in process. I seem to be a verb. A becoming. And it's the lure of becoming that keeps us going on.

OPRAH: Wow. What is your definition of God?

JEAN: It varies from day to day. When I was a little girl, it was a very personal person. As I got older, it became the universe -- the universe in us. But mostly I think it is the wonderful words from Dante: "The love that moves the sun and all the stars, and moves in my heart and in yours."

OPRAH: Do you pray?

JEAN: All the time.

OPRAH: What is the central focus of your prayer?

JEAN: The first thing I ever say in the morning is, "Dear God" -- I still use that language -- "please make me be a benefit to someone or something today."

OPRAH: Yeah, mine is the same. “Use me. Use me.” Can you complete this sentence? "The world needs..."

JEAN: The world needs the sense that we are all in it together. I believe that we are here with deep purpose to become all that we can be. I believe that we are headed ultimately in the right direction. I believe that we have been given sufficient stress, crisis, complexity and consciousness to do things that are beyond our imagination, larger than our aspiration, more complex than all our dreams. I believe in love, I believe in you, I believe in me. I believe in this the most potent moment in human history.

Tune in to "Super Soul Sunday" on Sundays at 11 a.m. ET on OWN.

Click through the slideshow to see other famous folks who had near-death experiences.

PHOTO GALLERIES
Celebrities Who Almost Died

CONVERSATIONS