Friday Book Club: “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.”

May 1, 2020

Friday Book Club: “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life.”

May 29, 2023

Welcome to Act 2 of 2020 as we’re now one-third of the way through the year. Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey suggests that the process of transformation has three phases which mirror the rites of passage in indigenous societies: departure from the past, the dramatic initiation phase, and the return to society but in a new role.

If we look at this calendar year in thirds, this means we’re entering the transition period which has often been called the liminal time.

Modern Christian mystic Richard Rohr’s daily blog from two days ago was entitled “The Liminal Paradox” and featured a cancer patient who wrote, “When we find ourselves in liminal space, does it matter whether we are pushed or whether we jump? Either way, we are not where or what we were before, nor do we know how or where we will land in our new reality. We are, as the anthropologist Victor Turner (1920–1983) wrote, betwixt and between. In that space—which is mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual—we are destabilized, disoriented. The old touchstones, habits, and comforts are now past, the future unknown. We only wish such a time to be over. We may be impatient to pass through it quickly, with as little distress as possible, even though that is not likely…”

It’s not criminal to be liminal, but it is uncomfortable. But, it’s also the cocoon in which a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. When it’s the full world going liminal at the same time, maybe it’s time for a global happy hour serving “Limin-ade.” This is a time when we need to build new muscles that we may not have tapped before. For, as I outlined in this previous blog post, life is meant to be liminal.

Richard Rohr’s books are scattered all over the MEA Library, but this one might be my favorite since it’s so germane to MEA’s purpose. It can be found on the shelf in the section named “What are the Unexpected Pleasures of Aging?” This midlife rumination helps us see that transformation is often more about unlearning than learning, what we call the “Great Midlife Edit” at MEA.

Rohr echos Carl Jung’s work in suggesting the operating system of the first half of our life is our ego and around midlife, the operating system moves to our soul although we have very few rituals and operating manuals that help mid-lifers know how to “drive” the soul. He says we’re hungry in midlife, but often don’t know how to feed ourselves “as the body cannot live without food, so the soul cannot live without meaning,”

“There is much evidence on several levels that there are two major tasks to human life. The first task is to build a strong ‘container’ or identity; the second half is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold...The language of the first half of life and the language of the second half are almost two different vocabularies, known only to those who have been in both of them. The advantage of those on the further journey is that they can still remember and respect the first language and task. They have transcended but also included all that went before.”


He writes about the liberation of midlife and says, “if you are on course at all, your world should grow much larger in the second half of life.” Wow, for so many people, it seems to be the opposite. Their later lives become narrower, their sandbox smaller, their minds and hearts on a diet. But, he says this liberation often comes from a recognition that we’re not living our lives for others’ approval anymore,

“Much of the work of midlife is learning to tell the difference between people who are still dealing with their issues through you and those who are really dealing with you as you really are...By the second half of life, you learn to tell the difference between who you really are and how others can mirror that or not. This will keep you from taking their insults or praise too seriously. I doubt whether this kind of calm discrimination and detachment is much possible before your midfifties at the earliest. How desperately we need true elders in our world to clean up our seeing and stop the revolving hall of mirrors in our tracks.”


If you haven’t read any of Rohr’s work, give yourself the gift of his gravitas and levity. I’m reading his book on the Enneagram right now and he’s given new spiritual meaning to that ancient personality typing tool.

P.S. I’d love to hear from you about which books are inspiring you these days. For next Friday’s Book Club, I’ll choose five books based upon recommendations and a brief 2-4 sentence description of why the book is so appropriate for you and the world at this time. Send us your recommendations, your name, and your location to wisdomwell@modernelderacademy.com.

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