Professional Student of Life
Musings from the path of personal growth
“How much false self are you willing to shed to find your True Self?” is the lasting question. ~ Richard Rohr
My brother and I spend a lot of time on the phone together these days. Both of us are in the midst of questioning our lives: what we want to do, where we want to go and, most importantly, what really makes a life meaningful? I’m so grateful to have his company on this uncomfortable journey. Sometimes it seems like everyone has their lives together but me.
A book I’ve found helpful recently is Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. Rohr uses a beautiful metaphor to illustrate the tasks we face in life. In the first half, he writes, we build the container: we establish our egoic roles, find a career or some other way to meet our practical needs, possibly choose a mate and raise a family, etc. Many people ride the crest of this wave through their whole lives, coasting into their latter years still chiefly concerned with first-half-of-life issues. Busy with careers, social status, financial security, children (who morph seamlessly into grandchildren), there isn’t much time left over to question the meaning of life.
Only some people take up the second-half-of-life agenda, which is to fill the container. Often those who do are forced into it by some unwelcome event: a death, a divorce, an illness, a financial calamity. Whatever the cause, in the second half agenda the focus shifts from outer to inner, from ego to spirit.
This is where my brother and I find ourselves. Careers and relationships that once kept us too busy to question have fallen away or lost their luster. The outer trappings that enthralled us for so many years no longer seem important. Both of us are in the process of culling and selling possessions in preparation for moving, and the main question we keep asking is: why did I ever think I needed this stuff in the first place? The things we’ve accumulated – even the beautiful things – feel more burdensome than valuable. Activities that seemed important and compelling at twenty seem empty and pointless at fifty.
The challenge of facing a blank slate in the second half of life is to refrain from simply rebuilding the container in another form; we are looking for meaning of a different sort now. Fulfilling work and relationships are still important, but the focus of both effort and reward has shifted from without to within. Asking ourselves and each other the tough questions, we’ve come up with a list of activities that seem intrinsically meaningful to us. Here are some of them: spending time in nature, serving others, expressing love and gratitude, enjoying the physical senses, creating, learning something new. It’s a framework to build on as we both feel our way into the second half of life.