Scott is taking time off this week for some rest and play, and so we are repeating a column from a few years ago about one of his favorite books. If you are taking some time off this month and are looking for a great to book to read, this column might be timely for you. The Living Compass regular column will return next week.
One of the best books I have read in the last five years is Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of LIfe, by Richard Rohr. Rohr is a priest in the Franciscan order who integrates wisdom from spirituality and depth psychology. He has traveled the world the last forty-two years leading retreats and conferences on wholeness and wellness. Falling Upward, published in 2011, is a book about the two halves of our lives. The first half of life, according to Rohr, is characterized by external growth, expansion, and accomplishment. It the time of life when people finish school, begin careers, begin relationships and families, and most things in one’s life are on an upward trajectory. Rohr talks about the first half of life as being primarily about building and solidifying one’s identity and one’s ego.
In contrast, Rohr describes the second half of life as being primarily about deepening one’s identity and about developing one’s soul. In the second half of life, things begin to get more complicated. Loss becomes more prevalent. Relationships end through separation or death. Bad things happen to good people. Dreams fall short and disappointments occur. We are aging and now facing the finite limits of our lives in the second half of life. Things begin to fall apart, but the point that Rohr makes is that we have a choice when we face an experience of things falling apart. We can choose to fall down, or we can choose to fall upward–hence the name for his book.
Rohr’s book resonates completely with my own experience in life, both personally and professionally. In my experience, all spiritual growth–all growth of the soul–occurs in response to working through some experience of challenge or loss, some experience of facing a problem that cannot be solved by simply working harder (the striving of the ego). Another way to capture this is to quote one of my favorite sayings: wisdom is simply healed pain. Those who face and heal their pain as they move into and through the second half of life become wise. They are the sages and elders of our lives whose wisdom and counsel we regularly seek. Their souls are well developed. They have a depth and a gravitas that is palpable. Those who do not face and heal their pain in the second half of life, become constricted, bitter, and cynical. Rohr captured this difference in a lecture I once heard him deliver when he said, “we have a growing population of elderly in our country, but not necessarily a growing population of elders.”
The field of personal growth literature is vast. Much of it is geared toward the first half of life, toward what Rohr would call the growth of the ego. Most of these books are some version of “Ten Steps To A Better You.” There is of course nothing wrong with this kind of literature as far as it goes. But if you are looking for a book that will nurture the growth of your soul, you will benefit from reading Falling Upward by Richard Rohr. You can read the book an a couple of days, but you will spend the rest of your life integrating and apply the wisdom found in this book.
Regular readers of this column know that one of my favorite sayings is, “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” Richard Rohr makes this more specific, by saying, “Falling is inevitable. Falling upward is optional.” Rohr says that when we fall upward, what we come to discover is that what is falling away as we get older is the false self, and that what is finally emerging is the true self. He is clear though, that this is a choice that we have to make. We make it one day at a time, in community with those we love and trust, and in community with a Divine Power who is always guiding us to discover our true selves.