Skip to main content
Center for Action and Contemplation
Falling Upward: The Second Half of Life
Falling Upward: The Second Half of Life

A Deeper Lightness

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Richard Rohr describes how people in the second half of life have an inner freedom that simultaneously holds joy and suffering.

There is a gravitas in the second half of life, but it is held up by a much deeper lightness or ‘‘okayness.’’ Our mature years are characterized by a kind of bright sadness and a sober happiness, if that makes any sense. I am just grabbing for words to describe many wonderful older people I have met. There is still suffering in the second half of life—in fact maybe even more. But there is now a changed capacity to hold it creatively and with less anxiety.

It is what John of the Cross called ‘‘luminous darkness,’’ and it explains the simultaneous existence of deep suffering and intense joy in the saints and mystics—something that is almost impossible for most of us to imagine. Eastern Orthodoxy believed that if something was authentic religious art, it would always have a bright sadness to it. I think I am saying the same of an authentic life.

In the second half of life, one has less and less need or interest in eliminating the negative or fearful, making again those old rash judgments, holding on to old hurts, or feeling any need to punish other people. Our superiority complexes have gradually departed in all directions. We learn to positively ignore and withdraw our energy from evil or stupid things rather than fight them directly. We fight things only when we are directly called and equipped to do so. We all become a well-disguised mirror image of anything that we fight too long or too directly. That which we oppose determines the energy and frames the questions after a while, and we lose our inner freedom.

Daily life now requires prayer and discernment more than knee-jerk responses toward either end of the political and cultural spectrum. We have a spectrum of responses now, and they are not all predictable. Law is still necessary, of course, but it is not our guiding star, or even close. It has been wrong and cruel too many times. The Eight Beatitudes speak to us much more than the Ten Commandments.

When we are young, we define ourselves by differentiating ourselves from others; now we look for the things we all share in common. We find happiness in alikeness, which has become much more obvious to us now; and we do not need to dwell on the differences between people or exaggerate the problems. Creating dramas has become boring.

In the second half of life, it is good just to be a part of the general dance. We do not have to stand out, make defining moves, or be better than anyone else on the dance floor. Life is more participatory than assertive, and there is no need for strong or further self-definition.


Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011, 2024), 75–77. New edition forthcoming; Oneing: Falling Upward now available.

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Loïs Mailou Jones, Eglise Saint Joseph (detail), 1954, oil on canvas. Alma Thomas, Red Abstraction (detail), 1959, oil on canvas. Loïs Mailou Jones, Shapes and Colors (detail), 1958, watercolor on paper. Click here to enlarge image.

As we journey through life, we begin to apply the colors of our experience with more depth, expansiveness and skill.

Story from Our Community:  

I am a recovering alcoholic. During the roller coaster of early sobriety, I was given a copy of “Falling Upward.” I have accepted the fact that I don’t know where I’m headed—and that’s ok. I’m grateful for the Daily Meditations which always seem to explain things I’ve always known but could never put into words. I’m grateful to be able to recognize the truth today. —Ramiro D.

Navigate by Date

This year’s theme

A candle being lit

Radical Resilience

We live in a world on fire. This year the Daily Meditations will explore contemplation as a way to build Radical Resilience so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or burning out. The path ahead may be challenging, but we can walk it together.

The archives

Explore the Daily Meditations

Explore past meditations and annual themes by browsing the Daily Meditations archive. Explore by topic or use the search bar to find wisdom from specific teachers.

Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.