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Falling Upward: The Second Half of Life
Falling Upward: The Second Half of Life

Greater Freedom and Flexibility

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward offers a spiritual path for what he calls “the two halves of life.” We dedicated a week to the first half of life earlier in the year. Here Richard reflects on the freedom, generosity, and presence that characterize those living in the second half of life.

People in the second half of life are not preoccupied with collecting more goods and services; quite simply, their desire and effort—every day—is to give back to the world a bit of what they have received. They now realize that they have been gratuitously given to—from the universe, from society, and from God. They try now to ‘‘live simply so that others can simply live.’’

Erik Erikson calls someone at this stage a ‘‘generative’’ person [1], one who is eager and able to generate life from his or her own abundance and for the benefit of following generations. Because such people have built a good container, they are able to ‘‘contain’’ more and more truth, more and more neighbors, more and broader vision, more and more of a mysterious and outpouring God.

In the second half of life, we do not have strong and final opinions about everything, every event, or most people, as much as we allow things and people to delight us, sadden us, and truly influence us. We no longer need to change or adjust other people to be happy ourselves. We have moved from doing to being to an utterly new kind of doing that flows almost organically, quietly, and by osmosis. Our actions are less compulsive. We do what we are called to do and then let go of the consequences.

It’s true that the second half of life is a certain kind of weight to carry, but no other way of being makes sense or gives us the deep satisfaction our soul now demands and even enjoys. This new and deeper passion is what people mean when they say, “I must do this particular thing or my life will not make sense” or “It is no longer a choice.” Our life and our delivery system are now one, whereas before, our life and our occupation seemed like two different things. Our concern is not so much to have what we love anymore, but to love what we have—right now. This is a monumental change from the first half of life, so much so that it is almost the litmus test of whether we are in the second half of life at all. [2]

God’s goal is always union, which is very different from any private perfection (which is merely a goal of the small ego). Our carefully constructed ego container must gradually crack open (see John 12:24) as we realize that we are not separate from God, from others, or from our True Selves. We see that we have an eternal soul. Our ego slowly learns to become the servant of the soul instead of its master. [3]


[1] Erik H. Erickson, Identity: Youth and Crisis (New York: W. W. Norton, 1968), 138.

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011, 2024), 77, 78–79. New edition forthcoming; Oneing: Falling Upward now available.

[3] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Just This (Albuquerque, NM: CAC Publishing, 2017), 49–50.

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:  

At 82 years old, I find myself at the best time of my life. My wife and I are in great health and surrounded by loving friends and a large family of 5 children and 13 grandchildren. It’s been a road of transformation to arrive at our current state of peace. I have lost two adult children along the way, including one to suicide. The experience brought me the most pain I have ever suffered. I knew my pain had great energy, so I asked God to use it for my healing. Richard says that great suffering and great love are pathways to transformation—that was true for me. So, as I look at the troubled state of the world, my faith tells me that, “this too will pass.” I am eternally grateful for the work of Richard Rohr and the CAC staff and contributors. May our world continue its healing. —Nolan G.

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