Illuman participant Joe Lonergan describes the transformative wisdom of a Men’s Rite of Passage workshop while facing a crossroads in his life. He describes his continuous journey towards spiritual growth and practice in the second half of life. Joe writes:
Sometime in my early forties, I was facing four transitional and troubling crossroads in my life that had quite frankly turned my life upside down. Luckily, I was about to attend a Men’s Rite of Passage workshop led by Fr. Richard Rohr and Stephen Gambill at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. The workshop would set me on a path of healing that I could not have foreseen.
At the time, I felt that everything that was necessary and important in my life was in question. Emotionally, I was facing a marriage that was falling apart despite my best efforts. I was also carrying the pain of being a victim of sexual abuse as a teenager—something I had never revealed to anyone out of fear and shame. To top it off, I had made the decision to leave my job over what I felt were injustices in the workplace, and I was preparing to move into the uncertain journey of being self-employed.
“In the healthy eldering and companionship of other men, I found the courage to begin the work of healing my abuse through connecting to other men in circles of deep sharing.” –Joe Lonergan
The Illuman workshop offered me a sacred time to do inner work that I had never been given permission to experience before. In the healthy eldering and companionship of other men, I found the courage to begin the work of healing my abuse through connecting to other men in circles of deep sharing. After the retreat, I was able to intentionally make more space for nature and contemplative practice.
None of these things prevented my first marriage of twenty years from ending—nor did it make my healing journey less painful. However, the practices I began to develop helped me stay engaged with paths I needed to take, and the humbling acknowledgement that I could not continue my journey without the companionship and support of others. I learned how to trust that my efforts toward healing were guiding me to an unknown yet transformative place.
“I have found the second half of life a slow but redemptive journey of letting go.”
Twenty-five years have passed since I first attended the Men’s Rites of Passage Retreat in New Mexico. And guess what—I am still on the journey. The second half of life is not an end point or a pinnacle of achievement. It is a way of approaching life. I still experience moments of falling back into old patterns of coping, unconscious reactions, or times of “going through the motions” without taking time to find gratitude for the present moment. Afterall, the unconscious behaviors, responses, and judgements were deeply ingrained during the first forty years of my life.
I have found the second half of life a slow but redemptive journey of letting go. As I continue the journey, I rely on moments of awareness to bring me back to the truth of my experience and clarity when I feel I have lost my way. Most importantly, as I continue to move towards wisdom, I am more able to forgive myself and grant others grace.
“It is not that I find the second half of life less painful than the first half, but I have found the courage to enter gateways that I previously denied or resisted.”
These days, when certain unexpected changes happen, I find myself grieving the things I have no control over and then reaching for a place of gratitude. Learning to let go has become a sacred journey. I would describe it as a mix of grief and gratitude, not a reactive and rapid purging of emotions. It is not that I find the second half of life less painful than the first half, but I have found the courage to enter gateways that I previously denied or resisted.
I am finding that my growth is supported and accompanied by others—unlike the heroic individualist that I imagined myself to be in my first half of life. I now have the awareness of what true growth looks and feels like: imperfect yet transformative movement.
Reflect with Us
Have you navigated multiple life changes at once? What helped you to release pain and move into greater transformation? Share your reflection with us.
Founded in 2012, Illuman is a non-denominational, interfaith, and spiritually inclusive, welcoming all male-identified persons become healthier, more authentic human beings through deep, spiritual inner work. Learn more about Illuman.
We Conspire is a series from the Center for Action and Contemplation featuring wisdom and stories from the growing Christian contemplative movement. Sign up for the monthly email series and receive a free invitation to practice each month.