Every once in a while a new book comes along that speaks to your circumstance so clearly that it has the ability to transform, expand and elevate your worldview for the rest of your life.
Falling Upward was such a book for me.
My research on redefining "retirement" was accelerated in the summer of 2012. I was asked to discuss the topic, "Will You Ever Be Able To Retire?" on several radio talk programs, as a part of my duties as publisher of a new economics book (The Great Debasement by Craig R. Smith & Lowell Ponte).
Comics joke that "80 is the new 65," but for millions of Americans, it's no longer a laughing matter.
Insurance giant AIG has already warned that the U.S. and other indebted Western governments will soon be pushing up retirement ages to as high as 80. This presents a new window of time and opportunity opened for a very non-traditional "retirement" by the vast Baby Boomer generation.
What I discovered in researching this topic was that more and more headlines were appearing asking a different question; "Do You Really Want to Retire?" This is the key question many boomers, largely unprepared for a traditional retirement, are now asking.
Then, in the Spring of 2013, a Sunday morning guest speaker at Paradise Church in Phoenix, AZ named Mark Bankord (Founder and Directional Leader of The Trajectory Institute) introduced the idea that this monumental migration of Boomers presented the culture in general - and the community of faith specifically - with a new and exciting challenge.
Bankord highly recommended two books to understand this topic further - The Big Shift by Encore Founder Mark Friedman and Falling Upward by Richard Rohr. Which leads me to my book review.
A Visionary Book About Growing Up Spiritually
A book about growing up spiritually, Falling Upward, is by visionary Franciscan pastor/teacher/author Richard Rohr. It offers a fresh road map to guide Baby Boomers through the next vital rite of passage they face. Rohr offers readers his flashlight to help us find our way out of the dark and into a joyful, bright second half of life.
"Falling Upward is fresh way of thinking about spirituality that grows throughout life," says GoodReads.com. "Most of us tend to think of the second half of life as largely about getting old, dealing with health issues, and letting go of life, but the whole thesis of this book is exactly the opposite."
Rohr's inclusive writing style is, I suspect, the fruit of his four decades of experience in helping injured souls find healing, feel loved again and acceptance at last - and from this experience becoming free to discover the hidden meaning of the "necessary sufferings" we all face in our lifetimes.
His premise is simple: "The way up is the way down." He sees many examples of this axiom everywhere and in every culture - ranging from Greek mythology to "Man of Steel" modern heroes, and especially in Scripture, such as Jesus' Beatitudes, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and the Apostle Paul's words, "It is when I am weak that I am strong."
Like the U-shaped curve seen in all of the natural world, so our lives are formed by a series of fallings, losses and even failures - in preparation for the next rebirth, rising, gains and successes. "The goal," Rohr writes, "is to make the sequences, the tasks, and the direction of the two halves of life clear."
"The loss and renewal pattern is so constant and ubiquitous that it should hardly be called a secret at all. Yet it is still a secret, probably because we do not want to see it. We do not want to embark on a further journey if it feels like going down."
It is this 'losing our life to find it' that eludes us during the first half of life, but becomes ever clearer in the second half of life. But we all need some help and guidance finding that road less traveled. "You cannot imagine a new space fully until you have been taken there," writes Rohr.
Falling Upward serves as a reminder to Baby Boomers that it is our duty and responsibility as elders to cross over into the second half of life to help guide the next generation down their path toward wisdom.
"In this book I would like to describe how this message of falling down is, in fact, the most counter-intuitive message in most of the world's religions, including and most especially Christianity," writes Rohr.
"We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. That might just be the central message of how spiritual growth happens; yet nothing in us wants to believe it."
The problem we all face is that our rational mind cannot process suffering or setbacks, so instead we avoid them, deny them or blame someone else for them. What we should do, Rohr explains, is embrace them as part of our journey, our pathway to growth.
The Two Halves of Life Explained
In the first half of life we move incrementally from utter dependence upon our mother and father toward independence. In the first half of life we search for identity, meaning, significance and support to create a "proper container," Rohr writes.
"We all need some successes and positive feedback early in life, or we will spend the rest of our lives demanding it, or bemoaning its lack from others," writes Rohr. How true!
In the second half of life we discover the contents that the container was meant to hold and deliver. The old wineskins must be replaced by new, stronger, tested wineskins stretched to meet the changing needs of maturity.
True elders must learn patience with "juniors" because they cannot understand what they have not yet experienced. "The 'True Self' is very hard to offend," writes Rohr.
"In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity," said Pope Paul XXIII, as a reflection of second half of life wisdom.
"The first journey is always about externals, formulas, superficial emotions, flags and badges, correct rituals and special clothing, all of which largely substitute for actual spirituality - yet they are all used and needed to create the container," Rohr writes. He sees that if we do not find a way to do the age-appropriate tasks of the two halves of life, both will be unfulfilled.
Today we live in a "first-half-of-life culture" largely preoccupied with surviving successfully. But, to quote a Native American aphorism, "No wise person ever wanted to be younger."
What does this say about modern American culture, driven to find the elusive fountain of eternal youth?
To me it illustrates how desperately our society needs true elders to emerge who have made a conscious choice to live and act like grownups, not like perpetual children who are content living in their first half of life forever.
The usual crossover points, writes Rohr, are a kind of "necessary suffering" and "homesickness" which could include the losses of a job, fortune, our reputation or health. This is the falling down which will end up turning into a falling upward if we allow the circumstance to do its inner work on our soul.
This second half of life also involves beginning to write our own life script, owning it and paying attention to 'the task within the task' of life. Moving from surviving to thriving.
"The familiar and habitual are so falsely reassuring, most of us make our homes in the first-half-of-life permanently," says Rohr. We do not willingly move out of our 'comfort zone' unless circumstances force us to do so.
Henry David Thoreau wrote, "If you have built your castles in the air, your work need not be lost. That is where they should be. But, now put foundations under them."
Connecting the first and second halves of life together is about seeing the world not as either-or, but rather both-and. Falling Upward presents a fresh vision of wholeness that calls us both upward and downward, for we cannot really understand Up until we have first experienced Down.
Regardless of your age, I recommend reading Falling Upward with an open heart, mind and spirit. You will better understand the spiritual aspects of aging and of making a "further journey" to discover your True Self. You will also grow in seeing how to "love thy neighbor as thy self."