Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Montreal Reflection (#2):The Two Halves of Life

I wrote down many things that Mark Scandrette told me in my journal shortly after our meeting. He definitely had wisdom and I was hungry for it. Still, what he told me about the 20s, about that season of life being inevitably concerned with the ego, put a bit of a damper on all my wisdom-seeking. I believe I was 26 at the time (apparently right in the middle of the ego-trip). Although it was discouraging to hear this at a time when I was hoping to skip over all that growth and development crap and get right to the good stuff (i.e. sainthood?), it was also a relief to hear such a thing. After all, he not only said that it was just a season but also quite necessary. Was it necessary to retain some selfishness, to even build on that selfishness, for this part of my life? Wow! I think this was a bit too much for me to take in initially. However, as time has gone on and I've come across other people suggesting something similar, this perspective has begun to sum up a lot for me and this Montreal experience.
One example would be Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest and renowned authority on spirituality. He has spoken and written a lot about what he calls the two halves of life (www.fallingupwardbook.com/video). When I attended a retreat lead by him last November he made reference to this many times. He explained it primarily through a diagram with a mountain on it; the upward slope signified the first half of life and the downward slope, the second half. The first half was inevitably about creating your own identity, defining your place in the world, distinguishing yourself from others. The second half, the downward slope, was about letting the identity you've created crumble and be replaced by an even deeper identity founded in a sort of weakness and surrender. Sounds easier said than done, but, according to Richard Rohr, this is the pattern of a life well-lived.
I found this pattern well-illustrated in a quotation I very recently read by Peter Coyote from an interview with him that appeared in the June issue of The Sun Magazine (thesunmagazine.org). He said, "I've reached the place where I do what I do, not because I think I will win, but because it's the only way I know how to be human." There you have it! The two halves of life! The first half about winning, the second about just being, being human.

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