Falling Upward Book Summary - Falling Upward Book explained in key points
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Falling Upward summary

Richard Rohr

A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

4.6 (42 ratings)
20 mins
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    Falling Upward
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    Life’s Two Halves

    Important thing: the two halves of life aren’t related to age. Some people – particularly those who have suffered in some way – enter the second half of life early, even as children. Others get there much later in life, or not at all.

    But if this is the case, what do we mean by “two halves,” and how do we know that these halves exist? 

    Well, let’s consider what Joseph Campbell, the famous comparative mythologist and theologist, called “the monomyth of the hero.” This is a story, a myth that is common to numerous cultures, though these cultures had no contact. The details differ, but the narrative arc is extremely similar.

    Here’s the outline:

    The protagonist lives in an idyllic world, a place where they’re content. Often, they’re a prince or princess, or they have some divine origin they’re unaware of. Then, they leave home on an adventure – an adventure that forces them out of their comfort zone. While on the adventure, they encounter a problem. Whatever the problem is, the process of resolving it makes the hero’s world larger and more open; as a result, the protagonist’s outlook is enlarged and opened, too.

    The protagonist thinks that the first task is their only task, but, in reality, it turns out the real task comes later. They discover that their real life is much deeper than their outward appearance. Finally, the protagonist returns to their roots, their home. And upon returning, they see it anew. To quote T. S. Elliot, they know “the place for the first time,” and they pass on the wisdom of their experience to others.

    Campbell calls this myth “the hero’s journey.” And, as you may have guessed, it’s analogous to our own transition from the first half to the second half of life.

    There are numerous other texts, both sacred and secular, written in a similar vein, by people who’d either undergone the transition from life’s first half to its second, or were in the process of going through it. And then, of course, there are our own observations of those who are in the second half, and of those who remain forever in the first.

    Many people don’t realize that there is a second half to life; they remain in the first half their whole lives. There are many reasons for this, which we’ll get into in the next chapter. But no matter which half you’re in, knowing where you stand is beneficial: that knowledge can help you transition out of the first half or, if you’re in the second, it can be a comfort – a reassurance that you’re exactly where you should be.

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    What is Falling Upward about?

    Falling Upward (2011) explores the “tasks” of the two halves of life. It explains that the second half of life isn’t about getting old; it’s about filling the “container” that we create during the first half and finding our purpose. 

    Who should read Falling Upward?

    • First-half lifers looking for insights
    • People who’ve “fallen” and need comfort
    • Second-half lifers seeking reassurance 

    About the Author

    Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest. He’s written over 20 books, and traveled the world as a speaker, teaching on themes such as spirituality, scripture, nature and Earth care. He also writes for Radical Grace, Sojourners, and Tikkun magazines.

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