"Growing up is less about finding the things that define you and more about forgetting the things that do not." -Anonymous
"All great spirituality is about what we do with our pain. If we do not transform our pain, we will transmit it to those around us." -Richard Rohr
I rarely re-read books, but I just finished Richard Rohr's Falling Up for a second time. Human maturity, specifically spiritual maturity, is its primary topic. Rohr believes that in order to become truly mature, we must make a transition from first-part-of-life concerns to second-part-of-life concerns. We must move away from caring exclusively about ourselves and shift into caring more for others.
Now, I am in no way a religious person (unless you consider a holistic lifestyle to be a religion). I don't go to church. I don't worship any particular god(s). I live my life according to the principle that every human is fundamentally good and interested in figuring the world out. I believe that none of us will ever know all of the answers, that mystery is the default state, and that religion is a way to embrace this mystery. I am fascinated with the shared mythology present in all religions to make sense of the unknown and think that these archetypes are responsible (in part) for making us into the humans we are today. I embrace religion as a necessary system of traditions and rules, but as the Dalai Lama said, you must "learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.", Jesus was a consummate rule-breaker himself. My beliefs sometimes land me in awkward conversations with people about their beliefs and subsequent actions. I believe that actions are far more important than words.
Rohr points out something that I hadn't considered in Falling Up. He describes the Christian concepts of heaven and hell as simply the difference between unity and separation. The former is the desired state, while the latter is unbearable. This explanation resonates on multiple levels that transcend the religious context. When we are in sync with ourselves, our community, and our purpose, then we are fulfilled. When those elements become discordant, then we suffer. Assuming that we all desire fulfillment, our path is quite clear. Unity. But how do we get there? Is there even a there in the first place?
The majority of the first part of life is about definitions. We start with a blank slate and must build a comprehendible model of the world. This means that we latch on to certain people, habits, labels, likes, and dislikes. We build careers, families, and mindsets around these preferences. We experiment and test the waters of new ideas, relationships, and locations. The first part of our lives is all about building. We build and build, until one day, things start to fall apart under the weight of our expectations. Tragedy must necessarily befall us in order for us to shift to the second part of our lives. Often it takes multiple tragedies.
With proper reflection and personal work, we are able to transform our suffering into understanding. We are able to empathize with others who are also hurting in profound new ways. We realize that the perfect world that we imagined in the first life is but an illusion that creates separation. We develop more patience for ourselves and others. We replace our dogmas with virtues and our judgments with caring. This is the path to spiritual maturity and while it is rarely easy, it is always worth it. At the end of life, most people don't regret the wealth or fame that they didn't accumulate. They regret the relationships and moments that they missed out on. They long for connection. They want unity.
Falling up is the name of Rohr's book, and it is also a mantra for this spiritual maturation. Falling up may feel dangerous, but it is not like falling down. There is nothing to hit when we are going up, which means that the danger exists only in our heads. By giving as much as we can to the world around us we engender the same actions from the people around us. We manifest abundance and understanding when we give abundantly and seek to understand. Try it on for a while and you may be surprised by how your own thoughts and actions affect others. Falling up also implies that this whole thing is a process and not a destination. Unity is a result of caring for others and is not something to be attained directly. We must surrender our need to control every outcome. We are entitled only to doing the right thing in the present moment. Happy falling.