In the Western World, growth is our mantra. Our schools, our religions, our governments, our businesses, all our institutions bombard us with the same message that to be all that we are meant to be means we have to grow.
Growth in and of itself can be a good thing, but unfortunately the growth that can be our doom is material growth, which has limits.
So instead of thinking for ourselves – we take these messages literally and we over feed our bodies and become obese; we fill our cities with ever expanding populations, we produce more and more babies filling our planet with people; and to try and meet our never ending demand for more and more stuff, our economies drive us to consume more and more resources. As a result, there is little space left for anything else but the material expansion of the human race.
This pure focus on material growth however leaves most of us feeling empty, lonely, hurt, angry, and numbed. So how did we get this way, why have we forgotten how to think for ourselves?
Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, provides a good explanation of why we are stuck in a meaningless pattern of growth. The book points out how healthy cultures value two halves of life, but in our postmodern culture we discourage people from growing up.
In the first half of life, our external laws, traditions, customs, boundaries, and morality form a container that helps to shape who we will become. They also provide us with the friction we need to move on and develop our own inner guidance systems that lead us beyond these simple, limited guidelines appropriate to the first half of life but that fall apart when applied to our complex world later on.
As we move through life and experience the struggles that life throws at us – our brushes with the law, our failed relationships, and our other failures – we begin to realize that simple rules and regulations, or escapes, do not isolate us from the struggles in life, or the pain they bring us.
It is by embracing these falls – these failures – that we begin to see the limits of first-half-of-life thinking. We learn to live in tension, instead of searching for ways to avoid it. We learn to transition from conditional love based on compliance, into an unconditional love based on connection. Instead of repeating mistakes over and over again, we embrace our mistakes and learn to try new ways.
That is how real growth occurs – not by clinging to old ways, old rules, or old moralities. That is how we move beyond the limits of our egocentric first half of life.
Yet, by now, it might just be that the friction that all this control produces is reaching a point where the resulting heat can melt down these immature structures of hierarchy. And from the ashes we can rise up to reclaim our second half of life – to really grow up.
As Rohr reminds us,
No one can keep you from the second half of your own life except yourself. Nothing can inhibit your second journey except your own lack of courage, patience, and imagination. Your second journey is all yours to walk or to avoid…some falling apart of the first journey is necessary for this to happen, so do not waste a moment of time lamenting poor parenting, lost job, failed relationship, physical handicap, gender identity, economic poverty , or even the tragedy of any kind of abuse. Pain is part of the deal. If you don’t walk into the second half of your own life, it is you who do not want it.
This piece originally appeared on Ecological Leadership.
– Tom Jablonski, Transition Voice