From “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life” by Richard Rohr
There is much evidence on several levels that there are at least two major tasks of human life. The first task is to build a strong “container” or identity, the second is to find the contents that the container was meant to hold. The first task we take for granted as the very purpose of life, which does not mean we do it well. The second task, I am told, is more encountered than sought; few arrive at it with much preplanning, purpose, or passion. So you might wonder if there is much point in providing a guide to the territory ahead of time. Yet that is exactly why we must. It is vitally important to know what is coming and being offered to all of us.
We are a “first-half-of-life culture,” largely concerned about surviving successfully. Probably most cultures and individuals across history have been situated in the first half of their own development up to now, because it is all they had time for. We all try to do what seems like the task that life first hands us: establishing an identity, a home, relationships, friends, community, security, and building a proper platform for our only life.
But it takes us much longer to discover “the task within the task,” as I like to call it: what we are really doing when we are doing what we are doing. Two people can have the same job description, and one is holding a subtle or not-so-subtle life energy (eros) in doing his or her job, while another is holding a subtle or not-so-subtle negative energy (thanatos) while doing the exact same job. Most of us are somewhere in between, I suppose.
We actually respond to one another’s energy more than to people’s exact words or actions. In any situation, your taking or giving of energy is what you are actually doing. Everybody can feel, suffer, or enjoy the difference. Why do I feel drawn or repelled? What we all desire and need from one another, of course, is that life energy called eros. It always draws, creates, and connects things.
This is surely what Jesus meant when he said that you could only tell a good tree from a bad one “by its fruits” (Matthew 7:20). Inside of life energy, a group or family will be productive and energetic, a group or family will be productive and energetic; inside of death energy there will be gossip, cynicism, and mistrust hiding behind every interaction. Yet you usually cannot precisely put your finger on what is happening. That is second-half-of-life wisdom, or what Paul calls “the discerning of spirits” (1 Corinthians 12:10).