Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Second Half of Life by Angeles Arrien

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Sounds True (April 2005)
  • Price: $21.95
  • ISBN: 1591792525

There is nothing new in Angeles Arrien's book about the second half of life. Indeed, there isn't meant to be. Our lives at midpoint are about putting aside newness and embracing the ancient, the everlasting, the always true.

We live in an age that worships youth. Alongside this naive, if not indeed tragic pursuit to resist aging in all its aspects, we find ourselves as a society becoming ever more superficial, ever more devoted to what is external only, short on endurance, shallow in meaning. Small wonder so many of us approach midlife in a state of "crisis."

Yet there is no crisis. Arrien reminds us, by assembling in this collection of eight chapters named for eight gates, that this is not a time in our lives to resist or fear, but that it is, in fact, a time of wonder and beauty -- of the deeper and more meaningful kind. To pass through each of these "gates" is to be opened and enriched by the enlightenment of the second half of our lives. In each chapter, Arrien has brought together age-old quotes and wisdom from many different cultures, tested by time and place. Each chapter describes the gate through which we must pass, the task we must undertake to do so, the challenge, the gift we receive if we meet the challenge, reflections that help us to understand more fully this threshold, a list of practices to make this gateway a discipline.

The gates: silver (facing the new and the unknown); white picket (discovering one's true face); clay (intimacy, sensuality, sexuality); black and white (relationships and the crucible of love); rustic (creativity and service); bone (authenticity, character, and wisdom); natural (happiness, satisfaction, and peace); gold (letting go).

Each chapter guides us, gently yet firmly, toward facing what is around us as well as what is in us. The overall effect is soothing, I find, to the degree that it has helped me, approaching my own midpoint in life, see the aging process for the beauty and freedom it brings. It is a time to free oneself of the cumbersome masks one has worn in a more naive youth, to embrace wisdom and meaning rather than that which passes quickly and leaving no lasting mark. It is a time to gather all that we have learned in the first half of our lives and bring it all to fruition, entering a time of unbounded creativity, love based on truth rather than illusion, and finding a peace that will make crossing that final gold gate a time of celebration for a life well lived.

If we have lost respect for aging in our society, it is time we take it back. Arrien reminds us, by bringing back the wisdom of the ages, that age in ourselves is something to be welcomed rather than resisted. To resist it is to rob ourselves of what may well be the best time of our lives.

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