life part two : “… We are born in mystery, we live in mystery, and we die in mystery …” ~ Huston Smith
“… A human being would certainly not grow to be seventy or eighty years old if this longevity had no meaning for the species. The afternoon of human life must also have a significance of its own and cannot be merely a pitiful appendage to life’s morning …” ~ Carl Jung
Jung’s contention offers a clue into what’s possible during – what he calls – “the second half of life” … and this possibility has inspired others to further dig into this important topic … such as Richard Rohr, who, in his 2011 book, Falling Upward:A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, helps us understand the two halves and offers hope to the “2nd half-ers” by inviting us “… to see the value of our own experience of aging as the way God is moving us from doing to being, from achieving to appreciating …”…
And David Chernikoff, in his recent (Dec 21, 2021) book, Life, Part Two: Seven Keys To Awakening With Purpose And Joy As You Age posits that Jung’s “… “second half of life” represents a remarkable curriculum for awakening. The challenges inherent in the aging process can become a direct pathway to the actualization of our best human qualities—wisdom, joy, compassion, generosity, lovingkindness, and equanimity …” …
David suggests that this curriculum is based on “… the core principles that unite the seemingly diverse approaches to conscious living and dying …” which he organizes into seven key categories (Embracing the mystery, Choosing a vision, Awakening intuition, Committing to innerwork, Suffering effectively, Serving from the heart, Celebrating the journey) … and then takes us on a deep dive into each.
So, in this post, we’ll preview a summary of the entire book through excerpts from David’s Introduction … and then take a “mini dive” into the first of the seven categories: Embracing the mystery …
All italicized text below is adapted from Life, Part Two: Seven Keys To Awakening With Purpose And Joy As You Age by David Chernikoff © 2021 by David Chernikoff. Reprinted in arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. Shambhala Publications has also generously offered a free downloadable PDF of the Table of Contents (link is at the bottom of the post).
“… The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it …” ~ Carl Jung
Life Part Two: Introduction
This is an incredibly powerful time to be living on our fragile and beautiful planet. What we human beings need more than anything else is to cultivate a change of heart. If we want to address this critical task, we must renew our commitment to the core principles that unite the seemingly diverse approaches to conscious living and dying. Although these principles can be identified in a variety of ways, in this book I’ve organized them into seven key categories:
◼ Embracing the mystery
◼ Choosing a vision
◼ Awakening intuition
◼ Committing to innerwork
◼ Suffering effectively
◼ Serving from the heart
◼ Celebrating the journey
These sacred skills are most effectively integrated and evident in the role of the wise elder, an archetype that the world’s indigenous cultures have long honored and one that we in modern society have largely forgotten. Even so, let’s be honest about the fact that living a long time doesn’t automatically make a person wise or compassionate. We’ve all met elders who seem to embody the way we don’t want to be when we grow old. The focus of this book, however, is on the inner work we can all do that synthesizes wisdom and love from long life experience. I’ve had the good fortune to learn a great deal from people who have done just that, amazing elders who understood that their very reason for being was to live an awakened life and to leave a clearly visible trail for those who aspire to follow in their footsteps. I give thanks daily for the joy, courage, freedom, and blessings that such people have so generously brought into my life.
Throughout this book, I’ll be weaving together personal experiences and insights; teachings I’ve received from various spiritual guides; and stories shared with me in the intimacy of my work as a meditation teacher, spiritual counselor, life coach, hospice worker, and psychotherapist. To honor confidentiality, I’ve changed details and created composites of various people in certain stories while doing my best to convey the spirit of what occurred. I’ve also included poems and quotations that serve to illustrate aspects of the seven keys to awakened living.
I have one request as we begin our safari of the soul together. Whether you’re a long-time spiritual practitioner or a novice who received this book as a gift from a caring friend, I ask that you leave your preconceptions about the second half of life here at our initial campsite. You can always pick them up again when we return. Give yourself complete permission to be a learner, suspend your disbelief or cynicism, and be genuinely curious about who you might be and how you might live your life when you complete the pilgrimage we’re about to share. Let’s be on our way now.
So, with that introduction setting the stage, let’s start our mini-dive into Embracing The Mystery, David’s first of the seven keys … that can be summed up in his words: “… life and death are fundamentally a mystery to be lived and celebrated rather than a problem to be solved. This is one of the open secrets of the world’s great wisdom traditions. By turning toward the unknowable mystery at the center of existence, we can learn to live and love well, to age with grace, and to die peacefully …”
Finding Mystery in the Ordinary
Though they make for such excellent gateways to mystery, birth and death are quite infrequent events for most of us. But we need not wait for such singularly powerful experiences to embrace the mystery of our lives. Embracing mystery—the first of the seven keys to waking up in this life—is made easily accessible by the fact that the most ordinary of our experiences can also become a gateway to the ineffable. Thich Nhat Hanh understands the amazing potential inherent in routine daily life activities. His phrase “the miracle of mindfulness” tells the story. Thay, as his students and friends call him, recognizes the power of simple presence and the way it actualizes our innate capacity to see the sacred in the ordinary.
One of the skillful practices he has taught over the years is using a gatha, a short mindfulness recitation, to sacralize a daily action that has become unconscious and automatic. We have a deeply conditioned tendency to live as if we’re on autopilot, sleepwalking through our day with no recognition of how precious it is to be alive in the first place. Imagine approaching a sink full of dinner dishes, stopping to take a deep, mindful breath, and then slowly reciting these words:
Washing the dishes
is like bathing a baby Buddha.
The profane is the sacred.
Everyday mind is Buddha’s mind.
Implicit in Thay’s teaching is a reminder that we can explore the edge of mystery without waiting to be called to the bedside of a dying person or asked to help out at a home birth. We don’t have to go on a six-month silent retreat or ingest a mind-altering substance. We simply have to step out of the self-created fantasy that so often separates us from ourselves, others, and the world. This stepping out happens organically and unexpectedly at times, in a way that some people associate with grace. At other times, we’re required to practice “joyful exertion” to cut through the dense fog of delusion that distorts our perception of what’s true. The good news is that we can learn to relinquish our obsession with the information, mastery, and control we imagine will assuage our existential anxiety. Opening to things as they are on a moment-to-moment basis, we gradually learn to trust our unfolding lives and to relax into the not-knowing that is ever present and ultimately unavoidable.
The writer Wendell Berry captured this view of awakening in an essay about what he called our real work:
It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.
~ David Chernikoff
In the next part (2 of 2) we’ll offer David’s closing thoughts on Embracing the mystery … and then take another mini-dive into the 2nd of the seven keys: Choosing A Vision … so stay tuned …
All italicized text above is adapted from Life, Part Two: Seven Keys To Awakening With Purpose And Joy As You Age by David Chernikoff © 2021 by David Chernikoff. Reprinted in arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. And, click here for the free, downloadable PDF of the Table of Contents.
Embracing the mystery also inspires us to be acknowledge the horrors of life and not shy away from them but instead meet them with equanimity and balance … which includes being aware of the needs of others … such as the Colorado communities that are dealing with devastating fires:
Go Fund Me has set up a page for How to Help Those Affected by the Colorado Wildfires. Donate now to help the impacted ones recover from the wildfires.
Also, … help for COVID remains a key need too …. so here’s a GoFundMe blog post Fundraising for Coronavirus Relief: How You Can Help the Fight that offers a very comprehensive map for the COVID relief efforts including how you can help, what to give to, and lots more …
We are supporting some of these campaigns personally and also as Stillness Speaks (through donations).
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We are all facing financial challenges but IF your situation allows you to donate and help then please do so …
May you remain safe and healthy as you navigate these unsettling times across the globe.