A Word on Mental Health

The Trampoline Effect

By Michael Kimmel

I am a voracious reader. I usually read two or three (or four) books a week. One of my favorite books is: “Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life” by Richard Rohr, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM. I met Richard about 15 years ago when he gave a workshop in Coronado, and find him one of the most insightful writers on spirituality that I’ve ever read. 

Rohr sees life divided into two halves: the first half is about creating the “container” of your life (your job/partner/car/home). When you’re young and curious, experimenting, striving, and driven to achieve things, you need a few successes under your belt to build your sense of self-esteem and create your “identity”. 

In contrast, most of us think that the second half of life is dealing with our quality of life going downhill, getting old, sick and preparing to die. The thesis of Rohr’s book is exactly the opposite: what looks like falling down (e.g., failing, making mistakes, disappointments) can, if we choose, be experienced as “falling upward”. We grow in wisdom much more by doing things wrong than by doing everything right—perfectionists, take note!

The second half of life asks the question: once you’ve achieved the basics of life, what now? What do you do with that job/partner/car/home? Are you happy? Jaded? Satisfied? Tired? Content? Bitter? It’s about making peace with three or four (or more) decades of successes and failures, joys and sorrows, births and deaths. 

As second half of life people, we can be stronger and more grounded: people will have less power to infatuate, control or hurt us. But, how do we pull that off? How do we get from the intense, striving first half of life to the more satisfied, peaceful second half? 

At some point in life, everyone experiences at least one major “fall”, suffering or tragedy. If we’re fortunate, the container that we’ve created in the first half of our life has given us a strong-enough foundation to take a good, hard look at how/why we fell and how we can use our “fall” to become deeper, more grounded people. 

What happens if you resist “falling upwards”? If we continue avoiding/denying/minimizing the hardships in life, we’ll just keep living the first half of life over-and-over again, becoming cynical, emotionally detached and judgmental people. In fact, many people turn to numbing themselves – with alcohol, drugs, money, workaholism, sex or video games – to avoid admitting that we’ve hit a wall and we’re falling.

When we hit that wall, can we learn from our mistakes/loneliness/confusion and fall upwards? Or do we opt for denial and numbing instead, staying stuck in our first half of life patterns, playing out the same old shit over-and-over again? You know what that’s like: you just can’t seem to break out of a cycle of unhappiness and repetition. You feel stuck in a life, not of your own design!

I’ve fallen countless times in my life: relationally, professionally, emotionally and physically, but there was always a trampoline effect that allowed me to – eventually – fall upward. No falling down was final: it actually helped me bounce up even higher, as I learned from my failures and embarrassments.

We will all fall, over-and-over, no matter how skilled/beautiful/lucky we are. We’re supposed to: how else would we learn everything if everything we wanted came easily to us? 

 I think that God/The Universe/Buddha must be watching us, saying, “Oh, here’s a great opportunity. Let’s see how he/she/they can work with this!” 

One final note: the two halves of life aren’t necessarily linked to chronological age. Some people – particularly those who have suffered greatly as children – enter their psychological second half of life really early. On the other hand, some folks in major denial/avoidance might not get there until much later: in their seventies or eighties…or maybe not at all!

No matter how old you are when you hit that wall, will you learn from it and change, or will you stay in denial and just repeat the same old patterns one more time?

The choice is yours. 

Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBTQ+ clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.