The Second Half of Life: Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom

The Second Half of Life: Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom

The Second Half of Life:
Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom
by Angeles Arrien
Foreword by John O’Donohue
Sounds True, 2007
175 pp., $14.95

In The Second Half of Life, author Angeles Arrien quotes Carlos Castaneda as saying “To be young and vital is nothing. To be old and vital is sorcery.” Quotes like that — the ones you just want to underline — are sprinkled throughout this book, adding mysticism to the practical wisdom Arrien shares throughout.

As the title suggests, The Second Half of Life is about embracing change at midlife. Arrien carefully crafts the notion that at midlife, one is standing in a liminal place – a threshold. This greater threshold leads to eight gates of learning that one must not only go through but process each one’s lessons if one is to lead a rich life into the later years.

There is the Silver Gate for facing new experiences and the unknown. A Clay Gate is where one comes to terms with issues of intimacy, sensuality and sexuality. Ultimately there is the Gold Gate, the final gate of nonattachment which we must all go through eventually.

Interestingly, it seems that there is a descent one makes to find these gates: “Many traditional and indigenous societies regard the Upper World as the place to receive guidance, blessings and ecstatic experiences, and view the Lower World as the place to which one journeys to retrieve one’s lost soul and bring it back for reintegration in the Middle World – this world. The process of descending and ascending is a universal human experience, where the heavens and hells in our nature are completely revealed.”

This reminds me of the Sumerian myth of the goddess Inanna, who descends to the underworld where she passes through seven gates, dies to herself, undergoes a resurrection and rebirth as she then ascends to this world to live her new wisdom. It is an interesting comparison that makes me wonder if the descent to the gates is archetypical in nature.

With each gate that Arrien describes, the author offers a task, a challenge, and a gift to help the reader integrate the teachings on an experiential level. I probably most enjoyed the chapter on the Rustic Gate, which is of creativity and service. She quotes Dr. Gene Cohen as saying if we do not do meaningful work and instead focus on problems such as unresolved family and social situations, we will stifle our creative expression fiercely. These blocks actually keep us from fulfilling our soul’s purpose. Overall, lots to think about – and highly recommended.

Review by Diane Saarinen. Learn more about Diane at

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