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Wise Words
Our authors and book editors offer these choice written selections for your contemplative reading and inspiration.

Angeles Arrien: The Second Half of Life

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Symbols of Transition: Thresholds and Gates

Perseverance is a great element of success. If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up something or somebody. –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Throughout history, images of thresholds and gates have served as symbolic passageways into new worlds. Imprinted on the human psyche, they herald the possibility of a new life, a new experience, or a new identity. They offer an opportunity for communion between different worlds: the sacred and profane, the internal and external, the subjective and objective, the visible and invisible, the waking and dreaming.

Symbolically, there is a marked distinction between a threshold and a gate. A threshold suggests the place or moment where transformational work, learning, or integration occurs. The gate suggests the protecting and testing that must occur before we are allowed entry and permitted to do work at the threshold. Gates are often considered places of initiation or entryways into holy places, sacred grounds, or spiritually significant tranĀ­sitions. Deep archetypal feelings may surface when we are “at the gate.” Instinctively, we recognize that we are required to let go of what is familiar, prepare to enter, and open ourselves to the unknown. Our passage through the gate is irreversible. After we open the gate and stand upon the threshold, we must do the work of transformation.

To thresh literally means to pound cereal grain to remove the husks and separate out the seeds. Figuratively, the threshing floor is where we tread, turn, twist, or flail as we do inner work. In our later years, it is the place of the soul’s own threshing, where what is no longer necessary or aligned with our essential nature is released and discarded. Throughout our passage of the second half of life, we repeatedly come to the threshing floor to deliver ourselves to our final and holy excursion, in which we apĀ­proach the opening to a hidden existence and discover a second grace.

In The Sacred and the Profane, Mircea Eliade tells us, “The threshold is the limit, the boundary, the frontier that distinguishes and opposes two worlds—and at the same time, is the paradoxical place where those worlds communicate, where passage from the profane to the sacred world becomes possible.” In our later years, the capacity to comprehend and contain this paradox prepares us to do the threshing work required to sort through what has been most important to us during our journey.

Because we live in a society that has lost many traditional initiation rituals, we have lost the ability to recognize the signs that foreshadow transition—our modern term for initiation. We may realize that we are going through a transition, or that we are changing. But because we are unfamiliar with initiatory rites, we do not perceive that we stand at the gate. We do not comprehend that we need to open it and do the required threshing and integrative work.

But now, as we approach the eight gates of initiation into the second half of life, we have a new opportunity to learn to recognize the signs, do the threshold work required, and move forward truly changed.


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