June 1, 2011

Suicidal Education. How Thinking on Death Might Help.

There are times when people we know might want to die, and we might also catch ourselves wishing for death at times. Might it hold meaning for us?

I can’t believe that I’m writing this. I am going to write about how being open to hearing suffering and considering the subject of death might be a helpful thing to do. …seems way out of my league, yet it also seems necessary and helpful. The wave of motivation has me captive.

There was a synchronicity: I received an excerpt on suicide from Michael Stone’s new book, Awake in the World: Teachings from Yoga & Buddhism for Living an Engaged Life (Shambhala Publications, June 2011) at almost the exact anniversary of a friend’s suicide one year ago. It was really uncanny. And, as weird as it is, the subject of suicide is also a semi-closeted fascination of mine. Whenever I see an article on suicide I gobble it up, and then throw it away—never wanting to save the evidence of my interest.

You see, I have spent way more time than I’ll ever admit “wishing I was dead.” But I’ve never taken any real steps to try to end my life. I’ve learned that when my mind says, “I wish I was dead.” what is really happening is that I am overwhelmed.

I love life and am very happy and grateful to be alive! …most of the time.

So what I’m saying is that I believe myself to have figured out something helpful about my own thinking. If thoughts come up saying, “I wish I was dead,” I no longer even consider that it might be a truthful thought. I see it to be a protective thought which might be interpreted as “I don’t want to deal…” or “I’m scared.” This knowing helps me to disarm the potential destructive power that these thoughts might have on my self-esteem. (Someone who “wishes they were dead” certainly doesn’t “deserve to be alive” in the language of my inner world. Again: I recognize these thoughts as lies or covers for insecurities—a way to hide from what is really going on.)

I want to live, love and connect with other beings: this is true!

Here is a bit from Michael Stone’s new book from the section on suicide:

No one ever lacks a good reason for suicide.
~Cesare Pavese

Many of us who have suffered trauma, pain, or existential loneliness have struggled to find stories to make sense of our lives. We might think that we learn how the world works, because we take the time to observe and understand it. But every meditator with a busy mind knows that’s just not so. We just believe things, and then make our world fit our perceptions.
~Michael Stone

Ouch! Michael… Um, I mean: Mr. Stone (we’ve not yet met after all…), are you saying that I’ve just been making things up as I go along? (Oh yeah…I was sort of saying that about myself in the above text, too.)

Suicide is an internal drama that needs expression for it to be resolved. Suicide and self-harm must be understood as having meaning within interpersonal and intrapsychic relationships that the person is involved in. Wanting to die means something. What wants to die? The problem with the “I”-making mechanism of the mind (ahaṅkāra) is that it creates stories (asmitā) that objectify itself. The “I” maker is constantly representing itself to itself, splitting the personality into a subject and object. This splits the ahaṅkāra into a storyteller that is telling itself a story by representing itself to itself. The core teachings of Yoga revolve around this case of mistaken identity. Any self-image is an objectification of the ahaṅkāra that serves to split the personality. If we understand the ahaṅkāra in this way, we can see that when one tells a story about oneself to oneself, one creates several selves. The ego can objectify itself. The task for the yogi is to pay attention to life in ways that continually undercut our craving to have a fixed point of view. All sorts of things happen in our lives, tragedies and miracles together. We lose what we love and are continually separated from what we want. This is the way life goes. But this careful attention to the way our lives truly happen does not always go along with the therapeutic intention to “help life go on,” “contract for safety,” or “provide ego support.”

A focus on the absurd, the messy, the tragic, and the shameful parts of us is what’s truly needed to open to our lives. With the help of a therapist, we can open to what we feel without fear. The key is being able to open to what we really feel, not just what we are allowed to feel either by our own internal judge or the unexamined assumptions in the medical stance of the clinician. Focusing on the body without searching for a way out can sometimes open up astonishing meaning within very old habits. We may even learn that the voice from the part of us that wants to die is exactly the same as the part of us that wants to come out into the world. The one who wants to die may really want to live after all. The “cry for help” is really a gesture to go through life with deep meaning and resolve. Wanting to die stands neither for life nor for death but for a deep experience of both of these opposites. To live is to allow for fixed views to die. To die is to be generous in our living.

~Psychotherapist, Buddhist teacher and Yoga teacher Michael Stone, an excerpt from “Awake in the World: Teachings from Yoga & Buddhism for Living an Engaged Life” (Shambhala Publications, June 2011)

(I plan to publish a follow-up article on this same subject that includes practical ideas about how we might help ourselves and others, including more of the excerpt from Michael Stone’s new book as a resource.)

Be well.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts right now read this. Thanks to Christa at Giggle On for this resource.

* this article was facilitated by the magical and loving fingers of Yogic Muse *

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