Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pain, suffering, suicide and vindication

"There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest--whether or not the world has nine or twelve categories--comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer."

Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus 

It is now 11:16 p.m. CDT. Way past my bedtime. I stayed up late today because the grades are due tomorrow for my summer classes, and being the type A person that I am, I simply  could not go to sleep without having turned in at least some of the grades :-) But having turned in the grades that I wanted to turn in tonight, I am still a bit jacked up from all that grading. So I'm going to use this residual restless energy to blog. Hopefully, my practice will not suffer too much in the morning :-)

I just read Brooks' very thoughtful Elephant Journal article, "Open to a Radical Acceptance of Life, including Death and Suicidal Thoughts"

Brooks writes,

"Life and death aren’t really opposites. They are actually both qualities of the experience of being alive. A fatal flaw in the thinking of a suicidal person is that their death will somehow give them the relief that they seek: but you have to be alive to feel relief or to feel anything (as far as I know)."

These are very insightful words. But I think that in some cases, the suicidal person does not only seek to find relief through the ending of his life; in certain cases, the individual sees suicide as a sort of trump card, a sort of final vindication that they somehow have control over their life, that they have the final say over the overwhelming pain and suffering that life throws at them.

I say this based on something I recently experienced. Not too long ago, I had a conversation with a friend--let's call him R. R is physically disabled as a result of being in a car accident many years ago; his speech is slurred, and he is able to walk only with great difficulty, as one side of his body has very limited mobility. R told me that he broke 25 bones in his body in that accident; as a result, he suffers from constant pain. He shared with me that at one point a few years ago, the pain was so great that he was constantly thinking of killing himself. Even now, he still struggles to stay away from suicidal thoughts or from self-mutilating actions. After hearing his story, I told him that life is precious, that we only have one body, and we must use it in this world as best as we can. He replied that he contemplated suicide and self-mutilation because he felt that by doing these things, he would be able to show his body who's boss; he would be able to show that his mind is more powerful than his body and has the final say over whatever the body is going through.

As I was listening to this, I saw immediately the flaw in his thinking: As Brooks points out above, one has to be alive in order to be able to feel anything. In order to experience the vindication of knowing that one is the boss of one's body, one has to be alive. Suicide, unfortunately, deprives one of the ability to experience this, by its very nature. Thus in this way, seeking to find relief from suffering or to vindicate oneself through suicide is ultimately a self-defeating act. But I did not say any of this to R; I just felt that, given the context, it would have been too glib and pat. Besides, I also sensed that what he really wanted was for someone to hear what he had to say. And so I listened.

But I also have another thought about this matter. In the course of our yoga practice, we try to be in a space where we can experience whatever discomfort or pain that may arise without judgment, without reacting. But while I was listening to R, I couldn't help thinking: What if, just what if there are certain pains in this world that are too intense to bear experiencing without reaction? What if there are certain kinds of pain that are so sharp and powerful in their visceral force, that one simply cannot be present with it, but must react in one way or another in order to maintain one's sanity? What then? It is all too easy for me to say, "Be present", or "Be with the pain", when I am not the one who has had 25 broken bones...          

This is just me thinking aloud. I don't pretend to have any answers here. But I am grateful that I can go to sleep now, and (hopefully) wake up in the morning. Till then. 

No comments:

Post a Comment