"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 three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer."
A few days ago, I learned that the local mechanic to whom I usually bring my car for oil changes and other routine repairs had died; he had taken his own life. Yesterday, I got together with a few friends who also were his customers, and discussed the circumstances surrounding his suicide. One of them told me that she had heard that his business had not been doing well lately, and suggested that as a driving reason behind his suicide. I didn't say much in response to this, but mulled over this for a little while. For some reason, this just didn't strike me as a satisfactory reason. I mean, sure, many people have taken their own lives because of financial or business problems, but there are also many others who have suffered similar problems in life, who have nevertheless found ways of coping and finding reasons to continue living on this earth. So looking to external circumstances to try to explain why somebody would decide that continuing to take the trouble to stay alive simply isn't worth it anymore simply doesn't shed light on this issue. I believe that Camus is expressing a similar sentiment when he remarks on the act of suicide:
"An act like this is prepared within the silence of the heart, as is a
great work of art. The man himself is ignorant of it. One evening he
pulls the trigger or jumps. Of an apartment-building manager who had
killed himself I was told that he had lost his daughter five years
before, that he had greatly changed since, and that the experience had
“undermined” him. A more exact word cannot be imagined. Beginning to
think is beginning to be undermined. Society has but little connection
with such beginnings. The worm is in man’s heart. That is where it must
be sought. One must follow and understand this fatal game that leads
from lucidity in the face of existence to flight from light.
There are many causes for a suicide, and generally the most obvious
ones were not the most powerful. Rarely is suicide committed (yet the
hypothesis is not excluded) through reflection. What sets off the crisis
is almost always unverifiable. Newspapers often speak of “personal
sorrows” or of “incurable illness.” These explanations are plausible.
But one would have to know whether a friend of the desperate man had not
that very day addressed him indifferently. He is the guilty one. For
that is enough to precipitate all the rancors and all the boredom still
But if it is hard to fix the precise instant, the subtle step when
the mind opted for death, it is easier to deduce from the act itself the
consequences it implies. In a sense, and as in melodrama, killing
yourself amounts to confessing. It is confessing that life is too much
for you or that you do not understand it... It is merely
confessing that that “is not worth the trouble.” Living, naturally, is
never easy. You continue making the gestures commanded by existence for
many reasons, the first of which is habit. Dying voluntarily implies
that you have recognized, even instinctively, the ridiculous character
of that habit, the absence of any profound reason for living, the insane
character of that daily agitation, the uselessness of suffering."
I think Camus expresses a whole bunch of things about this topic in a much more eloquent fashion than I ever could (at least in the foreseeable future), so I shall not offer too much commentary on his words, but allow them to speak for themselves. But I would like to relate something else that happened last night. Last night, I got together with some colleagues for some drinks. For some reason or other, the topic turned to suicide (there is no correlation here with my earlier conversation with my other friends; besides myself, there is no overlap between these two groups of people). It turns out that among the group of us (there were five of us in the group), everybody except me had thought of taking their own life at some point or other in the past. When I raised the only "dissenting" view, and said that I have honestly never contemplated killing myself before, even in my darkest moments, everybody else was really surprised.
After a brief silence, somebody in the group who knew his Camus quoted the above passage about suicide being the one truly serious philosophical problem, and not-so-subtly suggested that perhaps the reason why I hadn't thought of killing myself was because I hadn't thought seriously enough about my own life. I responded by biting the bullet (no pun intended), "Yeah, maybe that means that I haven't been taking my life seriously enough (big fucking deal!)..." I think the group was rather stunned by my non-attempt to rise to this challenge, because there was yet another brief silence. After about thirty seconds or so, another person (probably for lack of something else to say) simply blurted, "It must all the yoga you are doing!"
Well, honestly, I do not think that yoga practice is an automatic suicidal-thought-suppressant: If you want to kill yourself, you probably will, whether or not you do yoga. I can only say that, so far, I have been fortunate (?), in that even in my darkest hours, there is always this strong undercurrent of something (survival instinct?) that moves me along, so that the thought that living is more trouble than it is worth has never crossed my mind; or if it did, I only entertained it as a hypothetical intellectual possibility, and never with the existential force of a real life possibility.
But then again, maybe I really shouldn't be jinxing myself by talking about such things so cavalierly. For all I know, tomorrow, or even the very next hour, may be the first time I ever seriously think of killing myself. Ah, morbid thoughts, morbid thoughts... There must be something about this time of year that brings such thoughts into the minds of so many. Well, but I can at least say that this is probably more authentic and less shallow than all that forced holiday cheer that is so prevalent in so many other quarters...