Suicide In Paradise?
If our modern ‘civilised’ western nations have a standard of living and quality of lifestyle that keeps our immigration officers busy turning hopeful arrivals away in droves, why is our suicide rate amongst young people so high?
Perhaps this is a question that deserves being lived with for a while. A question that asks us to confront the issue of true meaning in life and death.
Perhaps it is ultimately a spiritual question and one that needs even greater attention than finding someone or thing to blame or even spending more money on mental health research and job creation schemes.
A question that asks us to examine carefully with our minds and hearts the core assumptions that the belief system of our society is based on.
One of those core assumptions is that there is something wrong with those people who find themselves unable or unwilling to fit into society. A common view is that suicides and indeed those in our prisons, mental institutions or otherwise on the fringes of so called ‘normal’ life are not making rational or valid choices and need help adjusting.
Underlying that view is the assumption that what everyone really wants is health, wealth and happiness and so if they are not pursuing these aims or are taking actions that have consequences contrary to these aims, then they are in some way mal-adjusted.
Often what appear to be self-destructive actions can best be understood as the result of another drive in human beings, one that is developmentally more advanced than the pursuit of material well-being. A drive, that if understood and listened to carefully, can mark the transition out of the search for means into the search for meaning.
The search for meaning has traditionally been addressed in religious and spiritual traditions. Paradoxically this search and the increased awareness that it brings, combined with globalisation has meant we are collectively demanding more than any one belief system or tradition can provide. Individuals are increasingly looking for a direct experience of spirit rather than having it stepped down through a particular philosophy, priest or psychotherapist.
Our lack of faith in one spiritual pathway has also left a vacuum in the education of our young people. Careful to avoid indoctrination by any one belief system, what is provided in the way of spiritual education is often watered down, politically correct and platitudinous.
Underlying most religious pathways is the belief and experience of the human soul — some part of us which is connected to a greater life and meaning than one ‘cradle to grave’ earthwalk. Whether this is understood as immortal, reincarnational or transpersonal is not as relevant as the experience of a greater contextual meaning to life. When we fall silent on the subject of the human soul; when spiritual awareness is treated as simply a biological byproduct, then the soul does not go away but merely seeks to know and express itself even more fully although often more unconsciously and sometimes with destructive consequences to the biology.
The philosophical concept of the soul as a divine being with a life and history of its own is widespread throughout different cultures and times on earth. In this framework it is the incarnation of the soul in animal form that creates human beings with our remarkable capacity for self-consciousness and self-realisation. Ironically, it may be this self-consciousness, forgetful of it’s origin and misidentified with form which lies at the root of many suicides as well as the widespread fear and denial of death in western societies.
As Rilke writes
Lord, we are more wretched than the animals who do their deaths once and for all, for we are never finished with our not dying. Dying is strange and hard if it is not our death, but a death that takes us by storm, when we’ve ripened none within us We stand in your garden year after year We are trees for yielding a sweet death But fearful, we wither before the harvest.
If life is not the opposite of death but something greater that encompasses and transcends it, then this collective withering, this backing away from death, is also a backing away from life. Separated from our source of spiritual life we feel increasingly insecure and begin to fill that insecurity by acquiring material resources and becoming neurotic about surviving. This collective neurosis then becomes normalised as ‘human nature’ and underpins the thinking and behaviour which governs society.
Into this rather poisonous illusion come the souls of our children bringing with them the seeds of remembrance that could reconnect us with our source.
The strong ones blaze forth ignoring the illusion and retaining a measure of connection to the power, love and creativity that are uniquely the expression of soul quality.
The less strong reject the illusion but can’t remember what to replace it with.
The majority fall under the spell and become normal well-adjusted humanity.
It is the middle group which are most in danger because of their deep feelings of isolation. Unable to fully embrace this world and yet unable to access and express the other they are often plagued by self doubt and remain rather childlike in their emotional life.
In general, society’s response to these people as young adults is to try and ‘ground’ them by encouraging them to enter more fully into the illusion. They are encouraged to get ‘jobs’ or take up activities which are often doing quite meaningless things and add to their feelings of despair.
Some bury these feelings and make the adaptation but keep the void inside them to surface under pressure later in life.
Others exhibit increasingly rebellious or dependent behaviour.
Some start moving towards death consciously, others more unconsciously through increased risk taking.
The point is that many of these people are in a spiritual crisis. What will help them is a movement towards the soul, not a movement away: an encouragement of any creative outlet they may have; help to find work that has meaning for them and often work that serves humanity in some conscious way; support for and a healthy normalising of their doubts about the quality of living around them.
Above all, information on the nature and the potential of the human soul. When their connection to the soul has been affirmed and strenthened, then they can be encouraged into the experience of living that Kabir calls for:
Jump into the experience while you are alive!
Think…and think… while you are alive
What you call ‘salvation’ belongs to the time
If you don’t break the ropes while you are alive
Do you think ghosts will do it after?
So plunge into the truth, find out who the teacher is
Believe in the great sound.
We are at the cusp of an age – the old traditional forms of spiritual education are no longer serving and the new are only just beginning to emerge. The ageless soul-based wisdom teachings are clothing themselves this time around in a new language – the language of energy. This language bridges science and religion, art and psychology. It crosses racial and national boundaries and links the deep subjective experiences of human consciousness with the objective realities of our external environment.
It is this language, and even more, the shared experience of ourselves as energy that will allow us to consciously transcend death into life more abundant. Dying will cease to be something that our society moves away from or our youth move towards but birth and death will be natural transitions that we take with the active help of trained and conscious aides.
The result in western society is likely to be an increased aliveness and a release from the mummifying preoccupation with health, aging, security and money. Contrast the life to be seen in some African societies where death, loss and poverty are ever present, with the relativeless lifelessness of a western city where the people are hellbent on providing themselves with a better ‘quality of life’.
It would be amusing if it was not so obscene. The result for our young people would be a grateful recognition and honouring of the new spirit they bring into our world. Instead of being doubly disadvantaged by being both inexperienced in the ways of the collective illusion and unable to control the physical resources, they would be welcomed as the liberators of our fear-based systems and the creative answers sent by spirit to our unconscious cry for freedom.