Suicide & YogaTo acknowledge one's intention is never simple. This is as true for the person feeling pain as it is for the one helping her. It requires willingness to take responsibility and recognize this ambivalence.
I feel traditional therapy is misguided on so many fronts, not the least of which is knowing how to work with the mind. A therapist should not simply identify or recognize patterns but move from knowing about something to actually allowing it to simply be.
Going back into the past often misses the functioning of the symptom in the present. The past is past. The past can only be experienced now. The past is what the mind is doing in present experience. A patient exploring suicide is exploring his or her pain in the present, and the past is encoded in the present. The hard work of the therapist is just to listen and explore what is present, not what is past. If it's not present, it's not here.
As a caricature, psychoanalysis ceases to be a study of identity and becomes instead an exploration of traumatic memories --- it becomes, absurdly, an exercise in "proving" causal links between particular traumatic experiences and particular symptoms. This, of course, gives rise to the famous problem of the analyst's "suggesting" particular memories to the client.
Someone entertaining suicide is not only talking about future death. She is talking about present suffering. She is not describing historical trauma but rather current suffering. Suicide is not only a natural psychic reflex for surviving actual helplessness but is also an abstraction. We don't know what death will be like, only that something must be able to lift us out of this present and persistent pain. We need theories and abstractions about death, partly because the feelings that come up around suicide are so painful. Our theories and abstractions make the pain more bearable to us.
The effect of embracing death and feeling what lies below our fantasies of our own termination brings about, at a critical moment, a radical transformation. The experience of looking deeply into death is a requisite for an engaged life. This implies that the crisis of suicide is a necessary phase in the life of any of us. Suicide itself may be too quick a transformation. The job of Yoga technique is to meditate on what is going on in the felt body in order to slow a hasty charge toward death and anchor us back in life.
Suicide is yelling out: "Life must change; Something must shift; I can't do this any longer. Having tried to change everything 'out there,' the only thing that can now change is inside me." And so suicide is a quick termination of what is so painful inside. The body, however, can be called in at this crucial junction. Attentiveness to the body dissolves this false dichotomy between inner and outer, me and not me.
When we tune in to the breath, we tune in to life here and now. Life here and now is changing, and so there is no fixed self anywhere to be seen. This opens us up to change, freedom, and flexibility. Suicide is an attempt to move from one place to another through force. But force is exactly what got us into this mess to begin with. To force the body, the world, or ourselves into one frame is a kind of violence. Opening to change, through the body, unfixes us and paradoxically grounds us in the flowing conditions of our lives...
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A young man who was contemplating suicide came to see me. His sister, who was studying Yoga at our center, recommended that he visit. He was estranged from his family and had nobody to turn to.
He showed up early for our first meeting, and his eyes never left mine. He sat forward in his chair and seemed eager to talk about what he was planning.
I asked him how he was going to find the pills he needed. He was shocked that I was prepared to talk about death, as he described it, "all the way."
"Yes," I said, "I am with you all the way."
"No," he demanded, "you can't be, because all the way is all the way and you won't be there."
"But I am here," I said.
"But that's not all the way."
"It is, though, it is all the way," I said, almost protesting.
"How is it all the way?"
"Well, I am here with you now. I can talk about this with you, plan it, listen to you. I understand. I have felt this pain."
"You can't feel what I feel."
"No, I can't. I can't ever feel what you feel. But I know pain, and I know that pain changes. I know that pain is deadly. I know you know that, too."
"Pain is not deadly, I am deadly."
"I don't understand."
"Pain is pain. Deadly is me. I am dead."
"If you are dead now, what have you got to lose?"
Suddenly, and out of nowhere, we both smiled. We had each other cornered. But we also had each other. In a way we were arguing about death. And the arguing made us both feel alive.
In a sense I was asking him: who does this mad voice inside you belong to? But of course there is no way to answer that question. However, posing the question allowed us to investigate. This person did not take his own life. Six years later he is still in pain, still stressed, but working through his pain by making art and living with a wonderful woman. He wants to be a father.
In this heated conversation, the person with whom I was speaking moved from wishing to control the outcome of his life to wishing to communicate with me. This is the real healing factor in any kind of helping work...
For the person who wants to die, the horror is that his demons refuse to die. Madness would be an easier escape, but he is not wired to go mad, he is wired to bear his pain. The sheer weight of these inner demands needs attention, but sometimes the personality is not strong enough or nor skilled in knowing how to listen. A third ear is needed: a companion, a mother. The world is the only reality of which we can be sure, but if the world is unbearable, if he can't bear the pain alone, who are we to judge? Having made the decision to die, he lives his truth by refusing to live in the world. From the perspective of Yoga, his death is impossible.
In describing his own suicidal fantasies, poet Jim Harrison writes with rare eloquence and poignancy:
Beauty takes my courage away this cold autumn evening. My year-old daughter's red robe hangs from the doorknob shouting Stop.--- From Awake in the World