Monday, 13 May 2013

suicide: a private conversation

As my doctoral research project grew and I began to share some of my ideas with other people I also felt a growing sense of responsibility to find an answer to the burning question: what would possess somebody so completely they would choose to suicide at the Gap? This was of course my own question, but I also felt that others needed to know.

Unfortunately, the constraints of academic writing and current editing have dictated that because I am unable to discuss the topic in the depth it requires, I have ommitted it from the thesis - it would need a thesis of its own. I did find some closure though, so I would like to share my findings in an oblique way that might go some way to alleviating the confusing emotions and regret we feel when somebody undertakes a strange act like suicide in such a dramatic place.

This begins with part of an e-mail conversation between myself and a close friend who also knew the deceased person in question. Names have been changed to protect identities. As my research draws to a close, I am preparing to lay this 'hungry ghost' to rest.

FRIEND: Oct 22, 2010
I have so often sat on the ledge near where the observation platform is now and gazed into that roiling sea below. I visited a lot during the 3 and a half years I lived at Goode Beach. For quite a long time after moving into town when the wind was strong enough in the right direction I would go out especially to see the waves smash up over our heads. 

One heard stories of those who had obeyed some kind of death wish and jumped. Not me. Nowadays, with vertigo, I would keep my distance. I am uncomfortable just watching others take the kind of risks I took with impunity.

Little did I imagine that a close neighbour would end her life that way. Other neighbours gathered afterwards....Somehow I feel Melusina would be happy for us to take time to hear her sing her songs. It must be strange to hear her now. She offered me a CD of her and her songs for $10 and I thanked her kindly but said I was only interested in Opera - and so I was then.  In hindsight, I wish I had taken time to talk with her more about her art. Just as well we cannot very often see the future.

Drowning is supposed to be the easiest way to die: but I find it hard to believe especially leading up to it. I think going to sleep in the snow would be a lot easier.

ME: Oct 22, 2010
I posted your comment. If I can figure out a way to get a song up on the blog I will so you can finally hear her sing.

Drowning. I have had so many drowning dreams and I know they were 'real' experiences somewhere in my unconscious psyche. After the struggle, yes, a most peaceful death. But the moments before that are difficult and this is why I struggle now to think of Melusina going through that for such a long period of time (28 minutes), though the final 'panic' would probably have been short as water fills up the lungs.

I feel somehow that Melusina became one of the 'hungry ghosts' the Tibetans refer to. I saw a couple of these in my days as a psychiatric nurse, and one who had been an ex-partner in a dream.

FRIEND: Oct 23, 2010
Do the Tibetans describe what a 'hungry ghost' is? What causes this? I can well believe that Melusina may be one. It could relate to incarnate obsessions and possessiveness.

I can't ever remember dreaming of drowning but I am sure I have a whole lot more memories to excavate. In many ways I feel I am just beginning and there is still some reluctance in me to try and force issues. I need to be patient and allow my dreams as usual to show the way. They and the I Ching never let me down.

ME: Oct 23, 2010
My understanding of Hungry ghosts is minimal, but it is one of the 6 realms that we can be reborn into. It is a realm I think might correspond to Jung's 'psychoid figures' which is a type of physical and non-physical being at the same time. I suspect these are the ghosts we see because they are caught between worlds, and the Tibetan's say something similar, that this entity craves food but can't eat and so wanders unsatisfied, attached to the physical world but not able to engage with it fully. 

My feeling is that those who die under very difficult circumstances, and particularly suicides, are more likely to take this incarnation because they are so troubled. This is why it is imperative that the dying are kept calm in a supportive environment. I have known of some people who, for various reasons, have not been able to find this peace, partly because of their own self judgement, but also sometimes because others simply don't understand that they need to keep their own issues to themselves at this time.

You know, one of the things I really want to do when I finish my thesis is help people die. I have such a strong feeling that I should be doing this work.

FRIEND: Sat, Oct 23, 2010
Many thanks for your thoughts on Hungry Ghosts: I will keep my eyes peeled for any references made in my re-study of Jung's "Man and His Symbols" or elsewhere. Food for thought.

Dying is as important as being born but I haven't given it a lot of deep attention until recent studies and thinking about re-birth. It must be approached through the whole question of consciousness itself and our own insight into that: an integral study that can't be hurried or overly conceptualised.

I always had a deep feeling of taboo about suicide being dangerous to spiritual development and no solution to problems however bad they were.

Even in your current work you seem to be heading in the direction you are thinking of taking: helping people to die. Have you studied the work of Elizabeth Kubler Ross? I have the book on The Tibetan Book on Living and Dying but have not been able to get into it yet.

I came across Kubler Ross many years ago but didn't look too closely. I think I really like what the Tibetans say about the whole thing because they integrate the stuff on consciousness and rebirth which of course can't be separated from the act of dying itself.

You know I have had the Tibetan Book for so many years, read bits and pieces but found it a bit difficult to embrace fully. Just recently though it made such a lot of sense. I think we look at these things when we are ready. As you are always saying, we can't force the process. 
Towards the end of the research I stumbled on Schopenhauer(1) who seemed to confirm what my gut had told me all along:

'For Schopenhauer, art alone releases the spectator from the vicious circle of worldly desire, denial, and frustration that inevitably accompanies a life subservient to the workings of will. In opposition to Kant, the sublime is now purely defined as the response to phenomena that stand in a hostile relation to the human will to survive; gone are the metaphysics of human superiority to nature which Kant optimistically postulates as a reflection of the superiority of God. Aesthetic contemplation of the sublime may, for the brief instant of its enactment, elevate the individual above the trivial and tragic world of will into the disinterested and hence invulnerable realm of pure ideas; acceding to the sublime, however, constitutes a courageous rejection of the lurid blandishments of life'. (Levine, 1985: 392)

The paragraph below sums up briefly what I concluded and initially wrote in my thesis, but because I had to remove it I have posted it here.

'The sublime (as spirit and as it appears in the landscape) is an archetypal phenomenon that, as a psychological constant in the consciousness of humanity, is projected by individuals onto various structures and phenomena - making visible what is in reality irrepresentable. At its most destructive our desire to reconcile with it can prove fatal. A morbid attraction to it compels some individuals to choose locations like The Gap at which to end their lives. Although it is acknowledged that, as Tacey says 'the primordial psyche is capable of....eroding our humanity if we give into its seductive power and archaic attraction', it is perhaps less appreciated how closely aligned our psyches are with specific sites that hold this level of psychic energy. (Tacey, 2009: 56) Suicide is usually interpreted as a nihilistic and self destructive act however, and although I am certainly not suggesting it is a viable solution, I have developed an alternate view - one that finally allowed me to make peace with the persistent burning image of Melusina treading water in the abyss'.

My personal view is this: suicide is driven by the ego, but this is more complex than it at first sounds. Paradoxically and initially it is the ego that drives us on towards spiritual union based on the fundamental need to become one with the universal, but in the process it is itself 'destroyed'. I suggest that people who are driven to suicide act on this imperative more urgently as a way to escape the suffering that the natural process of evolution entails. I have alluded to a certain 'courage' in the act itself because in some ways I can see how it could be a heroic gesture. You have only to stand on the edge of The Gap to confirm  it. My conclusion is that suicide occurs when the pain of living overrides the fear of dying. Somewhere in the consciousness of a suicide victim though is the deep knowledge that they are held within a greater consciousness, so they are not all 'wrong'. However, I do feel the work required in subsequent incarnations is made all the more difficult if life is ended prematurely in this way.

In the end time and lifetimes of incarnation are not really a significant issue because redemption is not only possible, but continually offered. Vale Melusina.

(1) In "The World as Will & Idea" (1819) Arthur Schopenhauer gives a more comprehensive and positive view of the awe-ful sublime, will, 'death' and its role in promoting a fuller appreciation of life which is supported by Jungian theory.

Friday, 10 May 2013

celebrating 'symptoms'

'Because symptoms lead to soul, the cure of symptoms may also cure away soul, get rid of just what is beginning to show, at first tortured and crying for help, comfort, and love, but which is the soul in the neurosis trying to make itself heard, trying to impress the stupid and stubborn mind - the impotent mule which insists on going its unchanging obstinate way. The right reaction to a symptom may as well be a welcoming rather than laments and demands for remedies, for the symptom is the first herald of an awakening psyche which will not tolerate any more abuse......To get rid of the symptom means to get rid of the chance to gain what may one day be of greatest value....' (18)

Hillman,  J 1989, A Blue Fire
image: original drawing by blog author, 199?, Unhappy Judas, inspired by the original Brendan Vogage - the Navigatio, an ocean voyage undertaken in a leather boat by the mediaeval Irish monk, St Brendan