Suicide and the Soul

Death is our friend precisely because it brings us into absolute and passionate presence with all that is here, that is natural, that is love… Life always says Yes and No simultaneously. Death (I implore you to believe) is the true Yea-sayer. It stands before eternity and says only: Yes. ― Rainer Maria Rilke

What a profoundly poetic way to say, “YOLO!” – Kevin

Rilke muses on the invaluable recognition that life and death are one and the same. Our nearness to death creates the very ground for new life. As we look to the sensitive subject of suicide this week, I want us to be mindful that this can occur at precisely the time when new beginnings can emerge. As longing pulls us to despair we may consider how ending things might provide relief. Only, as we process these hard instincts, we come to find that the misery cannot be sustained. Something must indeed die.

Morbid and Necessary

The subject of suicide is aptly morbid. It is full of the weight-bearing narratives that produce a fantasy of life’s last attempts to take charge. However, the phenomenon is not altogether easy to conceptualize. Talk of suicidality reminds some of us of proper protocols and they are surely drilled into us as clinicians. Or perhaps you recognize, even empathize personally with suicidal thinking. Either way, this week we want to make room for the psychological experience. As it exists itself in the psyche, an instinct made conscious needs the necessary center-stage and expression. Otherwise, it continues to haunt us in the background of life. In other words, our suicidal thoughts belong.

From Longing to Despair

The underlying crisis of meaning that can lead to dire thoughts present a unique opportunity to seek understanding and meaning. It can be helpful to recognize that our story of suicide begins and ends with exactly this: the story.  As Victor Frankl once said, “The saddest despair is despair without meaning.” Further, James Hillman reminds us that literal death and symbolic death are two different things entirely. What needs to die is an inhuman story that cannot be lived. I ask clients to share their stories, what is the narrative of the one who longs for death? Where did the longing for something turn to despair? Without exception, these early longings have turned to inflated ideas of a partner, a superhuman capacity for greatness, or an impossible eternal bliss.

A Word of Consideration

In short, when something beautiful can be realized in the experience of grief, loss, and failure, the soul has a place to live. That invokes a relationship with the life of the problem. For this week and next, we will use our group time and therapy to unpack and express our longings and the despair that consumes and overwhelms. Should we encounter the story with space and room, with validation and exploration, we may just uncover the lost meaning.

I close this week with a word of consideration:

If you can’t get what you want you may have to settle for something better