A liberatory (but deeply unsure) exploration of suicide.

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when great trees fall - maya angelou

After a couple of relatively lighter articles, I am attempting (or rather inelegantly fumbling with) an exploration of suicide from as liberatory and anti-oppressive a standpoint as possible.

This is going to be tough, because suicide is an exceptionally difficult and traumatic subject to muddle through. And muddle through we must because truly there is no other way to explore the subject of suicide other than get messy. We must cast away judgment and realize that we all can be in each other’s shoes if we had lived other’s lives.

And I think the way forward to establish a liberatory framework for engaging with suicide is to first establish a liberatory framework for engaging with death. For suicide, in it’s finality, is another way of reaching death. The way itself is what is always so contentious to discuss, with self-righteous assholes across political and social classes holding sway merely because they happen to be the loudest.

(It’s easy to be loud when all you have to do is say the same talking points over and over again, rather than be open-minded and evolving…a loudmouth like me knows this from personal experience).

Indeed, while there is a lot I am unsure of as I attempt this liberatory exploration of suicide, there is one thing I am absolutely convinced of when it comes to death itself…

We get a more honest understanding of ourselves and our lives when we have a more liberated understanding of death.

For sure, death is pain, suffering, grief, and immeasurable loss; but death is also many other things (beyond the obvious of being a gratuitous tool and threat of the powers-that-be and evil-doers across the globe).

Death for instance can take on an extremely liberatory hue when seen from the context of martyrdom such as dying for one’s loved ones or dying while fighting against oppression. This doesn’t mean that the pain or suffering that such death is certainly going to cause is to be minimized or neglected in any way whatsoever. All it means is that pain, suffering, liberation, and martyrdom co-exist as equally valid ways of engaging with and understanding death.

And there are many other ways too.

For instance, many societies and communities across the globe have understandings and narratives around death that revolve around considering death as a point of passage from one realm or life into the next. Death seen in this case is a kind of membrane between worlds, nothing more than a portal from which the spirit or soul or whatever cannot come back – or can, depending on where you stand with these beliefs.

Delving into a subject of which I have an astoundingly shallow understanding of, but a boundless interest in – quantum physics – the moment we start moving beyond three dimensions, the notion of time becomes exponentially more complex. Linear time, unidirectional time etc. get thrown out of the window. Seen from this standpoint, death is nothing more than a specific moment in time. It just so happens that time is linear and unidirectional for us, being in boring ol’ three dimensions and all, and thus there is a certain nonreturnable finality about death that makes it so intense for us.

Point being that there are innumerable ways of looking at, understanding, and coming to terms with death. Many of these are quite mentally and spiritually liberating.

The same, I daresay, can be said about suicide.

And that, my friends and fellow souls, is the framework with which this exploration of suicide will be done.

Now, whenever I’m kinda hazy about subjects (which happens to me way more often than I’d admit), I try and break things down into easily graspable parts that at the very least clear away some of the haze. Quite akin to the control exercise I wrote about a few articles back.

(This wannabe writer will peddle his craft dammit.)

So, let’s do the same with suicide and maybe first list out what suicide is and isn’t, with a reasonable amount of free thought and grounding in anti-oppressive values. I daresay the vast majority of readers will agree with what I’ve listed below in terms of what suicide is and isn’t. And if you don’t, that’s cool too, cos I’m sure we can find other things to bond over.

Let’s start with what suicide is.

Suicide is painful, traumatic, the result of myriad forms of oppression, exacerbated by marginalization, and is a complex, difficult subject to engage with.

I’ll give you an intense second or two to chew on that, before we move on to what suicide isn’t.

Suicide isn’t nice, pleasant, delinked from the rest of the world, easy to understand, or to be taken lightly.

And that’s about it as far as I can tell. Give or take a few similar sensibilities, I’m unable to state with absolute certainty about what suicide is or isn’t apart from those shown above. And believe me, I’ve tried.

Oh for sure, suicide can be a lot of things (which you will shortly find out, is exactly the point), but they are not absolutes like the notion of suicide being painful or traumatic, which one can state with absolute certainty.

Each of the various things that suicide can be, evoking astounding sentiments and polemics, could have reams and reams written about it. Such as whether suicide can be brave, or cowardly, or liberatory, or oppressive, or desperate, or a cry for help, or any of the other countless things that suicide can be. But none of those things could or should ever be applied as all-encompassing rules to engage with and understand the vast complexity that is suicide.

For instance, let’s start with a negative understanding of suicide wherein suicide is considered cowardly. Are there times when suicide can be considered cowardly? Sure there are. Many men who kill their wives and/or children, often kill themselves after doing so. Most of us, given that little snippet of information, would consider that a very cowardly and shameful act, not to mention heinously misogynistic.

Ok, what if the entire house in which the family lived in was surrounded by a bloodthirsty mob who literally wanted nothing but to torture and butcher everyone in it – the entire family, adults, children, everyone? What does such a murder-suicide situation look like to us then? If, say, the man did the same act, I’m sure there’d be various levels of indignant sympathy, but possibly also various levels sympathetic critique around the patriarchy involved, with him likely just deciding for the entire family.

Let me throw another piece of information onto this narrative. What if the entire family decided as one, at that moment, that the only way to liberate themselves from the heinous cruelty awaiting them with the mob outside was to all take their own lives, and then proceeded to do so? What does this collective suicide feel like to us now?

Feels a lot different, no?

I give you this triple-layered example because I have worked, in the past, in some capacity or the other, with people having had loved ones die in each of the three manners above. I won’t go into details, suffice to say that as I racked my head to write this article, those three completely unrelated experiences, each happening years apart and on different continents, kept flashing in my head as a whole entity despite the fact that I had and continue to have extremely different emotional reactions to each. It provided a lucid thought and truism to work with, which is that…

Suicide exists on an extremely diverse spectrum.

That spectrum can be applied to any number of the myriad, countless things that suicide can be. Suicide exists on a spectrum of cowardice as the multi-layered example above showed, thereby also existing on a spectrum of breathtaking courage and freedom. Similarly, suicide exists on a spectrum of desperation, dehumanization, defiance and a myriad other things. From the standpoint of spiritual, mental and physical processes – suicide exists on a spectrum from thoughts and inner forces to actual planning, physical attempts, and possibly even a full-fledged carrying out of the act itself.

And as sure as the sun rises in the east we, all of us, can and will find ourselves at different points on this diverse, multi-layered spectrum of suicide at different points in our life, faced with the experiences of the world we live in.

(Take a second and chew on that for a moment.)

I would like to conclude with a small life-hack I’ve been working on to help me find dim light in any haze I find myself in, such as the multi-layered, complex, spectrum-navigating haze that is this exploration of suicide. The life-hack can be summarized thus…

When in doubt, turn to love.

So I asked myself – how can love provide me with a little light in order to continue this liberatory and unsure exploration of suicide? And the universe around me answered thus…

Often love is so near, yet so far – and that’s still a good thing.

I then went, yo, universe…what the fuck with all this platitude crap? Then the universe gave me a right royal spanking and told me to shut the fuck up and stick with the process, and here’s where it led me…

Very true, often love is so near, yet so far. It’s a sentiment we all have experienced. And it’s always is a painful thing to live through. One way of viewing such a situation would be to focus on the fact it’s so far, which is why it can be so painful.

But another way of viewing such a situation is to know that love is so near too. And with that comes all kinds of possibilities for liberation, healing, and happiness.

So, in conclusion, while I continue to have a very unsure understanding of suicide, I do believe it can be viewed utilizing a similar mode of thought that turning to love provided me, except to use that mode of thinking with life.

Perhaps a liberatory way of understanding suicide, among countless others liberatory ways, is thus…

Sometimes life is no near, yet so far – and that’s still a good thing.

We can focus on the fact that it’s so far, and do what we need to do to heal from that pain. Simultaneously we must also focus on the fact that life is so near too. And with that comes all kinds of possibilities for love, liberation, and healing.

Now, that’s a beautiful thing.

So know this my friend – wherever we may find ourselves at this very moment on this diverse spectrum of suicide, our souls can always hang out and share a few laughs or tears.

Because – as the immortal Maya Angelou reminds us – we existed.

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