“Human vitality is most likely when the person voluntarily and repeatedly engages in a kind of conceptual suicide, in which the boundaries of the conceptualized self are torn down.” ~ Dr. Steven Hayes, PhD (as quoted by Martha Beck in Steering by Starlight: Find Your Right Life, No Matter What!)
Those who know me (and even those who don’t), RELAX! I’m not about to kill myself … at least not in the way that you are probably thinking. I have been suicidal (in the traditional sense) for much of my adult life. The intensity of this self-destructive ideation ebbs and flows with the tides of life, but it’s been there for about as long as I can remember.
Given the ubiquitous nature of these thoughts, I was a bit startled to suddenly discover a couple of months ago that my suicidal thoughts were really not about a desire to stop living but about a desire to stop living the life that I am currently living. It isn’t that I want to die; I just want to die to the ill-fitting life I find myself trapped inside. What I really want is to live the life I long to live and stop living this slow death I’m currently trapped in. Therefore, I need to commit suicide only in the sense of killing this non-life so that I can truly live.
Having realized this, it now seems like an incredibly obvious idea. It’s hard to communicate how earth-shaking this revelation was for me. I still remember the moment it struck me. I was walking back from a weekly meeting at work that I find particularly painful. In fact, I refer to it as the meeting-that-makes-me-want-to-jump-out-of-the-window. My co-workers all find this name to be very funny; none of them realize that I absolutely mean it (and that it is a very good thing that the conference room where it is held does not have any windows). This meeting brings out my strongest suicidal tendencies every week. It was walking back from one of these meetings and realizing how beautiful the day around me was that brought me to the realization that even in that strongly suicidal moment, I still wanted to live to see the clouds and the sun and the trees on another day; I just never wanted to have to survive another meeting like that. Ever. I stopped walking in the middle of a busy sidewalk as if struck by a thunderbolt the moment I realized that.
With very few exceptions when I was in so much pain that I truly wanted to cease to exist altogether, my true goal has always been a desire to be free of the life I have been living at the moment rather than a wish to die altogether. That realization is what started me down this path of taking the next step toward committing suicide to the life I know and am now living. If I spend so much time considering suicide, wouldn’t it make sense to do whatever is necessary to try a selective suicide of only those parts of my life that are making me miserable first?
So with that in mind, I was intrigued to find a similar concept in Martha Beck’s Steering by Starlight: Find Your Right Life, No Matter What!. In her case, she’s really focusing on committing suicide to our beliefs that are holding us back. The limitations we place on ourselves that keep us stuck in self-made prisons that prevent us from living the lives we are meant to live. In a sense, that’s exactly what that thunderbolt moment was for me: a kind of conceptual suicide that is opening new vistas for me. I am trying to keep at a voluntary and repeated practice of this kind of conceptual suicide every time I find new self-imposed limitations. It’s not easy. But I am hoping that this continual process of conceptual and lifestyle suicide will be what it takes to get rid of this dark cloud that has followed me around for so long. I’d really rather put all of my energy into living instead of into not-dying.