Suicide and the Superficial Self
Have you ever thought of committing suicide? It’s okay if you have. In fact, I’d venture to say that it’s a fairly normal thing for most people to have considered at some point in their life – at least in the theoretical sense of it. To consider what it may actually take to go through with it, or what it may actually mean that you would want to. If you’re like me, you may even have occupied that place where it seemed to be a real option; and, like me, actually taken that option a number of times, in a manner of speaking.
When a famous person, someone we know, or someone we’ve just been acquainted with commits suicide, naturally there’s the sadness that accompanies such a profound personal tragedy, followed by that sense of futility. But there may also be a deep, underlying identification with a troubled fellow voyager; the understanding of suicide as a viable solution to what seems to be an utterly hopeless situation.
“When you commit suicide, you’re killing the wrong person.”
Obviously, I didn’t really commit suicide when I thought of it, but having passed through that “dark night of the soul,” I do understand the impulse – and not as an overwhelming urge to for the absolute, but instead as an overwhelming urge for absolution.
The Urge for Absolution
After all, the desire to ‘end it all’ often isn’t a wish to actually die, just a wish to end things the way they are.
In this sense, the suicide urge is a completely natural impulse that arises simultaneously from both deep despair and a kind of optimism in the eternal, the idea that a spiritual solution awaits our return. We’re searching for the source of relief, renewal, and regeneration.
It can actually indicate a profound kind of spiritual sanity and practical wisdom – the desire to return our battered soul into the care of a loving power, and rediscover our spiritual freedom, away from a world where our human shortcomings and ineffectiveness are constantly imposed on our simple search for happiness.
But please – don’t get me wrong on this point!
I’m not urging anyone to commit suicide. At least not in the way you may usually think of it.
Our misunderstanding of the suicide ‘process’ has a lot to do with our unwillingness to properly define death itself. As a person who’s unintentionally experienced a kind of reincarnation myself, I can tell you that we do live and die many times over–and not just in the physical sense of it.
For example, the child you once were – that innocent, playful, awakening soul – died outwardly in a sense, when the need to create an egoic interface to “the grown-up world” (and biological chemistry) raised its ugly head, all too soon. Likewise, your teenager was sacrificed to the demands of a life of responsibility. And as you get older, the young adult you once were has given way to a being of lesser physical ability (that’s one I really miss). The body I’m in now is heading down a stretch of road dotted with signposts for another turn-off up ahead. There’s always some form of death approaching. That’s just the way it is.
“Without dying to the world of the old order, there is no place for renewal, because…it is illusory to hope that growth is but an additive process requiring neither sacrifice nor death. The soul favors the death experience to usher in change. Viewed this way, the suicide impulse is a transformational drive.”
Suicide and the Soul
The author of that quote, James Hillman, (my late uncle, by marriage), was a brilliant (and very funny) guy – a teacher, author, Jungian analyst, former director of the Jung Institute in Zurich, and the creator of Archetypal Psychology. That quote is from his elegant, utterly amazing little book, Suicide and the Soul (Harper Colophon, 1964), in which he describes a lot of what I’m talking about here far more eloquently than I ever could, based on years of working with patients in states of personal crisis. Elsewhere in the book, he says,
“To put an ‘end to one’s life’ means to come to one’s end, to find the end or limit of what one is, in order to arrive at what one is not – yet.”
Personally, this required a number of very uncomfortable moments in my own life, where who and what “I thought I was,” lay in broken pieces on the ground before me. When my life, as it was, no longer made any sense – where it no longer worked. The person I was had stopped being a viably effective participant, and living that way doomed me to repetitive collisions with my own self-created obstacles to happiness and fulfillment. That’s a dark place, where the suicidal impulse arises. Naturally, I required a deliverance – a death – to make room for my own personal renewal.
So, I committed a kind of suicide – and I’ve done it a few times – the sort that I propose you embrace if you ever reach that impasse yourself. Not to actually physically kill yourself, but to set about killing the part of you that no longer works.
That false egoic interface – often the same one we constructed first as kids – has to be destroyed to allow a more authentic self to emerge and arise from the ashes like the mythical phoenix. That’s an archetype Uncle James may have liked.
While my late uncle speaks metaphorically, as an analyst, I speak as a ‘near death experiencer,’ so in what I know as a real, spiritual sense, we do live and die and live and die – on and on. Our deaths are necessary for our soul’s growth; every death is a suicide, of sorts, fashioned over time by our own designs. Life can be quite ruthless in pointing out the biggest flaws in those designs, but the awareness we gain is the gift that pain gives us. It becomes our job to change. This is the case at every level.
We are all the creators of our own deaths, individually and collectively, and the suicide urge itself is a kind of fractal motivation – an urge that lives within every expression of consciousness taking part in our mysterious spiritual evolution. From plants, to animals, to us, to our earth, there is that sacrifice to growth, to our return, imprinted in our very core.
Meanwhile, our soul – the same playful soul of a child – continues to live on in wonder, willingness, and absolute surrender, even as we must slough off sheaths of outer lives. With that willingness, that faith, we can sacrifice our overly serious superficial selves; with our soul’s knowledge that our true self is never abandoned, we can bury “who we were supposed to be”– even if we don’t know who we are meant to become yet. It’s an uncomfortable state of grace, like the chaotic mess inside a chrysalis just before a butterfly emerges.
Kill the Right Person
So, please, don’t ever actually kill yourself – it’s a “permanent solution to a temporary problem.” But if you insist on it, make sure you kill the right person. Kill only the part of yourself that causes pain; the part that prevents you from being the creature of light and love you are truly meant to be. Bury your superficial self, christen a more authentic you, rise up, and spread your new wings.
How to Free Your Soul: Liberating Your Authentic Self
In modern society, we tend to wear a lot of hats, or masks, or whatever metaphor you’d like to use. We have one for our home life, one for work-life, one for close friends and family, one for other friends we’re not as close with…. the list goes on. But what about that unmasked self? Your true, authentic self, the one maybe you only really know?
Is it even possible to show that authentic self to others without some type of filter? And is it even worth it? The short answer, yes. And by embracing this authentic self, you’ll be better prepared to take on the more meaningful pursuits of life, such as your soul’s core desires. These desires of attaining fulfillment, desire, and eventually enlightenment are what we’re all here to do right?
What Does it Mean to Free Your Soul?
To free your soul is to embrace the essence of that authentic self, and wear fewer masks. Of course, it may not always be appropriate to not put on some sort of filter for various life scenarios, but the more you work toward embodying that true self, the more secure you’ll become, subsequently improving your well-being.
And by improving your well-being at the most basic levels, you can then begin to pursue spiritual well-being at higher levels.
Understanding Core Soul Desires
Ancient Vedic texts tell us that there are four core soul desires: the desire for purpose (dharma), the means to fulfill our purpose (artha), the pleasure associated with living our purpose (kama), and freedom (moksha).
These four purusharthas, also known as the four aims of life, are intrinsic. They’re directly linked to the personal, unique Jivatman part of our soul and the infinite, unlimited Paramatman part of our soul.
Your duty, calling, or life’s purpose; you’ve likely heard the phrase “finding your Dharma,” which is typically meant in terms of finding your purpose in life that leads to happiness and fulfillment.
The concept of Dharma is an interesting one and can vary in meaning across the eastern religions that embrace it. Dharma can also refer to the underlying order of the universe or self-organizing nature of reality to which we inevitably align with. Dharma can also refer to the teachings of Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Jainism.
Prosperity, or having the things you need to do your dharma. Again, in eastern philosophy, these concepts aren’t simply defined and can mean a few things, but essentially your Artha is the foundational and material things needed in your life. For some, this can mean wealth, a home, and material prosperity—things that make you feel secure and not wanting. For others, however, this can mean health and wellness, because without these you’ll be distracted and focused on attaining them, rather than focusing on spiritual growth and some of the more intangible pursuits in life.
Desire or pleasure; the reward of living our dharma. You’ve likely heard the word Kama before in terms of sexual pleasure and desire—the Kama Sutra. But Kama isn’t purely sexual, it refers to any type of longing, wish, passion, or desire. When balanced with the other three goals of life, Kama is important and necessary to have, if you had no passion or desire for anything in your life, it would be meaningless and you’d probably be pretty depressed. Finding your Kama, and the Kama that really drives you is an absolute must in the attainment of happiness and fulfillment.
Liberation, freedom, or release. The first three lead to this last one. Moksha is tantamount to enlightenment, or the freedom from ignorance and suffering. This is much in alignment with enlightenment: literally lightening up (moving from the base chakras to the ethereal upper ones), and living from a place of love. It’s important to understand each of these forces at the beginning of your personal growth journey to end up experiencing Moksha.