Please share this essay with anyone who you think may benefit from this alternative perspective on depression, breakdown, suicide and awakening…
“Take me out to Cypress Hill in my car. And we’ll hear the dead people talk. They do talk there. They chatter like birds on Cypress Hill, but all they say is one word and that one word is “live,” they say “Live, live, live, live, live!'” It’s all they’ve learned, it’s the only advice they can give. Just live. Simple! A very simple instruction…”
– from ‘Orpheus Descending’, Tennessee Williams
I was speaking recently with a woman who was planning her own suicide. She had spent the past few weeks sorting out her finances, paying off her debts, and trying to find foster parents for her young daughter, who would be left motherless after she killed herself. So many people had tried to intervene, but her mind was made up. She was definitely going to die. She had been threatening it for years, but finally it was coming true.
Her friends and family were starting to panic. I agreed to speak with her.
“That’s it. I’m done here. My time on earth is over”, she told me, point blank, at the start of our one-to-one session. Everything had become such a burden to her – her job, her so-called-friends, her failed relationships, her own brilliant but overactive mind, even her beloved daughter. It was all just too much. She was in so much pain, totally drained, fed up and exhausted from trying to help everybody all the time, and never getting anything back. She was the one who gave everything to everyone, but who ever gave anything to her? Where was gratitude? Where was love? Even her young daughter was just “take-take-take” – her demands were incessant. The only way out of this hell was death. Suicide was the logical solution to the problem of living. Her life insurance policy would be generous to her bereaved family.
I let her talk and talk. She had a lot to say, and I said very little. I simply got on her side, saw and felt things the way she did, allowed her to experience what she was experiencing, and allowed her experience to become mine, intimately so. It was easy, since I have known well that place of total exhaustion, that place where “I’ve been trying so hard to save others and have received nothing back”, that desperation to die (or at least to end the burden of living), and also the sense of guilt and terrible sadness that arises from imagining loved ones trying to go on without me.
I stayed close. I did not try to play ‘spiritual teacher’, ‘expert on suicide prevention’ or even ‘therapist’. I certainly did not lecture her about nonduality, the absence of the self, the perfect perfection of perfect awareness, or the non-existence of the ‘I’. We did not get into intellectual discussions about the Absolute and the Relative, the illusion of free will or the ins and outs of Oneness. I did not try to fix her, to mend her, or even to ‘save’ her. I simply listened to her. I wanted to learn from her, not teach her or feed her new beliefs. What was it like, exactly where she was, right now?
I joined the ‘Our Lives Are Exhausting And We Want To Be Free From It All’ Club. We were the exhausted ones, the unloved ones, the ones who nobody appreciated, the ugly ones, the overweight ones, the ones on the verge of collapse, the ones who wanted to die. The ones who nobody understood. I wonder if anyone had ever truly met her there before? I wondered if everyone she had talked to over the years about her desire to die – therapists, friends, family – had just been trying to save her, to fix her, to get her to stay alive and live in the old way, rather than meeting her in her pain and desperation and validating her present-moment experience. Had anyone ever truly met her? Or had they been driven away by her self-pity and anger, or perhaps their own discomfort and frustrated desires to help?
We talked for about three hours. The more we talked, the more I simply stood in her shoes, listening and seeing things from her perspective, being with her without trying to fix her or make her wrong or even right, the more she relaxed and opened up about her true longings and hidden dreams and desires. What became clear was this: Secretly, she did not want to die at all. She knew, deep down, that who she truly is – consciousness itself – cannot die. She knew that only the false can die. Only an image of herself can die. Only dreams can die.
What she really longed for was not physical death, not the death of the body, not the end of breathing, not the cessation of the heartbeat, but the death of the false self, the death of the pretence, the death of falseness and inauthenticity. The second-hand, limited ‘self’ she was pretending to be – the Real Estate queen, the selfless giver, the one who ‘fit in’ with others, the brilliant one with the “16 track mind” as she put it – was utterly false. Her life as it was playing itself out was suffocating her, and until this point, she had only seen death, and foster homes, and life insurance policies, and psychological escape, as the solution.
It soon became clear that this woman, although ‘dying’ on the outside, had a rich, creative inner life that had simply never been given expression. On the inside, she was so very alive, so open to life, so sensitive to everything around her, so “wide angle” as she put it, so “connected to everything and everyone”. She was a force of nature, a wild and free spirit that had totally limited itself over the years, constrained itself to ‘fit in’ to some second-hand idea of what is normal, or right, or proper, or true. She had been living “the wrong life”, so to speak, a dead and deadening life, a life of money and numbers and predictability, and it was crushing this inner explorer, this adventurer, this poet, this visionary, this seer, this spiritual seeker, this big-hearted pilgrim that she was.
The limited self longed to die, and the “Big Self” as she put it, longed to break free. And although this is not my language (I rarely talk about Big Self or Being Aligned With The Universe), I knew that to truly meet her, I had to get into her world, into her language, and stay there, and not flinch for one moment.
The more she felt heard and understood, the more she was met without judgement, the more she relaxed, and the more she started to talk openly about her secret longing to travel, to explore, to ride out into the unknown without a map. She talked with increasing passion about those times in the past where she had felt free and alive and unburdened. There was a longing to return to that simplicity. There was a fire in her, a raging furnace of love that had been suffocated all those years in her attempts to ‘fit in’.
Her suicidal depression had really been a signpost to life! The pain of life-suffocation had appeared to her as the raging desire for death. But it was not really the desire for death, was it? It was the desire for life! For more life! She longed to live, to really live, to no longer suffocate under the weight of the false image. Only one who longed to live could experience such an overwhelming urge to die. She longed with every cell of her body to end the pretence and the falseness and half-lived dreams and to open up to life in all its rawness and beauty – not to die, not to die, but to live in a real way.
What would real, fearless living look like? She had a brilliant mind, and a wide-open heart, all of which had been suffocated and wasted in the business of Real Estate. We started to explore the very realistic possibility of her selling her house and setting off into the unknown with her beloved daughter (“my angel, sent from heaven”). She had always longed to travel to New Zealand, to work there, to build a life there, to live a more simple and truthful existence there, and to expose her daughter to soul-enriching people and landscapes and possibilities. Could her dream become a reality? Was that possible?
I have never met anyone who simply “woke up” one day, and never suffered again – however much we love to believe that story, about ourselves and others. I have never met anyone – teacher or student – who “discovered who they really were” and never, ever forgot it again, even in the midst of physical pain or the beautiful mess of intimate human relationship.
I spent years after my so-called ‘awakening’ (experience, or non-experience, or whatever I used to call it) meeting all of the unmet human stuff, the untested conditioning, the childhood pain, the pain of all humanity, the unloved waves in the ocean of life, the feelings of failure and doubt and self-importance and arrogance and impotence and the need-to-be-perfect and the need-to-be-right, the forms that had been repressed or ignored or buried for at least a quarter of a century.
Finally, in the absence of the urge to escape life, in the recognition that all was ultimately allowed in what I am, the human stuff was allowed to breathe and express and sing and dissolve in its own time. The personal purges itself in the impersonal fire of life, in the furnace of not-knowing, until it becomes absurd to even speak of the impersonal as distinct from the personal… or to even speak of ‘my awakening’ at all!
Liberation may be the end of a belief in a separate ‘I’, but really, my friends, this is just the beginning of the adventure, however much we want to think of it as some kind of ‘end point’. It takes tremendous courage to drop the story of your own awakening, to be a child of life again, to admit that you really do not know a damn thing, and never did.
– Jeff Foster
It is a great honour to sit with discomfort, for all the mysteries of the universe lie within. As you sit with discomfort, you also meet discomfort’s best friend – the urge to escape that discomfort! Is there enough room in you for both discomfort AND the urge to escape discomfort? Of course – who you are is vast and spacious enough to hold anything. This is true meditation – no longer resisting discomfort and trying to escape to a future comfort, but discovering the ever-present, unconditional Comfort that you are, the perfect calm in the midst of the storm.
– Jeff Foster
So many spiritual teachings and practices present themselves as the ‘solution’ to the ‘problem’ of being human. They are all about getting rid of what we call the ‘negative’, escaping painful emotions, transcending feelings, stopping thoughts, fighting the darkness, attracting the ‘positive’, floating above our humanity, leaving imperfection behind and becoming perfect and enlightened.
But why are we so deeply afraid to embrace our humanness in its totality, to deeply allow the present moment exactly as it is? Why the constant war against thoughts and emotions? What exactly are we trying to protect? What exactly do we fear?
It seems that we have forgotten who we really are – the vast ocean of consciousness that unconditionally embraces its beloved ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ children with equal tenderness, that loves its ‘dark’ and ‘light’ waves to death, that holds its ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ with equal understanding.
Life is not the problem. Thoughts and feelings are not the problem. The waves in the ocean are not the problem. Being human is not the problem. It never was.
The ‘problem’ begins with the ‘solutions’ that we are offered, the paths we follow in our misguided innocence, and in our fear. We do not need solutions to the non-existent problem of being alive here and now.
– Jeff Foster on fb
In the beginning, I strongly believed that there was something wrong with me. Later on, I acquired the spiritual concept that there was something wrong with being or having a ‘me’ in the first place! Double trouble! These days, I realise that there’s nothing wrong with me, AND nothing wrong with ‘me’. The ocean dances as the wave, in all its extraordinarily perfect imperfection. What freedom!
– Jeff Foster on fb
True Freedom has nothing to do with getting rid of our humanness and our humanity – it’s a total embrace of it. Your imperfections are so perfect, seen in the light of who you really are. You may be the ocean, but you are also a wave, a divinely unique, quirky, singular, never-to-be-repeated expression of that ocean. “Water that is too pure, has no fish”, as they say in Zen. So dance, baby, dance.
– Jeff Foster on fb
The love you seek is closer than breathing. When it’s recognised that, in this moment, any feeling of being unloved is deeply embraced in the open space that you are, who can be unloved? And who needs to seek love? Even the feeling of being unloved is loved here – this is love beyond understanding, love without an opposite.
– Jeff Foster
In the beginning, I found myself lost in the ‘relative’ perspective (“I’m a separate person desperately trying to fix myself, to become perfect, pure, enlightened, whole.”). Later on, I got stuck in the ‘absolute’ perspective (“There’s no world, no time, no me… and no perspectives!”). These days, what’s seen is this: The absolute dances AS the relative. The ocean dances AS the waves. And so the words ‘absolute’ and ‘relative’ melt away…. And the dance goes on……
– Jeff Foster
I see that nonduality and depression is the topic of Jeff Foster’s new podcast.
Before listening to it, I thought I would see what comes up for me around it.
Big Mind – how does depression look to you?
About depression. He tells himself the world is against him, he tells himself he is a victim, so the mind and feelings respond with creating an experience of depression. It has to, because it’s job is to make his beliefs appear true to him. He then takes that experience of depression as yet another proof his initial belief is true.
Every wave of experience (thought, feeling, emotion…) that we call ‘negative’, ‘sinful’ or ‘dark’ is simply a wave that’s not being recognised as being part of the ocean (light). In reality, there’s never any absence of light – even the ‘darkest’ wave is 100% ocean. Everything you’re running away from, everything you see as a block to freedom – in other words, your ‘shadow’ – is simply freedom in disguise.
– Jeff Foster on fb
My tip for today: Resist life as much as you can. Fight this moment. Exhaust yourself in trying to escape what is. And see where it gets you…
– Jeff Foster on Facebook
There is often a great relief in going to the darkest places and shine a light.
In this case, there may be a nagging doubt. Perhaps resisting really works? Perhaps I just haven’t tried hard enough? Perhaps there is still something for me to see there?
So why not allow myself to resist as much as I can? What happens? Does it work? Where does it get me?
By doing this, I go against my initial impulse because I “know” resistance is futile, but do I really know? Can I know unless I have given resistance my best effort?