What takes more courage: Living or Dying

At first glance, it seems an easy enough question. Of course one must live! Killing oneself is such a cowardly act, they say. To even attempt something to that end is a crime under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code.

But reality is slightly stranger and much murkier than you might have thought. Nearly 13 suicides are committed every hour in India, and rough 10 attempts are made every hour, and the figure is ever increasing. While suicide attempts have been decriminalized in most countries of the world, which have instead made law reforms to focus more on providing help and psychological assistance, a handful of countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Singapore and India have persisted with this anachronistic law, where you punish for the inability to succeed in dying. Some protest that if one has the fundamental right to live, it naturally also includes the right NOT to live.

The fact is that no sane person wishes to kill oneself under normal circumstances. Every living creature is born with the ‘fight to survive’ gene… the instinct of self preservation. Then surely the thought of ending one’s precious life must be borne out of a very, very serious reason in the individual’s life. Sigmund Freud called it “the secret death wish”… the thanatos. When misery and pain exceed the ability to bear it, thats when the wish to end one’s life may emerge…

One of the ways (which i read somewhere, sometime back) to decide if something is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is by assuming that every person on earth does that thing, and if it helps the world at large, then it is a good thing. Otherwise, its not. For example, stealing is BAD, because if everybody in the world starts stealing, it will lead to complete chaos and violence and we will all kill each other. Lying is BAD because, again, it will lead to complete distrust and enmity amongst all and again we will all kill each other. Honesty is GOOD because it will lead to wholesome trust, good faith and friendly relations. So is suicide good or bad, in this measure? But i realise i cannot judge the act of suicide in this measure, because it is not an act of ‘choice’ but of ‘compulsion’… and even if the option is given to everyone to do it, most of the people will not do it or be even capable of doing it. It is not a normal human impulse at all. So we must realise that suicide is neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’. And it should not be judged as a cowardly, cruel or a selfish act, let alone a ‘criminal’ act. What one needs to understand is that it is a sad act… by a very sad person… and it deserves all our kindness and sympathy.

So what makes a 13 year old kid like Rouvanjit Rawla or a top model like Viveka  Babajee take the extreme step of killing themselves? In recent times, some of the more common reasons for suicides have been the following:

  • Failure (in examination, in career)
  • Rejection- in love, amongst peers
  • Low self worth, feelings of shame or fear
  • Failed relationships
  • Inability to unite with lover due to society (couples committing suicides together)
  • Loneliness
  • Financial crisis
  • High stress and pressure (social, personal, professional)
  • Loss of a loved one

These conditions can lead to deep depression and dejection from life. However, each of these conditions can range from the very mild to very serious levels. Every individual on earth perhaps goes through one or more of these conditions. But in most cases, they are not very serious and the bad moods, lows and bouts of depression come and go, without causing any harm. But we are here talking about the very serious conditions only. In many instances, a strong character and upbringing go a long way in dealing with difficult situations. A strong family and friends support system prevents most cases from worsening and leading to the ultimate step of taking one’s life. A caring family – their presence and close proximity- is perhaps the single most important ‘life’ factor in a suicidal person’s inability to commit the act.

…..

One needs to be alone, isolated, in darkness, in silence, consumed by one’s deepest fears and grief, to take that fatal step…

…..

While many a suicide or its attempt are tragic mistakes, occurring either due to an immature mind, a simple misunderstanding or due to just a sudden impulsive thought or act (and that person would never have taken that step if he was given time to think about it for even a week or if he received professional help), not every death wish is unjustified or wrong.

The urge and desire to die can get so strong sometimes… But is killing oneself easy? Not at all. It takes a lot of courage to press that trigger, to put your head inside that noose, to jump from that height, to drink that poison, to gulp those pills…

But is living any easier? Kahlil Gibran once wrote that “perhaps a man may commit suicide in self-defense”. I just wonder if he may just have heard someone say under his window on a dark moonless night : “I want to die because i need to protect myself- from this immense, heavy burden of loss and sorrow. I need to die because i have realised that what I want is not here on earth. I have to die because an injustice and cruelty so terrible has occurred on earth and about which  i can do nothing, and appeal to no one, for god does not exist- existence in such a world revolts my higher sensibilities and therefore i need to leave this world. I need to die because I have lived a wonderful life till now, and here is when it should end, because i dont want to reduce my life to a mediocre story of bare survival.”

Is to live life an end it itself? But isnt that what so clearly and scarily seems to be true…

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3 Responses

  1. Such thoughtful and passionate writing, interwoven with a deep sensitivity to beauty. I relate to that mix that you create, both beauty and pain. I’ve read over your past blogs and the one point that keeps coming up for me is that people who want to die have lost (or never had) their ability to be curious, to be able to detach enough from experience to watch the mystery, to ask why, to keep testing.

    Then, there is the question: if you don’t love yourself, are you really here anyway? You have to be present to be curious, to consider that life is offering an interesting test.

    Suicide can, in certain circumstances, be a good thing. For example, the elder Eskimo who leaves the family to die outside in the winter night, knowing that one less body means more food for those left behind. Suicide makes sense there because there is a purpose. Suicide without a higher purpose makes less sense. All the same, I can understand why someone who is terminally ill, for example, would prefer to die on his or her own terms.

    Deep, wrenching grief can feel terminal. And there are those (more men than women) who actually can die of a broken heart.

    One thing that is clear about loss: it freezes the self and wipes out identity–especially in those who are young and have not yet created a self on their own terms. Women whose whole lives are based on marriage and identification with their husband and children are often shattered and unable to create a self if that family is wiped out.

    What enables one person to keep going and another not? Does a person who loses the love of their life also lose the ability to be someone without that love? Or is it just a matter of personality? Or lack of knowing true love, so one can keep going because one is spared the knowledge of divine love in this world?

    I found with my own losses (4 of them), that there were three questions to answer: 1. How can my body sustain the intense pain I am feeling and not breakdown? 2. Who am I without this person in my life? 3. What is my source of strength?

    Hard questions. Writing helps–especially any kind of creative process!

    Congratulations on a compelling blog.

    Rondi

    • Dear Rondi, I must say that you are someone who has deep compassion for others… your concern for me, even though you dont know me, is touching…

      Its wonderful that inspite of your losses, you have chosen to carry on.

      Yet, some grief can be too deep to make one lose interest in life… What is so special in life after all… if not for your loved ones?

      Its not only about your self-identity, or having an identity entirely based on your loved one… not everytime atleast. Its about loving someone so much that your heart cries in blood when that person gets hurt… how can one enjoy the delights and mysteries of life in such a situation?

      What enables one person to keep going may not work for another. Every person loves differently, every person cries differently…

      My questions are:
      1. Why should I go on if I have no wish to live, and nothing in life inspires me?

      2. Is the struggle of an unhappy existence, just for its own sake, worth it?

      Once a heart is broken in such a cruel and final way, the pettiness of life appears all the more starking…

  2. One of the reasons I keep living is because I have learned that there is more to me than I could ever have realized. For example, while in a half-sleep this morning, your presence came into my mind and I began reflecting on your situation, wondering how you are, whether you had found the strength to go on. And then I come to my computer this morning and find your response.

    I have had so many experiences like this over the years that I no longer wonder about them, but just give thanks. They do inspire me to continue to deepen my power to be a healer, to push the boundaries of what we are capable of knowing. That’s the answer to your first question. You ask why you should go on and I tell you that you have too limited a view of what you are capable of and what life has to offer you. You were blessed to have an incredible experience of love. And that’s the end of the story for you. Maybe it will turn out that way. But I still think that, since that experience is rare to find, it is a waste to not stay around and find out why you had it and what it means.

    Your second question: no. But as the famous shaman Don Juan said: “We can make ourselves miserable or we can make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.” Happiness does not come from the outside to us; it is something born within us. Sometimes you have to get fierce to get happy, demand of yourself that there will be more for you than pettiness.

    I’ll go back to what I wrote earlier: if you open your heart to your beloved and send him love every single time you think of him, your life will change. Because he will be there for you and send you the help you need. But if you contract into pain and suffering and make that your way of connecting to him, then you will fall deeper and deeper into a frozen state. If you don’t ask for help, you won’t get it.

    In friendship,
    Rondi

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