Eleven years ago today my best friend Amy killed herself.
Like most suicides, hers was a depression suicide. She was profoundly unhappy and gave up trying to find a way that would work for her to feel better.
There is a lesson she can teach us.
Sadness is one thing, depression another. The brains of those who are depressed don’t function well.
I thought, of course, that she was a wonderful person! She was popular and caring. She was intelligent and learned new ideas easily. Even though she didn’t like aspects of her body, she was beautiful. She was artistically talented; as a college senior she won the award for the best art student and she also played french horn in the orchestra. She could sing; in high school, she sung the national anthem at football games and, after college, she was the lead singer in a bluegrass band. (I have a recording of her singing “Danny Boy” in concert that never fails to bring tears to my eyes.) She went to graduate school to obtain her teaching certificate as an art teacher.
Despite all these qualities and more, there was always a sadness in her eyes. She was very sensitive to suffering and also, like many young adults, idealistic.
Naturally, she tried self-medication. She had under her belt an impressive sequence of ultimately unsatisfying sex affairs. In the months before her suicide she was smoking pot and drinking heavily every day. She had tried St. John’s Wort to lift her mood, but it didn’t help. She neither ate well nor exercised well. Though she enjoyed teaching art, she couldn’t imagine having to do it as a job for her whole career. At my urging, she once tried meditation, but, because of an old injury sustained running track in high school, it made one of her knees hurt, which gave her the excuse not to try it again. In short, nothing worked. She couldn’t find a cure for her discontent.
Her life was unsatisfactory, and she was unable to find a way to make it satisfactory.
If, at best, sages are 1% of the population, then nearly all of us are just like Amy. We are discontented with our lives, and we find ourselves unable to make them satisfactory. We either swallow our discontent and live them out anyway or, in various ways, we commit suicide.
If you are not content with the quality of your life, you, too, are just like Amy.
Please don’t repeat her mistake. What was her mistake? What lesson can she teach us?
She looked for the answer in the wrong place. At first, we all do that. We look for the answer outside ourselves. All that we find there are ultimately unsatisfactory distractions like drugs, sex, and rock & roll.
The answer is not easy to find. It’s hidden within. Finding it, uncovering it, requires letting go of egocentricity, of attachment to ourselves, of egocentrism.
Finding it requires becoming good at an effective spiritual practice such as meditation or absolute prayer.
Amy had the answer all along, but the problem was that she never realized that she had it.
In the years before her death, she lived several hundred miles away from me and deliberately tried to hide her troubles from me. Whether or not her brain was functioning well (and I still suspect that she was depressed), she was not doing the daily training required for spiritual realization.
If what you are doing isn’t working, before you deliberately give up on life, why don’t you determine for yourself whether or not mastering an effective spiritual practice will enable you to stop asking of life what it cannot provide? Even though you don’t realize it yet, you already have the answer to the meaning of life and death within you.
It’s a delusion to think that the answer is somehow out there. When you get sick and tired of not finding it out there anywhere, my hope for you is that you’ll look within–and find it.