Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Happy New Year! I Think I'll Kill My 'Self'

“Except a kernel of wheat fall into the ground and die,
it cannot sprout and grow.”

~ Jesus


A recent A.P. News story reported that between September 2008 and January 2009, three prominent businessmen killed themselves in the wake of economic losses:

1. The body of German billionaire Adolf Merckle, ranked by Forbes as the world's 94th richest person, was found January 5, Monday, night after an apparent suicide. Authorities said he left a suicide note, but gave no details. Merckle's death appears to be at least the third comparable suicide in less than four months.

2. In September, Kirk Stephenson -- the chief operating officer of private equity house Olivant -- jumped in front of a train at a rail station west of London. The 47-year-old husband and father of a young son stepped onto the tracks, was struck and killed.

3. Two days before Christmas, in New York, Rene-Thierry Magon de la Villehuchet, was found dead at his desk, both wrists slashed and bottle of pills nearby after his fortune and the money of his loved ones vanished along with his clients when he lost $1.4 billion invested with Bernard Madoff.


The word suicide literally is, sui = of the self, cide = to cut off - to cut off or destroy some part of the self. Merriam Websters says, “the act or an instance of taking one's own life voluntarily and intentionally especially by a person of years of discretion and of sound mind.”

The general view toward suicide in this culture, whether religious or medical, is that of prevention. While there is talk and even some new laws that have been passed for physician assisted suicide, I am talking about people who are generally healthy mentally and physically. Suicide prevention is what we generally focus on in this culture. We work to stop them, typically discounting the suicidal urge completely. Is this the best attitude? Is this where ought to focus?

The answer depends on whether or not one views the basic human Psyche as having any wisdom or positive function at all. Our culture in general seems to think not, with most of the popular talk focusing on our rampant psychological dysfunctions, disorders, syndromes and that selfish old ego that is out to get us. It would seem that the ego is little more than a misinformed villain. Many of us assume that we had little chance growing up in a dysfunctional family and wicked culture of disordered people. My parents are screwed up, the government is corrupt, the church is abusive, politicians are crooked and the chant of the day is ‘CHANGE!’ With this view of the human psyche, no wonder we focus on prevention. We view the ego, or inner self, as an errant or sick system that is out to kill us even when things are going well. So the best we can do is argue with that little internal voice that whispers in times of despair and depression, “End it all, take your life!”


But what if the ego-self has some wisdom in this little voice, a wisdom that could in fact keep us from taking our lives?! That’s right, what if the suicidal tendency is actually very healthy and normal? Most human beings, at times of great loss or change, have heard that little voice. Many of us will not admit we have had such thoughts, and few take it seriously, and fewer still act on it. But that voice arises in most humans, and sometimes even children. It is not uncommon for a little child, when he doesn’t get his way, to blurt out a homicidal or suicidal threat: “I wish I could kill you!” or “I wish I was dead!” (Note: For further reading, see James Hillman, Suicide and the Soul)

Let’s give that unsolicited internal self destructive counselor some serious attention; suppose the voice is saying exactly what needs to be said. If we spent a few moments with it, ascribed some wisdom to the ego, and actually paid attention, we might learn something that could save our lives. The voice is saying, “Some one, some thing, needs to die.” The ‘cide’ in suicide is also found in homicide, decide, and fratricide literally means ‘to cut off’. That root word is also found in incision, which means to cut. Suicide literally means that some part of one’s self needs to be cut off, excised, deleted, erased or removed.

By arguing with and dismissing the suicidal urge, with a view to prevention, we may miss the truth in the message. The Psyche is saying, “Hey! In order for your soul to expand, some part of your life is being cut off.” If we are on this planet to make souls, to form character and create something beyond the obvious stuff of daily existence, then the Psyche is the most sane voice in us.


The three businessmen who killed themselves were undergoing some radical financial ex-cisions in their own personal soul-making journeys; their self identities as ‘successful’ and wealthy businessmen were being cut away, and they no doubt were being assailed by that little universal internal voice that was accurately whispering, “You need to die!” It may be instructive that two of the men threw themselves in front of trains. Did they feel derailed, a need to get back on the old track?

Truth be known, part of their lives needed to be let go, cut away, let loose. “Man shall not live by bread alone,” bread being a common euphemism for money, “but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” said Jesus. And this is not a polemic for the Christian religion, or any religion in general, but Jesus’ recognition that human soul-making depends on more than the physical stuff. Humans do not live by money, food, marriage, jobs, education, children, lovers, healthy bodies, et al alone, but by invisible soul principles that proceed from the gods. And the gods will whisper, “You are dying, let it go.”

But if our sole or primary focus is on suicide prevention, then we are telling the suicidal person that the 'self' destructive voice is mistaken; just ignore it - the dysfunctional ego is trying to kill you, you are sick and need some pills. But the voice always continues, relentlessly reminding you that you might as well be dead now without the money, child, partner, job, health, youth, lover, home, etc.. And do you know what? That voice is 100% correct! The old ‘self’ that you were while attached to that object is literally no thing now; that thing or self is gone or going. And, a new ‘self’ is forming. And do not try to give instructions or predict what that new self will be like, or how and when it will emerge. Like the caterpillar that leaves its worm-world, enters into the suffocating chrysalis, you are transforming into something heretofore unknown. You must die. Psyche knows how, when and where...let go.


In the world of drug and alcohol recovery, thoughts of suicide are common. There is a proverb in many recovery groups, “Don’t kill your self within the first five years of recovery or you will be killing a stranger.” The point? It takes time for the new ‘self’ to come into being after the old ‘self’ is ‘cided’ or cut off. You may feel like dying because you are in fact dying, but NEVER mistake what is going on at the soul level to be solved at the physical level. Our culture of journalistic and prosaic literalism has a hard time reading the symbolic and mythical alphabet of soul. It is NOT your physical that needs to be released by you, but your attachment to old people, objects and situations are leaving or being removed.

Incidentally, the Psyche also brings us other instructive metaphors, “I feel like I am losing my head.” “I am going out of my mind.” “Stop it, you’re killing me.” “This experience is killing me.” “I feel like the walking dead.” “I’m dead on my feet.” "I feel like I'm jumping out of my skin." Listen to these symbolic voices - they are very instructive in caring for your soul.

In conclusion, respect that internal voice which tells you that you must die, but don’t mistake it for physical death! You do not need to destroy your body, but cooperate as areas of your old life are being cut away to make room for the new self that is emerging. Talk to people you can trust, share your story of loss without becoming identified with it, confess your suicidal thoughts with someone who understands, and develop patience as the soul-making process progresses.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Absolutely brilliant..I couldn't have said it better...You have inspired me to read Hillman..take care...keep writing....Bridget