The human mind, body, and spirit are amazing elements of an intriguing interconnection of something I still haven’t quite fully grasped – and never will. I woke up this morning thinking about the very basic notions of life and death; the certainty of the impermanence of life and the ambiguity of the afterlife. I know…morbid and deep thoughts to be having first thing in the morning. Have you ever had those weird moments when you really wonder what the point of it all is and what our very human existence is all about? I get into these moments of taking myself very seriously about things (as I have blogged about before) and then I snap out of it and wonder what the hell the point of of it all is – the point of life and our human emotions, mostly.
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?
You know when you have one thought and then it leads to another, then another? So, I googled (yes – “to google” is now officially a verb) the famous soliloquy spoken by Hamlet. It sparked a reflection about the different ways in which people experience seemingly unbearable circumstances in life. I ask every single young person that I work with, at some point in our work together, whether they have ever contemplated suicide. Sometimes, I get a clear “yes” along with a series of stories of past suicide attempts. If I hadn’t asked the question outright, I may have never known. Other times, I get a clear “no” and they have a puzzled look on their faces, wondering why I would even ask such a question. More often than not, the response I get is “no, but I have definitely thought about it or thought about wishing my life would just end”. These conversations then sometimes lead us down a path of discussing beliefs systems and I ask the person who is sitting in front of me to share a bit about what they believe about life and death; what they believe about mental health and their own capacity to live a happy and healthy life; what it is that keeps them going despite the examination of whether it is worth living and believing rather than bringing it all to an end at the risk of not knowing what comes in the afterlife.
The spiritual ambiguity of the world we live in is fascinating to me. By spirituality, I would like to step away from direct association with religion. I would rather look at it from the perspective of how one makes sense of life and death and how one navigates the certainty that life will someday come to an end, without any agreed upon evidence of what comes next. You have people who cling to a belief system and share their understanding of it as a truth they have come to know with certainty – this faith in something may be the very thing that gives them the strength to wake up each morning with a willingness to be and accept the cards they have been dealt. You have others who describe an aversion to religion and state that they don’t believe in anything and see life in a much more logical and pragmatic way – sometimes with a cynicism that causes more suffering. And then you have those that lie anywhere in between the two extremes of dogmatic beliefs and complete non-belief in anything. One could argue that a complete non-belief in anything is a belief in and of itself.
I am not really sure where I am going with this thought. It’s sort of a weird reflection to be sharing and yet it’s one I think about often. Why? Scientific evedence has shown that those who have a spiritual belief, according to the definition I gave above, demonstrate a greater ability to overcome the adversity of life. Is this because of a simple ability to embrace the uncertainties of life? One great psychiatrist who has explored this notion is Viktor E. Frankl, in his descriptions of his experiences of having laboured in four different Nazi death camps and his examination of lessons on spiritual survival. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Frankl agrees with many others who have studied and explored this notion: “we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward with renewed purpose”. After all, we each make up our own meanings and interpretations of all the things we can never know with any certainty.
I also googled images for “spirituality”. I got the kind of images you are probably imagining. Try it. There are some funny representations out there that fit the stereotype of an image that you are probably imagining – cosmic art, silhouettes dancing in the sky, and tunnels of light. The image I attached in this post was one of the more grounded ones. I somehow thought a grounded representation of spirituality felt more normal – whatever that means.
Namaste – The spirit in me salutes the spirit in you – with total and complete ambiguity of what that even means.