My best effort to share how to help someone suicidal:
When someone plummets into dark, hopeless thinking, it appears like a deep hole, not a tunnel, to them. No light at the end, just blind darkness. And in those moments, people see the drastic act of suicide as an obvious escape. They are lost in their own misery.
What is missing is any realization that the whole experience is a chimera. Or that all thought is transitory and will disappear in the blink of a distraction. Or that everyone who lives into adulthood has seen that dark place, but not stayed there.
In those bleak moments, the innate spiritual strength, the natural wellbeing, we all have and can never lose is still flickering, the pilot light of our life on earth, but we have temporarily lost remembrance of how to turn on the burner. Desperately despairing thoughts throw a heavy pall over wisdom.
Because of recent celebrity suicides, the airwaves, the press and social media have been filled with links to suicide hot lines and with people offering advice for those who suspect a friend or loved one may be suicidal. For me, as a person who has worked with the Principles for more than 30 years, a lot of the current advice, well-meaning and heartfelt as it is, misses the mark.
If someone is overwhelmed with self-destructive thinking, talking with them about what is on their minds, or trying to talk them out of what is on their minds. is counterproductive. It keeps their negative thoughts churning in the foreground. If my tormented thinking is roiling my mind, it will not help me to get past it to try to express it or explain it. I would have to hold it in place to do that. As long as it is on my mind, it remains my reality, and the more I talk about it, the more it intensifies.
If, on the other hand, other thoughts come to my mind, the dark thoughts start to fade and pass on. With an understanding of how human psychological functioning works, anyone who intervenes with a person on the verge of suicide will create a distraction first thing. It only takes one thought for the person to start to move into a different reality. It doesn’t have to be a happy thought; it doesn’t have to be an optimistic thought. It just has to be a different thought. But it has to be that person’s thought.
Once the person moves out of the dark hole, even if it’s only into a shadowy place with just a little light, THEN a meaningful intervention can begin. But the first step is to elicit something totally different from the sadness in which they are absorbed, and to see the person’s mind turn even a little bit outside of themselves.
Our own common sense tells us, in the moment, what that might be. Maybe ask a question? Maybe point out something interesting outside and elicit an opinion about it? Maybe bring up the person’s family and inquire how someone is doing? Maybe spill something and ask for help cleaning it up? There are infinite things that could come into anyone’s mind who has the intent to change the subject and engage the person in a different kind of thinking and conversation.
So that’s the first thing I want to share. With the certainty that everyone actually is only one thought away from experiencing a different reality, we can confidently talk to anyone and know that as soon as we engage them, their thoughts will shift and their mind will move away from their torment.
But the most important immediate next thing is love and reassurance. In an effort to stay calm and rational, I know that sometimes we feel we have to keep cool, keep talking, and keep the talk neutral. But really, extremely insecure thinking is painfully lonely and alienating. A human connection can do more than a lot of reasonable talk to draw someone back to life. Do not be afraid to touch someone’s arm, hold their hand, give them a hug if you know them well. Be with them. Listen to them. Silence, in a loving feeling, is often healing. But if it makes sense to talk, talk to the health in them, not to the temporary dysfunction.
Wisdom is like our circulation; it is an essential fact of life. We don’t feel it or even think much about it. But it is keeping us going. Wisdom is a life force. As soon as a person’s a mind quiets, their heart settles and their own wisdom arises. We don’t have to cheer them up; their spirits lift naturally.
Love, just pure unconditional love, is the balm that helps the heart to settle and the spirits to lift. Wisdom is the light that shines from within all of us.
My partner, George, recently made his transition, the results of pervasive cancer. During the last six months there were moments when dealing with the whole situation was difficult. At times I had resentments: “It isn’t what I signed up for, I don’t like cooking all the meals, doing everything around the house, running all the errands, doing his laundry, and for sure he could turn his own t-shirts right side out,” etc. You get the picture.
One day I read something: “Suffering comes from confusion and confusion comes from arguing with what is.” In that moment the resentments melted and in flowed joy, the likes of which I had never experienced before. I was overwhelmed with joy that I was the one who had the honor to walk this transition path with George.
I cooked the meals in joy, did the laundry in joy, did whatever needed to be done and did it in joy. Living in joy is so much more fun than living in resentments. As difficult as things were at times, we enjoyed each other and laughed together. At times I had a flood of sadness that his life span was being clipped, our time together was limited, his time with people he loved and cared about was also cut short. But arguing with what is, is like spitting into the wind. When I accepted what was in that moment, the love and the tenderness I felt amazed me.
As Soon As…
by Gretchen Blais
As soon as we let go
Of the notion
That there is the possibility
Of a life
Other than the one that is,
We move away
Into a deeper level of peace
And solutions appear.
Over the many years I have worked with people seeking peace of mind, three questions consistently arise. (1) Once you SEE that thoughts are transitory, that all thoughts just pass through our minds unless we hang onto them, do thoughts even matter? (2) Given that thoughts passing through our minds sometimes seem random, does it really mean anything to think, or that we think? Can’t we just live in peace allowing whatever thoughts arise to just come and go? (3) Are we really the thinkers, or just the vessels through which images flow, experiencing the illusion that we’re thinking them?
Here are three simple answers.
(1) Once we SEE that thoughts are transitory, no particular thought exerts power over us. The power of thought is our power to exercise free will over all thoughts, choosing what to make of them. We know that all thoughts pass through our minds and we are at choice which ones to welcome and which to allow to move on. We can bring thoughts to mind because we want to think about them, or we can just allow thoughts to stream through our minds like ripples in a river. We are always in control of our thinking, even though sometimes we lose sight of that temporarily.
With this understanding, we cannot find ourselves, unknowingly, in the prison of our own worst thoughts. If my mind fills, for example, with negative thoughts about someone or something in my life, I certainly can entertain those thoughts, and experience the negative feelings that result, and work myself into a snit about something. But I also can just let them pass, and other thoughts will come to mind. It’s up to me. Knowing the nature of thought, though, even if I hang onto those negative thoughts for a while, I know as soon as I turn away from them, they will disappear, so they can’t “hurt” me. I’m deciding. And that is my freedom; I can think whatever thoughts I want to, for as long as I want to. My feeling state will always let me know whether I’m thinking constructively or destructively. But, either way, it doesn’t matter because, eventually, all thoughts pass. Thoughts only last as long as we keep them in mind.
Without any understanding of the nature of thought, however, we can easily get frightened and caught in our most destructive thinking, and then feel compelled to analyze it or fight it to try to clear it up. The harder we try, the bigger and stronger the thoughts get, since that process requires thinking more and more about the thoughts. We can fight and analyze for hours, days, weeks, months, even years, and never come to peace because, without realizing it, in total innocence, we are continually feeding the thoughts from which we want most to free ourselves. It appears to us that the thoughts have the power, but actually, we are unwittingly misusing our own power to think.
In answer to question (2), of course, we could simply lie around and let random thoughts pass through our minds indefinitely. We could call that a vacation state of mind; all of us do that sometimes. But it’s in our nature to interact with others and with our world, and in order to do that, we have to direct our thinking. We have to decide to think about visiting a friend in order to gather the thoughts we need to make arrangements and set things up with our friend. We have to decide we are interested in science, and then turn our thinking towards scientific inquiry, in order to follow a dream to be a scientist. We have to summon certain thoughts and use our thinking to do just about anything except lie around and daydream. It appears to be the nature of humanity to be curious and interested, to think and learn and dream and aspire. And it is also within the capacity of humanity, because we have the free will to do whatever we want to with our thinking, to use our thinking against ourselves, and ruminate, stew and fret. Since we come into life with the consciousness of what we are doing, it is also within the nature of humanity to see how thought works and to intend to use it wisely, and recognize when we’re not.
The simplicity of this is that our experience changes with any change in thought. It’s not hard to feel better, and get back on track with useful, constructive thinking. As soon as we recognize, from our feeling state, that our thoughts are, in Sydney Banks’ words, “taking us down a rocky path,” we know all we have to do is stop focusing on them and allow them to pass, and we will be on a different course.
Once we come into this world, we are active participants in the world of form, the creative process that transforms pure energy, spiritual energy, into our universe. We may never understand why, but it is for us to know that we are here, that we are fully engaged, that it is thrilling to create and engage in life, and that it is a stop on the journey of the soul. Imagine! We are part of an enormous energetic process in which stars are being born and dying, and microscopic organisms are floating unseen and fading away. It is the miracle of ongoing universal creation, the movement of formlessness into form, and form into formlessness. And whatever we make up during our part of it appears to be real to us, and is a part of the whole cosmic dynamic.
And, lastly, (3): As much as we are, deep down, spiritual beings traversing the earthly realm in a body, of course we are vessels through which thought flows. If we never intentionally form a thought, the energy of life will still take form in our brain as long as we are alive in our bodies. But as we grow into life in this realm and become curious to understand what we are sensing, we start to manage our own thinking and discover we can make choices. That is an exercise of our free will, what we do with the gifts of thought and consciousness that allow not only to know, but to manage, our lives. What we think is illusionary, in that our thinking produces our own particular thoughts, unique to us, that pass as our thinking changes. Thoughts arise and we feel the associated sensory experience of them, but no two people have the same thoughts. So we are all living in an illusion, brought to us by our own imagination. And yet we are doing that within a shared “reality” which none of us will never know objectively, only through our own thinking. And that reality, too, is changing constantly as all the forces of the universe play out. Nothing is static.
So here’s the bottom line. Our own thoughts matter to us because they do create our own experience of this life. And within our lifetime, our common experience is shaped by thoughts. If an entire community take on insecure thinking, it will make different decisions (should we expand the jail or build a playground?) than it would in secure thinking. If a family is habitually locked in negative angry thought, the family members will have a much different experience of living in the same neighborhood as the folks next door, who are filled with thoughts of gratitude, love and compassion. So, yes, thoughts do matter; the choices we make about how to hold and use our own thinking do matter; the general thinking we take to heart or set aside matters. Thought is the creative tool we use to navigate through our lives, and we alone can change our lives if we don’t like the direction we’re going, simply by understanding and changing the way we hold and use our thoughts.
But it’s also true that thoughts do not matter because they are evanescent, like images in a kaleidoscope. They dissolve and disappear as new thoughts form; we can only be “stuck” in a way of thinking if we keep choosing to think the same things, over and over. If we allow our minds to come to rest; if we hold our thoughts lightly and let thoughts drift away as new thoughts occur to us; if we intentionally follow the thoughts that lift our spirits and inspire us and intentionally turn away from the thoughts that lower our spirits and depress us, we feel at ease in life, and find beautiful feelings.
Excerpted from Jack Pransky’s book, “Prevention from the Inside-Out”
Some Native kids began to hang out in a mostly White residential area in Bemidji, Minnesota. They began throwing their garbage on the ground and causing enough of a ruckus that the residents became concerned. More than concerned, they wanted them out of there! Some residents harassed these Native kids, They called the police. Nothing worked.
Julie Flathers, who had been trained in Health Realization, lived in the neighborhood. As I remember the story, she and her neighbor puzzled over what to do. She knew these kids had health within them, only no one was seeing it. She and her neighbor then had the idea “Let’s bring them lemonade and cookies!” The Native kids were shocked and suspicious – at first. But when they saw the sincerity and friendliness of Julie and her neighbor, they became most appreciative. They all began to talk and make friends. Without even being asked, the Native kids started to pick up their garbage.
This is what can happen when people see health and innocence instead of the presenting behavior. People rise to the occasion through that sight. It is another example of “what we see is what we get.”