Why You Should Stare Into The Abyss

Today I spoke with a friend of mine about suicide. It’s a heavy topic and can bring some intense thoughts to the surface. We’re both practicing meditators and we both approached the topic of suicide (this time around) from a spiritual point of view, attempting to navigate it without trepidation or fear.

I came to the conclusion that the concept of suicide, divorced from the effects that the action itself has on the world that persists after one departs, is a valuable concept. It’s important. It represents a human’s ultimate freedom: to take away from his or herself the one thing that he or she is (supposedly) programmed to want to preserve at all costs.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about suicide. Don’t worry, though! This isn’t going to be a post about suicide. It’s a post about embracing negation, and how important this is for our spiritual growth. It’s not negation itself that is valuable. Negative thinking isn’t really helpful. Depression isn’t in and of itself a constructive experience. Death is not something to seek maniacally, and suicide certainly isn’t a spiritually sound way of confronting existence, no matter how overwhelming one’s reality may seem. But all of these things, when we experience them in some form or another (usually by accident), lead us to a greater understanding of ourselves and the nature of reality.

The Tao Te Ching says, “Darkness within darkness, the gateway to all understanding.” This line has always stayed by my side since I first read it. When we probe the depths of the psyche through meditation, or simply through approaching the reality of everyday life in a neutral way, we find a lot of darkness. Assuming we’re being honest with ourselves, we likely find just as much darkness as light. We find chaos, violence, destruction, and conflict. We find death (obviously) just as often as we find life. Every life is also a death.

We’ve been trained to think that these ruminations are gloomy, that they’re dangerous or bad for our mental health. But have we collectively gleaned much spiritual depth as a repressed society? Not really. Millions of people are anxious and depressed— many of them suicidal, or even homicidal— and their families and friends have little to no idea why!

Could it be that, culturally, we’re all terrified of death? Why else would people become addicted to exercise and health food? Why is everyone so obsessed with biographies of Great People and productivity? We are completely terrified of what’s inevitably around the corner. We’re simultaneously obsessed with the destination but also trying to avoid it at all costs. We don’t want to confront the void because it’s uncomfortable.

The void is a tough sell. There’s nothing there; that’s the nature of the thing. When you sit in silence and confront nothingness, you don’t feel too compelled to go out and narcotize yourself with distractions. If anything, you grow far more comfortable with nothingness over time, and find that the simple practice of engaging neutrally with it each day completely transforms your life. This is the history of meditation and Spirituality 101. Why does death figure so heavily into art, philosophy, music and spiritual conceptualization of the world? Because it’s an inevitability. It’s a requirement. It’s the contract we unwittingly sign upon birth. And that’s ok.

We’re kidding ourselves if we think we can cheat death. Similarly, we’re delusional if we think that we can live in a state of Pure Positivity or naive enough to label ourselves “optimists”.

(This is my biggest qualm with New Age thinking. It’s not Zen. It’s not mindful. It’s delusional. And it usually asks you for money.)

The crux of it: there’s no need for petty labels or systems of dogmatic spiritual belief. We can simply learn, on a personal and emotional level, how to accept the inevitable. The key to living fully is to live fully. This requires us to embrace all concepts, embrace their opposites, and then embrace the contradictions that arise when we try to transcend these concepts. It’s a cycle that becomes more and more beautiful the further you go with it. It’s playful.

There’s no darkness without light, no life without death, no something without nothing. The key is to realize that these dualities and polarities are also false. In embracing them and not resisting them we really get to a place where we can accept life for all its absurdities and inconsistencies. Once we make peace with that fundamental nothing-something, we can make peace with ourselves. Finally, if we can pull off making peace with ourselves, we can make peace with one another. We have a long way to go, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth staring into the void. Give it a try.

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