Tuesday, July 3, 2018
Contemplating our impermanence
An evening last week I biked out to what can best be described as the small wooden pavilion on the Riverview side of the Petticodiac river adjacent to Bore View Park. I was happy to be the only one there when I arrived since I was really craving some alone time. It was a warm windy evening that finally felt like summer. I took my helmet off and stood on the side of the pavilion looking at the Moncton side. I could see people on the trail on the other side. They seemed so close but still far enough that they wouldn’t recognize me even if they were watching. I meditated for a while then just stood there and paid attention to the feeling of the warm breeze on my skin. It felt good. The solitude and stillness made me feel a strong sense of peace.
Riding there, I could feel that my focus was off. It’s been like that off and on since the concussion, but mostly on, especially when I’m doing something that involves movement and when I get tired. I felt pretty bummed out that my brain just can’t go as fast as the rest of my body anymore. It’s a feeling of disconnection, a foggy, dream-like state that requires me to concentrate so much harder but still leaves me feeling like I’m not interacting directly with my physical surroundings. In so many ways, I feel like I’m no longer part of this physical world when I feel like this. I kindof feel half-dead.
Buddhists regularly meditate on death. Since it’s a sure thing, why not get comfortable with it? This really makes sense to me. Becoming at ease with our mortality is how we become brave and free. As I stood on the side of the pavilion, feeling so very disconnected from the world around me, looking at the city from the outside, on the other side of the river meditating, I thought about my mortality. I thought about how I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience, looking down at the world from above in this very moment. I thought about the intense peace that I was feeling. And then this intense peace suddenly scared the shit out of me. The fear that I was feeling wasn’t a fear of dying, but rather a fear of not being afraid of dying. I still have many fears. I am always afraid of leaving my loved ones and suffering before I die and I am always terrified of hitting my head again every single minute of every day, but in that specific moment I wasn’t afraid of death. Maybe a certain fear of death is necessary to keep us alive?
Following the recent deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain from suicide there is a shit load of talk on social media and the rest of the internet about depression and mental illness. Depression, like Type 1 Diabetes and Post-Concussion Syndrome, is invisible. With celebrities, we build them up as being inhuman. Not that they are more important than the many other non-celebrities that die from suicide each and every day but we tend to look at them differently. We have been brainwashed to believe that if we just had enough money and success that our lives would finally be perfect, that we would finally be happy. Both of these celebrities had achieved this and even more. Their deaths prove to us that external abundance can never fill our inner void. And that really shakes us to our core because it really goes against what society has taught us. The thing is that society doesn’t give a shit about you and your happiness. It just wants you to work hard and spend lots of money to make the economy thrive. And it wants you to do this without questioning why.
Premature death seems unfair to us since we’ve been told that we deserve more. I’m not really sure why I chose the word “premature” here because is there really an age when we are expected to die? Maybe that age is the average life expectancy? Unconsciously we all figure we’ve at least got that much time, even longer, as long as we follow the guidelines that our medical community has established.
With suicide there is underlying belief that it is a choice and that it could have been prevented. Maybe in some cases things can get better in the end with proper treatment? Some do manage to survive severe suicidal depression. What do we have if not at least a bit of hope?
I’ve never been suicidal. The year after my concussion, I can say that I felt quite depressed and didn’t really want to continue living with the extreme physical feelings of disconnection that I was constantly feeling at the time but I can’t say that I was planning ways to end my life. My brain was (as still is to a certain extent) physically broken and this had a very big effect on my quality of life which caused my depression. Like all of our other organs, our brains can become broken beyond repair, caused by both physical and emotional trauma, and the result is terminal depression ending in death from the disease called suicide. Just like dying from heart failure, kidney failure or liver failure, I see suicide as dying from brain failure.
Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain were very smart and I’m sure that they knew about Helplines that they could have called in order to seek help, but they didn’t reach out. It was too late. It was far beyond a call for help. Their brains were broken beyond repair. They died from brain failure.
Openly talking about it is a start but in the end I think we’re all to blame for the rise in mental illness. We have created a society based on competition and elitism where we celebrate and adore the best, the winners. We all get caught up in this spell of losing ourselves in working towards reaching the top, seeking excellence. But in order for someone to win, everyone else has to lose. By design, this system will always breed unhappiness, a feeling of not quite measuring up, of never being enough. Even for those who do manage to reach the top, they know deep-down that everyone else is working relentlessly to bring them down, to take their place on the top step. It is as stressful, maybe even more stressful, to stay on top of the power pyramid as it is to climb up it.
Standing on the side of the pavilion contemplating my mortality I felt alive again. Just like Type 1 gaming being a constant reminder of the fragility of life as we live with every single insulin injection avoiding a certain death, happiness would be meaningless without suffering. It may just be a matter of becoming still enough every once in a while to remind us of this truth.