QUESTION: I have contemplated ending my own life many times, and grappled with the permanency of the decision to leave a life never to be lived again. Many times, I wasn’t able to completely “let go”, but there were times when I was ready and it was only the weight of knowing the damage that action would do to those who love me that kept me from doing the one big plunge. Ironically, now when I am finally ready to leave the world, I have come to the realization that I am unable to end my life (a very difficult act to do) with my own two hands, and no matter what happens, I must live it out, whatever it may be.

My struggle/mission (I can’t say I’ve been on a spiritual path, just trying to get out of the prison I built in my head) is to find a way to simply “be” - to feel life, self, and others as they pass. I have had many difficult experiences in my past and always believed that if I ever let all those things in my head be true, I would die. I fought very hard for this life, held on to hope (a silly little word that possesses amazing power) that I might make it, but I never thought I would. I have finally been able to let all of those scary awful things in my head - land at my heart center. I recently realized that I’ve survived. This doesn’t make me happy (this is confusing to me). I think my focus on getting out of my head and into the world, which I never thought existed for me, did not prepare me for life. In many ways, I’ve always been prepared for death. So, how to embrace life and learn to live for the first time? I know life is a beautiful thing, I just never thought it was for me. Thanks for your comments.

ANSWER: Your honesty and courage are astounding as well as so moving. As is your clarity. You have, in fact, lived and are living a true spiritual life. Spirituality is not about happiness nor relief from reality - but, in fact, having the courage to face life squarely. The “relief and happiness” (although I prefer the word serenity, as happiness can come and go) are byproducts of this act over time. As we face the scary demons we repress (which, when repressed, magnify infinitely) and allow them to “land at the heart center”, as you beautifully put it, healing occurs. Not fixing, not masking, and not sweeping it under the rug nor steeping in it; but genuine healing.

What you describe, the ”always being prepared for death” instead of living, is a part of all of us. Very few of us are fully living, most of us are merely surviving if not courting death on some level. Romancing death is not just about the intention to end life, but the many ways that we betray our life force. This can take many shapes, be it assuming roles or relationships that are killing us or the fact that we never risk being vulnerable, and hence never reveal ourselves to anyone. Especially ourselves. One function of the death exercise is to make us realize how impermanent life is. From this experience, we can gain the permission and courage to live as a free being. Instead of a slave to some repressed part of ourselves or the culture that we are steeped in.

Your “struggle/mission... to find a way to simply 'be' - to feel life, self, and others as they pass” is the ultimate spiritual practice. And it is not easy given all of our wounding, which makes us judge ourselves so harshly, and hence everyone and thing around us. So the healing of oneself is the ultimate gift to those around us, as it allows us to accept others in their limitations, since we have done the same for ourselves.

You say, “I recently realized that I’ve survived. This doesn’t make me happy (this is confusing to me).” You have just come out of surgery. And maybe you have some rehabilitation under your belt. Now is the time to find out what brings you joy. Go out there and be present to life. Make connections. Experience things. We give up much to be in these bodies and can sometimes forget to make use of them. You have survived; now find out what it feels like to live.

Thank you for your courage in the decision to choose life. Not to just stay alive, but to actually choose life. I, for one, know this plane is a better place to walk on because you have faced your Self. And that you are out there walking it with me.