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September 2018 / More


Convictions & Concerns

TAT members share their personal convictions and/or concerns

Remembrance & Contemplation

Following is the full contemplation, titled "Depression and Suicidality," provided by Ike H. in remembrance of Jeff Crilley, the composite of which appears in the main page for September 2018:

Note: this piece is simultaneously a response to Reader's Question of the Month and a reflection on depression, both triggered by the news about Jeff's suicide.


I did not know Jeff while he was alive. However, his name came up enough number of times during my conversations with our mutual friends, such that the news of his suicide stirred up much in me. Our Pittsburgh PSI and TAT connections, and his successful suicide attempt and my failed one, evoked a sense of camaraderie. Jeff's death showed me glaringly how urgent one particular need could demand to be fulfilled, shifting its priority status to primary. That said, my reflection below is entirely of my own experience, and I do not claim to know the reasons for Jeff's suicide.

Speaking from experience, at bottom a suicidal person is absolutely convinced, albeit for one brief moment, that death would solve or end her problem, or is a better alternative to the situation she currently finds herself. Not dismissing the pain, looking back, I say considering suicide is an act of pride loaded with blind beliefs. 

Not long ago I attended a Catholic prayer gathering in a village in my hometown in Java, Indonesia. The gathering was held to commemorate a recently deceased member of the village. Commemorating the dead is a very common gathering practice in Java, and the prayer leader during his talk drew attention to the fact that both the Javanese and the Catholics have so many such rituals. He asked why and then pointed out the common belief that the Javanese and the Catholics share, namely, that only people who are alive are in the position to do something about suffering. They believe that the dead are no longer enjoying such freedom and capacity. In whatever state of existence they find themselves during their lives leading up to death remains after death, with the difference that they are now completely helpless to do anything about it, not even to pray. That is why we, who still can, gather together to pray for our deceased beloveds to help purify them. But I am not here to present a theological or an anthropological paper. What I want to relate is my change of attitude.

Prior to that night I had repeatedly heard the theory that death may not be the end, and may even be a worse state than the suffering state I find myself in. I had also considered the idea of reincarnation numerous times, successfully enough to have scared myself away from any recurring idea of doing myself in. But secretly my attitude toward this theory had always been one of, "Yeah, right, what a laughable, backward belief." In the depths of my mind I still harbored hope that death would end my misery. That night, though, a switch got flicked in my mind. Suddenly I considered in a different light my family tradition. I was brought up with a Chinese tradition of praying for our dead ancestors, a practice I had always thought meaningless. There was no single Chinese holiday where we did not first offer prayers and food for the dead, wait until the incense sticks and candles are completely burnt out before we are allowed to feast. I had thought it laughable, a manifestation of an Eastern attitude that submissively respect the elders, a product of an unquestiong backward mind. I had always thought that the dead were the lucky ones to have been dead; I envied those superior bastards. I never really knew what to say when I prayed, and if I said anything, it was to ask for their help, blessings, etc. Never even once did I consider that they may have been the ones needing my help.

Whether or not the Javanese-Catholic belief presented by the gathering leader had any basis, my pride in my intellect had prevented me from considering that there may just be a wisdom behind a long-standing tradition, a wisdom unknown to me but more ancient than my several decades of life and meager education. The leader's talk that night was not particularly convincing; perhaps I simply heard it when my pride of knowing had been beaten up enough, and it allowed me to see that I, too, was operating under an unfounded belief about death. Suppose death is really no safety shore?

Divested of my hope in death as salvation, I began taking my life more seriously. Not the kind of seriousness that made me feel so abandoned in the face of the universe to consider taking my own life, but the kind of seriousness that makes me see that a solution must be found in this lifetime, or I might lose my only chance. I realized I had trivialized life, an attitude that made me so easily resort to the idea of suicide. I was not that earnest in finding a solution, because I was not convinced that the problem was real. Having the safety net of death, I did not think there was a real consequence to not finding that solution. I don't need the Buddha to tell me that life is suffering; even so, life may also be a privilege.

I've come to recognize the root of my depression to be feeling that my life lacks a spiritual context. This to me is what separation is. I call it loneliness. I think I am only able to describe it this way, because I am writing as an Americanized Easterner, who came to the States with an inherited belief about my spiritual context, having it challenged and taken away in America, and then returning to Indonesia without a satisfactory replacement. I returned, however, with an outsider position that allows me to observe from outside the indigenous belief structure that used to uphold my world, a belief I think I shared with many of my fellow countrymen.

I said spiritual context, and not social context. Living in Indonesia one would find it hard getting away from people, and even harder from tacit demands to conform and interact with others. We, Indonesians, have the word for loneliness, and we can indeed feel lonely from lacking company, but observing and conversing with others here, I can see that they have harder access to the experience of what I call deep and chronic American loneliness. That said, I don't think that a close-knit social life is the antidote, because a lack of interpersonal connection may not be the real cause of the problem. I'll be the first to say that we need to socialize, that it is not healthy to have too little of it, but to me loneliness is not, at heart, about lacking company. To me it is the feeling of being disconnected from a higher power that one feels has everything to do with one's life.

In the US it was much easier to believe that my world or life was the only existing realm; the collective belief supported that attitude. But that belief is foreign to most Indonesians. Life without the idea of God is almost unthinkable. God defined vaguely perhaps, but most importantly, God understood as a higher power to which one's life belongs. In addition to God, many of us believe we live alongside jinns, angels, and dead ancestors perhaps still floating in the air. I think an individualistic society is born when the idea of, or the belief in, God is fading. But I am not saying that Easterners are wiser and more awake about things spiritual than the Westerners, just because we burn more incense. It may simply be that poverty, lack of public services, lower life expectancy, inadequate systems and technology to handle natural disasters, create a conducive environment for an attitude of surrender to a higher power. Compared to the US, Indonesia may witness fewer silent depressive suicides, but we do have suicide bombings done in the name of some god.  

Here I am living back in a society suffused with God's name, with easy access to family support and people's body heat, and I am still lonely. That is, a fundamental need is unmet, which is what I called the need for a spiritual context. I still marvel to see that there is such thing as a spiritual need, and a dire one at that, one that could flare up to such pain and even bring one to the brink of suicide. I am not at all convinced that happiness is the cure. Material comfort and worldly success accentuate this painful emptiness, and I believe I'm speaking not only for myself. My achievements, maybe more than my failures, time and again clarify in my mind that I NEED God. In frustrated moments, I say, "If God doesn't exist, I am going to make one." If I could, I really think I would have, knowing that I am not so strong, or self-honest, or committed to truth. If I could return and take refuge in the old belief, I probably would have also. The Bible verse, "Seek first the Kingdom of God," I now understand as pointing to the urgency of the spiritual need. Kingdom of God is to me no longer a desire, not even a heart's desire, that I have the luxury to do without. It is a primary need. To use this lifetime—the only chance I know I have—to satisfy this need, is not even an option. It's not a commitment I heroically make; it's a desperation that comes from recognizing there really is no guarantee, left and right, for salvation, especially in something as unknown as death. The risk of not finding it in this lifetime is living the rest of my life in depression. And maybe, just maybe, a state of complete helplessness afterwards. 

The day I heard of Jeff's suicide I sent a prayer for his dead soul, which I have never done for his alive self. I did not even care to ask what a soul was.

Comments or questions? Please email the .

Return to the main page of the September 2018 TAT Forum.


TAT Foundation News

It's all about "ladder work" – helping and being helped

Downloadable/rental versions of the Mister Rose video and of April TAT talks Remembering Your True Desire:

"You don't know anything until you know Everything...."

Mister Rose is an intimate look at a West Virginia native many people called a Zen Master because of the depth of his wisdom and the spiritual system he conveyed to his students. Profound and profane, Richard Rose was not the kind of man most people picture when they think of mystics or spiritual teachers. Yet, he was the truest of teachers, one who had "been there," one who had the cataclysmic experience of spiritual enlightenment.

Filmed in the spring of 1991, the extraordinary documentary follows Mr. Rose from a radio interview, to a university lecture and back to his farm, as he talks about his experience, his philosophy and the details of his life.

Whether you find him charming or offensive, fatherly or fearsome, you will not forget him, and never again will you think about yourself, reality, or life after death in quite the same way.

3+ hours total. Rent or buy at tatfoundation.vhx.tv/.

2012 April TAT Meeting – Remembering Your True Desire

Includes all the speakers from the April 2012 TAT meeting: Art Ticknor, Bob Fergeson, Shawn Nevins and Heather Saunders.

1) Remembering Your True Desire ... and Acting on It, by Art Ticknor
Spiritual action is like diving for the Pearl beyond Price. What do you do when you don't know what to do or how to do it? An informal discussion centered around the question: "What prevents effective spiritual action?"

2) Swimming in the Inner Ocean: Trips to the Beach, by Bob Fergeson
A discussion of the varied ways we can use in order to hear the voice of our inner ocean, the heart of our true desires.

3) A Wider and Wilder Vision, by Shawn Nevins
Notes on assumptions, beliefs, and perspectives that bind and free us.

4) Make Your Whole Life a Prayer, by Heather Saunders
An intriguing look into a feeling-oriented approach to life.

5+ hours total. Rent or buy at tatfoundation.vhx.tv/.

Return to the main page of the September 2018 TAT Forum.


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