Self-Destructive Thoughts


A student asked his teacher, “What is the Way?”
Master, “Living the meaning of ultimate meaninglessness.”
Student, “What is the meaning of ultimate meaninglessness?”
Master, “How can I help you?”

(Note: This essay is by no means intended as a therapeutic treatise, and does not attempt to serve as a means of diagnosis or treatment of cases of major clinical depression, particularly if they have a bio-chemical component requiring professional medical attention. Furthermore, it is not intended to address situations of intractable and unbearable physical pain. Certainly, if one is suffering from acute suicidal impulses, please seek appropriate professional care.)

As long as we are under the influence of the amnesia which accompanies human embodiment into the denser dimension of materiality that this life entails, we generally do not have access to the “bigger picture”. Consequently, we are not at all qualified to judge each other, and this essay certainly does not propose to do so. Nevertheless, the inner emotional turmoil that might spawn thoughts of self-destruction as a viable solution to one’s perceived predicament can be submitted to inquiry based on the conscious process of recognition and liberation, and it may be useful to do so, particularly in light of the rising rates of suicide in this culture. For example, from 1999 to 2010, the suicide rate among Americans ages 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30 percent. In fact, suicide is now responsible for twice the number of deaths as homicides in America.

The illusion of being in control is one of the last of our fantasies to go, and contemplating the possibility of putting an end to one’s own life might have an appeal for some of us in seemingly desperate and oppressive situations where there is no apparent hope of relief. It is often indulged as a final assertion of one’s personal will, of control over “my life”. When in conflict with any arising circumstance or condition, alternatives are commonly sought, even to the extreme point of self-annihilation. In fact, what are we always doing, in subtle or gross ways, but habitually looking for avenues around and out of the perceived discomfort, alienation, boredom, and confusion that weigh so heavily on our hearts and minds.

Regardless of how things may seem to be going in any given moment, the fact remains that there is stress, dissatisfaction, suffering, and hence the motive and motion to alleviate it. Everything is seeking. Birth and death are bookends to a chronic search for some tangible and even lasting happiness, or at the very least, some relief from the suffering that appears to be one’s fate by virtue of simply being born into this realm. Paradoxically, that relief is always projected just out of reach, and typically in the future — if only the right numbers come up, or the right mate, friends, house, job, investment opportunity, spiritual teacher, or geological location.

Seeking is all about the sense we have of being an independent and vulnerable individual, separated from true and lasting happiness. We imagine that we are somehow lacking or even deprived of the necessary ingredients that constitute real satisfaction, and may even perceive ourselves as victims of life, at the mercy of various external forces. In any case, it is this contracted thought energy which creates the endless loop of attraction and aversion that dominates consciousness and reinforces the story of “me” – an afflicted somebody searching for ways and means to endure the ordeal of existence itself.

Meaning-making is a subjective process, of course, and borrowed meanings never quite satisfy the longing for purpose, and yet the great Sages across the spiritual spectrum who have contributed to humanity’s wisdom legacy through the millennia have been fairly unanimous in pointing out the rare and precious opportunity this human birth offers as a vehicle for discovering what we are truly made of, and who we really are. They have also been pretty unanimous in discouraging physical suicide.

Self-destructive thoughts are typically a negative reaction to life in the form of extreme rejection, based on fixated identification with an oppressive sense of personal existence. However, this conflicted identification cannot be dispelled by destroying the body, because that act does not resolve the matter of personal identity, but merely changes venues, angles of vision. Just so, one cannot break the addiction of an alcoholic by breaking their bottles. They always seem to find ingenious ways to come up with more.

In that regard, it’s said that it takes a long time to get a human body. Buddhism uses the image of a turtle adrift at sea that only surfaces every 100 years. Now imagine there is a small ring in this vast sea. It is more likely for the turtle to accidentally poke its head through that ring than to be born a human being. That’s how uncommon it is, in all the multiverse, to get a human body, yet how many of us will use this rare and precious opportunity wisely, to discover who we are, and what we are really here for?

One main operational driver behind self-destructive thoughts seems to be a rejection or dissatisfaction with the way things are perceived to be, so much so that one would contemplate putting an end to one’s life experience rather than face more of the same dissatisfaction. However, that assessment is always a conditional response, filtered through one’s pain and unhappiness, and superimposed on the way things actually are. In other words, it is a fantasy of negative meaning (or lack of meaning), and can never amount to an accurate recognition of things as they actually are.

Things in themselves, the theatrical stage of “the world” and all its many props, are neither positive nor negative, good or bad, right or wrong. As Sri Nisargadatta notes: “Nothing you can see, feel, or think is so. Even sin and virtue, merit and demerit are not what they appear. Usually the bad and the good are matter of convention and custom and are shunned or welcomed, according to how the words are used.” It is our programmed mind which applies such judgments, and so the appropriate course to follow here would entail an investigation of our filters, our downloaded programs, which yield such judgments.

For example, if we are told early on that success is equated with the accumulation of monetary wealth, then we are likely to regard our life as a failure if we do not achieve a particular income bracket. In reality, true happiness has little to do with the attainment of financial prosperity, but if we have placed all of our happiness eggs in that flimsy basket, then we will likely be driven by that particular set of expectations, and reap the inherent disappointments that result from either not attaining our material goals, or even attaining them, only to realize that the anticipated happiness of doing so is fleeting at best, and that we are still dissatisfied at heart.

Such realization could drive one to despair, even to the extreme of contemplating suicide, or alternately could provide a moment of availability, in which one has the space to inquire into their programs about what truly constitutes happiness. Prior to the disappointment, one has little space for self-inspection, since the game is afoot and all the energy is committed to the goal. However, with the recognition that the program does not yield the promised benefit – happiness – then one has a window of opportunity to really investigate their motives.

To really come to a full and awakened appreciation of “things as they are”, all superimposed filters and emotional contraction must be seen through and released, and that is a lot of work. It truly is a daunting undertaking. Yes, it is difficult and challenging to clear away the accumulation of borrowed programs and second-hand beliefs about happiness, but if we are truly interested in seeing clearly, then there is no other option.

As mentioned earlier, I am not talking here about intractable physical pain situations, which are another matter, nor about suicide resulting from unmanageable clinical depression (which is a brain disorder by most accounts), but more about the emotional disturbance of an otherwise relatively healthy individual which might prompt self-destructive thoughts in reaction to the perceived unhappiness of one’s life. It is not my intent here (nor am I qualified) to address those in the throes of acute suicidal symptoms. Rather, I am speaking to that aspect within all of us, the sense of negative self-worth and its associated emotional turmoil and inner conflict. That emotional reactivity can be inspected, and through sincere and persistent investigation, and ideally in the company and with the compassionate support of true spiritual friends, the root contraction at the heart which spawns negative self-imagery and self-destructive thought energy can be revealed and subsequently transformed into a potent wisdom. That is, if we are both willing and able to do the necessary work.

For example, by investigating the restless waking dream we commonly take our life to be, we can come to recognize what a hopeless effort our clinging to the fiction of control truly is. In trying to maintain control – of life, of relationships, of environments, of the self-sense altogether — we suffer a chronic mood of separation and consequent dissatisfaction, even to the point of rejecting the gift and miracle of life altogether. Only when the strategy to maintain the illusion of control is revealed for the futile endeavor that it is, are we able to at last release the knot at the heart and allow our true nature, which is Love, to emerge from the background.

In that regard, if there is any activity that can lift us out of our chronic self-preoccupation, it is compassionate service to others. Indeed, yogis designate “Karma Yoga” (selfless service in action) as one of the chief means of liberation. Such love is a potent antidote to morbid self-absorption, but it must be genuine and true, otherwise it is merely going through motions, and will not have the power to resolve that compounded knot at the heart which generates negative self-fixation. It is out of love that we stay alive for each other, and that includes staying alive for the one we have yet to become. As the Existentialist writer Albert Camus said: “Life is worth living, this absurd strange thing should be witnessed and it’s vital that you have some respect for your future self, who is going to know things you don’t know.”

(Keep in mind that the above recommendation of service to others would be ineffective for those who are suffering from extremely debilitating mental disorders such as clinical depression, for which professional help should be sought).

To be human is to bear wounds. As Nisargadatta wisely noted: “We are the creators and creatures of each other, causing and bearing each other’s burden.” By submitting to a conscious process of recognition, a genuine compassion for each other may dawn, because we see that our wounds are not really different from others’. To realize our inherent oneness is actually the dawn of a truly healing love. Indeed, it is that very compassion, arising from having gone through the dark nights ourselves, that subsequently renders us receptive to others’ plight, others who may be beset by the same emotional turmoil of self-destructive thoughts. In the light of such sensitivity, we can serve as patient and understanding companions, capable of deep listening. Furthermore, we may even come to the recognition that there is no other – there is only one flesh to wound. At such a point, we become a true blessing in the world, even as we bear the world’s wounds within our humble, willing embrace.


See also:

About Bob OHearn

My name is Bob O'Hearn, and I live with my Beloved Mate, Mazie, in the foothills of the Northern California Sierra Nevada Mountains. I have a number of blog sites you may enjoy: Photo Gallery: Essays on the Conscious Process: Compiled Poetry and Prosetry: Verses and ramblings on life as it is: Verses and Variations on the Investigation of Mind Nature: Verses on the Play of Consciousness: Poetic Fiction, Fable, Fantabulation: Poems of the Mountain Hermit: Love Poems from The Book of Yes: Autobiographical Fragments, Memories, Stories, and Tall Tales: Ancient and modern spiritual texts, creatively refreshed: Writings from selected Western Mystics, Classic and Modern: Wisdom of a Spirit Guide: Thank You!
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21 Responses to Self-Destructive Thoughts

  1. Bob OHearn says:

    Another interesting viewpoint on the subject, for further consideration:

  2. Bob OHearn says:

    Q: I ask to myself, if you don’t love yourself, as happens in the case of most people who want to commit suicide, how can you love others?

    A: All people love themselves, it’s just that some love themselves “unwisely”. (Remember, I am not talking about those with mental disorders such as clinical depression here.) What I mean is, we all love ourselves, but some love themselves so much that they cannot bear to experience any more suffering associated with being alive, and so they choose death instead, in the belief that it will relieve them of their suffering. That is a form of self-love, but misdirected.
    So, there is love there in the first place, it is just covered up by various ideas and experiences that seem to warrant suicide. That is where the conscious process of inquiry and liberation come into play, because by inspecting one’s mistaken notions to the point of clarity, the obstructions are one by one removed which have twisted one’s natural lovingness in a pathological direction. However, if that love is freed up by such an awakening process, then one is able to recognize that their love for themselves also applies to all, and so service to others is both part of the process of liberation, as well as the result.

  3. Bob OHearn says:

    “Your love of others is the result of self-knowledge, not its cause. Without self-realization, no virtue is genuine. When you know beyond all doubting that the same life flows through all that is and you are that life, you will love all naturally and spontaneously. When you realize the depth and fullness of your love of yourself, you know that every living being and the entire universe are included in your affection. But when you look at anything as separate from you, you cannot love it for you are afraid of it. Alienation causes fear and fear deepens alienation. It is a vicious circle. Only self-realization can break it.”

    ~Nisargadatta Maharaj

  4. Bob OHearn says:

    “When most people begin to come into contact with the true nature of their own self, they have such a hard time accepting that they could naturally be something positive and beautiful. In the west, many people struggle with negative self-image. I have seen that negative identity held onto even in the midst of profound revelation. It so easily contracts back into, ‘It couldn’t be me. It couldn’t be who I am; it’s just too good.’ If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that, I’d be a rich man!
    It’s pride. Pride in the form of an unwillingness to admit that all the avenues that we try to pursue to make us happy don’t ultimately end in happiness. Yet, we continue to insist that they do in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The other kind of pride is being unwilling to admit that you simply don’t know who you really are and that you don’t know what life is about. Pride will keep somebody from being able to say something that is obviously true. When someone’s willing to call into question these most fundamental beliefs and ideas – that is the birth of true humility. It is difficult for people to not be prideful because we have an unconscious belief that to be humble is to feel bad about oneself. It may be unconscious, but when we think of humility, we usually think of something that’s rather depressing. Shame. And this is unfortunate, because shame is not humility at all. Actually, shame and pride are two sides of the same coin. On one side is arrogance and inflation and on the other side is shame and worthlessness. Yes, and we can have a lot of pride wrapped up in being worthless. ‘Don’t tell me I’m not worthless. My whole existence depends on it! ‘ This is why the negative self-image is held onto so tightly. This whole dilemma of the human condition is really an avoidance of emptiness, an avoidance of the unknown. There is an emptiness in the midst of the human condition, but it’s not the threatening, empty emptiness that the mind thinks it is. When one finally gets the courage to go into it, it’s found to be empty and at the same time pregnant with every possibility there is.”


  5. Bob OHearn says:

    “Here’s what I believe when it comes to suicide. Your life isn’t really your own to do with as you please. That’s a deceptive ego-based fallacy. You are intimately connected to every person and thing you come into contact with. You do not end at the borders of your body. You are not your own possession to throw away.

    Sometimes people imagine they can terminate their suffering by killing themselves. I don’t believe that. The idea that committing suicide will end your suffering comes from the belief that you and the world in which you live are two different things. You believe that you can leave this world and thereby leave suffering behind. But my own sense, after years of zazen practice, is that this is not true. I’ve spent a long time watching the boundary line between what I call “me” and what I call “the rest of the world” blur and fade.

    So what I’m saying here goes a little further than just the old the-show-must-go-on–type thing, wherein people say you have a responsibility to your friends and family not to go off and blow your brains out in the greenhouse. I would add that you also have a responsibility to yourself and even to the universe as a whole not to do that. If you kill yourself, the suffering you thought was yours alone spreads out like a wave to those parts of the universe you’ve been taught to think of as separate from you. And they really aren’t. They’re you too.

    Most people seem to feel that, if nothing else, suicide at least helps the person who does it to escape the pain of life into complete oblivion. But I don’t think that’s true either.

    I don’t base this belief on received wisdom from others or on beliefs handed down to me. I don’t base it on speculating about what is most likely to happen to one who commits suicide. I base my belief on my own real experiences. In my deeper and more connected moments I’ve seen that there really is no oblivion into which I might escape.”

    ~Brad Warner

  6. Bob OHearn says:

    “I learned in the afterlife that when we choose a human life to enter, we also preplan a potential exit strategy. That’s right–we preplan our human host’s death. As we all know, but resist acknowledging, all humans die. They are temporary beings manifested by Source in order to have various experiences. Death is one of the experiences we cannot have in our natural spiritual state because we are eternal parts of Source. So we do have an interest in death when we choose a human life. Our chosen exit strategy may be an accident, illness or natural causes.

    I also learned that suicide is a perfectly acceptable exit strategy from a spiritual perspective. There is no punishment attached to choosing it. There are no negative judgments made in the afterlife about it, except possibly by yourself as you witness your life review. We do not go to hell for suicide. There is no hell. Nor do we repeat an incarnation as a punishment for how we lived a previous human life. As I said before–incarnation is a choice, not a punishment. We always make the choice ourselves and are never forced into any particular host.

    However, the problem is that WHILE WE ARE INSIDE A HUMAN BODY WE ARE IN THE WORST POSSIBLE POSITION TO KNOW WHETHER SUICIDE IS OUR CHOSEN EXIT STRATEGY. While we occupy a human as its soul, we are generally limited by human perspective. And, although humans do have a very strong survival instinct, they also have the fight-flight-freeze biological response system built into the primitive part of their brains. So it is possible for a human to want to commit suicide as a flight response to extreme physical or emotional pain. That would not mean the Light Being soul chose suicide as its preplanned exit strategy. In fact, it is nearly impossible to know what exit strategy we chose in the afterlife while we are still in the body. So whether to commit suicide is an extremely difficult decision to make. For that reason, in my opinion, we should offer suicide victims love and understanding rather than condemn them for what is either a preplanned spiritual choice or a natural biological response to extreme pain.”

    ~Nanci Danison

  7. Bob OHearn says:

    Regarding Depression:

    I am sure that there is a big link between the highly processed foods we consume, and many varieties of depression, as well as other organic imbalances that have become more pronounced as the quality of our diet has degenerated. This also includes the increasingly toxic physical environment to which we are subjected, particularly in highly industrialized societies.

    Moreover, the culture in which we live is itself essentially drenched in either a self-absorbed and nihilistic materialism, or else in an archaic and guilt-ridden religious provincialism, which to a sensitive person can be profoundly depressing.

    In any case, the very nature of this realm is called samsara, because it is permeated by suffering (dukkha). To come to a sober recognition of this fact can inspire the motive to put an end to suffering. There are skillful ways to go about that process (such as the 8-Fold Path, True Inquiry, and so forth), and there are less skillful ways, which include exploiting all the pleasure possibilities, or even ending one’s life. Depending on how skillfully we are able and willing to apply ourselves, to that extent we may discover true freedom from suffering, rather than just a momentary escape.

  8. Bob OHearn says:

    Q: I am afraid of dying, not of death itself. I imagine the dying process to be painful and ugly.

    Nisargadatta Maharaj: How do you know? It need not be so. It may be beautiful and peaceful. Once you know that death happens to the body and not to you, you just watch your body falling off like a discarded garment.

    Q: I am fully aware that my fear of death is due to apprehension and not knowledge.

    M: Human beings die every second, the fear and the agony of dying hangs over the world like a cloud. No wonder you too are afraid. But once you know that the body alone dies and not the continuity of memory and the sense of ‘I am’ reflected in it, you are afraid no longer.

    Q: Well, let us die and see.

    M: Give attention and you will find that birth and death are one, that life pulsates between being and non-being, and that each needs the other for completeness. You are born to die and you die to be reborn.

    Q: Does not detachment stop the process?

    M: With detachment the fear goes, but not the fact.

    Q: Shall I be compelled to be reborn? How dreadful!

    M: There is no compulsion. You get what you want. You make your own plans and you carry them out.

    Q: Do we condemn ourselves to suffer?

    M: We grow through investigation, and to investigate we need experience. We tend to repeat what we have not understood. If we are sensitive and intelligent, we need not suffer. Pain is a call for attention and the penalty of carelessness. Intelligent and compassionate action is the only remedy.

    Q: It is because I have grown in intelligence that I would not tolerate my suffering again. What is wrong with suicide?

    M: Nothing wrong, if it solves the problem. What, if it does not? Suffering caused by extraneous factors — some painful and incurable disease, or unbearable calamity — may provide some justification, but where wisdom and compassion are lacking, suicide cannot help. A foolish death means foolishness reborn. Besides there is the question of karma to consider. Endurance is usually the wisest course.

    Q: Must one endure suffering, however acute and hopeless?

    M: Endurance is one thing and helpless agony is another. Endurance is meaningful and fruitful, while agony is useless.

    Q: Why worry about karma? It takes care of itself anyhow.

    M: Most of our karma is collective. We suffer for the sins of others, as others suffer for ours. Humanity is one. Ignorance of this fact does not change it. We could have been much happier people ourselves, but for our indifference to the sufferings of others.

  9. Bob OHearn says:

    “Even knowing the source of destructive thoughts and feeling them with compassion is not enough to transform the most difficult patterns. We have to replace them. This is the movement of creating healthier karma. Such thought replacement can be challenging, for we are loyal to our stories. They become our identity. There’s an uneasy moment when the destructive stories we have been telling ourselves collapse. We can feel worried, doubtful, spacey, or frightened of the unknown.

    Sometimes we have to pry ourselves loose from their power and bad advice. But underneath destructive thoughts is a part of us that knows such thoughts are not true, not valid, not alive. And with a release of these old stories, a whole new perspective dawns. Fear can be transformed into presence and excitement. Confusion can open up into interest. Uncertainty can become a gateway to surprise. And unworthiness can lead us to dignity.”

    ~Jack Korfield

  10. Bob OHearn says:

    Many of those who choose to cut their lives short through self-harm do so within a place of fear. This fear can often be overcome with the right guidance and support before any suicide takes place. I shall always be an absolute advocate of guidance and support as a means of prevention even in the darkest of times.

    There are those who see the body as merely a barrier, they would say that they go not in fear but through an attraction of gravitating towards something else – which the body is not, and cannot provide for them. Yet this is not understanding what the body is capable of. It is not understanding what the mind is capable of, and similarly also what the spirit is capable of. In this outlook they have neglected their own wisdom in understanding the essence of the spirit already exists within them, and that they need not go anywhere else to find it. It is said: it is human nature to fear what they do not understand. It is through not understanding that those who commit suicide think and act in the way they do. For if they truly understood what was possible from where they are presently they would not have arrived within the thought of self-harm to begin with.

  11. Bob OHearn says:

    “The morning after I killed myself, I woke up.

    I made myself breakfast in bed. I added salt and pepper to my eggs and used my toast for a cheese and bacon sandwich. I squeezed a grapefruit into a juice glass. I scraped the ashes from the frying pan and rinsed the butter off the counter. I washed the dishes and folded the towels.

    The morning after I killed myself, I fell in love. Not with the boy down the street or the middle school principal. Not with the everyday jogger or the grocer who always left the avocados out of the bag. I fell in love with my mother and the way she sat on the floor of my room holding each rock from my collection in her palms until they grew dark with sweat. I fell in love with my father down at the river as he placed my note into a bottle and sent it into the current. With my brother who once believed in unicorns but who now sat in his desk at school trying desperately to believe I still existed.

    The morning after I killed myself, I walked the dog. I watched the way her tail twitched when a bird flew by or how her pace quickened at the sight of a cat. I saw the empty space in her eyes when she reached a stick and turned around to greet me so we could play catch but saw nothing but sky in my place. I stood by as strangers stroked her muzzle and she wilted beneath their touch like she did once for mine.

    The morning after I killed myself, I went back to the neighbors’ yard where I left my footprints in concrete as a two year old and examined how they were already fading. I picked a few daylilies and pulled a few weeds and watched the elderly woman through her window as she read the paper with the news of my death. I saw her husband spit tobacco into the kitchen sink and bring her her daily medication.

    The morning after I killed myself, I watched the sun come up. Each orange tree opened like a hand and the kid down the street pointed out a single red cloud to his mother.

    The morning after I killed myself, I went back to that body in the morgue and tried to talk some sense into her. I told her about the avocados and the stepping stones, the river and her parents. I told her about the sunsets and the dog and the beach.

    The morning after I killed myself, I tried to unkill myself, but couldn’t finish what I started.”

    ~Written by Meggie Royer

  12. Bob OHearn says:

    “In the question of taking ones own physical life, I shall always speak from the vantage point of the soul and as a spokesperson for those who have chosen this course of action in the past. I have no personal predisposition since I believe all beings are free to choose how they meet life’s challenges. However, the best answer would always come from those who have experienced this course of direction for they would be able to impart valuable insight. I have to say, from my associations with those who have taken their lives this way each soul deals with the situation differently. Overall as a majority, I have identified that most souls are regretful in passing this way during their life review. This is not because they chose an easy way out of their most difficult challenges but because of the after effects of their actions which in turn impact the lives of those they left behind in a negative way. In studying the Akashic records they come to realise just how much influence their small roles had on the life path and choices of others around them. They also, through their access to other information, and through observing others still upon the Earth, they are burdened to watch friends and family struggle and suffer within their own challenges and no longer able to intervene. They were no longer able to hold that hand in comfort; say a few comforting words; provide moral support or lend their own strength of character. It is also not uncommon for those same beings to then have to watch their friends and loved ones take their own lives and not be able to physically be there to provide comfort or guidance. So in a sense, in taking ones own physical life, you are giving up a great privilege and opportunity to be of service to others lives in such a direct way that so many billions of others in spirit do not have the opportunity to do. If a human being wishes to cast this rare opportunity to accomplish what billions of spirit observers are unable to do, then that is a choice they must be prepared to live with in the ether world thereafter. This is not a moral question or judgment, but a consideration of a broader picture which is to be considered. It is much more difficult to be of service to those of physical state from the ether world.”

    ~Spirit Guide Sparow

  13. marcelvuijst says:

    Came upon this by searching for “depression” as I was told by a friend about the avicii death (cause of death not shared yet)

    But a great essay and I hope all who read it will be motivated to investigate, having a history of depression and suicide in the days of youth myself, it is very much spawned from a negative self-image, luckily I always found depression/fear to be the very key to insight instead of distracting and running away from it, and so fortunate to meet you know who as a guide who provided the tools for investigation, but more so the comfort,trust and endless support and love which worked his transformative magic 😉 ❤

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