Spiritual Conclusions

The Integral/AQAL Model described in Integral Suicidology gives a framework within which we can locate the many pieces of the puzzle that need to be considered for a better understanding of the phenomenon of suicidality.  In particular, the model highlights what is currently most neglected by suicidology – the first-person, subjective and intersubjective ways of knowing identified by the two Left-Hand quadrants of the model.  The model clearly distinguishes these ways of knowing from third-person, objective knowledge, the epistemological perspective of the two Right-Hand quadrants, which is the predominant perspective of suicidology and which Ken Wilber so aptly describes as ‘flatland’ science.  As David Chalmers points out in discussing the ‘explanatory gap’ in Consciousness Studies, “a satisfactory science of consciousness must admit both sorts of data [first-person and third-person], and must build an explanatory connection between them” (Chalmers 2004 p 2).  A satisfactory science of suicidology faces an exactly equivalent challenge.

My research does not achieve the “explanatory connection” that Chalmers calls for.  This is a task that still remains to be done.  Rather, it has been necessary to first argue the validity and importance of the first-person perspective in the face of suicidology’s demonstrable exclusion of it.  Phenomenology of Suicidality makes this argument and Anthropology of Suicidology demonstrates this gap in suicidology.  Both of these key arguments in my thesis are supported by the argument in the paper in the appendix, Bridging the Spirituality Gap, which shows that the gap arises from suicidology’s ideological prejudices against first-person knowledge.  Phenomenology of Suicidality also proposes a methodological approach for bringing the first-person voice into suicidology in order to bridge this gap as a step towards building an explanatory connection.  At the centre of this argument is the first-person voice heard in the phenomenological ‘thick’ description of Thinking About Suicide.

Although the need to bridge the gap between first-person and third-person ways of knowing is central to the argument of this thesis, another serious gap in suicidology’s thinking about suicide is the absence of spirituality from the discipline, which was indeed the original motivation for my research. The Integral Model clearly identifies spiritual ways of knowing as more than just a particular kind of first-person knowledge.  Spiritual knowledge or experience, like mental knowledge or experience, span all four quadrants of the model.  The epistemological distinction being made here is that the spiritual and the mental are quite different ways of knowing, or “levels of consciousness” as Wilber calls them.  Spiritual knowledge is not just an individual, first-person perspective from the Upper-Left quadrant (or knowledge domain) but an altogether different way of knowing, across all four knowledge domains – in the same way that psychological, mental knowledge is an altogether different form of knowledge from biological, bodily knowledge.  Having said this, it is necessary to stress, as Wilber does, that all ways of knowing (all levels of consciousness) are always present and active simultaneously, even though we might deliberately focus on specific ways (or levels) for particular activities – such as the spiritual during meditation or the mental as I write this exegesis.

Wilber recognises the spiritual wisdom of Ramana (and many others), so the Integral Model is a conceptual framework designed to explicitly accommodate spiritual ways of knowing as distinct from mental ways of knowing.  It therefore clearly identifies and addresses the other major gap in suicidology indicated by my research, the absence of spirituality, making it an appropriate model for the Integral Suicidology proposed in this thesis.  We can look to phenomenology and anthropology to identify the gaps due to the absence of the first-person voice, which we can now clearly identify as two first-person voices, the phenomenological, personal, subjective ‘I’ and the anthropological, cultural, intersubjective ‘We’.  The Integral Model recognises both these voices, or knowledge domains, in its two Left-Hand quadrants.  But the first-person voices do not automatically bring with them a spiritual voice or knowledge.  For this, we need to distinguish between mental and spiritual ways of knowing, as the Integral Model does.  Consciousness Studies is beginning to bring spiritual ways of knowing into a truly multi-disciplinary exploration of the experience of consciousness, as described in Bridging the Spirituality Gap in the appendix.  In Consciousness Studies, though, the prevailing assumption is that consciousness is a phenomenon of the mind.  Wilber and spiritual sages such as Ramana Maharshi would argue, as I have in Thinking About Suicide, that it is the other way round – that mind arises within consciousness.

The major creative challenge in my research has been to articulate my understanding of spiritual self-enquiry as the key to my recovery from persistent suicidality – that is, to argue the validity and importance of spiritual ways of knowing to the discipline of suicidology.  This is done not by any experiment, survey, analysis or critique of the many forms of spirituality as they might relate to suicidality, though some reflections on these do appear in the commentaries in Thinking About Suicide.  The primary means of arguing for a place for spirituality in suicidology is to tell the story of my own recovery from suicidality through a particular way of spiritual knowing that I have called spiritual self-enquiry.  This story is told – this argument is made – in Thinking About Suicide, the centrepiece of this thesis.  The exegesis argues the validity of first-person story-telling and describes a phenomenological method for working with the first-person data and knowledge.  And the spiritual voice – or knowledge, or argument – is primarily heard in the two main chapters on spirituality in Thinking About Suicide.

These two chapters – Chapter Five on ‘Spiritual Self-Enquiry” and Chapter Six on ‘The Willingness to Surrender’ – are my explication of spiritual self-enquiry as I learned it from Ramana Maharshi and Gangaji, including how this set me free of my persistent suicidality.  No attempt is made, either in these chapters or anywhere else in the thesis, to make any generalisation about spirituality as a ‘treatment’ for suicidality from the stories told in these chapters.  Nor is there any attempt to make any generalisations about the many forms of spirituality, other than a few reflective remarks in the commentaries.  These two chapters in Thinking About Suicide tell a story – another phenomenological expression, or more phenomenological ‘data’ – of one individual’s experience of spirituality in the context of a suicidal crisis of the self, as I experienced it and in my own words.  Following the phenomenological method described in Phenomenology of Suicidality, the final stage of the validation of this story is beyond the scope of this thesis.  But unless the story told in these chapters is totally invalidated and rejected, then a clear gap exists in suicidology that is begging for attention.

These two chapters were not only the greatest creative challenge of the thesis, they were also the most personally satisfying and are, in my view, the most significant contribution the thesis has to offer suicidology.  The validation of the spiritual story in these two chapters will take place in the broad community conversation on suicide that this thesis calls for.  This conversation, which must embrace the first-person voice of those who know suicidality ‘from the inside’, will undoubtedly include many other spiritual stories.  As these stories pass the test of phenomenological validation, in the various forms this may take, then suicidology will be increasingly obliged to engage with spirituality as at least a contribution towards a better understanding of suicidality as a crisis of the self.  But more than this, my own story tells of – and argues for – spiritual ways of knowing as a potential path out of suicidality for what could be a significant number of people.

The ‘evidence’ of the phenomenological data/stories cannot continue to be dismissed and excluded, as they typically are by the flatland science of suicidology, as individual, subjective, anecdotal and unworkable data.  And suicide and suicidality are such exceptional human experiences that no individual data/story can be rejected on the grounds that it is exceptional.  Even if my story of spirituality as central to my recovery from suicidality was peculiarly unique to me, which I know it’s not, then suicidology is still obliged to consider it.  And to reject it because it is subjective and therefore unusable or unworkable as data only reveals the limitations of the current research methods of suicidology, as the Integral Model and the papers of this exegesis make clear.  At the same time, the phenomenological data of the thesis, and of these two chapters in particular, suggest much more than just these criticisms of the current thinking of suicidology.  They challenge suicidology to open its doors to spiritual wisdom, as Consciousness Studies is beginning to.  This important work, however, will never be done while suicidology remains blind to the first-person data of both suicidality and of spirituality.  An intellectually exciting and humanly rewarding research agenda will open up once suicidology opens its doors to spiritual wisdom.  And this, in my view, is the most important contribution, the greatest gift, that my experience of suicidality – my story, my thesis, my argument – can offer suicidology.

The stories in Thinking About Suicide are primarily first-person stories of one individual’s lived experience of suicidality and spirituality.  We can now locate these stories/data, and the overall thesis, precisely and appropriately in the Upper-Left quadrant of the Integral Model.  The model also highlights the gaps in suicidology and, in a similar way, it shows the limits to the scope of this thesis.  The two Right-Hand quadrants that see only exterior, observable, objective data represent the current knowledge domains of suicidology.  These have not been a focus of the thesis other than to acknowledge their validity, but then to argue that by themselves they give only a partial view and are inadequate for a comprehensive understanding of suicidality.  It is the Lower-Left quadrant of collective, first-person knowledge that I feel has been most neglected in this thesis.  It does appear in my research as the knowledge domain where the intersubjective validation of phenomenological data takes place, but this quadrant (or domain) will have a greater role to play in suicide prevention than just this.

In the Epilogue of Thinking About Suicide, I suggest that this domain is the key for meaningful suicide prevention, where it becomes a whole of community project to promote healthy communities that would minimise suicidality arising in the first place.  The Lower-Left quadrant is where the broad community conversation called for in the thesis will take place.  It also includes the mutual self-help, peer support groups and other community activities that will be the key to meaningful suicide prevention programs, although the thesis has not explored these in great depth.  This domain is also, for me, the primary domain of Mad Culture.  In particular, it is in this domain that we create the safe spaces where we can tell our stories – the source of and also the validation process for the first-person data.  It is the domain of mutual recognition, companionship, sanctuary and refuge.  The collective, intersubjective, first-person knowledge domain will be a significant part of the exciting and valuable research agenda, along with spiritual wisdom, that will open up for suicidology when it opens its doors to first-person and spiritual knowledge.

This exegesis, and my thesis, now concludes by returning to the first-person voice of suicidality.  This time it is not my own voice as in Thinking About Suicide but the voice of a young man of 19, Adam Kemp, just months before he took his life.  His poem, published in a book on youth suicide (Donaghy 1997), came to my attention after writing the original version of Integral Suicidology but before the SPA 2003 conference, so I included it in my presentation.  Two things struck me most painfully when I read this poem.  First, if Adam had spoken of his suicidality to a doctor then he would probably have been diagnosed with a ‘mental illness’ and prescribed anti-depressant medications, perhaps for the rest of his life.  Second, of all the moving phrases in this poem that spoke to me, one in particular jumped out at me – “this dark and sour being which is my true self”.  My intersubjective interpretation of these words is that Adam died because he had come to believe a lie about his true self.  The thoughtfulness and eloquence of his poem speak to me of a sensitive, intelligent young man struggling to find himself.  His suicide, to my eyes, was a crisis of the self.

To The World

Alone I am as I sit at the lake’s edge throwing pebbles.
The colour of my soul is so black, my heart so heavy,
That even the pleasant sound of robins drifting from a nearby glade
Cannot soothe my feelings of bitterness and emptiness.

The warmth of the sun does not reach me
                 as I hide behind a face of questionable character.
Who is this person who is always gay and nonchalant?
A second self perhaps … a creature born out of search for sanctuary
Simply a lifeless carcass to hide within during times of display.

Trust, faithfulness, compassion … words which no longer hold meaning for me,
Have been replaced with betrayal, isolation and worthlessness.
All blended together to create this dark and sour being which is my true self.

I long for the day when I can feel love, happiness and a sense of purpose again
Surely there will come a time when the seed of life
Which has been planted and buried deep inside of me
Can blossom into something wonderful, something special, something joyous to 
Please nourish me … Let me grow … I yearn to live …

 Adam Kemp, October 1995 … three months before he took his life, age 19
(From Leaving Early by Bronwyn Donaghy)