Imagine what it would be like to lose all awareness of who and what you are. What would it be like to lose the ability to conceive of your self as an autonomous, self-reliant, self- directed, self-governing organism? What is it like to be entirely disconnected from your conscious self, as a human being? You struggle but ultimately you fail to connect with your self; and finally you are unable to feel or define your self as man, woman, or child. You are bombarded and controlled, even paralyzed, by a hurricane of thoughts and emotions outside of your self. Or, you are disconnected from those elements—love and compassion—previously holding you together like a gravitational field; and thus you are slipping away, from the earth, feeling abandoned but unable to identify those unknown forces of separation. Your soul has been so damaged or lost, you have forfeited your reason for living.
The soul is at once the ephemeral enigma we seek to capture and define-- like gravity, or moonbeams, or love. Ultimately, out of fear or frustration we give up our search for a concrete, objective, mortal entity we may call the soul. And yet, at the same time we recognize the soul as the most powerful, inevitable and irresistible ingredient in our identity as human beings. To lose your soul, is to lose your sense of self and you no longer know who you are.
A caveat to this conundrum of the soul is the fact all creatures, and perhaps even plants, have a soul. Fortunately, the others—those creatures we love-- they do not have these troublesome frontal lobes, which make us fret, stress and struggle over our true self. We have a puppy, a three year old apricot miniature poodle, who prances about her territory, barks at all manner of noises, but then runs to jump in our laps, to snuggle, knowing her real connection and identity, as a dog. Juliet may sometimes think that she is human but blissfully accepts her true self curled up in bed with us at night. We, her humans, meanwhile constantly search to define our soul, and fail to see it in our love for her. And some of us, particularly those of us connected to Natalie’s Light, try to help those who struggle to rediscover their damaged or lost souls.
This writer, having studied the brain in all its eloquent states, for over 50 years, has reached a reconciliation with neuroscientists, religious gurus and cloistered philosophers, so I define the soul in a very simple psycho-spiritual manner: the soul is that place and force within us, the anatomical location still not on our GPS, where we find the meaning and purpose of our lives. Thus, I believe the lost or damaged soul is no longer conscious of who they are; there is no awareness of self. Now, more eloquent statements about the soul are available and should be shared. Edward Tick, PhD., writing in his book “War and the Soul” attributes the following traits to the soul: “How we perceive how our minds are organized and function; how we love and relate; what we believe, expect and value; what we feel and refuse to feel; and what we judge as good or evil, right or wrong….The soul is the awareness of oneself as a discrete entity moving through space and time. It is the part of us that contemplates our own existence. ”
Regardless of how you conceive of the soul, it is the fundamental belief of Natalie’s Light that it is the lost and damaged soul that succumbs to the event we call suicide. While it is our mission to prevent suicide though awareness, our extended goal and method to prevent suicide is helping those who struggle in the darkness to rediscover their soul. This belief will help us design the strategies and detailed curriculum of Natalie’s Light and at the same time we will energize, redefine and rediscover the soul of our community.
Imagine living a life without feeling. That is like asking what it would like to live without thought. The simple and easy response is to say, “You can not live that way; it is not possible.” Well, there are conditions where it is possible to be alive, but just not functioning as a human being. We assume a person in a persistent vegetative state is a biological being but without the psycho-spiritual capacity to feel, think, reason or understand. In other words they exist without a soul. Dr. Tick reminds us “many philosophers consider reasoning as the highest function of the soul…reason allows us to know ourselves—and to KNOW that we know…it allows us to rise above our animal nature; to control our instincts, to shape our world and to create things that did not exist before…through reason, the soul contemplates the order of the universe and searches for meaning in our lives and in all existence.” Of interest Socrates explored similar concepts when, facing death, he stated, “A life left unexamined is not worth living.” It seems Socrates was not willing to sell his soul and live his life in exile.
There is also a psychological state most commonly associated with severe physical and emotional trauma, where the soul is so damaged or lost that the mind dissociates from all feelings and rational thought. In this setting, described as mind numbing, the soul separates from the body and the meaning of life is lost. Still, there are many more souls lost for reasons we do not understand, but is the determination of Natalie’s Light is to help those people rediscover their soul.
Imagine, if you can, you have totally lost the ability to imagine. You cannot imagine a future for yourself or your family. Previously there had been unlimited possibilities; now there are only impossibilities. Without imagination there is a gaping hole in the heart of our soul. However, the first indelible pillar of the soul is found through imagination. It finds some organization and meaning in the seemingly random and arbitrary events and stresses of our lives. Again, Tick eloquently describes our imagination as our ability to “create images both to express the intangible and to help us manipulate the tangible world…We could say that the act of creating Is one way we resonate with the Creator, no matter by what name we understand divinity. In this sense, the use of the imagination is inherently life affirming. “ Thus, rediscovering the soul requires the use of the power, and yes the magic, of the human use of the imagination. The illness that leads to the unfathomable abyss of suicide is a disease of the imagination. So it follows we must use the power of imagination to rescue and rediscover the soul.
Traditional medicine and psychiatry mandate the identification of a sharply defined diagnosis, followed by a tightly structured evidence based treatment program. Clearly there is a place for psychotropic medication and various forms of psychotherapy, even a place for electroconvulsive therapy. But statistics tell us we are not making any progress, not only in reducing the incidence of suicide, but in the persistent misery of a wide variety of mental health disorders. It is time for a different perspective and alternative interventions.
There is no diagnosis, no DSM code, for a lost or damaged soul. Insurance companies will not reimburse for a soul diagnosis no matter what may be the overt cause, such as severe trauma. So, to make an impact we must use our imagination and create a different model to repair and rediscover the souls that have been lost. This will require a must broader and dedicated effort. It requires participation of the entire community. Preventing suicide through awareness demands we, as a community, be aware of our selves and our souls.
To borrow—paraphrase-- once again from Edward Tick, this journey of rediscovery will require imagination, nurturing, forms of purification, storytelling, healing journeys, grieving rituals and soul retrieval. This demands the participation of our entire culture. It will ask the question: is this a community with soul?