“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” ~Albert Einstein
“I don’t want to live anymore. I don’t want to be here. I can’t do this. It hurts too much. It’s too hard.”
I’m curious how many times I’ve heard these words over my lifetime. From different people, ages, genders, ethnicities, and walks of life. The words the same, the heaviness no different from one to the next. Hopelessness has a specific tone attached to it. Flat, low, and empty.
Being the child of a parent who committed suicide, there is a familiar inner fear that washes over me when I hear these words. A hyper alertness and tuning in, knowing it’s time to roll up my sleeves.
As a psychotherapist, there is a checklist that goes through my head to make sure I ask all of the right questions as I assess the level of pain they are experiencing.
As a human, a warm wave of compassion takes over as I feel around for what this particular soul needs.
After asking the typical safety questions and determining this person is not at significant risk of ending their life, I ask, “So what is the end goal here? What do you think happens after you die? Where will you go? How will you feel? What will feel different when you’re dead versus how you feel right now?”
The answers vary from “It will be dark and nothingness, no feeling, no existence” to “I’ll be in heaven and done with this,” but more often than not they say, “I don’t know.”
I sometimes question, “Well, if you don’t know how can you guarantee it will be better than this? What if it’s worse? What if you have to relive it all again? What if you are stuck in a dark abyss and can’t get out?”
More times than not they have not thought this through. They are not thinking about what is next, mostly because what they are really saying is “I don’t want to feel like this anymore.”
I get that. We all have those moments.
Then I dig in further:
“How do you know your miracle is not around the corner? How do you know relief will not come tomorrow if you allow the opportunity for one more day? What would it be like to be curious about what’s next instead of assuming it will all be just as miserable?
Since you have not always felt like this, is it possible you may one day again feel joy and freedom?
If you look at your past, you’ll see you have had many fears and low moments. Did they stay the same or did they change? Most of your fears did not come to be, and if they did, you survived them—you made it through. You may have even learned something or strengthened your ability to be brave.
If you turn around, you can see there is a lifetime of proof that your world is always changing and shifting. You’ll see many moments when it may have felt like things were not going the direction you wanted, but you’ll likely see an equal number of moments that led you to exactly what you needed. Use those as evidence that your surprise joy may be just around the corner.”
During these conversations, my own curiosity resurfaces. I often ponder if my mother held out a little longer what her life would have looked like. I wonder if another medication would have helped her. Or if the words of an inspiring book may have offered her the hope to keep holding on. Or if the feeling of the sun on her face would have kissed her long enough for her to want a little bit more.
What if she held on to the curiosity of what was to come instead of deciding there were no surprises or joy left? Would she have felt the bittersweet moment of watching me graduate from high school? Would she have been there to cheer me on when I earned my master’s degree hoping to help people just like her? Would she have held my daughter, her first grandchild, and wept tears of joy knowing she made it?
Who knows what her life would have been like if she held on for one more day? I will never know, but I am curious.
I have sat with countless children and adults while they are deep in their pain. I ache for them, cry for them, and also feel hope for them. I wonder out loud what will happen next that we cannot see.
I’ve seen pregnancies come when hope had left, new relationships be birthed when the people involved were sure they would never feel loved again, new jobs appear out of nowhere at just the “right” time. I’ve seen illnesses dissipate once people started paying attention to themselves, and moments of joy build in the hearts of those who were certain there was no light left.
The truth is, we don’t know what will happen next, but we know we have made it this far. How do we know tomorrow won’t be exactly what we’ve been waiting for?
I believe our baseline feeling as humans is peace. The loving calm that fills us when we are in the presence of those we adore. The kind of whole that we feel when we’ve done something we feel proud of and we reconnect to the love we are made of. The way we feel when we are giving love to others and the way we feel when that love is returned.
I also believe that the human experience is filled with struggle and hardship and challenge. I don’t think we are getting out of it. I believe we are equipped with the power to lean in to our pain to let it move through us. To use our experiences as our strength and our knowledge for the next wave of frustration.
I don’t believe we are supposed to suffer, but rather learn to thrive in the face of hardship and use hope as the steering wheel to guide us through… knowing even though the light may not be right in front of us, it’s just around the corner.
And the more we employ this faith and our practices that support us, the quicker we are able to return to the peace that lies underneath.
In the moments of hardship, what would it be like to allow for curiosity? To not only acknowledge the feeling in front of us—and feel it—but to also allow for the possibility of what is to come.
All of our experiences come with the free will to choose how we will respond to them. With openness and wonder or dismissal and resistance. It’s also okay to feel it all at once. The feelings will pass. They always do.
The next time you feel stuck in a feeling, or what feels like a never-ending experience, consider thinking, I wonder what will come of this. I wonder what I will gain. I wonder what strengths I will develop and how I will support myself. I wonder what beauty lies on the other side of this pain. Don’t push through it but surrender into it.
Then allow for curiosity. Be open. You never know what surprises the day may bring. Maybe today is the day it all changes. Or maybe tomorrow. You may not know the day, but you can be ready and open for when it arrives.