Two quotes can help us sum up what we are looking at here.
The first is from Bill Bryson’s exceptional book ‘The Body, a guide for occupants’ in which he quotes the expert in trauma surgery, Ben Ollivere: ‘Killing yourself is actually difficult. We are designed not to die’.
The second is the title of a book written by Richard Sylvester, named after the words that Tony Parsons once said to him, ‘I hope you die soon’.
And hopefully it is clear, by this stage in this book, that the ‘you’ referred to in each quote is not the same ‘you’.
‘We are not designed to die’ refers to the body, this miracle of design, this ‘universe of 37.2 trillion cells operating in more or less perfect concert’ as Bill Bryson describes it.
The body is intelligence in action. And it is life that creates, of this lump of inert flesh and bone, a system of response and stasis that even the most eminent brains are still only beginning to fathom. All of it working, as far as it possibly can to maintain and prolong heath, vitality and function.
The self-identity has no control or say in any of these physical processes. There is a belief that it does. But even just a moment’s reflection shows that thought has no control over this most intricate, complex and unknown of systems. Indeed, the self idea is a product of the system, not the ruler of it.
Which is why we have the second quote, ‘I hope you die soon’. Tony Parsons wasn’t referring, of course, to the body. He was referring to that self-identity that believes it is in charge, not just of the body but of everything – experience, emotion, beliefs, state…
Because it is that self-identity that is the source of all suffering. The self-identity is not necessary for life to flourish. The self-identity is not necessary for this miracle system to function.
Indeed, we could say that the protection of a self-identity, the living out and defending of its insecurities and beliefs is the source of all violence, cruelty and conflict.
The self-identity is a confusion of mind that the body often needs to work hard to flourish within. Think of the smoking habits and physical risks initiated to fit in. Think of the alcohol downed to numb shame or fears. Think of the drugs used to bolster self-esteem and bravado. Think of the needless plastic surgery to look how we think we should look.
And sometimes, in the case of suicide for example, the body, try as it might—and it really will try—just cannot win the battle against the conviction that life as this self is not worth living.
The intelligence of this physical system is unquantifiable. The human capacity for imagination and conceptualisation, for ideas and thought is equally limitless. And when the two are understood for what they are, when the idea of a controlling self dies in the face of the unknowable intelligence of life that we really are, then the life we are is lived with the freedom, respect and awe we deserve.
Excerpt from SANE, getting real with reality.