In the Wake of a Bollywood Suicide

By Ashwini Mokashi©

The recent news of a suicide of a young and talented Bollywood star, Sushant Singh Rajput is very tragic. Some highly talented people including artists and musicians in the film or music industry, talented academic people in the topmost academic institutions, or in any top visible field have fallen prey to the act of suicide. One would think that the talented and successful people would be proud of their success and enjoy their life more so than others. However, it is not easy for the highly successful to maintain their level of success and the feeling of acceptance in the world at multiple levels. The need to be seen and validated as well as maintaining the image of being a successful and respected person is so demanding, that accepting any kind of rejection becomes very hard. Is there a way to help this situation and these bright talented people?

Somewhere along the lines, we have forgotten that life is for living, not for winning, or for being rich, or powerful. The idea is to live one’s life as happily and productively as possible. One also needs to protect oneself both from external problems such as relative or absolute poverty, natural disasters, diseases, wars, terrorism, financial losses, or any kind of violence. Likewise, there are multiple internal enemies, such as lack of confidence, lack of sense of self, depression, anxiety, fury, emotional disorders, learned helplessness and many more, that keep us from being productive and demotivate us.

Coronavirus and lockdown have created the conditions of war and famine, and it has disrupted the flow of life. That confuses a lot of people. We do not have the skills of surviving in one place without any activity or social contact. We feel the pain of the migrant workers stuck away from their homes, but we detach ourselves from their situation. Until and unless we are in a dire situation ourselves – we don’t take the necessary measures of improving our thought patterns, such as how would we solve the problem if we were stuck without resources. However, this is where most improvement is needed. Even those who lead a decent life need to make sure their thinking is positive, so they can survive any dire situations.

Wisdom, perspective and taking good decisions are instrumental for living a good life. Without the help of these tools, people will not be able to fight whatever diseases or dire circumstances they may be in, or they may fall in. When things are going well, one assumes that this is how their lives will continue. But suddenly life throws you a curveball, whether it is a job loss, or losing someone near and dear, or lockdown, or some kind of rejection that causes one to question all their decisions in life. It becomes very difficult to deal with life, one loses one’s sense of self, goes into depression and becomes totally dependent on medicines, and their support system for their basic survival. If the support system is strong, one can recover. If the support system is weak or non-existent, then the frustration can lead people to taking drugs, or in some cases taking their own lives.

One simple question to ask from time to time is ‘is this necessary’? When we get into a fight, or when we get into a bad mood, or when we are dealing with a bad boss or a bully, our patience is tested, and we can say things we regret. Sometimes we are provoked to take drastic steps and then we regret. Very soon, we have a chain of regrets and we become defensive about our actions. In short, we acquire a skill of doing wrong things and defending our wrong actions. The right thing would be to accept the wrong,  unlearn these negative skills and learn some positive skills. That process takes a lot of energy and is sometimes very painful to accept that we have been wrong. Hence, we stick to what we know by default and repeat our actions and reactions, which are proven to be unhelpful. We do not improve our tools. This is not very helpful.

We need to do some thought-cleansing occasionally, to see if our thought patterns can be more productive, more influential and if we are becoming good role models. When we unlearn our negative skills and learn something positive instead, it gives us a long-term perspective. However, replacing a negative skill with a positive one, takes a lot of effort, energy and sometimes causes a lot of confusion. People who are used to seeing us apply the negative skills will expect us to do just that and resist our new learnings. So, the best way to defend oneself is by having faith in oneself, that it is better to change one’s ways for positive outcomes, as that will help us in the long run. To give an example, if we are used to gossipping about others, we are going to attract other gossippers. But if someday we decide to stop gossipping and start saying only good things about other people, our gossipping friends will make fun or us and or would desert us. So we are in a dilemma of whether to keep gossipping and keep our social circle, or whether to try and do the right thing. It is hard to choose to do the right thing, but if we do succeed in doing the right thing, we also develop the power of influencing the others to do the right thing.

These new habits can not only make us wiser; they also substantially reduce our chances of anxiety and depression and ultimately reduce our chances of falling prey to suicide. When one develops a long-term vision, one can see solutions to every problem and not want to give up so soon on life, on our small issues, or our big concerns. Suicide is unnatural and is borne out of frustration, when one sees no other option available in life. Ups and downs are a part of life. Practically all the problems that we face, have been faced before in some fashion or the other, and hence there are solutions available on practical issues or emotional issues. One needs patience to figure out solutions, have the vision of possibilities and faith that some doors will open sooner or later. Life may look different than it did before, but it will continue and eventually also flourish.

(This is a revised version of an older essay I had published as ‘Wisdom and Suicide Prevention’.)

Published by ashwinimokashi

Ashwini Mokashi's book 'Sapiens and Sthitaprajna' is on Comparative Philosophy on the concept of the wise person in Stoic Seneca and the Gita. The book talks about how wisdom leads to happiness. This book is now also recognized by the American Philosophical Practitioners Association from New York. Her next book, a work in progress, is an account of a meditational community in India. Her broad interest is in synthesizing wisdom from various ancient traditions in the context of modern challenges.

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