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Saturday, January 06, 2018

Twelve years ago I gave up art, and I gave up alcohol. It wasn’t a conscious decision to give up both at almost exactly the same time (giving up art came a couple of months after giving up drinking) and I’d been unhappy with making art for much longer than I’d been unhappy with drinking alcohol, but that’s how it went.

I knew I wanted to do something more authentic, less indirect than art, something that actually made a difference. A young man in my community, still a boy really, that I knew well, hung himself in the garage behind his grandmother’s house. I’d had a conversation with him a few months before. He seemed troubled. What I said to him was clearly not what needed to be said, not that it was much - something along the lines of Yeah isn’t it shit being 15? I remember it well. It’ll get better.”

A couple of years later a good friend killed himself. He was a man, a father, a husband, a singer/songwriter/guitar player who could move you to tears with his singing and his playing - and make you feel alive. He was the most talented man I have known. I’d had what I think of now as the conversation’ with him too. And what I said to him was clearly not what was needed either. I talked to him about his good fortune, his talent, his house, his children, his partner who loved him. What I know now is that you can have everything in the world, you can be loved, talented, good looking, intelligent - and you still feel like shit.

Maybe you are thinking about killing yourself. Maybe you know someone who is thinking of killing themselves? Maybe you suspect that someone you know is thinking of killing themselves? What do you say to them? Maybe you have lost someone who has killed themselves. Maybe you know someone who has lost someone they care about through suicide.

What do you say to them?

In 2012 I started working with people who want, more than anything, to live, although there were also some who wanted to die. They had been diagnosed with cancer. They were being treated for it. Or they had been treated and they were in remission - or there was nothing more that could be done for them. I learned how to talk to them and how to listen. I wrote a book about it.

I started working with people who wanted to die, or who wanted to be able to end their lives at a time of their own choosing. I listened to their stories. I asked them questions and I taught people how to end their lives in a way which is not painful and not messy and not violent. And some of them did end it. I am writing a book called The Art of Not Dying. This is the introduction to that book.

I started working with people who are unhappy with their lives or with the world or both, who are living their lives in a way that is unsustainable, unjust, unsatisfying - people who want to live a different kind of life, one that is not meaningless and pointless. I discovered the possibility of being posthuman, that is to say I discovered the possibility of overcoming the human condition and I started thinking and reading and talking with people about what might be possible if we were not so obsessed with ourselves, individually and collectively - less self-centred, as a species, as beings or things’ in the world. I began thinking about what kind of therapy could be of use in overcoming the human condition.

And so this is where I am now. It’s 2018. I’ll be 60 this year. It has taken 12 years to get here.

On Wednesday I worked with a woman named Gina. It was our second conversation. What she wrote about that conversation (and previously about the one we had in May, in Liverpool) was very moving.

A week or two earlier, after a conversation with Fieke she wrote, I felt empowered, part of something special, I felt in love with the world.”

And I thought, yes - I am making a difference. Now I know what to do and how to do it, what to say, how to listen, how to respond.

It has already taken a long time, but it’s a beginning - and a continuation.

Perhaps you’d like to have a conversation with me too?

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