There are days when I feel like I’m a kid again playing “opposites.” This was a game in which we tried to say and do the exact opposite of what we were actually doing or meaning. It was silly and more challenging than we imagined it would be, but we had a lot of fun playing at it.
Nowadays, I often feel I’m caught unawares in a game of opposites. I find it hard to know what is what. Truth is lies and lies are truth. It feels similar to being in a small plane doing aerial maneuvers like loops and rolls, completely confused about which way is up and which is down. It’s ridiculously easy to lose track of your position in the air when you rely only on your senses. That’s why instruments are so important when you can’t see the horizon.
Each of us needs a horizon in our lives, something that keeps us flying toward an unseen destination. Without it, it’s ridiculously easy to lose our way. Suicide, the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, is one glaring example of losing our way. It’s time to look at how we, as a society, are failing to provide meaningful horizons by which to navigate our lives.
Let me begin by saying that I’m not absolutely against suicide. Assisted suicide for the terminally ill is a way of allowing us the dignity of dying on our own terms. Death is a certainty for all of us. When there is no reasonable hope for a life worth living – as determined by the person whose life it is – the compassionate response is to let them choose how to meet death.
There are, however, some deaths by suicide that trouble me deeply. Children and young adults who end their lives before they’ve developed the perspective that age and maturity confer cause me profound sadness. The same is true for military personnel who, having faced life-and-death situations, can’t cope with the “normalcy” of civilian life, or the mentally ill, who can’t reason their way out of it. Until last week, those were the suicides that troubled me most.
Last week, Cheslie Kryst died by suicide. Not one to keep up with pop culture, I wouldn’t have known this except for a young relative who posted it on Facebook. Who was Cheslie Kryst? Outwardly, she was a very successful woman. We first heard of her two years ago, when she became the oldest woman (age 28) to be crowned Miss USA. She had graduated from college and then pursued a law degree and an MBA at Wake Forest University. She went on to work as a television correspondent, model, and attorney in Charlotte, North Carolina. She had celebrity status, and she also did important work as an attorney. By society’s standards, she had achieved enviable goals. She should have been wildly happy and proud of herself, but she wasn’t.
Last March, on turning 30, she wrote an essay for Allure magazine. With the 20-20 vision that hindsight offers, we can see it was an early cry for help.
“I discovered that the world’s most important question, especially when asked repeatedly and answered frankly, is: why? Why earn more achievements just to collect another win? Why pursue another plaque or medal or line item on my résumé if it’s for vanity’s sake, rather than out of passion? Why work so hard to capture the dreams I’ve been taught by society to want when I continue to find only emptiness?” https://www.allure.com/story/cheslie-kryst-miss-usa-on-turning-30
Those words, “I continue to find only emptiness,” haunt me. As a lifelong seeker of Ultimate Meaning, my heart aches for those who look outward for their raison d’être.
My own search for meaning led me to the profession I chose 22 years ago when I decided to attend Unity School of Christianity. Being a minister has allowed me to pursue my quest for meaning in ways I didn’t imagine. Far from confirming my beliefs about God, the universe and my place in it, my spiritual journey has led me through profound doubts and unanswerable questions. It’s a journey that can be shared with others, but the exact path is as unique as our fingerprints.
My path has led to the complete dissolution of my old ways of thinking about God. The idea of a supernatural, Supreme Being that created and sustained the world no longer fits for me. Likewise, the heaven and hell of my childhood evaporated with increased knowledge of the universe. In their place, there is a “felt-sense of understanding” that cannot easily be put into words.
The essence of that understanding is: There is an energy, intelligence and order in the universe within which I am and which is within me. When I connect and align with this, I have peace and purpose. When I fall asleep or fight against it, I have turmoil and confusion. My daily goal is to awaken faster and recognize the fight sooner. This requires a willingness to put my ego aside and allow every moment to teach me. I fail more often than I succeed, but there has been progress.
There’s nothing new about this path. The master teachers of all time have each walked it and tried to share it with their followers. Their followers felt the fire that burned within the master but couldn’t grasp the smoke-like essence of their teachings. Instead, they created doctrine and dogma, rules and regulations, built buildings and empires, in fruitless attempts to capture what was only numinous light and ineffable truth.
All of this has led me to simply teach that there is a Higher Something – call it by whatever name works for you. This Higher Something both calls us upward and carries us onward in the struggle to live up to the best that is within us. It’s a never-ending quest whose rewards are fleeting but priceless. To me, it’s the only game in town.
Why don’t we as a society embrace this? In the past, churches gave us spiritual sustenance, direction and rewards. With churches and church attendance on the decline in this country, “why” is an important question to ask. The only answer that makes sense to me is that “that old-time religion” doesn’t satisfy a need or offer anything of value to many Americans. I can understand that; I left an old-time religion for the mystical spirituality I found in Unity.
Without doctrine, dogma, or rules and regulations, this path may not offer a clear horizon to many people. It relies a lot on the inner instruments of personal experience, linked with the outer support of like-minded people. Still, I wish I could have shared it with Cheslie Kryst. Like the story of the man walking a starfish-inundated beach with his grandson and throwing one out of dozens back into the ocean, I can’t help but hope I could have made a difference for just that one star.
Rest in peace and joy, Cheslie. May your untimely death serve as a wake-up call for others.