For those of you who have perused my book, you will have read this personal story, but I want to repeat it (and condense it) for this blog. On a Sunday night, over a year ago, I received a call from one of best, lifelong friends. He was distraught and inebriated; and he called to say “goodbye” as he was standing on the ledge of his apartment, ready to jump from the 5th floor balcony to the concrete below. He set the parameters for our conversation, demanding that I could not call 911, or even attempt to talk him out of suicide.
For 90 minutes I spoke to him on the phone, as he lamented over his many setbacks, including the death of his wife, his financial setbacks, his relationship difficulties, and his medical issues, plus his upcoming 60th birthday. During these comments, he stopped and surprised me. He had heard that I was redesigning my life and he wanted to hear what steps I had taken to combat the 60s. At the end of my presentation, he proclaimed that it was the best (nondrug) prescription that he had ever received. Then he surprised me again. He asked if I would make a promise to write down my ideas, publish the book, and help other baby boomers who were facing similar challenges. On that night I agreed; and I have kept my promise with the publication of The Boomer Survivor Kit.
After my promise, he thanked me and abruptly hung up. I did not know whether he had taken another drink and jumped from the balcony to his death or seen the light of possible change. I slept poorly that night. The next morning my tension finally eased when he called me, explaining that he was checking himself into a psychiatric hospital. The facility kept him 3 days. On the third day the psychiatrist made his rounds and my friend lied. He said he was no longer suicidal. They released him on psychiatric medications, which he never filled. He drove home, picked up a bottle of Vodka, and went on another drinking binge, finally jumping to his death from that same balcony – just 4 nights after our initial call.
For me, it was both upsetting and depressing. In addition to the loss, I could not stop myself from wondering why he had not called me on that second night as he stood again at the balcony. At his funeral service, I gained some clarity. He had loved my presentation (he had mentioned it to several friends while in the hospital), but obviously my partial “prescription” had not been enough to get him through his despair. So, to be honest with myself, I had to ask: What had I missed? What had I overlooked? Was there part of his life we had not discussed? What more could I have done to save his life? What topic could I have added to our conversation?
With these questions, I continued my own reading and study, progressing forward to redesign my life. As I started writing my book, the answer finally came to me. When he called that night, we had discussed a wide range of topics that eventually became sections of my book. The titles included: Accepting The Challenge, Regaining Your Physical Health, Reshaping Your Physical Activity, Sharpening Your Mental Focus, Creating A New Direction for Your Life, Redesigning Your World, Lifting Your Mood, and Refining Your Legacy. We discussed every section in my book but one – and that was the one section he needed the most – Rediscovering Your Spirituality.
How had I overlooked this topic, well I have no idea. It was my mistake. Here was a man who – when his wife died – stopped work and flew to Thailand to spend 6 months at the Wat Bah Nanachat Buddhist monastery. Here was a man who desperately wanted to reconnect with people and God. His time at the “Tiger Temple” monastery had worked; he had returned with part of his grieving completed; and he had resumed his life with his mood lifted. Unfortunately, moving back into an urban setting, finding himself restricted in so many ways, my friend was never able to maintain his renewed sense of spirituality and never able to maintain his mood.
Why am I writing this blog at this time? When do people change religions during their lives? Usually between the ages of 50 -75. More importantly, from my experience with friends and patients, I have a gained a different view of religions and spirituality, and I have developed my own assessment of how best to connect with God. As a starting point, let me ask: Are you religious? If yes, do you think your religion is the one and only true religion? Currently, there are 730 established religions and 3,200 different religious sects. With such variety, do you think God would have created just one true religion? Look around you. The central feature of creation is diversity. Do you really believe that God would have created all of this diversity and only one religion?
Obviously, that is not my belief. I believe all religions should be regarded with respect and tolerance. I think all of the world’s religious conflicts are an affront to whatever God may have wanted. What do I believe? I support Gandhi’s quote: “In heaven there is no religion; there is only God.” I also love the Dalai Llama quote: “My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” Lastly, I have always liked Doug Floyd’s observation: “You don’t get harmony when everyone sings the same note.” So, what is my starting point for connecting with God? What is my starting point on the path toward more spirituality? I want to challenge you to realize that you need more than your current religion – you need much more than what’s in any written text.
In fact, and I do not mean to offend, but I think the world needs more spirituality, less religion. I believe spirituality offers the best path for connecting with God. But my recommended path is different than what you are expecting. For me, the real starting point for re-evaluating your religion and expanding your spirituality is taking action: “helping others” and “giving to others.” How does that path unfold? How do you transform from helping others to feeling a connection to God? I would ask you to defer judgment. I would ask you to read the following two blogs, Part II and Part III. Then, after my discussion, decide if my suggestions have some merit. For some people, I think it could make the difference between “jumping” and life. Willing to give me a chance? Or are you just going to overlook it?