It was an ordinary day. And then it wasn’t.
I was rushing down Yonge Street to get to the next thing I had to do, when a man fell from overhead and landed on the sidewalk, ending his own life directly in front of me.
I did not know this man. I have no idea what his story was or what kind of person he was, but I wanted to honour him and dedicate this blog to him, in gratitude for what I learned from him that day and in hopes that it may help someone else…
In the instant that the thud of his body registered in my awareness, I was shocked into the present moment and the scene before me flooded my senses. Everything became quiet as I tried to make sense of what was happening and I remember these few things…
The primal scream of a young woman.
The stoic cop who was managing the environment—without raising his voice, instructing people to not be callous and not to film.
The security woman who stood quietly by—in a way that I’m not sure it is accurate to describe as maternal, but whose presence was that of a compassionate witness in a way that only a woman could be.
As the external environment became vivid, so too did my internal environment. As I walked past, I could feel his pain. I could viscerally taste what had just happened. And, for the first time, I felt that we are truly all connected.
As I continued on, I tried to maintain some sense of normalcy in my day. I continued on to work and acknowledged what had happened to my co-workers. I expressed my appreciation for them; it seemed prudent to note how the small annoyances that we may cause each other don’t actually really matter.
One of my last clients that day revealed to me that they were moving, and told me that the only checkpoint for staying in the city was me. I was struck by the fact that that was one of the nicest things that anyone has ever said to me professionally, and it came on the day when I’d had one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. The irony and the duality were noted and appreciated as I realized that many things in life are a trade-off.
In the days that followed, I called all of my friends who have gone through trauma—be it an accident or fall—to acknowledge them and that I appreciate their struggle on a different level. Within myself, I noticed how within three or four days, I was processing it even more through unexplained symptoms, as well as anxiety, anger, and fear. I now have a better understanding of when patients say they feel like their body is failing them—I can control my thoughts, but when your body is doing something else, it can be upsetting.
I thought about how all of the work I have put into the Brainfullness Experiment as a student of my own teachings, helped me to create a better mental model in which I could process the complexities and difficulties of this experience. I appreciated the conversation I had that very day about the difference between complexity and chaos, as it helped me realize that I can still have some degree of control even when there is chaos around me.
Yet, I also saw a paradox within myself. My initial lens was to want to use this event to be a better person, but there was also a part of me that has more of a tendency to become jaded that wondered what would have happened if he had landed on me.
But, if I am to be truly honest, this was incredibly powerful for me in a very personal way…
I don’t believe that suicidal thoughts are uncommon. Some people that I admire greatly have committed suicide—David Foster Wallace and Anthony Bourdain, as examples. I always believed that somehow, being a strong man, you should always have an exit plan—in case you become a burden to others, or the pain or heaviness of life becomes too overwhelming.
As I would walk over Lion’s Gate Bridge in Vancouver or Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and in watching a documentary called ‘Falling Man’ about people from 9/11 who chose to jump rather than succumb to the inferno, I always felt there was something noble and strong, courageous or even heroic about it.
In the moment that I witnessed this man’s death and felt his pain, I realized that it is none of those things.
In the time since, I have realized, too, that I profoundly love this man for making me realize how wrong I was about that. And I simultaneously hate him for taking away that illusion because I somehow found it comforting.
But it has also occurred to me the notion that nothing is either good or bad, it is what you bring to it. In many ways, this has caused me to pause and challenge myself to learn the lessons of this, without engaging too much with it.
I am grateful for this opportunity to be more present and to acknowledge other people. It was a wake- up call to upgrade my own thoughts—to not fall into the trap of ‘I’ll be happy when’, to not make assumptions, and to consciously make the choice of whether I want to expand or shrink in the face of difficulty.
But it also brings to the forefront how we can do better as a society for ourselves and for each other. When something like this happens, there is a rush to simply categorize it as ‘mental illness’ to be able to label it in a way that both provides us some certainty about it and also some distance from it. As we are faced with what it triggers within ourselves, we must also look at how we can be more human-centric in how we treat each other and how we approach such issues. As the prevalence of mental health issues comes to light—with suicide being one of the top ten causes of death in Canada and, on average, one man being lost to suicide every minute globally—it is something we must acknowledge as a societal issue and not just an occasional occurrence amongst a certain ‘type’ of person.
A friend told me to be kind to myself, but I think we can also practice active kindness—whether it be trying to acknowledge other people around us to the best of our ability, or the people in our lives that we may take for granted out of familiarity and forget to acknowledge in a meaningful way.
In a world that is outcome focused, we can also learn to acknowledge the process—as it is the process that allows us to be prepared and that softens the blow when the chaos of life appears. I gravitate toward the notion of anti-fragility, in which we build the reserves and the resilience to manage the challenges we face; yet, I have also been reminded of the fragility of life itself and the importance of how we take care of ourselves and one another in making the most of the time we have.
In the days since this experience, I still get upset and confused while having some questionable thoughts, but it doesn’t have the same bite. We can learn to be incrementally better every day and use whatever are our wake-up calls as the lessons and stepping stones of life.
I can’t say I know what the answer is, but I do know what it is not.
Dr. Tabrizi is a chiropractor, osteopath and a passionate member of both the local and scientific community, whose goal is to teach that the pursuit of optimal health and wellness is much more than being symptom-free. His practice is rooted in the philosophy of treating the person rather than just treating the illness or ailment. As a result of his interdisciplinary training, Dr. Tabrizi has developed a neuroscience-based therapeutic education approach to treating his patients, focusing on healing illness from a wider perspective, placing equal responsibility on patient as well as practitioner. Dr. Tabrizi aims to educate his patients and provide them with the tools and framework needed to integrate pain management and healthy living into the fabric of their everyday lives.
If you’d like to learn more information about the Brainfullness Experiment Workshop click here.