By Char Chen
As I stared at the railway tracks I could hear the roar of the train and feel its vibration. A voice echoed in my mind, “Just one more step forward. And the pain and troubles will disappear once and for all.”
Though you wouldn’t know it today, this was one of the countless suicidal thoughts I’ve experienced in my life. This is the story of why I wanted to end my life, and how I got it back.
Life was a burden not a gift.
Coming from a poor and dysfunctional family in southern China, I eventually got the opportunity for an education and taught in the Nanjing University of Information Science & Technology for ten years.
I moved to Canada with my family in 1999 and studied as a Ph.D student in the University of Alberta. I am now living a happy life in Edmonton, but the road to get there was filled with pain and trials.
Hardship and deep suffering permeated the early days of my life. As a child, I was weak and always sick. Unable to manage my care, my parents left me with my grandparents in a poverty-stricken rural area in China. I almost died of diphtheria at the age of five due to lack of medication.
I returned to live with my parents when it was time for me to go to elementary school, but I still felt estranged and separate from them.
That feeling was even stronger toward my father—an obstinate and violent man, addicted to alcohol and smoking.
His beatings, outbursts, and verbal abuse became a part of everyday life.
My mother, a kind but timid person, endured abuse not only from my father, but was often bullied by our neighbors as well. After marriage, my mother left her job as a teacher in her hometown in Yiyang county and followed my father to where he was working in Linxiang city.
As a result, she lost her city registration status.
This was devastating to her because under the communist system, children had to be registered under the mother in order to attend school. Losing her city registration meant we could not be admitted. However, there was a loophole: If the mother passed away, the children could be registered for school under the father instead.
This bureaucratic detail, a symptom of China’s inefficient communist system, would change my life forever. My mother worried so much about her children being unable to go to school that she decided to end her life—leaving behind four kids, aged two, three, eight and 13.
I will never ever forget the image of her hanging on a beam, while my little siblings cried under her feet.
My mother’s death would leave a deep shadow in my mind and unshakeable pain in my heart.
After my mother’s death, as the eldest child in the family, I had to shoulder almost all the responsibilities of a parent, taking care of my three siblings and father. In order to help my father support the family, I also had to help him make extra income by raising pigs for meat.
Everybody in our small town knew me and my family. Gradually, I developed a strong and defensive character—trying to block out the pity, disrespect or indifference I saw in others’ eyes.
As I grew older, I started to fight against my father’s violence with silence. I remember one summer night, after seeing some friends, I came back home a bit later than usual. To my surprise, I was locked outside. No matter how hard I begged, my father wouldn’t open the door. I knew he would punish me harder if I went back to stay with my friends for the night. So I borrowed a novel and started to read it in the dim streetlight.
The next morning, my father beat me up brutally with his leather belt. With blood streaming down my legs, I did not say a single word, regardless of the pain and sadness. That was the first time I thought of suicide. I wanted to follow my mother, and was envious of her release from this horrific life.
Despite the struggles, I studied diligently in school and got good grades. At the age of 16, being the only qualified student in the school that year, I was accepted at a university in Changsha, the capital city of Hunan province. Surrounded by new ideas and friends, I was supposed to be happy, but when night fell, my mother’s death continued to torture me.
Even though I was young I started to suffer from rheumatoid arthritis. The pain from my deformed joints often woke me up in the middle of night. This pain of the body and the torture of the mind made me feel overwhelmed with depression and desperation.
After graduation, I found a job in a university, got married and had a child. However, life’s burden was still heavy as I had to support my siblings’ college education, and the pain in my body was growing. I could hardly lie down or sit up without help.
Modern medication could not find the cause of the illness, and doctors labelled it an incurable non-cancer.
I sought out a variety of healing methods; from western medicine to Chinese medicine, to qigong practice. All the medication made me very skinny and gave my face a yellowish tinge, and did little to improve my condition.
By then, in my twenties, I looked like an old woman.
Due to my intensive joint pain and unknown diseases, I would often lie in bed, suffering and praying for death while my husband and son had to look after me night and day.
I was filled with resentment, blaming fate for being unfair. In despair, I tried to kill myself numerous times, by jumping into the river or lying on the railroad tracks. Once, a kind farmer stopped me as I tried to jump into the water. Other times I lost the courage to go through with my suicide plans, as I thought of my young son and the life he would lead if I abandoned him. I knew what it was like to lose a parent to suicide, and I couldn’t do it to him.
Then I had a chance encounter.
New Year’s Day in 1996 is a day I will never forget and I feel this was the start of my second chance at life. That day I received a book from a colleague called “Zhuan Falun,” which described the principles of a meditation practice called Falun Gong.
I was deeply attracted by the book, which talked about the idea of self-cultivation—an ancient Chinese practice of refining and improving the body and mind.
I finished the book in one day, and for the first time I felt a sense of hope and optimism.
Cultivation practice was not an unfamiliar term to me, as its deeply rooted in traditional Chinese culture, influenced by Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism. When I was staying with my grandparents, I heard so many legendary stories about spiritual ideas and the supernatural. I had always been curious about these things, and now I had the opportunity to explore a new world. It was a new way of approaching life and an opportunity to let go of the past.
I went to my colleague and asked him to teach me the Falun Gong qigong exercises and meditation. When I followed the movements for the first time, I could feel the energy around my hands and the warmth rising up from the bottom of my stomach.
I kept reading the book and doing the exercises every day.
I had heard that many people experienced remarkable improvements in their health after practicing Falun Gong, but I didn’t have any expectations of this because I had been disappointed by other methods so many times. However, as I continued to practice, unconsciously, the pain on my body began to disappear.
The constant chill I felt was replaced by a warm sensation.
I felt full of energy again and began to cherish life and my body, regretting that I did not get a chance to obtain this book earlier.
And as I continued to read the book, I started to understand more and more about life. In the past, when I was suffering, I could do nothing but complain about fate. I kept thinking why it was me who had to go through all these tribulations. I felt I was being treated unfairly and became more negative about people and things around me. The negative thoughts, in turn, kept my mind and body in a miserable cycle.
After reading Zhuan Falun, my questions about life, death, and the human body were answered. Thus, I did not complain any more, but focused on cultivating myself by following the principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance. It felt like a reconnection to my true self, and my heritage—the principles brought me back to the roots of traditional Chinese culture.
I used to have a bad temper and strong personality. When I thought I was treated unfairly, I would easily get angry and fight back; if someone said anything bad behind my back, I would never spare them and would even look for opportunities to retaliate. After practicing Falun Gong, I don’t act on things like that anymore. Instead, I would put myself in other’s shoes, consider my faults, and put others first.
For instance, one day I went shopping with my parents-in-law at a flea market. My father-in-law tried on a pair of pants while I negotiated the price with the vendor. In the end, my father-in-law decided not to buy it.
The vendor suddenly became furious and yelled at us, spewing dirty words. My father-in-law was outraged and intended to teach him a lesson. I stopped him and calmly said, “He is doing something bad; we don’t want to follow his example.”
On the way back home, my father-in-law was very happy, “You have really changed. You wouldn’t be like this before,” he said. I told him Falun Gong taught me to be more compassionate.
In fact, what really attracted me to Falun Gong is the idea of cultivating both mind and body. I could practice the five gentle exercises in my spare time while following the principles of truth, compassion, and tolerance. This brings me peace and internal strength while the energy flow helps lift my physical and mental fatigue. From the day I began practicing, I have never needed medication and I am getting more and more energetic.