There are some people that just strike you as kind, caring people. People that go beyond whether you agree with their viewpoints or appreciate their craft… they just seem like a lovely person, someone that stands out.
Robin Williams was such a person.
I have no great recollection of his films. None of them especially touched me or were particular favourites, but his passing is sad because he seemed such a nice person.
To hear that it looks likely that he took his own life makes it a tragedy. Here is this man renowned throughout the world as an acting and comic genius. A man at the top of his profession – and a very lucrative profession too.
A man who’d earned a fortune in his career. So much so, that just one of his houses cost $35 million. It is incredible then to consider that it seems he killed himself largely because of money troubles. when you consider how much of the world’s population lives in poverty that seems unreal to believe someone in such a situation can have money worries.
Obviously there is more to the story, but it seems that having to pay huge multi-million pound divorce settlements had caused him to have to take work that that he really didn’t want to have to do. Work that stressed him to the point of depression, which with a history of alcoholism, addiction and depression left him in a dark, dark place.
Now for most of us being offered millions of pounds to work for a year would seem like a dream, but for a man reaching the later years of a career that won Oscars and worldwide acclaim, it seemed to be a nightmare like so many of us working purely for the sake of money.
You see, the thing is… it doesn’t matter if you are a multi-millionaire, A list Hollywood star or a bum searching bins for your next meal. Really all that counts is the story going on in your head.
It isn’t the facts of our life that determine our experience, but the story we make of those facts.
The Need For Freedom Is Greater Than The Need For Fame, Money Or Power
We all need to feel free. You see, really if you get the root of the desire for money, for fame and power, you find that really what people want… is the freedom to do whatever they want to do.
People believe money frees them, fame gives opportunities and a degree of power, which is about controlling other people so that you can be free. I think that really the craving for power is just a long winded way of wanting freedom, but believing that you have to be able to move people and things about to have freedom for yourself.
The problem is that all of these actually bring extra responsibilities and pressures that ironically lead you to be less free. In the case of freedom, less really is more.
Freedom comes from your lack of attachment to certain outcomes. It is your need to have something go a certain way… and the fear that it might not… that leads to stress, depression and every other negative emotion.
If you think about this, I think we already understand this. Look at what we use as a punishment… loss of freedom. We place limits on freedom to those who offend, with bans and curfews, in more serious cases we incarcerate Offenders and in the most serious cases – in some places – we take people’s lives in the ultimate loss of freedom.
It doesn’t matter if you are a multi-billionaire, a Pauper, a Prince or a Servant. All of us crave freedom. Yet we are all restricted and constrained in a number of ways. Some of us believe we are constrained by money, some by opportunity and some by capability.
Yet on the other side of the coin, people with lots of money are constrained by the need to protect what they have from loss. Those with all the opportunities, capabilities and authority are constrained by the limits that also come with those qualities.
So for example, Robin Williams earned a colossal fortune by most people’s standards, but he lived in a world where the lifestyle was equally expensive. When a Judge orders you to pay $30 million dollars to an Ex-Wife to maintain a living standard, that is a ridiculous situation.
Apparently, Robin Williams was downsizing and attempting to sell off assets to raise money, but still was having to work in roles he didn’t want to stave off bankruptcy. Now, no-one, but those close to the situation know the real details and I don’t really care about them. I use the example, because it’s in the news and touched me, but what touches me isn’t the details, but the fact that someone who seemed to be deeply loved, revered and seeming to have the life so many dream of could feel life wasn’t worth living.
That is the saddest thing in all of life to me.
The Saddest Thing
The Isis atrocities are terrible. Starving children dying is tragic. Fighting in Israel and everywhere else is horrific. But all of these horrors come from the hands of others. We can get angry and have a focus of how to fix the situation… even if that focus is revenge and fighting.
However, when you are trapped in your own head without seeing any way out to improve the situation… that brings out the worst of emotions – hopelessness, depression and despair. That truly makes life a living nightmare.
The art of joyful living is surfing the wave of life. Being free… feeling the movements of the waves and moving in sync with them. It’s the dance of being sensitive to the beat of life, feeling it and dancing in response.
In contrast the surest route to depression is to attempt to choreograph life. To decide and determine how life will look, how it will play out and what needs to happen. We cannot predict next week’s events let alone the millions of factors that are needed to be taken into account in order to predict next year to any degree that we could make concrete certainties.
Yet we spend far more of our time believing that this needs to happen… that a person should do x or y. We become too attached to outcomes. Insisting that life has to show up in a certain way before we can be happy. Then we worry about what if this happens or that person doesn’t do this.
Life: The Constantly Inconstant
If you are to even look back on things that have happened in your life, your greatest successes. How many of them were predictable and how many stumbled from one form to another. None of us know enough to ever truly predict what will work. What the smartest of us do is hypothesise and test to see if we are guessing right. This is the scientific method that has been responsible for the greatest breakthroughs in the last century and millennia.
Because of this detached method of guessing, testing and refining, our world has changed dramatically and we live in a world where it is possible to live in fabulously luxurious houses costing $35 million and earn our money acting silly to make people laugh.
In many other respects, such as religious and moral views we work in the opposite direction. We determine what is right and judge life to be worthy or unworthy based on our views.
It is the greatest irony that those who claim to work in God’s name are those that judge God’s creations unworthy.
In these areas we have made minimal progress and so lives are lost as we wage war to determine whose book is more right.
One of the reasons that so many relationships are unfulfilling is that so many are based on attempting to control, coerce or manipulate the other to fit into the idea we have of what the relationship would be like. When the greatest experiences we have come from the dynamics of interaction. From the pure flowing of hearts between two open and loving beings.
What really thrills us is the unexpected. People love Theme Park Rides and extreme sports because they take us to the edge. We love books, films and comedians that make us experience what we don’t usually feel. Yet we then try to stifle everyday life into the stale, dry experience of what we know and wonder why it doesn’t thrill us.
There are two ways to approach life. To attempt to control it and fit it into our limited comprehension of life. Or to recognise how little we know and instead become increasingly aware of and sensitive to our experience and surf the waves of life.
The Constant Solution
The great tragedy of Robin Williams is that I think most of us recognise how many options he had. He could have downsized and never worked again and led what to many people was a hugely rich and rewarding life. Yet in his head, he could only see what he felt he needed to do and the enormous strain, his perceieved lack of freedom placed on him.
And lack of freedom is always a matter of perception. So many times we get stuck in the story in our head and refuse to accept that it is just our perception. At any moment, you could look at the facts of your life and find an entirely new slant on your story that will completely change the way you feel.
Always, the solution is in changing your story. Trying to move around the world to fit in with your story is always the problem. It is far more effective to adapt your story to the way you feel. The easiest way to dance is to find the music that speaks to you and move to it. Not trying to learn the moves to the first song that comes on.
Find the story that makes you feel good and live/love that story, because you feel good when you are dancing to the inner beat of your soul. Feeling good is knowing and being YOU.
The wonder of life is that we do not know how unlimited it is. Continually we read examples of life overcoming the limits that we believed were rigid. Life is fluid. We have to be too.
Or else we become battered by the forces of life that will utterly refuse to ever be limited or constrained by the puny limits we attempt to place on it in our over inflated sense of our own knowledge.
We all have the choice to surf the waves of life or to beat the drum and try to get the world to all march in tune to our beat. So rest in peace Robin Williams. Let us take a moment to honour his life and toast his soul.
And then let his passing be a wake up call to us. Where in your life is there stress, fear or misery?
Where are we entrapping ourselves in our own story?
What is that story?
and the solution is always…
What story would feel better?