Healing from the tragedy of one man's pain and finding the happiness that eludes so many.
It is a clear observation that our country is in shock over the death of a funnyman who touched the hearts of many generations. "How could someone who made me laugh so much have so much pain in his heart?"
My hope is that this tragedy can contribute to an awakening to the pain we all feel, in some degree or another, and an energetic propulsion toward healing our culture's collective heart.
I didn't know Mr. Williams personally, but I know people. My guess is that Mr. Williams would appreciate if his life and death resulted in some healing from the pain he died with and from. Here is my humble attempt to facilitate that.
I observe patterns. I don't need every last detail of an experience to identify them. I read two interviews, one from The Guardian in 2010, and another from Lifetime TV more recently. Here are the stories shared: Mr. Williams was bullied as a child because he was chubby. As an adult, he acknowledged feeling afraid—afraid of what? "Being forgotten," he once remarked. He also acknowledged that one of his strategies to soothe this fear was to achieve more. He was very driven, once releasing eight movies in one year, and yet he struggled with addiction to alcohol and cocaine. He later went through surgery for heart valve disease.
And, of course, we are all aware of his dominant role as the jester, which evidently was another strategy to resolve the fear of lacking safety and feeling insignificant.
Now, one step at a time. In the Five Elements Philosophy, which is an ancient observation of energy flow and interaction in nature, the earth element absorbs the value of the foods we eat and air we breathe, creating a wonderful harvest in the energy we enjoy. In this philosophy, the earth energy is developed by feeling safe and protected. When we have experiences of lacking safety and protection—bullying—we develop meanings and strategies. Meanings are beliefs, such as "I am not safe," or "the world is not a safe place." Strategies are patterns of behavior or being, which are described in Carl Jung's observations of archetypes: symbolic representations of patterns of behavior, such as the overachiever and jester.
Earth controls water, as in the banks of rivers and lakes, and it provides guidance. Water symbolizes our ability to easily make choices and decisions that serve ourselves, others and the greater good. With a suppressed earth energy, through the feeling of lacking safety and protection, the water energy is "out of control," resulting in hasty and harmful choices, like addictions and over-achievement. On some level, Mr, Williams strategized (not likely consciously) that achieving more would provide safety and significance. And in fact the water energy is one of the most persevering elements in nature, capable of carving deep furrows in rock, yet it is also patient and flexible in its goals. Perseverance is balanced in this energy with patience and flexibility.
It is easy to imagine that attention and approval drive many celebrities. Imagine your own experiences, how the fear of feeling unsafe or the worry of not being good enough to be protected is amazingly soothed by the significance and approval received from your performance. But in this pattern, the overachiever, you are not performing for yourself, you are performing for the audience—for the approval—which, as we all know, is fleeting, particularly in the movie/TV industry. One moment you are on top of the world, and the next, the bottom. Mr. Williams' most recent TV series was cancelled after 1 season. This defeat would be absorbed as a lesson for someone performing for oneself, but potentially a crushing rejection for someone performing for others.
The energy of water creates wood, which refers to all things sprouting from the earth, including trees. This uncontrollable fear of insignificance would drive the energy of the wood element, which symbolizes structure, rituals and creating a clear path to our goals, and this is the element that contains the jester. The jester is another strategy, which when used to please oneself is quite resourceful and fun but when used to please others is exhausting and unfulfilling.
The jester was Mr. Williams' most visible expression. Interviewers have shared that his jester energy was "out of control." They could not focus his attention on connecting to the interview, as he was over-performing his jester role, and this is how we knew him. Wild, crazy, fun, funny...and apparently a mask to his vulnerability and a strategy to feel safe and significant. We couldn't see his pain at a deeper level.
Clearly, it was overwhelming to him.
If we recognized the performances that we put on to soothe our vulnerabilities, would doing so be healing to our culture? What if we took a collective look into the mirror and got just 5% more honest about our fears, worries and upsets? What if we collectively decided and declared that we will ensure safety and significance for our loved ones and ourselves—just a bit more?
Perhaps we can use this shock to reveal our own masks. Maybe it is a wild and crazy fun-loving mask. Maybe it is the more subtle mask of, "I am in control." Perhaps we can use this shock to reveal more of our stressful strategies to feeling significant and safe. You know, trying to please others, sacrificing your peace or desire, convincing, defending, accusing and so many more that always lead to heart break (and yes, I believe it manifests as real heart disease).
The truth is as evident as the lie. Behind the mask will always lie "feeling bad." And authenticity always feels good, even exciting. If you are growing in authenticity, you feel happier over time. If you are straining to cover the wound, you will sink into deeper depression or anger. The "trend" will identify your need. In the last five years have you been truly happier, or is there growing discomfort?
Mr. Williams' need was authenticity and, likely, the energy of teaching. Instead of being the producer of all laughs and happiness, he might have benefited from sharing his true feelings and teaching others how to help him feel better. He might have noticed that he didn't prefer to be the center of attention, the source of laughs, all the time.
Authenticity involves noticing what is there. What is present in your heart right now? We have to stop performing and start listening. It's not difficult; it just means focusing your attention on yourself and how you feel. It may take some lifting of layers, such as, "I feel so angry, and under that I feel so disappointed, and under that I feel so afraid, and under that I feel so helpless."
Feeling afraid does not take away your resources. You can still be a successful mother or business person and feel afraid on some level. In fact, connecting to that feeling will make you a more successful mother or business person!
Teaching involves noticing what you do not prefer and describing how someone could give you more of what your do prefer. My guess is that we can use Mr. Williams' history to guess what he would have preferred: if he could have taught his closest friends and family how to nurture him, how to allow him to feel safe and significant, his depression and addiction would have lightened. He would have felt "safely" vulnerable, and the fear would stop holding onto him.
Feeling safe and significant is completely up to you. Nobody can "make" you feel any way. But if your experience with others leaves you feeling bad, you have accepted insignificance by not honoring what you prefer. You have energetically stated, "I am not significant enough to get what I want."
Mr. Williams might have taught by telling those around him, "I feel like you are expecting me to perform, to be jovial, and to be honest, I feel like crying. I could swallow that grief and perform or, preferably, I'd like you to stand by me, be with me, hold me, as I process this sadness. It feels like there is no way for me to feel real satisfaction—real happiness. I feel like there is a crushing heaviness on my back that is temporarily and only slightly lifted when I make people happy. And then it is back again when the laughter stops. I feel like I can't take this heaviness anymore—I am really scared with where I am right now. A few weeks ago, I laid my head on your lap as we were watching a movie, and you so gently stroked my hair, and for a moment I felt safe and accepted as I am. Would you be willing to just be present and comforting, nothing else? You don't have to fix it or even soothe it—just let me feel safe with you in it."
Of course I'm just speculating, but I know people and I know patterns. Whether Robin Williams actually felt this lack of safety and significance or not, the real question now is, do you? Do you relate to the pain that I imagined his suffering to be? Do you often feel "on" as the entertainer, organizer, controller or happy-maker? Do you feel like you must perform to feel important, loved, or significant? Or that you need to sacrifice to keep the peace?
What wound are you protecting: feeling unsafe, left out, not good enough, unsure or "I am right, but unheard"?
Healing that wound requires acknowledging the blood or vulnerabilities. It requires AUTHENTICITY: "I feel so scared, worried, angry...would you be willing to just listen, hug me, hold me?"
It involves TEACHING others how to care for your vulnerabilities (blood) and how to increase your comfort and pleasure. For example, when faced with a non-preference, something that decreases comfort and pleasure, you might teach by saying, "You wanted me to agree with you, so you yelled at me. If you want me to agree with you, say, 'honey, I really need you to back me up on this.' Try it now..."
Here is the basic structure of teaching: "You wanted something—you wanted me to stop (don't do), or you wanted me to go (do something), so you did this. If you want me to stop or go, you may say, 'would you help me?'" Then, describe how that person could get what they want from you.
Our cultural mask is "being right." We have legal systems to fight out right and wrong. We worry about every choice: "did I do that right?" Robin Williams learned to identify "being right" with laughter, rather than his own happiness. He demonstrated for us that his mask did not work. He demonstrated that nothing matters but yourself...and your happiness.
Yes, sometimes it feels like your quest for self expression (joy, happiness) appears to cause upset in others. It appears to increase your stress! The truth is that anyone upset in your presence simply needs a lesson on getting what they want from you. So teach them how they can get what they want, without compromising your happiness.
And from TRUE health and happiness, you will fulfill your partner, your children and your SELF.
In honor of someone who brought us happiness, let's agree to be 5% more authentic and 5% more "teacher." I think Robin would love it!
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Dr. Stone practices Integrated Natural Medicine using a Five Element approach to identify your negative patterns of body and spirit. His practice is located in beautiful Asheville, NC, with people driving 3+ hours for his hands-on care. If you are in the vicinity and want to see Dr. Stone to increase your health and happiness, or are not in the region and want to see "health coaching" options, visit his practice here.