I have been sitting on an article I began writing several months ago titled The World is Not Left by Death but by Truth. This is a line from A Course in Miracles which had a strong impact on me when I first encountered it but each time I tried to tackle the subject, I would soon become dissatisfied with what I’d written, delete all except a few salvageable fragments and put it back once again in the too hard basket. That I had a lot of resistance to expressing my thoughts on the subject was obvious but I rationalised that there is nothing and nobody compelling me to do it but myself. This is true and yet for some reason I still felt driven to collect and express my thoughts on the matter and it was blocking me from writing anything else, as none of the other dream stories would flow either.
When I read the reports of Robin Williams’ suicide I was spurred once again into action and recognised it as a recurring pattern. Each time I would get motivated to write, it was in response to hearing about yet another suicide, either ‘accidental’ or intentional, a media report, or a personal story. The intensity of my reaction to his suicide surprised me, as it is a subject I have investigated thoroughly and contemplated deeply over many years and thought I had laid to rest. So, I thought I would get what Robin Williams’ death has stirred up off my chest before going on to what I originally planned.
Not having followed his off screen life, I didn’t know about his history of depression and substance abuse, so that partly accounted for being surprised at the news but there was obviously more to my reaction than that. As the stories of his life and the details of his struggles emerged, the conflicting emotions I was feeling increased and finally I had to admit to myself that it was touching a few still raw nerves. I know too well that we don’t react emotionally to anything unless it has some personal resonance within ourselves so obviously there was something to explore.
Although I wouldn’t count myself a fan of Robin Williams, I had enjoyed several of his movies and respected both his acting ability and the calibre of the roles he played in the ones I had seen. Coincidentally, I had recently hired his movie What Dreams May Come because I wanted to have a fresh look at it from the broader perspective I have these days about the whole subject of life and death. I had initially seen it soon after my husband’s death 17 years ago, a time when I was going through my own deep grieving process. My belief that life ends in peaceful oblivion was being challenged at the time by too many inexplicable happenings for me to dismiss them lightly and I suspect that seeing this movie was part of the process of seeking for answers.
It’s a visually striking movie and explores the effects of tragic loss on the lives of those left behind. Robin Williams plays a doctor who has everything he wants in life – a successful and fulfilling career, happily married to his soul mate and with two great kids but tragedy strikes when the children are killed in a car accident. The story follows the couple as they struggle to come to terms with the loss but just as they are beginning to recover, he himself is killed, also as the result of a car accident.
After his death, he is surprised to find he is still alive, albeit in an illusory body and when his attempts to get through to his wife fail, he eventually moves on, ultimately finding himself in a heavenly realm, reunited with those who have gone before him. Meanwhile, on the physical plane, his wife spirals once again into depression and eventually kills herself. Contrary to his hope and expectations, she does not join him where he is; her destination is a realm that reflects her mode of death and mental state at the time. When he learns where she is, he sets out to try and reconnect with her, ultimately defying the odds to save her from her fate.
The movie explores the profound effects of grief and the hopelessness it can engender but ultimately affirms the redemptive power of love to heal and transcend all obstacles. It mixes conventional and unconventional beliefs about the afterlife and contrasts the consequences of death by suicide compared with non-volitional deaths. In doing so, it makes a commentary on what role the state of mind at the point of death has on the destination of the person and it makes for a poignant reflection on Robin Williams’ own death.
As an adjunct to watching the movie again, I reviewed the speech in Hamlet, which is where the title of the movie comes from. The whole speech is an eloquent and insightful account of the conflict in the mind of one contemplating suicide as a way out of a painful dilemma. Initially Hamlet regards life and death as mutually exclusive states, comparing death to the deep sleep state, the state of oblivion, where we are effectively ‘dead to the world.’ In this viewpoint the dilemma is purely a moral one:
To be, or not to be: that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them?
But then doubt creeps into his mind: ‘What if death is actually more like the dream state, than deep sleep?’ Our experience of a dream feels every bit as real as waking life reality when we are immersed in it and nightmares especially have an intensity that can be hard to shake.
To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there’s the rub; for in that sleep of death, what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause…
Further along in the speech he expresses his fear that those dreams may be worse than what he is facing in life:
But that the dread of something after death, the undiscover’d country, from whose bourn no traveller returns, puzzles the will and makes us rather bear those ills we have, than fly to others that we know not of?
This ‘fate worse than death’ is what was depicted in the movie and had me cringing inwardly at the reinforcement of old stereotypes. To my mind there are enough rational reasons for discouraging suicide and seeking alternative answers without using outmoded fear-based models of hellish afterlife consequences as a deterrent.
When I was 20 my father committed suicide. He was an alcoholic and had deserted the family about 15 years earlier and decided to end his life when his whereabouts became known. When I heard the news, all the anger I’d held towards him for his abandonment and the ensuing hardship for the family, melted away. He had apparently left a note to say he couldn’t live with himself any longer. By all accounts he had never got on top of his alcoholism and though on some level his death could be seen as taking the easy way out, it was obvious that he must have been suffering deeply. By this time I had rejected religion wholesale so I had no conflict to deal with regarding any possible afterlife consequences.
Nor was the threat of consequences a consideration on the several occasions during my adult life where I have thought seriously about suicide myself. On each occasion it was going into therapy that helped me over the rough patches but bottom line was that I didn’t seriously want to die at those times, I was just having a hard time coping for various reasons. However, when I was nearly 50, the visitation experience of my late husband, which came about a year after I originally saw What Dreams May Come, compelled me to accept that there was a continuity of life and it was a game changer. Three years after this visitation, I hit a low point that made my previous lows look like a picnic and I was seriously considering putting an end to my misery. By this time I had accumulated various beliefs about reincarnation and suicides languishing in the torment of the same mindset in which they had died, as in the movie. Eek!
It was a dream that once and for all put my mind to rest. This dream was almost an exact replay of the meditation vision I had of my mother which I described in a previous post. As in the vision, I saw only an image of my mother’s face, but this time instead of looking sad, she was smiling and at the same time had a look of real tenderness and deep compassion on her face. She communicated telepathically, as in the vision: ‘It’s alright if you want to be here now, Gloria.’ When I woke from the dream, my first thought was that she was giving me permission to join her but when I mulled it over in the morning, I realized she was saying that it was entirely my decision whether to go on or put an end to it and that there would be no judgment and no repercussions.
This was a very powerful message that enabled me to let go of any beliefs I had taken on board and also relieved me of the persistent guilt I had always suffered from whenever I entertained the idea of suicide. Most importantly though, it had the effect of throwing me back entirely on myself. Yet, as I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, it felt like something other than my own little will to live that kept me going. Over time, the feeling that I am part of something much greater than my insignificant little ego increased, as did my understanding that doing my own inner healing makes a positive contribution to the evolution of the collective consciousness. That is what now gives my life the meaning that makes me feel it is worth living.
Although I haven’t come up with any definitive understanding of the nature of spirit communication – and not for want of trying – my own experiences and the vast amount of data now documented on psychic activity proves beyond reasonable doubt that it is a genuine phenomenon. The only thing that makes sense to me is that consciousness is not confined to the body, that our physical reality is embedded in a field of consciousness and is constantly interacting with it, whether we are aware of it or not. This requires a shift in perception from viewing consciousness as being a product of matter, i.e. the brain – the scientific materialist viewpoint, to seeing matter as the product of consciousness and integral with it – the spiritual point of view. If consciousness is primary, which I’m convinced it is, then death as we think of it is no different than birth – we emerge out of cosmic consciousness and merge back into it.
Perhaps learning to consciously engage with this field of consciousness is the key to no longer being afraid of the great unknown that death is but that would then also mean giving up any comforting ideas about it being the savior of problems we have in this life. One of my guiding lights has been Jung’s brilliant insights into the nature of the unconscious – personal and transpersonal – and its innate tendency toward self-healing and wholeness. There is something in us, that is also beyond us, that wants us to grow into the best we can be but we have to participate in our own healing and that means dealing with the dreams – good and bad, waking and sleeping – in our current life.
It’s very sad that Robin Williams got to the point where he saw no alternative but to end his life and very painful for his family to have to live with the memory of him doing it in such a gruesome manner and mental state of intense suffering. Since his death I have seen and read much about him and it is obvious he was struggling with a lot of inner conflict. He apparently decided it was the best way out. To judge his actions is pointless. No one can know what it is like to live inside someone else’s mind and body but hopefully much good will come of it.