I was surprised to learn of Robin Williams’ death. When I learned that Williams had died by suicide I was stunned and then saddened, and then frustrated. Frustrated? Yes, and I’ll explain why in a moment.
Many were sad about Williams’ death and many, probably, were stunned as well. Williams seemed to have so many positives in his life. He was a celebrity, wealthy by most any measure, who made a living acting and / or performing for people. How bad, really, could things have been?
Williams did have, apparently, some recurring issues with alcohol and substance abuse. This is not an insignificant issue but in itself was not the cause of Williams’ death. He didn’t die by overdose.
Williams also encountered some health issues. But again this is not what led directly to his death.
Williams killed himself, by hanging, and as soon as this was revealed the chase was on to discover his motivations. What was wrong? I’ve read accounts that Williams was facing some financial shortcomings and that he was also discouraged about his performing career, and specifically about the cancellation of his television show The Crazy Ones.
All of this is actually irrelevant but also casts clear light on why Robin Williams died. It is irrelevant because none of it affected Williams at all. The clear light comes in the form of insight about what Williams was thinking.
This thinking is what led Williams to end his life. That is the beginning and end of it — Robin Williams killed himself because of his thinking.
Some may say that financial troubles and career unhappiness, mixed in with potential substance abuse, are a reasonable mix for a suicide attempt and certainly are a painful blend. How then can I say they are irrelevant?
These life events, and every other life event, are meaningless without mental interpretation. Life events don’t mean anything to us until we interpret them and label them. This is good and this is bad. Thinking happens first and then emotional responses follow.
This is the way it always happens. You will never have an emotional reaction without first having a thought. Emotions are responses to thinking.
Williams was obviously depressed, and was said to have been depressive for years. But what does it mean to be depressed, really? It means having negative mental thinking, embracing this negative thinking in some way, and having an emotional response to the thinking that is labeled as depression.
This is where I feel frustration about Williams’ case. He was immersed in his own negative thoughts, he embraced these thoughts as some form of truth, and accepted as a result that death was a good option.
Williams did what so, so many other people also do. I believe this response is an epidemic. It is giving credibility and authority to the voice in our head; it is identifying so absolutely with this voice that we don’t really even notice it — we just fall into it.
It amounts to living life in our heads; it amounts to being a prisoner of the mind.
Nearly everyone does this. It becomes toxic, and potentially fatal, when the mind is chronically churning out negative thought patterns. My guess is that Williams was inundated with negative thinking, much of it telling a story about his lack of worth and a pessimistic future. Williams ultimately believed this thinking and responded to this “truth”.
I believe this is also what happened to movie director Tony Scott, another Hollywood celebrity who inexplicably killed himself.
This pattern didn’t have to repeat itself with Williams, and it doesn’t have to repeat itself with anyone else (celebrity or not). The antidote to this sort of response is to stop falling into thinking and accepting it as truth and to start actively observing thinking instead. This observing must be done in a neutral way: no judging, no embracing, no pushing away, no analysis of any sort.
If we engage any of these things then the thinking we’re supposed to be watching has taken control. Watch thinking, and emotions too, and watch them neutrally and a gap in the mental stream occurs. Peace will ultimately fill this gap, especially as you keep at the process of watching.
It’s easy to do. Yes, it requires awareness but it is easy. Anyone can do it.
Robin Williams suffered, and then died, because he was immersed in his thinking. Don’t let something similar happen to you.
On a closing note, by most all accounts Robin Williams was a genuinely kind and caring person who was widely loved. He was certainly a brilliant performer. Though I didn’t know Robin Williams personally, I miss him.
(Learn more about watching thinking Here.)