“The only thing that never changes is change itself. All things are impermanent.” ~ Buddha
Peter Coyote, a Zen Buddhist Priest, wrote a lovely letter to help others find peace in how Robin Williams chose to end his life. I found it on Facebook and feel it’s important to share, so I am posting it on my blog (see below). I hope it helps you shift any perceptions on such a heavy topic. I have mixed feelings on what is going on and part of me feels Robin’s calling for leaving is as big as his life was. He battled with what so many of us have battled with. Our mind, our thoughts of suffering and how helpless we fall victim to them. When we are isolated in our suffering, or have some kind of mental illness, our minds strength to just “reach out” for help is often not a realistic possibility for some. Is it possible to change it? I believe it is, with the right mix of helpers, prayers, and outreach. Will everyone have success?, possibility not, but without starting or trying, how would we know. And how does one start? How does one bypass the shame or the fears in reaching out? Or even know they have something “wrong that needs fixing”. As long as society thinks that those who have some kind of “mental illness” is different from them, there will always be this “hands off or hands out of reach” approach.
I do not have a labeled “mental illness” and yet, for me, my thoughts of depression or suffering of my mind have been probably as debilitating as some. My fears to reach out and stay isolated are real and are my choices are based out of fear at times. However, I know to ask if what I’m thinking is the “collective energy” around me. Are they really “my thoughts”? Or because I am so empathic, are they the collective? There is a movie called “Wings of Desire”, a German film where these 2 angels can hear everyone’s thoughts. It’s a buzz of energy that has to be drowned out or one would go crazy. Learning to discern what’s ours and others is a valuable lesson to learn. Separating out what’s “my business” or “someone else’s business” is also necessary for an empath.
I have had suicidal thoughts in my past and I have also had profound Buddhist teachings about the mind and what happens to the mind when we die. I reflect on these because it’s important to me to know how to face my fears. If looking at my mind causes so much fear, pain and suffering, then there is more work to be done. No judgment, no finger-pointing, just awareness that there are layers wanting to be peeled away. I have also experienced profound inner peace. It’s the same mind that experiences the same kind of suffering. This brings freedom of choices. The choices of how I want to live in my mind. And if I choose inner peace, then I can declare peace and find ways to start seeing it around me and bringing it in and toward me as opposed to living in my suffering. However, that does require effort on my end. Effort to make daily choices of how I want to think and live. Effort to be present. Effort to know what choices I want. It may not seem like a big deal, but it is.
When awareness begins to take charge of our thoughts, new perceptions begin to take place. AND they are instantaneous, not “let’s wait and see” but immediate. This is valuable information to the suffering mind. Looking for ways to get out of our suffering is as old as man itself. That’s why people overeat, drink, smoke, gamble, watch tv, do video games, etc…. Everything that can distract the mind, and numb us out of our feelings are many ways to not deal with our suffering. Unfortunately disconnecting is also not an answer, it creates many more problems. How is it that we can live in our bodies, our minds and find inner and outer peace without looking for outside fixes? It all starts with our thoughts, our intentions and our desires for how we want to live. Let’s learn from Robin Williams last gift as to how we choose to live. May you rest in Peace Robin. You have been loved by millions. I honor you and your path and your choices.
Robin William’s Last Gift- Peter Coyote
Robin and I were friends. Not intimate, because he was very shy when he was not performing. Still, I spent many birthdays and holidays at his home with Marsha and the children, and he showed up at my 70th birthday to say “Hello” and wound up mesmerizing my relatives with a fifteen minute set that pulverized the audience.
When I heard that he had died, I put my own sorrow aside for a later time. I’m a Zen Buddhist priest and my vows instruct me to try to help others. So this little letter is meant in that spirit.
Normally when you are gifted with a huge talent of some kind, it’s like having a magnificent bicep. People will say, “Wow, that’s fantastic” and they tell you, truthfully, that it can change your life, take you to unimaginable realms. It can and often does. The Zen perspective is a little different. We might say, “Well, that’s a great bicep, you don’t have to do anything to it. Let’s work at bringing the rest of your body up to that level.”
Robin’s gift could be likened to fastest thoroughbred race-horse on earth. It had unbeatable endurance, nimbleness, and a huge heart. However, it had never been fully trained. Sometimes Robin would ride it like a kayaker tearing down white-water, skimming on the edge of control. We would marvel at his courage, his daring, and his brilliance. But at other times, the horse went where he wanted, and Robin could only hang on for dear life.
In the final analysis, what failed Robin was his greatest gift—his imagination. Clutching the horse he could no longer think of a single thing to do to change his life or make himself feel better, and he stepped off the edge of the saddle. Had the horse been trained, it might have reminded him that there is always something we can do. We can take a walk until the feeling passes. We can find someone else suffering and help them, taking the attention off our own. Or, finally, we can learn to muster our courage and simply sit still with what we are thinking are insoluble problems, becoming as intimate with them as we can, facing them until we get over our fear. They may even be insoluble, but that does not mean that there is nothing we can do.
Our great-hearted friend will be back as the rain, as the cry of a Raven as the wind. He, you and I have never for one moment not been a part of all it. But we would be doing his life and memory a dis-service if we did not extract some wisdom from his choice, which, if we ponder deeply enough, will turn out to be his last gift. He would beg us to pay attention if he could.