Cosmic Honey for Robin Williams

Robin Williams

Robin Williams

The death of Robin Williams has lain heavily on me since I heard the news. I echo what all my friends are saying: he was so talented, he brought so much brilliance and joy to the world, how could it be that all his laughs and charm hid such deep reservoirs of pain and despair?

People as creative as Williams are often sensitive and discerning; and if you’re sensitive these days, you can hardly help but be overwhelmed by all the pain we are forced to contend with in the world on a daily basis.

I wince every time I listen to the world news, bracing myself for the inevitable onslaught of violence, disease and misery suffered by human beings—not to mention the destruction of the environment, the extinction of millions of innocent animals, insects and plant life and the ever-accelerating pace of climate change. It’s enough to drive anyone to Prozac.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., with some 40,000 suicides a year, 70% of them middle-aged white men. Most cultures and religions condemn suicide; we are asked to live our lives to the fullest, going towards death only when our bodies totally give out. Certainly this is true in the U.S., where death has been demonized and medicalized, seen as an ending to be feared and evaded as long as possible.

But what if death is actually more like a transition, mirroring birth—the emergence into another state of being?

What if death is a release, as some religions would have it, where we rejoin our ancestors and our spiritual families in a non-physical realm free of pain?

I don’t believe in the Christian idea of heaven and hell, but I am certainly not willing to rule out the possibility of an afterlife, in the sense of a spiritual reconnection with the Source energy that animates the physical realm on our planet.

With the advent of quantum physics and the recognition that 95% of the universe is made up of “dark matter” and “dark energy”—i.e., with stuff we know absolutely nothing about—science is beginning to make friends with metaphysics.

You won’t find many scientists willing to go as far as Jungian philosophers like Anne Baring, who talks about “the soul of the cosmos” as a kind of divine intelligence immanent in everything—but at least scientists are beginning to admit how much they don’t know about the way our universe works. And in that opening of humility lies the possibility that there could be a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to one of the greatest unknowns: death.

For Baring (writing with co-author Scilla Elworthy), “The life we know is an excitation on the surface of an immeasurable sea of cosmic energy that is continually surging, dancing, flowing into being. In every galaxy, every star, every planet, every cell of our being the universe is bursting into existence from this womb or sea of being.

“What does this mean for us? It means that when we are in touch with this incredible idea, each one of us becomes a co-creator with that mysterious process, at one with our starry source” and conscious “the sacredness, oneness and divinity of life.”

HubbleSpaceTelescope_N90

Baring and Elworthy offer the image of a fully conscious human as “a cell in a limitless honeycomb of golden light. Imagine,” they say, “this luminous network of honeycomb cells connecting people in every part of the world who are trying to lift humanity out of the dark place we are in now. Imagine that through this powerful network of relationships a new consciousness is coming into being.”

The new collective and individual consciousness they imagine would be one that respects all life, generating a mode of living in which humans act as the stewards of our planet, rather than as the greedy, destructive despots we have become in the past few centuries.

“When we are prepared to become but a humble servant of life, devoted to caring for it and healing it, we become free from all fear,” they say. “We are then able to resonate with life, harmoniously and ecstatically.”

I wish Robin Williams had been able to receive this message; to see himself as a bright spark tossed out by the loving flame of our cosmos. I wish he had been able to read Baring and Elworthy’s small gem of a book, Soul Power, which ends with this striking injunction:

“Live life as an opportunity to transform the nectar of experience into the honey that can heal the world.”

As a creative genius, Robin Williams surely was making that honey for us. He just needed to hold more of it back to heal and salve his own sensitive, wounded soul.

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11 Comments

  1. Oh I so hope you are right Jennifer. Such a sad, sad loss to all.
    My seventeen year old daughter, beautiful and sensitive soul, is struggling dreadfully with depression. We are very worried. She has internalized the pain of being periodically bullied and excluded all of her short life. She has an inquisitive mind and from a very young age loved chemistry, not fashion and possessions. Our little farm that burned had been her sanctuary, and we would walk the garden together, harvesting and observing insect activity and the antics of the ducks, geese and dogs. Most died in the fire, as did her budgie … and her childhood innocence really.
    Her pain runs deep. Like her father she has a personality which is determined to cope alone, an inherent sense that she is unworthy of love and care. She has not articulated her pain with her counselors.
    She has that a quirky, wry sense of humour that belies her sadness, and is defeated by a social awkwardness that provokes that group instinct to reject the vulnerable, or whatever it is that drives meanness.
    She is by nature a giver, not a taker, with beautiful empathy.
    She will commence anti-depressant medications on Monday.
    I talked with her about Robin. A meme of Disney’s Aladdin tenderly announcing “Genie, you’re free” is circulating, and she wept when I explained the danger of this. Robin would hate that his own liberation has destroyed the freedom of those who love him.
    I do not want to add guilt to my sometimes suicidal, self harming daughter, but she must understand that like Robin she is a human that our world needs alive. A precious human being. My beloved Lucy.

    Reply
  2. Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

     /  August 13, 2014

    Angie, I feel so deeply for your daughter and all the young people who are struggling with stress and depression these days. I don’t know if it’s actually more prevalent now than it was when I was a teenager, but it does seem that everywhere I look, among my students and the children of my friends, sensitive young souls are in agony. What can we do but keep giving them love and modeling, with our own actions, the fortitude to continue to “make honey with the nectar of experience” that we collect each day?

    I myself have suicidal thoughts sometimes…I am sure many of us do, confronted by the horrendous stuff that is going on in the world. How tempting it seems sometimes to just step out of this reality into whatever lies ahead. But I always pull myself back, telling myself that I still have work to do here: children to tend, books to write, gardens to plant and to harvest. In carrying on these age-old rhythms, we do hope together, as Kaethe Weingarten says.

    My very best wishes for Lucy, and for you. The drugs can be miraculous sometimes–sometimes it really is just a chemical switch that needs tweaking. And again, lots and lots of love and patience, which I know you’ll know how to give.

    Reply
  3. Thank you Jennifer.
    I often wonder how people outside our first world manage depression? Is it a side effect of privilege?
    Our despair seems driven by personal shame which becomes distorted, and by overwhelming sympathy for those who suffer (for me this includes animals), and by deep sadness for the future. Well, that has been my experience. The trick, I think, is to remember gratitude for our relative privilege, and to gain satisfaction from giving.
    And even faced with the misery of our dying global ecology, how ungracious it is to not enjoy every fine day. In the end consciousness is perhaps a cosmic miracle, and living now is a gift, at least for those of us safely away from areas of war, famine or disaster.
    But of course, these are ideas too heavy for young people with depression. (And my Lucy, fortunately would never see this correspondence.) So, as a mum I do indeed give lots and lots of love and patience. I’ll try to model fortitude ‘the fortitude to continue to “make honey with the nectar of experience” that we collect each day. I’m grateful for your words.

    On with the show!🙂

    Reply
  4. Angie, never forget the night is darkest just before the dawn. Jennifer’s essay and your responses were very, very moving. Please send Lucy hugs from Jean and me and the unconditional love from our nine dogs; five of whom listened as I read aloud the post and responses to Jean. (In the last few moments, young GSD Cleo has climbed on to the bed and has her head across my lap. They can tell.)

    Reply
  5. A postscript to my earlier response. A Wendell Berry poem that I have on my desk awaiting a future LfD post. It reads:

    The Peace of Wild Things

    When despair for the world grows in me
    and I wake in the night at the least sound
    in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
    I go and lie down where the wood drake
    rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds,
    I come into the peace of wild things
    who do not tax their lives with forethought
    of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
    And I feel above me the day-blind stars
    waiting with their light. For a time
    I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

    For Lucy and all the other Lucys in the world.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  August 14, 2014

      Such a beautiful poem, Paul, thank you for sharing it. I am just about to meet a new group of students coming into Bard College at Simon’s Rock as freshmen; perhaps we will read this poem during our Writing & Thinking Workshop, go sit in the woods a while and talk about “the grace of the world.” Young people need this kind of nourishment for their souls…and more and more, in our screen-based age, they are not getting it.

      Reply
  6. Like you, all of you, I am immensely saddened by Robin Williams’ decision to end his life. Suicide has been much on my mind of late, as I am writing a book about Haydee Santamaria, a great heroine of the Cuban revolution who committed suicide at 57. I have spent months now, researching, thinking, writing about that option. Like many religions and cultures, Communist parties also reject suicide–in that case the belief is that a party member’s life belongs to the revolution and is not hers to take. This was especially true in 1980, when Haydee died. And because of that, the revolution failed to memorialize her as she deserved.
    I see two issues here: 1) suicide, which in my opinion is every person’s right if and when the time comes when death seems preferable to life, and 2) depression, which is a condition about which much is written but little understood. For some people suffering from that extraordinarily painful condition, choosing death is an act of freedom. I believe we must do all we can to help those who suffer from depression find the therapy, medication, and/or personal practices that will help them continue to live and get enough joy from living that death does not seem the better choice. But if a person we love makes the choice to end his or her life, we must try to understand that they lived in a world those of us who do not contemplate suicide cannot know.

    Reply
    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  August 15, 2014

      So well said, Margaret. I too believe that there are circumstances under which suicide is a rational option…and I try not to stand in judgement on people who make that choice. On the other hand, often mental health simply needs treatment or understanding or a change of circumstances–and my wish for every person is that they have access to the resources they need to be happy. That was what I was trying to get at by extending Anne Baring’s metaphor of “making honey from the nectar of life”–Robin Williams needed more access to that honey, himself. Part of the reason his death was so unexpected was because he was so generous in making all of us happy with his remarkable talent–we were enjoying that honey, not thinking enough about the circumstances of the bee.

      Reply
  7. Anna

     /  August 15, 2014

    Thank you Jennifer, for including excerpts from the book Soul Power in your heartfelt post on Robin Williams. I was excited to find Anne Baring’s web site and look forward to combing through what looks to be a great collection of essays.

    http://www.annebaring.com/index.htm

    Reply
  8. Anna

     /  August 15, 2014

    Here’s a quick read about research done on a certain strain of a probiotic that could be helpful for some who suffer from anxiety and depression.

    http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/31126/title/Moody-Mice-Soothed-by-Bacteria/

    Reply

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