Robin Williams

On the front porch with coffee this morning, a cloud of birds flying through my mind. The life and death of Robin Williams occupies my thoughts. Inchoate, without sequence or arrangement, reflections – true reflections, wisps in the mirror of my own experience – tumble around in the dark vault:

 …The human brain, the machine of God; the ancient limbic core, the vault of the amygdala, the hippocampus messenger, the sapient and sentient cerebral cortex. The limbic fires which smolder like banked coals in memory, ever-constant in their resurrection when, unbidden by the higher cortex, they flare into consuming flames in the goading moment and we hear the limbic scream…

 A quote from William Gibson:
“What we think of as ‘mind’ is only a sort of jumped-up gland, piggybacking on the reptilian brainstem and the older, mammalian mind, but our culture tricks us into recognizing it as all of consciousness. The mammalian spreads continent-wide beneath it, mute and muscular, attending its ancient agenda.”

…The “divine madness” of artistic genius. The manic, inspired, sensitive, ruthlessly responsive genius of Robin Williams, the laughing clown with sad eyes, the kind person…

 –There are only two types of humor, the kind that is mean and the kind that is wise. The mean kind causes separation, supports specialness, is anger for the self directed outward toward others. The wise kind brings us together, tells us it’s this way for all of us, confusing, baffling, absurd at times and ludicrous at others, but we’re all in it together and sometimes all we can do is laugh, soothe it with endorphins, let it be what it is and take our remedy as we can.

 Limbic messages to the cortical complex are clear: Danger. Do something about it. Explore until you find the solution. Those red-hot priority messages will not moderate, the dopamine will not subside until the prefrontal cortex discovers a place, condition, behavior, awareness, etc. which provides a solution to the signal pain.

 The prefrontal cortex, doing what it does, seeks solutions that moderate the screaming limbic brain. It may learn new modes of perception and rearrange its own definitions of pain. It may shut down its own system, become catatonic, cut off the flow of input to the core brain. Isolation, reduction of input, can become the drug of choice. It  might learn that dopamine blockers – alcohol, nicotine, certain drugs – work well and serve to lessen the limbic scream. Or the production of endorphins can become a drug of choice. It might learn the calming response in prayer, the peace of the meditative center, the conditioned response to assert that beyond the level of cognitive perception all is well and good and pains are just part of the whole thing, no need to get upset. It all seems a less than complete explanation. It serves to tie together observations of the process limited to the science of brain chemistry, yet I question an explanation that includes only a sum of parts, because there is the thing always present which is greater than that sum, more than a mere aggregate of local fragments.

 There is still the unknowable mystery, unexplained, the connection of all, each to each, in creation itself. Jesus connected spiritually, or at least represented the connection in terms of spirituality. Vitruvius and later Leonardo da Vinci found it in the golden ratios; mathematicians see it in nature in the recurrence of specific bases such as the Fibonacci series. Harmony, connectedness – suffusing all of creation and traced again and again in religion and the arts down through human history.

This life holds, inextricably intertwined, the bitter and the sweet. There is a fire in us which both consumes and creates; in the middle of the consuming limbic fire the light of humanity shines out in the glory of its own genius, forged in that fire. Our lives are not about the moment when the fire, flaring out, overcomes us. It is about the moments when we overcome it, and move on, seeking and embracing that unknowable mystery, unexplained, and the connection of all, each to each, in creation itself.

It is what Is. Let it Be.

RIP, Robin Williams. You are my brother. It’s not about how you died, or why. It’s about how you lived. In the middle of the flames, your light shined out to us all. Nanu Nanu, Mork. You lived it.

Phoenix light centered in flames

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2 Responses to Robin Williams

  1. Louis W says:

    Yes, it is, in large part, about how you live, and not how you die. I can’t help thinking, though, that in life Robin Williams graced us with a comic genius to which only tiny few could aspire. He left in a way that even the most comically and intellectually challenged among us could do any time we felt miserable enough. It was his choice, but it wasn’t very funny.

  2. bobgriffith says:

    Been thinking about this for awhile, wondering how to reply… I sense your own grief about Robin William’s death in your reply, and I have the same grief in my own heart as well. Your reply led me to a lengthy workout of my own, now consigned to my personal, private archives.

    Now that some time has passed there are a couple of things I do want to say here, though.

    First, choice does not always trump compulsion. Suicide is not a choice for a clinically depressed person. In the absence of hope, or any other option, choice is not available.

    Actually, suicide itself isn’t that easy. Misery may be attendant there, but it’s not at the heart of it. In the moment it is a profound nexus of mental, emotional, experiential, physical, and yes – spiritual – agonies. Choice may be a consideration in our perspective when we look at the event from outside, but in a moment when there are no options available there is no choice available.

    When Robin Williams died there are those of us who, having experienced true clinical depression, felt one thing with sadness and clear knowing in an extremely powerful and personal way: We have lost one of our own.

    Rather than share my own experience I’ll refer to James Clavell’s Shogun, and the scene in which the gaijin English navigator, John Blackthorne, is brought to the moment of suicide by unendurable circumstances and enters a state of total commitment to the act of seppuku, ritual suicide, and actually commits it. In the novel he is saved in the instant after he begins but before it happens.

    Sometimes that moment is present and there is no one to grab the sword.

    I symbolically describe the condition of a true suicide, experiencing the throes and depths of depression, as burning in limbic fire. I refer to all-consuming pains which block out all thoughts – even slivers – of hope, a condition where no options are present. It is a condition which people can experience without the thought of suicide present. Then again, sometimes it is. It’s just there.

    There are people who experience this profound state of depression who have valiantly resurrected themselves from that fire over and over again, rising like a Phoenix from their own ashes. People like Robin Williams, who resurrected himself multiple times in the days of his life, burning in fires and quenching the flames with every mechanism a human being has on board, running into the safety of different personas, fighting the limbic demons of his psyche, laughing himself and us into endorphin floods, crying until empty, loving and serving others until full, isolating, drugging, praying – and yet gutted ever again by cyclical tides of rising darkness until the last one engulfed him.

    Sometimes, too, there is a moment when it may happen that a mystery beyond knowing or understanding might, in indescribable mercy, appear in contradiction to the basic, absolute principles of self will and choice and karma and even the physics of materiality, cast in stone in the essence of the human experience, and grab the sword in the instant after the act is wholly, completely and actively committed and before it can be accomplished.

    And sometimes not.

    Sometimes there are people who inexplicably transcend the condition of depression and find themselves unexplainably emerged into a new world instead of the same old one.

    And sometimes not.

    In either case, I believe there is a profound grace present there which is both loving and merciful. I believe it was present with Robin Williams when he died.

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