Friday, August 15, 2014

Some Psychological Thoughts on Robin William's Death

The other day, following Robin William's suicide, I was following an internet discussion about it. Of course, religion and how he lived his life was the central theme. And why wouldn't they be? Like sex, death and suicide cannot be explained on any rational level and are therefore religious matters. Anyway, a couple of the posters commented on how he was wicked, no friend of Jesus Christ, a sinner; and had free will and decided to take his own life and will suffer his fate in hell. My god, I thought, how could anyone say such things after someone has ended their life? He's done nothing wrong. He hasn't sinned. It's his life and he can do what he wants with it. His pain is his to suffer. So, on the mail route yesterday the urge to read a postscript that James Hillman wrote at the end of "Suicide and the Soul" presented itself. Having read it before I knew there were some answers to my questions there. This is what I came up with this morning:

"Old church decrees banned suicided bodies from burial in the common graveyard. Evidently, it was believed that suicide severed your body and soul from the soul-body of the community. Suicide not only took your life; it took you out of your inherent attachments with others, cutting the threads with the polis. By taking your own life you were asserting that you were ontologically not a citizen, not a member, as if utterly free of any kind of cosmic participation.

"Yet it is not the act that does the severing. It is the thought that my soul is mine, and so my death belongs only to me. I can do with my death what I choose. Because I can end my life when and how and where I please, I am wholly my own being, utterly self-determined, free of the fundamental constraint that oppresses each human's being--the uncertain certitude of death. No longer am I Death's subject, waiting on its will to pick when and how and of its arrival. I have taken my death out of the hands of Death. Suicide becomes the ultimate empowerment. I am my own redeemer-- 'Death where is thy victory....'[I. Cor. 15:55]-the superbia of individualism.

"This helps account for the common reaction against those who attempt suicide. They are not welcomed with sympathy by family, friends, or clinic, but rather are met with anger and disgust. Before we sympathize with a person's plight or pain that may have occasioned the attempt, we blame; we find ourselves spontaneously annoyed, outraged, condemnatory. I do believe that all too common response points to the enduring strata of the psyche that we all share, call it our archetypal humanity. We are indeed societal animals, as well as having individual destinies. Something insists we belong to a wider soul and not only to ourselves alone." [James Hillman, pg. 197-98, Suicide and The Soul]

If your soul isn't yours alone then perhaps some of their anger at Robin William's suicide comes from the simple fact that he didn't let us in on it before he did it.

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