I was deeply saddened to learn that Phillip Seymore Hoffman had died this past February, and rather devastated as I learned the circumstances that surrounded him as he departed his body and this earthly life. I wondered how his kids were and what their lives would be like, not only having lost their papa but having to endure all the controversy around that loss. He died with a needle in his arm… What a stigma. What shame. What an absolute farce this life is, in so many ways. He had nothing to be ashamed of, needle or not, suicide or no, addiction or clean. Depression and addiction are biological processes that we are learning more and more about every day, and the managing of both of these diseases is a razor’s edge to maneuver. Now, with the very similar passing of Robin Williams I feel the question begs to be asked: What is happening with men in our society? Both of these men were deeply feeling, sensitive, brilliant, successful men with loving families and all the ‘trappings of a good life’. Perhaps that’s the key word, "Trappings: That which serves to trap or adorn.”
There is an incredible amount of pressure placed on men, both from within and without, that says success is what’s most important, is needed at all costs, is the only thing that’s truly important in life. And while some of us know that that is not the truth, it is very much a deeply ingrained part of our western culture. It is unstated, not talked about, unquestioned, and mostly unexamined. Therefore it is not able to be reframed because it is unconsciously running the show by not being brought out into the open. Robin Williams was suffering from worries about money. Did this make him put a belt around his neck and choke off his life forever? Maybe not entirely, but it definitely seems to have contributed to it. How could a man with a $30 million estate be worrying about money? Is it ever enough? Do we ever have enough? Is it all in our heads? Can we heal this disease of never having enough, despite having everything?
A few worthy quotes:
". . . a cultural focus on the external trappings of ‘the good life’ increases the pressures to meet high, even unrealistic, expectations, and so heightens the risks of failure and disappointment. It leads to an unrelenting need to make the most of one’s life, to fashion identity and meaning increasingly from personal achievements and possessions and less from shared cultural traditions and beliefs.” Richard Eckersley
“. . . despite popular notions that suggest the key to personal fulfillment is acquiring more money to buy more and fancier stuff, it turns out that ‘as long as you’re not in poverty, money has nothing to do with whether you find happiness or fulfillment in life," Greg Easterbrook.
Men in this culture bear a burden that we women do not. They don’t do community and support and connection the same way we do. These two men died alone, with no other option than the one set before them it seems. As women we encourage each other, support each other, listen deeply and show up for each other. It’s part of our emotionally inherited culture. I know way too many men that go it alone. They feel they have to figure things out without any input or help from others and/or are too ashamed to ask for help for issues they feel they shouldn’t have to be dealing with. The unconscious internal wiring says that if they were better people or stronger men or more intelligent and able bodied then all would be okay. The message is that they need to somehow be different from exactly who and what they are right now.
The Jungian analyst and author James Hollis captures this mindset very well in his book “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life”. In talking to women to help them understand men he says, “…there are several ways of beginning to understand men. First of all if you removed from your life, probably forever, your closest friends, your supportive network, those whom you go to talk to about your body, your feeling life, your children, your marriage, your hopes and fears. Remove those people altogether. Secondly, if you severed the connection between whatever your internal guidance system is. Call it your instinct, call it your intuition, whatever it is that gives you a sense of your own purpose and direction, sever the connection to that. Thirdly, believe that your value as a human being is going to depend primarily on meeting external standards of productivity. That you will always be up against certain abstractions for your worth, that you will always be in very competitive definitions of who you are and what you’re about.
“Now, I suspect, for those of you who are women you would find these conditions appalling, and what you would experience then is the life of the ordinary man, in an ordinary day, in our culture.”
I am woman who has struggled with addiction and depression. I sought help, both professionally and personally, and I can’t imagine that I would be who I am today without the amazing, unending support of people who have shown me the light and how to live in it fully, both men and women. Women are coming into their own in this culture, the feminine is rising, the goddess has returned, and the only way we will be able to keep going is to support the masculine in healing their wounds as well. I do not support a culture that requires men to be disconnected from everything that is life sustaining in order to drive a new car or to remodel a house every year. The power and greed that is choking off the life force in this world is emerging in a way that is alarming.
People are suffering in absolutely unnecessary ways due to a lack of true direction and loss of deep abiding faith of something knowable and real that is the universal heart of this life. It takes a deep commitment to oneself, as well as a belief in something greater than ourselves, in order to live in a way that goes against the mainstream. Without this commitment we are lost and struggling, out of balance in a way that threatens our very existence on this planet. We must, each of us, make our own way to finding the thread of truth that lies within that is the compass we need to show us the way.