Philip Seymour Hoffman: Just Like Me

Philip Seymour Hoffman - just like me

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An Unhappy Ending

Like so many others, I was deeply saddened by the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman. I’d been an admirer for much of my adult life, watching in amazement as he disappeared into each role, completely embodying his characters and making it look effortless, which it surely was not.

His death was a tragedy, in both the suffering sense and the theatrical one, where the main character’s downfall leads to a very unhappy ending.

As I absorbed the news, my disbelief quickly morphed into a mix of sadness, anger, and judgment.

How could someone to talented waste his life?

How could he do that to his loved ones?

How could he not get help – especially with all his support and access?

How could he??

Variations of these unanswerable questions echoed across the Twittersphere.

Just Like Philip Seymour Hoffman

As I drove home, I reflected on the larger lesson, the bigger truth.

I am just like Philip Seymour Hoffman.

I’ve done, eaten, and drank lots of things I knew weren’t good for me.

I’ve found countless ways to escape, numb, and distract from painful and uncomfortable feelings.

I’ve struggled, feeling so alone, yet not reaching out and getting help, even when I knew help was not only available but right in front of me, begging.

I’ve discounted or ignored the impact I had on those who cared about me.

I’ve been awful to myself – harsh, critical, condemning, often when I was already down.

I’ve wasted countless moments of my life – and many opportunities, some of which I couldn’t even see because I had my head too far up my own ass.

Just because I didn’t shoot heroin into my arm doesn’t make me any different.  That’s just a methods preference.

I am just like Philip Seymour Hoffman.

We all are.

Just Like Me

When I judge Hoffman’s actions, I see us as separate, as though what he did has nothing to do with me, that we have nothing in common.

That’s simply not true.  It has everything to do with each of us.

Separation is an illusion, a comfortable one, but still an illusion.

Buddha taught that the illusion of separation gives us a false sense of safety (I’m not like that, that’s not me, I’m different) so we don’t have to open our hearts and identify with another’s suffering.

The truth: we all experience pain and suffering – all of us, whether we want to or not.  That’s reality.

We can separate ourselves from someone like Hoffman using all sorts of arbitrary distinctions.  Or we can do the opposite: we can move toward him and his suffering with compassion and empathy using the Buddhist practice of Just Like Me.

It’s simple: in any situation where you notice something about someone else, add the words “just like me” at the end.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was lonely and scared… just like me.

He struggled… just like me

He wasted his life… just like me.

He hurt his loved ones… just like me.

He turned away from help… just like me.

Just like me….

Honor through Compassion and Empathy

This simple act of deeply identifying with another person’s suffering immediately dissolves the illusion of separation.  We can’t be separate when we all share the same experiences, regardless of how much circumstances may differ.

We truly honor Hoffman’s and anyone else’s life when we feel their struggle and connect with our own.  We make it personal, recognizing our shared humanity in a real and profound way.  We acknowledge that we are all in this together.

The next time you see someone suffer, instead of turning away and creating separation, connect with that place inside of you that knows you’re no different than they are, even if that truth feels mighty uncomfortable.

Open your heart to their suffering that’s so much like our own.

Use it to fuel the empathy and compassion each of us longs to receive – and that our world so desperately needs.

Rest in peace, Philip Seymour Hoffman.  You will be greatly missed.


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14 Responses to “Philip Seymour Hoffman: Just Like Me”

  1. Melissa Maris February 3, 2014 at 9:12 pm #

    Beautiful post, MB. Really powerful.

    • Mary Beth Leisen February 4, 2014 at 7:23 am #

      Thank you, Melissa – I really appreciate that. I was deeply affected by what happened and needed to find a way to take it out of judgment and what seemed very harsh and senseless. I hope it helps other people deal not only with tragedies like this one but also everyday opportunities to remind ourselves that we are all connected. I’m working on that myself, as always…

  2. Kendra February 4, 2014 at 3:28 pm #

    Beautiful and very heartfelt post. Thank you for sharing.

    • Mary Beth Leisen February 4, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

      Thank you, Kendra – that’s so appreciated! Sometimes it’s so difficult to find the meaning and connection when something so tragic happens, but it certainly helps to find it…

  3. Claire Hassid February 6, 2014 at 4:01 pm #

    Mary Beth Leisen,
    I’m struck by how you captured what I have been feeling. I felt so alone in this until I read your post – and I’ve read a lot about the incomparable Philip Seymour Hoffman, searching for something that would give me comfort and help me put his death into some sort of context I could live with. You have done that. My sincere thanks for your post.
    I have also come to realize that he succeeded in staying drug-free long enough to give us a wealth of memorable performances. He held on as long as he could. So I’ve come to feel grateful for what we have of him as the actor. As Philip the family man, I will always remain deeply sad for his partner, children and friends.

    • Mary Beth Leisen February 7, 2014 at 12:23 pm #

      Claire, thank you so much for your very kind words. I’m honored that you connected with these words and that they provided some comfort. That means a lot to me.

      I love your perspective regarding his having succeeded in staying drug-free long enough to share so much of his talent. I too am grateful for that. I can’t even begin to imagine how challenging that must have been – and how much he (and also his family) struggled and suffered in the last few years. My sister-in-law died of cancer in April, and I can see how difficult it is for my brother and 5-year-old niece to grow up without her mother. My heart goes out to his partner, children, and friends as well. It’s so very painful to lose someone, especially like this…

  4. Kate Lindsay February 12, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

    Beautiful. And so simple. Often the best things are both of those things. I love the idea of “just like me” It’s not something that I was familiar with, but it could take this world so far in directions that I think we need to travel.

    I too have been hard on myself. I fit the list that you wrote almost perfectly. But I guess that really is the point isn’t it? Thank you for this one. You’ve left me with much to contemplate.

    • Mary Beth Leisen February 13, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

      Thank YOU, Kate. I’ve found that the more open I am about what I struggle with, the more I find others who struggle with the same or very similar issues – ones that they may not have opened up to me about before that. The power of empathy and connection can be so healing, especially when we feel isolated with our problems.

      I find myself using Just Like Me frequently, probably because I’m often making silent judgments of myself or others – like this morning on the train when I was irritated that people were pushing their way onto an already-crowded subway car. At first I was thinking “Quit pushing your way on the damn train! Can’t you see it’s full?” And then I thought “They want to get out of the cold and to work – just like me,” only their stop was later down the line, so they probably always face a full train car. Once I connected using Just Like Me, my irritation faded, and I felt bad for those who couldn’t get on and sent some lovingkindness to everyone in our car – which completely turned around my nasty mood, so I showed up at work with a smile on my face. Now if only I could remember to do this more often. Work-in-progress… :-)

  5. Kristy February 13, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

    Well done for finding a bigger lesson and sharing it with the world. A little more Compassion and a little (ideally a lot!) more Empathy are two things that would make the world an even better place.

    • Mary Beth Leisen February 13, 2014 at 1:00 pm #

      Thank you, Kristy – I really appreciate that. You are so right about a lot more compassion and empathy helping a lot in our world. As you say, now we can go be that change, right? (I love that, btw.) :-)

  6. Connie February 15, 2014 at 9:08 pm #

    Very Touching. I love that you saw this story and instead of judging, you connected. So beautiful. I agree that separation is illusion. Connection is more powerful, yet our ego gets frightened that it will be pushed out if it doesn’t separate itself from the rest. Once we admit that we are the same as others, there seems to be this bonding that takes place to allow quiet understanding among those around us. It is in that understanding that we become one with another. We are all the same. We all love the same, cry the same, smile the same, etc… As my dad says, who often watches movies with the sound down or off, the themes no matter foreign or domestic are always the same. Someone is a perceived villain, another the hero and there is always an innocent bystander just watching it all and at the end of the movie, it truly was all about the connection. :)

    • Mary Beth Leisen February 17, 2014 at 10:41 pm #

      Beautiful words, Connie! You say it all so well – and it’s true that connection can be so scary. It’s hard to admit that we’ve struggled or done things we’re not proud of. It’s like a walk on the shadow side, which for many of us feels like a stroll down a gang-infested alley. But what a gift to realize we’re never alone, that we are all one, and that our pain is not just ours but shared. Thanks for sharing your very thoughtful perspective.

  7. Paula February 19, 2014 at 8:25 am #

    Mary, I absolutely love this post it is so real and honest of which I can relate totally. Who are we to judge when we are all going through the same thing, this thing called life? We all self medicate be that shopping, drugs, alcohol, food, TV or whatever it just so happens he died doing something illegal – that is all. I love the way you look at this and his death it’s just such a breath of fresh air so I want to thank you so much for this enlightened honest post.
    Thank you

    • Mary Beth Leisen February 23, 2014 at 8:47 am #

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Paula – I really appreciate it. I couldn’t make sense of his death until I related it (in some ways very uncomfortably) to my own….

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