This Is Not A Dress Rehearsal

December 3, 2016 § 4 Comments

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“In Buddhist practice we say congratulations because now is the time we have been practicing for. No more just practicing the dance. We must now dance. And this is not a dress rehearsal.” ~ Zenju Earthlyn Manual

There is one good thing about the Trump presidency as far as I can tell—it has, for many, eradicated political complacency.  For the 75 % of people who did not vote for Trump (nearly half of Americans didn’t vote—thanks guys!) we no longer feel we have the luxury to let our politics go on without us.

black and white photography, political art, http://hyperallergic.com/311570/an-art-historical-perspective-on-the-baton-rouge-protest-photo-that-went-viral/ black lives matter[Protestor Ieshia Evans, photo by Jonathan Bachman]

People in power and policies are shifting in American government.

Trump has appointed propaganda machine Brietbart news executive Steve Bannon to be his chief media strategist, a man who thinks “Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power,” (Bannon, in a recent interview to the Hollywood Reporter.)

ink bleed, watercolor bleed http://creativedojo.net/ink-fx-studio-rodypolis-freebies/

This it is a time of reckoning for Americans.

For those who did not vote to put Trump into office, it is time to decide who we want to be politically and personally. For many who will be directly affected—or whose community will be directly affected, or whose values will be directly challenged—by these policy changes, the personal has become the political. As, indeed, it seems destined to do.

This is equally true for those who voted for Trump. It is your responsibility to watch the chess moves of the man you put into office and make sure he does not exploit your hopes for ill.

In both cases, we must ask ourselves: what do we stand for? And accept no substitute.

political art, black and white photography http://www.decorecomgigi.com/2015/01/sonhos-e-devaneios.html

Newscaster Dan Rather recently released a rousing statement to this affect:

“Now is a time when none of us can afford to remain seated or silent. We must all stand up to be counted.

History will demand to know which side were you on. This is not a question of politics or party or even policy. This is a question about the very fundamentals of our beautiful experiment in a pluralistic democracy ruled by law.

“When I see neo-Nazis raise their hands in terrifying solute, in public, in our nation’s capital, I shudder in horror. When I see that action mildly rebuked by a boilerplate statement from the President-elect whom these bigots have praised, the anger in me grows. And when I see some in a pliant press turn that mild statement into what they call a denunciation I cannot hold back any longer….”

black and white racial unity photography http://www.astucesdefilles.com/2014/12/18/14-idees-de-photos-geniales-a-faire-en-couple/

Rather points out that the “self-evident truths” of equality & unalienable rights are not self-replicating. It is up to each new generation to renew the vows.

“We have survived through bloody spasms of a Civil War and a Civil Rights Movement to extend more of these rights to more of our citizens, ” continues Rather. “But the direction of our ship of state has not always been one of progress. We interned Japanese Americans, Red Baited during the McCarthy era, and more. I feel the rip tide of regression once again swelling under my feet. But I intend to remain standing.

“This is not about tax policy, health care, or education—even though all those and more are so important. This is about racism, bigotry, intimidation and the specter of corruption. But as I stand I do not despair, because I believe the vast majority of Americans stand with me….”

connection[artist & source unknown]

I believe in human dignity, equality & progress. To me, progress first and foremost means caring for the ailing planet, our only home within the void of space, and for each other—which means not dismissing the raised voices of the disenfranchised as products of “victim culture,” as Bannon has and the alt-right does.

That is damn easy to say when you haven’t walked a mile in another person’s shoes, suffering the indignity of constant low grade, often unconscious, prejudice. Where the default space is a white space.

Slogans like “make America great again” may sound good to white men, for whom the 50s was a fine time to be a man, but it sounds like hell to most black people, who were still fighting segregation and legal discrimination, and to many women, who were still deeply oppressed by gender expectations and sexism. That America was not great for a large swath of Americans.

civil rights, political art, black and white photography, politics, black lives matter

There are already some undeniable parallels between  Trump’s rise to power and the atmosphere of early Nazi Germany, already some alarming developments which hark back to the witch hunting of the McCarthy era. A Professor Watch List site, for instance, has been launched by a conservative youth group called Turning Point—where professors with a liberal bias are listed. Presumably & eerily, to be “watched”—to what end remains unspecified.

It’s true, the majority of teachers are generally more politically liberal. But trying to control individuals through intimidation is not the answer. And we can’t discard the connection between higher education & progressive values—clearly, one begets the other. It’s not some mass conspiracy to plant liberal fingers into the minds of the young. It’s the personality type that is attracted to education positions.

If conservatives want more conservative teachers, they need to rally for more conservatives to apply for teaching jobs—not exert witch hunt tactics, intimidation and thought control over existing teachers.

“In the United States in late 2016, as the president-elect’s surrogates cite Japanese internment as a ‘precedent’ for what may come, any ‘watch list’ of any sort is worrying. One that targets outspoken intellectuals with views that oppose a mercurial future president who spent the weekend tweeting petulantly at the cast of a Broadway play? Abjectly terrifying.”

you are being watched art http://tonikor.deviantart.com/art/YOU-ARE-BEING-WATCHED-367369825

“If we are not careful,” notes professor George Yancey, “a watchlist like this can have the impact of a theoretical prison designed to create a form of self-censorship among those imprisoned. The list is not simply designed to get others to spy on us, to out us, but to install forms of psychological self-policing to eliminate thoughts, pedagogical approaches and theoretical orientations that it defines as subversive.

“I am now ‘un-American’ because of my ideas, my desires and passion to undo injustice where I see it, my engagement in a form of pedagogy that can cause my students to become angry or resistant in their newfound awareness of the magnitude of suffering that exists in the world. Yet I reject this marking. I refuse to be philosophically and pedagogically adjusted.”

mark riboud politcal art https://photobabe142.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/photojournalism-is-forever-political-art/[Mark Riboud]

Yancey continues: “I refuse to be silent about forms of militarism in which innocent civilians are murdered in the name of ‘democracy.’ I refuse to remain silent when it comes to acknowledging the existential and psychic dread and chaos experienced by those who are targets of xenophobia and homophobia.

“I refuse to remain silent when it comes to transgender women and men who are beaten to death by those who refuse to create conditions of hospitality…where unarmed black bodies are shot dead by the state and its proxies, where those with disabilities are mocked and still rendered ‘monstrous,’ and where the earth suffers because some of us refuse to hear its suffering, where my ideas are marked as ‘un-American,’ and apparently ‘dangerous.'”

martha graham, lamentation[Martha Graham, “Lamentation”]

He concludes: “If it is dangerous to teach my students to love their neighbors, to think and rethink constructively and ethically about who their neighbors are, and how they have been taught to see themselves as disconnected… then, yes, I am dangerous, and what I teach is dangerous.”

This is not a time to be silenced or to feel disempowered, but rather to seize our power and raise our voices; not just to stand up for what we believe in but to definite what that is with depth, precision and love.

claim power, savannah spirit political art activism black and white photography[Savannah Spirit]

Should you choose to accept, I encourage all readers—whatever party you identify with—to create a personal manifesto detailing your values. And I will do the same. After drafting, I encourage you to list them in order of priority. From your top three values, I invite you to pick one issue to be your cause for 2017, something you dedicate concrete energy and actions towards.

Let this new era of uncertainty be a time that forces our own values into stark relief—let it forge us in the fire, concentrating and refining who we are and what we stand for. We need to take part in this shift in America, and influence its direction in whatever way we we can towards what we believe is right—not just with a shared Facebook post, but with concrete action.

The pendulum is always swinging—that is part of the dance, part of progress and a working democracy. It’s up to us to make sure it swings responsibly. And if it doesn’t, to speak up. This is not a dress rehearsal.

martha graham http://yearofwomen.tumblr.com/post/118947893106/may-14-martha-graham-known-as-the-mother-of

“When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” ~ John F. Kennedy
 
 “My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these – to be fierce and to show mercy toward others; both are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity.

When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.” ~ Teresa Pinkola Estes

 

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Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?

January 1, 2015 § 15 Comments

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“The journey itself is home.” ~ Basho

“The only journey is the one within.” ~ Rilke

January 1st 2015

As we move from one year to the next, we can not help but reflect upon where we’ve been & where we are going. Who we have been & who we wish to become.

on-the-road-again-susanne-van-hulst“On The Road Again,” by Susanne Van Hulst

The Uranus/Pluto square which began in 2012 comes to a close in 2015.

“Lives have been turned upside down,” notes astrologist Sarah Varcos, “perspectives forever shifted, circumstances reshaped beyond recognition. We have lost the things, people and places we thought we could never live without and discovered new ways of being we thought were never possible.

“Some people have been touched more deeply than others. Some in resoundingly positive ways. Others have faced what has looked and felt like devastation.

“In very basic terms Uranus is sudden, unavoidable change and Pluto is destructive and/or creative power. When these two work together shocks and surprises are guaranteed, as is rebirth from the rubble of destruction and the possibility of a new life if we rise to the challenge and steel ourselves to ride the waves and see where we finally come to rest..”

Phoenix_detail_from_Aberdeen_BestiaryAberdeen Bestiary detail (12th C.)

Pluto—named after the Greek god of the underworld—associated with intense growth at any cost, barreled through our lives, ripping up all false truths and shallow roots, often painfully.

“Nothing and no one has been protected from the destructively creative grace conjured by the cosmos these past few years,” notes Varcos.  “The challenge for so many has been to let go and trust, to embrace the changes brought about no matter how devastating they may have felt at the time. To look into the darkness, of self, of other, of life and to recognize that within it lays the deepest wisdom, the most enduring truths.”

shadow, shell, golden ratio, golden mean

On a collective level, the conversation surrounding rankism & the struggle of the marginalized has deepened & broadened, rising in visibility. (“Spectors of Oppression: Human Dignity & The Meaning of Difference.)  In the spirit of Pluto, it has been intense, uncomfortable & necessary.

“This past year has been about acknowledging and owning the personal and collective shadow in order to recognize that it is not some dreadful realm to be feared, rejected and denied but simply another part of ourselves to be embraced, accepted and, in doing so, brought into the wholeness of all that we are.”

Pluto & Proserpine“Pluto & Proserpine”

Varcas notes that the theme for 2015 could be summed up as “show up, own up & step up; no holds barred!” (Read it here.)

This year we are asked to live the truths we’ve discovered over the past few years of struggle, not just when we feel motivated, but as a constant ongoing statement of who we are.

Taylor James, human metaphors is, site credit: http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/human-metamorphosis-15-pics“Human Metaphmorphosis” series by Taylor James

For me, these past few years have entailed tremendous personal loss as well as profound self-discovery & growth. I’ve found my ability to survive (and even thrive amid) these times has depended greatly on my perspective of each trial as an initiation into deepened levels of awareness. Transformation is an essential touchstone of my journey. (Self Renewal & The Art of Transformation.)

Learning to know myself, accept who I am & act as much as possible in accordance with my own authenticity has been essential (Authenticity & The False Self.) 

This focus on self-reclaimation lead me to make contact with the singing center of my own being, which I came to recognize as Soul, the inner Wisdom Keeper. (Soul-Retrival.)

soul, angelic being

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be? 

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking

so that other people will not feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone

and as we let our own light shine,

we unconsciously give others permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear,

our presence automatically liberates others.”

~Marian Williamson, “A Return To Love.”

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Happy New Year.

On on, brave travelers!

Authenticity & the False Self

April 2, 2013 § 37 Comments

By T’ai Carmenhide_behind_a_mask_by_Catliv, deviantART,  site: http://catliv.deviantart.com/art/hide-behind-a-mask-IV-187210592

“No one man can, for any considerable time, wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which is the true one.” ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

“To be nobody but myself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make me somebody else—means to fight the hardest battle any human can fight, and never stop fighting. ~ e.e. cummings

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” – C.G. Jung

Helene-DeutschIn 1944  Helen Deutsch—notably, the first psychoanalyst to specialize in women’s psychology—coined the term the “as if” self.

This concept was expanded upon and called the “false self” by D. W. Wincott  in 1960. “Other people’s expectations can become of overriding importance,” Wincott noted, “overlaying or contradicting the original sense of self, the one connected to the very roots of one’s being.” (“Our Need for Others.”)

social mask, site credit: www.http://theresalduncan.typepad.com/witostaircase/philosophy/

The idea of a false personality construct being distinct from one’s essential, authentic nature dates back over 3000 years: in the  Bahgavad Gita, Ego (or Ahamkara) is described as the body-identified sense of self which is disconnected from the true soul.

virabhadra, site credit: www.yogablog.hari-kirtana.com/“According to the Gita,” notes Ramnath Subramanian “there is a fundamental difference between ‘real’ ego and what it defines as the ‘false’ ego. Real ego is our very essence, the consciousness that makes us aware and awake to reality. The false ego is a false identity crafted to preserve the sense of being the most significant and the most important all the time. In short, it is a narcissistic search for being loved, validated and appreciated.(“The Bhagavad Gita and the Problem of the Ego,” Huffington Post.)

The Bhagavad Gita asserts that the Ahamkara (ego) must be removed for true fulfillment to be achieved.

the-ego-is-not-who-you-really-are-deepak-chopra

social mask, site credit: www.mentalhealthy.co.uk/blogs/social-vs-public-mask

“We all need an ability to mask or control our baser emotions so that we don’t blurt them out inappropriately where they can get us into trouble,” explains Dr. Tain Dayton in “Creating a False Self: Learning to Live a Lie.” “The real danger lies not in creating a mask or false self, we all do that somewhat. The danger lies in mistaking the false or idealized self for the true self.

“A false self because it is an unconscious defense, can stifle the growth of a conscious, authentic self. It’s the false self that strategizes and develops strength, confidence and acceptance. And the true, conscious self gets suffocated and sent into hiding.”

removing the mask, site credit: www.justinmorrisroe.com/2012/07/11/lies-and-hard-knock-lives/

One surefire  way to distinguish one’s core center from the egoic personality structure or false self is meditation, in which we cultivate what has been called “the witnessing self.” Meditation asks the practitioner to become conscious of when one is thinking, which really just means becoming aware of when one is talking to oneself internally. 

In our everyday Western life, a constant inner monologue  for us has become like breathing. We identify with our thoughts to the point where the statement “I am not my thoughts,” however factually correct, feels somewhat radical when taken to heart.

Yet the meditation practitioner soon finds moments, however fleeting, when the inner dialogue is stilled and mental silence is achieved. Anyone who has ever experienced this will tell you that this moment feels very much like making contact with one’s true being—which, according to mystical traditions the world over, it is.

psychic, site credit: www.otisfunkmeyer.com/on-clairvoyance/

“Based on the philosophy of [the ancient Hindu texts] the Upanishads,” details Neera Kashyap in “Personal Growth & The Witnessing Mind,” [we are taught] that if we could witness our thoughts and emotions, we would discover that what is witnessed false self, site credit: www.neomysticism.com/false-selfis not our essential nature, but an ever-changing flux of our mind’s desires and tendencies.

“By practicing witness consciousness, we can distance ourselves from our chameleon-like mental tendencies. [This way] we observe our world, but simultaneously also absorb the detachment, power and impartiality of our anchor, the witnessing mind.

“Anchored, we observe,” continues Neera. “Anchored, we inquire into the origins of our thoughts and emotions, and the problems that arise from them. Anchored, we see them rise, take form, and ultimately merge into the witness. The thoughts, emotions, and problems are transformed, by their mergence in the silence and peace of the witness.”

descent_into_the_abyss_by_bestarns.deviantart.com

“There are two birds, two sweet friends, who dwell on the self-same tree. One eats the fruits of the tree, and the other looks on in silence.”

“This verse from the Upanishad,” notes Neera Kashyap, “sums up the secret of abiding happiness, in our lives. We enjoy the fullness of life, yet simultaneously witness this participation silently. This seems essential, when we consider the next verse of this Upanishad, in which the imagery is further developed.

“The active bird is overcome by sadness at her unceasing and unwise partaking of life. However, when she beholds on the same tree the eternal power and glory of the other bird, the witnessing spirit, she is freed from sorrow. For she sees that between herself and the other bird, there is a fundamental identity.”

two-birds, credit unknown

Wincott prescribed what he called “play”—anything that brings out spontaneous aliveness, from art to sports to meaningful conversation—as a way to revive contact with the authentic self.

removing-mask, site credit: http://stephrobbins.com/2012/07/the-mask/removing-mask/There is no doubt that self-acceptance is also key.

“When we’re self-accepting,” elaborates Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. in “Evolution of the Self, “we’re able to embrace all facets of ourselves—not just the positive, more ‘esteem-able’ parts. As such, self-acceptance is unconditional, free of any qualification.

“We can recognize our weaknesses, limitations, and foibles, but this awareness in no way interferes with our ability to fully accept ourselves…Perhaps more than anything else, cultivating self-acceptance requires that we develop more self-compassion.”

It can be hard in a world that values success, perfection and positivity to accept our failures, flaws and darkness, but ultimately, in order to touch the authenticity within ourselves we seek—ironically!—-accepting the aspects of ourselves which we like least is the first step to unleashing that part we like best.

removing the mask, credit unknown

What are your thoughts on authenticity, identity and the false self?

Starseeds, Cosmic Consciousness and the Galactic Generations ~ Part 1

August 11, 2012 § 22 Comments

By Tai Carmen

Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return. And we can. Because the cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself. ~ Carl Sagan 

We are stardust ~ billion year old carbon. We are golden ~ caught in the devil’s bargain. And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden. ~ Joni Mitchell

Long before man went to the moon, he looked up at the stars and pondered his place in the cosmos.

Many a soul has looked up to the shimmering panorama of the night sky and felt a kinship, perhaps with a certain star or constellation. Many experience a sense of longing, as if some key to their existence might be hidden there.

It’s not just a poetic line. In a very real way we are made of stardust.

All the elements necessary to create life — carbon, nitrogen, iron, to name a few–were first forged in the nuclear furnace of a stellar explosion. And so every atom in the human body came, originally, from a dying star, propelled outward into the universe.

Countless books, movies, songs and legends reflect our sense of kinship with these burning bodies of celestial light, so seemingly different from our own bodies of flesh and bone…From radio hits about being “all made of stars” to Native American oral traditions, which describe human origins and helpers from the heavens.

In the past century, we have witnessed a renaissance of human thought, now aided by the information age. At the same time, we have seen an incredible amount of bloodshed and suffering. Is it getting better or getting worse? Apocalyptic prophesies abound. But so does talk of an awakening.

Over the past half century, connected with this idea of awakening, the terms “Starseed,” “Starborn,” and “Star Children” have become a part of the fringe cultural dialogue.

The idea has formed within this multi-generational conversation that some souls are “not from here.” Many mystically inclined would argue that none of us are spiritually “from here,” and the starseed concept is compatible with this idea. The theory goes that these souls, the starseeds, have incarnated more often in other solar systems; that earth is not their home planet.

According to Scott Mandleker, Ph.D., author of From Elsewhere: Being ET in America, recurring themes among starseed identified individuals include feeling alien to contemporary human culture; disconnection from, and even disgust with, accepted norms…a deep spiritual longing and the sense that, not only is there more to life than meets the eye, but that they have a mission to fulfill. The word “mission” seems to be a trigger word for starseeds almost without exception. Many have had extra-dimensional or ESP encounters, which have affirmed their sense of differentness and sensitivity.

There is usually a strong connection with nature and the stars, an interest in space, science fiction, other worlds, ancient cultures, environmentalism and human potential…perhaps even homesickness for a place they’ve never known in this life.

Many starseeds feel they have chosen to forget their other worldly origins in order to grow up on human terms and blend into the culture — though most feel the intention was to eventually “wake up” to their true calling as paradigm-pushers and ‘spiritual beings having a human experience,’ (as the Pierre Teilhard de Chardin quote goes.)

Though in some rare cases, starseeds feel they’ve been exiled to earth, the majority feel their intergalactic mission stems from the compassionate desire to help nudge humanity onto the path of its destined awakening.

Starseeds, without fail, intuit the civilizations from which they’ve come have moved beyond earth’s current state of divisive turmoil into a phase beyond war, disconnection and bloodshed. For this reason, starseeds invariably find themselves looking to serve humanity, choosing vocations which center around healing, teaching, human potential, the arts, environmental assistance and social outreach.

Most feel their own path of awakening, their spiritual journey, is of utmost importance in order to truly live the new paradigm they wish to exemplify.

Though the stuff of science fiction, and many would say wishful thinking, the phenomenon has been felt by so many isolated individuals, unprompted  — only later to be united by a website, a conversation, or a book — that it truly deserves some investigation by the open minded among us. And it could be science fiction itself is a product of productive starseed types, exploring inner worlds which lead them inevitably to worlds beyond their own.

The most common take on this intuitive knowledge is that these interstellar souls have come as artists, visionaries, dreamers and pioneers of thought to assist in humanity’s impending rebirth, to act as midwives through the inevitable labor pains.

Psychedelic icon Timothy Leary may have been the first to use the word “Starseed” in his short work, “Starseed: Transmissions from Folsom Prison.” 

He penned “Starseeed” while serving time on charges of marijuana possession, for which he was issued a 95 year sentence — an unheard of amount of time for the crime committed. While officially held on drug charges, at the hearing the judge remarked: “If he is allowed to travel freely, he will speak publicly and spread his ideas.” (Jesse Walker, “The Acid Guru’s Long Strange Trip.”)

President Richard Nixon had earlier labeled Leary “the most dangerous man in America.” (“Tim Leary, Pied Piper of Psychedelic 60’s.”) To have the president of the United States call a pacifist author-philosopher by this title should tell you something about the repressive state of affairs in which free thinkers find themselves.

Yet the irrepressible psychedelic spiritualist continued his work from jail, writing in 1973:

This signal is being transmitted from a cell in Folsom Prison, which is the Black Hole of American society […] Some cosmologists suggest that Black Holes […] may be passageways to another universe, just as the manholes in Paris lead to a world beneath the street. Well, the maximum security prision is a fine place from which to scane the universe […]

“Out here, beyond good and evil, one sees America in pain, injured nervous systems propelling robot-bodies in repitiuous, aimless motion along paths labeled rights and wrong…”

Yet Leary remained fiery with optimism:

“The entire universe is gently, rhythmically, joyously vibrating. Cosmic intercourse. This is a message of hope and interstellar love from the Black Hole. Irrepressible optimism. Yes, it is true that repressive pessimists now control planetary politics. This is a larval phase.”

At this time, Leary had begun receiving what he believed were telepathic messages from outer space, presumably the genesis for “Starseed.” He began to see man’s true means of spiritual transcendence as coming from the stars:

“[…].certainly the anticipation of ‘saucers’ transporting humanoid bodies is naive. It is more likely that extra-planetary contact will be received by the instrument which was designed over three and a half billion years ago to pick up electro-magnetic vibrations. The human nervous system itself […]

“This message of neurological resonance can be censored, imprisoned but cannot be crushed because it comes from within, from the DNA nucleus inside each cell, from the evolving nervous system. The Higher Intelligence has already stepped on planet earth and its script is writ within our bodies, emerging in every generation.” (  Click this link to read the full piece online.)

(He did end up getting an early release, after five years, and resumed his energetic career, this time with emphasis on man’s place within the cosmos.)


To take the Starseed Test, click here! (Normally, I don’t put much stock in these test, but this is a good one, composed by licensed psychologist Scott Mandleker, author of From Elsewhere: Being ET in Americawhich we’ll examine in the next installment of the Parallax starseed series.)

Click here for PART II

The Outsider As Visionary

December 16, 2011 § 39 Comments

By Tai Carmen

“In an overstructured world only the misfit is free.” ~ Tom Robbins

“Your visions will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside dreams. Who looks inside, wakens.” ~Carl Jung

“Vision without execution is hallucination.”~ Thomas Edison

[Click here to read Part 1, The Outsider.] The word visionary is a nebulous term, evoking mad bouts of genius or peyote taking shamans, but we shouldn’t be scared off by the word’s exotic implication. In its simplest form, a visionary is one having or marked by foresight and imagination, fresh ideas that push the boundaries of the accepted or the known.

“When you grow up,” remarks Apple computer visionary Steve Jobs, “you tend to get told the world is the way it is and your life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money.

“That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is — everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.”

In our last post about The Outsider, we discussed common traits, identifying the outsider as one who, to quote French novelist Henri Barbusse “sees too deep and too much.”

The Outsider is sensitive, often with introverted tendencies, imaginative, many times plagued by a sense of isolation and unreality. He does not identify with the common values of the society around him, rebelling against the role he’s been given, often out of pure necessity. Many don’t rebel, but remain outsiders forever in their hearts. To these I would encourage an outlet of self-expression. The outsider, simply put, is a square peg who finds himself in a world full of round holes.

Of course this, combined with natural sensitivity, will inevitably create some neuroticism in the typical Outsider, for which he is well known.

But, the Outsider need not be tortured by his difference. Rather, he can recognize that within his unique perspective, within his sensitivity and keen ability to “see too deep and too much” — his power of noticing what others miss, of being on the outside looking in at the way the world works — lies the seed of the visionary. This is the true destiny, the true potential, of the Outsider.

“The visionary,” Colin Wilson notes, “is inevitably an outsider.”

Often all it takes is a simple flipping of the coin to gain perspective and begin one’s journey: on the flipside of neuroticism, lies sensitivity, on the flipside of rage, lies passion; with difference comes the insight of unique perception, and within an “overly active” imagination lies boundless possibility.

Without recognition of their own potential gifts, without a constructive outlet for their depth and intensity, the frustrated Outsider can become easily depressed. We’re already sensitive, and once we submit to the pain of our own hearts, often the deluge of the world’s collective suffering rushes in as well. The unexpressed outsider can even pose a  danger to themselves or others. As the great Lebanese American poet Khalil Gibran once observed:

For what is evil but good tortured by its own hunger and thirst? Verily when good is hungry it seeks food even in dark caves, and when it thirsts, it drinks even of dead waters.

Which is why it is essential to push in the direction of our potential. An unexpressed dreamer is like a beautifully made guitar that never gets played, but hangs collecting dust on the wall.

It’s easy to let oneself off the hook with the protest that one doesn’t have any fantastic potential. This is a cop-out. No one just picks up a pen and writes the great American novel; they put years and years into studying the craft of writing. They submit wayward drafts to ruthless revision and often scrap fledgling starts (Flaubert’s first novel was so full of flaws, he ended up burning it at the urging of his friends, after which he wrote  Madam Bovaryconsidered a masterpiece. James Joyce’s first attempt at a novel, Stephen Hero, was rejected by publishers and never saw the light of day, but later became reworked into one of his most influential and critically acclaimed works, Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man.)

It’s a myth that the ‘true genius’ just starts painting and pulls a Picasso out of the essence of his magnificent spirit. Picasso studied formally from the age of seven onward. While Mozart showed extreme aptitude at a young age, it was no less his dedication which brought about the fruits of what is now called his genius.

You don’t have to be naturally brilliant to become a visionary; you just have to follow through and refine your craft.

You don’t have to believe in yourself, so much as believe in the importance of the journey you are on or choosing to embark upon — the innate worth of visioning, of going deeper, of creating something where there was nothing, of giving some kind of insight or inspiration to the world. Believe in the value of adding your voice, however thin and wavering, to the chorus of voices throughout history who have called out: I am here. This is how it feels to be alive, this is how it feels to be me. How does it feel for you? 

“The vitality of the ordinary members of society is dependent on its Outsiders,” notes Colin Wilson. Despite, he might add, messages of conformity to the contrary. “It is their strenuousness that purifies thought and prevents the bourgeois world from foundering under its own dead-weight; they are society’s spiritual dynamos.”

Everyone loves a successful visionary, but while one is still visioning, and brewing one’s ideas, when one is simply on the journey of discovering one’s source of strength and insight, the road of the Outsider who dares to dream is no easy foot trail.

Of course, once you’ve created some kind of product — a book, a technology, an album  — then our consumer-oriented society feels more inclined towards praise, or at least the begrudging admission that perhaps you’re not totally crazy.

Until that time, however, you must be strong. You must be the source of your own illumination; remain tenacious, patient, determined. Some days you won’t be able to summon any of these feelings, and in that case, give yourself the day off. But come morning, rise again.

The visionary is one who is tapped in to the invisible forces inhabiting mankind’s collective imagination. As Jonathan Swift  said,”Vision is the art of seeing the invisible.”  In his Psychology Today article, “Long Fuse, Big Bang,” Eric C. Haseltine, Ph.D elaborates:

“Neuroscientists have learned that the brain is an extremely efficient consumer of energy (calories from food) because it cuts corners and cheats. For example, instead of ingesting and processing all available information — and in the process consuming a tremendous amount of energy — the brain throws away most of what it senses, and frugally focuses only on a tiny percent of information that’s likely to be valuable. Ignorant brains are efficient brains, and efficient brains run cool.

“So what does your brain’s temperature (or lack of it) have to do with becoming a visionary? Everything. Another way of describing your brain’s strategy of willful ignorance is blindness. […]  Becoming a visionary is simply a matter of knowing where your brain’s hard-wired blind spots are, then focusing your mind’s eye into those blind spots.”

In other words, a person who doesn’t see or think like the rest will be all the more likely to have a visionary perspective, and pushing one’s own boundaries of perception will pay off creatively. Open your mind, embrace your own unique perspective, brew it, dream it, study the craft of it, and add your voice to the chorus.



The Outsider

October 29, 2011 § 46 Comments

By Tai Carmen

“I see too deep and too much.” Henri Barbusse 

“The visionary is inevitably an outsider.” Colin Wilson 

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Jiddu Krishnamurti 

“I get a kick out of being an outsider constantly. It allows me to be creative.” Bill Hicks

The outsider, by definition, is isolated in some way from the dominant thrust of society. They do not, like the majority, expect to find satisfaction in striving for material success and status, seeing these limited focuses as necessarily generating a mediocre and myopic existence.

What others accept easily, the outsider has trouble accepting.  They tend towards pressing the issue — “But why does it have to be this way?” And so within the restlessness of the outsider rests the seed of the visionary.

But no great visionary is comfortable in their time, or they wouldn’t be a forward-thinker in the first place. We are the misfits for whom the world feels strange. Common to this personality type is often a prevailing sense of dislocation, a feeling perhaps that home is somewhere but not here.

“What can be said to characterize the Outsider is a sense of strangeness, or unreality,” details Colin Wilson in his fascinating and influential book, The Outsider.  “This is the sense of unreality, that can strike out of a perfectly clear sky.”

“Good health and strong nerves,” Wilson continues, “can make [this sense of unreality] unlikely; but that may be only because the man in good health is thinking about other things and doesn’t look in the direction where the uncertainty lies. And once a man has seen it, the world can never afterwards be quite the same straightforward place.”

Literature is rife with stories of outsiders experiencing this moment in which the world is turned on its head, assumptions fall to pieces, and the truth of society’s blindness revealed — from Holden Caulfield to Siddhartha. Philosophy, and its accompanying questions of being and meaning, go hand in hand with the great literary tradition of the lonely hero who undergoes this disorienting transformation of consciousness.

Classic existential novels such as Sarte’s Nausea and Camus’ The Fall explore this relationship between the outsider and the crisis that awakens him from the sleep of the average citizen. A more modern example would be Haruki Murakami’s Toru Okada in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles.

Common to the outsider and the existentialist is the feeling, as Colin Wilson mentions, of unreality. Described below in an excerpt from T. S. Elliot’s classic poem, The Waste Land:

Unreal City,

Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,


I had not thought death had undone so many.


Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,


And each man fixed his eyes before his feet.


Flowed up the hill and down King William Street,


To where Saint Mary Woolnoth kept the hours


With a dead sound on the final stroke of nine.

Here we see the poet as outsider watching the daily trudge to work of the average citizen and feeling the life of the city somehow “unreal.” He notes how “each man fixed his eyes before his feet,” and that the sound of the clock striking nine o’clock, signaling the start of the work day, has a “dead sound.” Elliot is not — and does not wish to be — one of them.

Colin Wilson expands, “the Outsider is a man who cannot live in the comfortable, insulated world of the bourgeois, accepting what he sees and touches as reality. ‘He sees too deep and too much,’ and what he sees is essentially chaos.

“[…] When he asserts his sense of anarchy in the face of the bourgeois’ complacent acceptance, it is not simply the need to cock a snook at respectability that provokes him; it is a distressing sense that the truth must be told at all costs, otherwise there can be no hope for an ultimate restoration of order. Even if there seems no room for hope, truth must be told.

“[…] The Outsider is a man who has awakened to chaos. He may have no reason to believe that chaos is positive, the germ of life (in the Kabbala, chaos—tohu bohu—is simply a state in which order is latent; the egg is the “chaos” of the bird); in spite of this, truth must be told, chaos must be faced.”

The person who finds themselves alienated from the dominant thrust of society tends to have a more responsive emotional life, a more vivid imagination, a hungrier mind than their peers. Because of this sensitivity, they are more affected by the world around them than others — more easily hurt, but also more discerning, more astute.

Most outsiders don’t decide to be outsiders, but are born with an inner sense of difference, a sense of seeing or feeling, observing, more than others, often with a driving sense of purpose (however vague) and a lack of interest and/or ability to conform with the expectations of the status quo. Others are made into outsiders because of a particular experience which separates them from the average person’s experience of the world — perhaps an early encounter with loss, a difference in appearance or desire.

Whether the cause for their difference is  a priori or posteriori, the outsider is invaluable to society. As Wilson asserts: “The vitality of the ordinary members of society is dependent on its Outsiders. […] It is their strenuousness that purifies thought and prevents the bourgeois world from foundering under its own dead-weight; they are society’s spiritual dynamos.”

As Arthur O’Shaughnessy wrote in his lovely Ode:

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

The qualities for which the outsider is ridiculed may prove to be his greatest asset – his difference from others, obsessions, introversion, unconventional perspectives, all fuel the landscape of creation. In his article, “Creative Thinking,” Michael Michalko muses, “Genius often comes from finding a new perspective that no one else has taken.”

Click here for Part 2

The Politics of Normalcy

July 6, 2011 § 45 Comments

By Tai Carmen

“…if you are not like everybody else, then you are abnormal, if you are abnormal , then you are sick. These three categories, not being like everybody else, not being normal and being sick are in fact very different but have been reduced to the same thing.” Michel Foucault

Perhaps you noticed it, too. The word ‘anxiety’ appearing more and more in conversation, ads and media. People talking, not about ‘being anxious,’ (a moment that can pass) but about ‘having anxiety’ (a permanent affliction).

In “The Age of Anxiety,” a poem written in 1947, W.H. Auden links modern angst with man’s quest to find substance and identity in a shifting and increasingly industrialized world: …It is getting late / Shall we ever be asked for? Are we simply / not wanted at all?  

Writer-philosopher Albert Camus dubbed the 20th century “The Century of Fear.” One wonders what he would say about the 21st.

Writer Herman Hesse, exploring the age of angst in his novel Steppenwolf, attributes the feelings of isolation and loneliness in his protagonist to the breakdown of repressive bourgeoisie values, which let loose the wild, irrational forces within man without offering a new standard or value system for support, thereby creating an uneasy limbo, lacking guidance and direction.

Though the subject has been explored for centuries by writers and philosophers, social anxiety disorder did not officially exist until it appeared in 1980’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the DSM-III — the psychiatrist’s bible of psychological afflictions — under the name “social phobia,” the same book which once classified homosexuality as a mental disorder.

Not that the problem didn’t exist before — it was the ancient Greeks, after all, who coined the word agoraphobic —  but during the latter half of the 20th century, anxiety seems to have shifted culturally from a covert issue to an overt one.

By the 1990’s pharmaceutical companies received F.D.A. approval to treat social anxiety and poured tens of millions of dollars into advertising its existence. In 2002,  Anxiety Disorders Association of America reported that 19.1 million (or 13%) of adults ages 18-54 were affected with a form of anxiety disorder. Now the percentage has climbed to 40 million (or 18%) of the population.

The current version of the DSM-IV describes diagnosis as warranted when anxiety “interferes significantly with work performance” (italics mine) or if the sufferer shows marked distress about it.

So in other words, according to the DSM, if you can’t adjust to your life as an employee, you may have a disorder. If it affects your productivity within the system, that’s the true indicator of a problem.

Of course, this makes sense on an individual basis — why wouldn’t job performance be an issue for individual workers? We all have bills to pay.

But on a broader level, from the perspective of analyzing cultural trends and messages, it strikes me as eerily dystopian that humans should be viewed like malfunctioning robots who need repair because their efficiency has faltered, rather then looking into possible problems with the work places themselves (environment, demands, etc).

Not “Maybe we need more breaks to maximize efficiency,” but “Maybe you have a problem. Take a pill and get back to work.”

There is a lack of humanity in the description, an emphasis on product over person.

In Madness and CivilizationMichel Foucalt notices the link between society’s labor needs and their attitude towards the socially maladjusted:

Before having the medical meaning we give it, or that at least we like to suppose it has, confinement [of the insane] was required by something quite different from any concern with curing the sick. What made it necessary was an imperative of labor. Our philanthropy prefers to recognize the signs of a benevolence towards sickness where there is only a condemnation of idleness.

I want to be clear that I am not criticizing individuals for taking anxiety medication. I am not telling anyone to stop taking their medication or saying it’s weak or wrong to do so. It’s a personal choice. We need all the help we can get, and I understand that medication is one form of help for many people.

My interrogation, rather, is aimed at our perception of anxiety as a society — our knee-jerk reaction of repression over investigation, of labeling the feeling a disorder, rather than seeing it as a potential initiation into deeper mastery of one’s will and character, or as a symptom of an imbalanced social system.

Interestingly, angst as put forth by the existential philosophers refers to the spiritual dread one experiences in the face of one’s own freedom. As Kierkegaard said in The Concept of Dread:

 “I would say that learning to know anxiety is an adventure which every man has to affront if he would not go to perdition, either by not having known anxiety or by sinking under it. He therefore who has learned rightly to be anxious has learned the most important thing.” 

In that context, there begins to appear something ominous about the medication of such a feeling, which may be uncomfortable, but also suggests the presence of our own grand possibility. If anxiety is a natural reaction to the experience of our own overwhelming freedom, what will it mean to repress that sensation?

Some might take issue with the fact that I am not drawing a distinct line between philosophical anxiety and physiological/psychological anxiety. I am aware that our society sees them as different issues — one as garden-variety-human-condition-angst, which everyone experiences to some degree, and the other as the more pathological, in-need-of-medication-chemical-imbalance anxiety. This is because I don’t believe they are different. Rather, I think they are gradations of the same experience.

I see the varying interpretations of anxiety by different fields as exactly that: interpretations. The difference between, say, a poet’s description of an elephant and a zoologist’s. The elephant remains the same.

Just because one field has identified the chemicals related to the feeling does not mean the chemicals are the beginning, or the end, of the story.

Social anxiety is often linked with introverts — incidentally, a much misunderstood personality type within our modern culture.

“The day may come,” says Susan Cain in her recent New York Times article, “Shyness: An Evolutionary Tactic?” “when we have pills that ‘cure’ shyness and turn introverts into social butterflies […] [But] the act of treating shyness as an illness obscures the value of that temperament.”

As a culture we need both the shy, sensitive introverts to ponder the deeper meanings of things and the assertive, bold extraverts to take action and get things done. Diversity in a species is an evolutionary advantage.

Case in point: evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson performed a simple but telling experiment on a school of unknowing pumpkinseed sun fish. About 15-20 % of animals display introvert characteristics of caution (interestingly, the same percentage as in humans,) called “sitters,” compared to the more curious, assertive “rover” types…

The biologist lowered a metal trap into the water and a large number of  “rover” sunfish went inside to investigate — only to be caught. While the more tentative “sitter” sunfish, who sat back and watched, remained free.


“Had Professor Wilson’s traps posed a real threat, only the sitters would have survived,” points out Cain. “But had the sitters taken Zoloft and become more like bold rovers, the entire family of pumpkinseed sunfish would have been wiped out. ‘Anxiety’ about the trap saved the fishes’ lives.”

Wilson then caught all the sunfish and took them back to his lab. The rovers acclimated faster, eating a full five days earlier than their sitter brethren. In this case, the rovers had the evolutionary advantage.

“There is no single best … personality,” Professor Wilson concludes in his book, “Evolution for Everyone,” “but rather a diversity of personalities maintained by natural selection.”

Yet we live in a culture which treats the sitter personality as freakish. “Just do it!” our slogans roar. Action is prized over contemplation, assertiveness over timidity. One way we manifest this bias as a society is by encouraging perfectly healthy shy people to see their tendencies as problematic, needing to be cured.

Studies show that introverts, who tend to digest information thoroughly, do better in school than their extroverted peers, despite having the same I.Q. The careful, sensitive temperament from which both shyness and anxiety can spring is not only rich in observational skill, insight and inner vision, it may well be essential to the survival of our species — a point well illustrated by our friends the pumpkinseed sunfish.

As science journalist Winifred Gallagher points out: “The glory of the disposition that stops to consider stimuli rather than rushing to engage with them is its long association with intellectual and artistic achievement. Neither E=mc2 nor ‘Paradise Lost’ was dashed off by a party animal.”

I’m not saying that people who take medication are doing so to “conform to the status quo,” (obviously they are doing it to feel better and to function more effectively in their life) but the increase of medication use in the Western world does suggest the possibility of an increasingly homogenized human experience.

Though some might argue that such “increased homogeny” is just fine if it entails a more well-adjusted life experience, I am suspicious of terms like “well adjusted,” because they require that we hold a yardstick up against the majority to measure the minority; it fails to account for individual temperament or the gifts that come with eccentricity.

Back to the original thought: being anxious vs having anxiety. This is a shift of language I have witnessed in my lifetime. And what a consequence the simple replacement of “having” with “being” implies: one is an emotion that passes through you, another is something you are stuck with, a state, part of your personality, even your identity.

And could it have anything to do with the multi-million dollar pharmaceutical companies filling the airwaves with the language of “having?”

What great symphonies, works of literature and philosophies would not have been created had the sensitive temperaments creating them been medicated? And what will our society look like in 100 years if it continues down its current trajectory?

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