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.”

sparkler gif

Happy New Year.

On on, brave travelers!

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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.”

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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?

The Doppelganger Effect: Second Selves and Ghostly Doubles

June 2, 2011 § 28 Comments

By Tai Carmen

Though pop culture references to “doppelgangers” (a German word translating to “double-walker”) are often used to describe people who resemble one another, the word has a rich and often eerie history, which has more to do with ghost stories than celebrity look a-likes.

Famous witnesses of the doppelganger effect include president Abraham Lincoln, the great poets Percy Shelley and John Donne, Goethe of Faustus fame, Queen Elizabeth I , and Catherine the Great of Russia.

Lincoln saw a second face, exactly like his own but with a ghostly pallor, in the mirror on the night of his election. The face disappeared when he stood up, reappeared when he lay down. Though old mirrors have been known to cause double images, what would make the second face significantly paler? Writes Lincoln of the unnerving experience:

” [The memory] would once in a while come up, and give me a little pang as if something uncomfortable had happened. When I went home again that night I told my wife about it, and a few days afterward I made the experiment again, when (with a laugh), sure enough! the thing came back again; but I never succeeded in bringing the ghost back after that, though I once tried very industriously to show it to my wife, who was somewhat worried about it. She thought it was a “sign” that I was to be elected to a second term of office, and that the paleness of one of the faces was an omen that I should not see life through the last term.”

Incredibly, this turned out to be exactly the case. Lincoln was re-elected for a second term — assassinated in the theatre, where he had gone to celebrate his second win.

The vision of a doppelganger has long been considered a harbinger of death. Queen Elizabeth saw her own double laid out upon her bed shortly before she died. John Donne witnessed his wife’s ghostly doppelganger holding a dead child in her arms the same evening she gave birth to a stillborn child, though the couple were thousands of miles apart, and he did not learn of the event until many days later.

Percy Shelley, still widely considered the greatest poet of the English language, reported viewing his doppelganger while in Italy. The apparition pointed silently to the Mediterranean Sea, in which, not long after, Shelley drowned in a sailing accident.

The custom of covering mirrors with cloth after a death in the family has its roots in the superstition that the spiritual double of anyone passing by the mirror might be projected into the glass and carried off into the underworld.

The idea of a subtle, energetic body (or “spirit body”) within the fleshy corporeal form, distinct from the soul, is an ancient concept touched upon by philosophers from Plato to Aristotle, deeply imbedded in Ancient Eastern and Egyptian spirituality.

The idea finds its roots in the concept of the astral plane, a modern term to describe an ancient idea: that increasingly subtle energetic/celestial realms exist outside of our reality. The astral body then is the vehicle in which the soul can travel these otherdimensional planes. Ancient yogis and modern occultists have attempted to travel the astral plane while still living, a thing known in contemporary language as astral projection. Many report having achieved the feat.

Adepts at such a practice could allegedly project their avatar across many miles and appear in two places at once, a concept known as bilocation.

Though the Eastern yogis are most known for tales of teleportation, it’s also present in the Christian tradition.

In 1774,  St. Alphonsus Liguori is said to have gone into a trance while preparing for Mass. When he came out of his meditation he reported that he had visited the bedside of the dying Pope Clement XIV. His presence was confirmed by those attending the Pope, despite his being four days travel away, and not appearing to have left his original location.

In Autobiography of a Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda describes how, as an adolescent, upon asking his guru, Swami Pranabananda, to locate a family friend, the swami went immediately into trance. Not understanding, the young yogi sat politely while his guru sat engaged in deep meditation.

Thirty minutes later, the swami emerged from his trance state and announced that the family friend would be arriving shortly. Astonished when the friend did indeed shortly arrive, young Yogananda asked his guru how this could have happened. The swami explained that he had simply “gone” to where the friend was bathing in the Ganges river and told him Yogananda wished to speak with him. As far as the friend knew, he had simply run into the swami at the Ganges.

Such phenomena was not considered miraculous in ancient India, but seen as a natural part of the development of yogic disciplines.

In her article, “The Art of Teleportation and Bilocation,” Mary Desaulniers elaborates on the scientific basis for such phenomena:

The discovery of the “biophoton,” a coherent, laser-like light stored and emitted by all living cells suggests that large scale, quantum states of coherent photons can produce resonant, collective, wave effects like telepathy and teleportation […] 

[According to MIT physicist, Claude Swanson, author of The Synchronized Universe] the human body can be seen as a “quantum system, with a set of quantum states all vibrating in step.”  [T]he human body can function as a coherent oscillating system in which each electron becomes synchronized with others behaving “in phase” and reinforcing one another.

When the human body generates a store of coherent energy which takes up a spatial pattern, it increases the probability of such a structure or pattern appearing in real life. It is this power of coherence or synchronization that makes possible exceptional human functioning events like teleportation and bilocation.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating documented accounts of bilocation occurred in what is now New Mexico in 1622. Father Alonso de Benavides had been assigned to the Isolita Mission to carry out a conversion of the local Jumano Indians. To the priest’s surprise, the tribesmen were already familiar with Roman Catholic rituals, had alters and crosses, and knew the Catholic liturgy — all in their native tongue!

Mystified, Father Benavides wrote both Pope Urban V11 and King Phillip of Spain to find out who had been there before him. The reply was that nobody had been sent. Unsatisfied with this answer, Father Benavides began asking the Jumano investigative questions regarding their knowledge of the Catholic rites. The Indians told him they had been instructed by a beautiful “lady in blue” who came among them for many years, teaching them this new religion in their own language.

Knowing that the nuns of the Poor Clare order wore blue, Father Benavides found a painting of one of the nuns and brought it to show the Jumano. Was it she? he asked. Yes, they said: the dress was right but the woman was different. She was young and beautiful (where the woman in the painting was portly, plain and mature.)

When he returned to Spain, Father Benavides was determined to solve the mystery and went to speak with the Poor Clare nuns (who were a cloistered order, never leaving the nunnery after taking their vows.) He found his answer at last in Sister Mary of Jesus in Agreda, Spain, of the Poor Clare order.

Sister Mary, as it turned out, had been falling into a cataleptic trance during her prayers for years, after which she recalled “dreams” of traveling to a strange, wild land where she taught the gospel. Amazingly, she was able to offer detailed descriptions of the appearance, customs and dress of the Jumano, which was impossible for her to have known about, as they were a newly discovered tribe.

When asked how she had communicated with them, she replied that she had merely spoken in Spanish, and “God had let them understand one other.”


Whether one believes it was the work of God or the power of Sister Mary’s conviction, the story — and like phenomena — remains simply fascinating. Such is the mystery of human consciousness.

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