December 16, 2011 § 39 Comments
“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.”
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 Bovary, considered 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.
October 29, 2011 § 46 Comments
“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.
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.”
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.”