The Outsider

Photo by Masaaki Komori

Photo by Masaaki Komori

Desperation is the raw material of drastic change. Only those who can leave behind everything they have ever believed in can hope to escape.
–William S. Burroughs

In his revolutionary book, The Outsiders, Colin Wilson writes that Nietzsche went mad for the last 10 years of his life. This got me thinking. Why do the people who think outside the box, who challenge the status quo, and who strive to transcend the prison of day-to-day existence end up either crazy or dying a tragic death? Why do those who are desperately trying to find a way to do something great, to express a masterpiece artistically or philosophically end up shunned by the culture and society they live in? What is so threatening about the truth? What is so threatening about people who question what is?

The existential dilemma of mankind seems to be just this—an unwillingness to be open to the unknown, the frightening, the strange. From my perspective, and many other writers for that matter, what is unknown is the most exciting part of life.

What makes people uncomfortable is what makes life tick.

We were not born to strive for sameness and security. We were born to live and grow and question it all. But this drives many people crazy. These gnawing questions that eat at the soul, that make our choices suspect. We know the truth, and yet we cower from it at every turn. The vastness of the unknown feels too big to comprehend. But that’s precisely the invitation: to see the mystery and welcome it with open arms and wait for it to deliver new experiences to us.

Why live a predictable life? What is the point of that? Why not pull out all the stops and see what unfolds?

You know why and so do I: to do that is terrifying and goes against our carefully controlled and protected lives. We might lose something or not get something we want if we live in a fluid way, open to receiving life’s gifts and pains.

We are defined by what we protect and what we need to control. We stop ourselves just short of our comfort zone. We go only so far and then we stop at the edge of that which makes us afraid. But this stopping is also where our deepest longing resides. We want so much to open to the unknown, but the boundary is too strong. We stop just short of our identification with the known.

The past becomes our jailer.

How we define ourselves becomes the walls that we use to keep us in line. To venture outside those walls surely means what? Death? Destruction? Insanity? We tell ourselves that we’ll lose everything if we take big risks.

This reluctance to take risks limits our range and narrows our experience of life. It’s no wonder that so many of us are depressed. Repression turns into depression. We rage against ourselves for the ongoing self-betrayal. Holding back our desire for change and growth creates a volcano within us that eventually explodes with all of our unsung expressions and unfulfilled desires. We become a shell of a human being who is operating at a fraction of our capacity. The volume and energy is turned down to a low burn and all of our efforts are spent maintaining and preserving our lifestyles as opposed to expanding our souls into full expression.

We are walking around in a state of constant starvation and hungers–anorexic beings, with no hope of ever being fed unless we stop depriving ourselves of the real food of life. Only then is there some hope of salvation and freedom.

Only then.

We must rebel against this suppression of ourselves. We must stage a personal revolution in which we stand up against the agree-upon beliefs of our brothers and sisters–break free from the crowd and start to listen to the voice of our soul’s longing.

There is no time to waste.

Can we really afford to continue to let those who are willing to take these risks to try and change things die a humble, miserable death or crumble into the ashes of their discontent?

No, I think not.

We must acknowledge that we hear their cry and stop condemning them for their eccentricities and odd ways. We must stop and listen to their silent moans as they cut the pathway the rest of us fear to tread. Then we can rise up and gather the courage to follow in their footsteps…not their actual path, of course, but rather their example so that we may forge our own unique path.