While some folks dismiss Leary as a fanatic due to his well-documented usage of and advocacy for psychedelic drugs, I think doing so is entirely foolish.
Take a closer look at Dr. Leary’s life, and you find a spirited man who dedicated his energies to the promotion of peace, free-thinking, authentic individuality, the pursuit of passion, and intellectual rigor. For countless people, Leary was a guide and an inspiration.
Leary’s Profound Declaration
One particular passage of Leary’s is commonly cited, and with good reason. I first discovered this quote about a year ago (and also stumbled upon an awesome Zen Pencils comic version of it more recently), and I felt as if Tim was speaking to me personally.
I imagined him beckoning me to come in close and murmuring in a hushed tone of secret things, mysterious places, and ways of life that deviated from the status quo. In other words, the words spoke to me, as all of my favorite writing does. Here’s the quote:
“Admit it. You aren’t like them. You’re not even close. You may occasionally dress yourself up as one of them, watch the same mindless television shows as they do, maybe even eat the same fast food sometimes. But it seems that the more you try to fit in, the more you feel like an outsider, watching the ‘normal people’ as they go about their automatic existences. For every time you say club passwords like ‘Have a nice day’ and ‘Weather’s awful today, eh?’ you yearn inside to say forbidden things like ‘Tell me something that makes you cry’ or ‘What do you think deja vu is for?’ Face it, you even want to talk to that girl in the elevator. But what if that girl in the elevator (and the balding man who walks past your cubicle at work) are thinking the same thing? Who knows what you might learn from taking a chance on conversation with a stranger? Everybody carries a piece of the puzzle. Nobody comes into your life by mere coincidence. Trust your instincts. Do the unexpected. Find the others.”
— Timothy Leary
What’s the Message?
The message Leary delivers in this quote is a powerful one. ”Wake up!” he seems to shout, “There’s more to life than you’ve been told.”
The quote is chilling because he’s telling us precisely what we’d sensed but feared to acknowledge — that we don’t really “fit in”, that we can never be like most people, that we’re different. This would seem to be a scary notion. However, Leary’s tone suggests that it’s quite the opposite. Society would have us believe that being atypical is cause for concern, but what if it were secretly a door to liberation?
Fitting in, being “normal”, is in fact a tasteless, bland, and ultimately empty life of conformity and timidity. Enchantment and joy are to be found in the uncommon and the unusual. There’s magic in the urge to forge one’s own path. Other individuals are waiting out there to help us, to befriend us, if we can but open ourselves to new people and experiences.
A better world exists if we can summon the audacity to rid ourselves of the instinct to mindlessly follow the dominant paradigm, the popular lifestyle, the ephemeral trends. Leary’s most central message is to be true to yourself — the deep self that most people never reveal. The one that wants freedom and love and adventure. The self in your heart; let it breathe.
Leary is saying all of this and more. I love the quote because of the ideas it expresses, but also because of something about it that cannot be put into words. It captures a certain feeling, a feeling that drives people to change their lives. I don’t think there’s a word for this feeling, but it’s a sort of hunch that rumbles from the depths of one’s being. It’s a fissure that gradually becomes a rift then an earthquake, causing the ground beneath one’s feet to tremble until it cannot be ignored. It’s a blossoming realization that must be understood by the soul before it can be understood by the mind.
Maybe you recognize the feeling to which I’m referring. Maybe you don’t. Perhaps it isn’t universal. Perhaps you won’t know it in your lifetime. I don’t know. All I can say is that something creeps up to let you know that you aren’t the person you wanted to be, that there’s more to this world than you had previously thought. Then you change, because you must. You find curiosity and passion and motivation that weren’t there before. Confidence and self-respect grow. Things begin to coalesce, to feel “right”.
To those who haven’t met this point and wish to, I can only advise you to seek. In the back of your mind, always believe that epiphanies are coming. Always focus on learning as much as possible. Think like a child. Keep both eyes and mind open, eternally. Be willing to entertain any idea. Look for teachers and signs in unlikely places. Reflect. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings. Look yourself in the mirror and ask if you’re content with where your life is heading. Care about living in the fullest sense.
Remember that in life, it’s quite difficult to find what you’re not really looking for. So stay alert, be patient, and believe that there is more. Really believe.
I love the style of Leary’s quote. It’s a sort of direct confrontation, a kick in the pants, a call to arms for anyone who is ready to hear it. I decided to try to craft my own version of it, and that’s what I wish to leave you with in this essay. I can’t promise mine measures up to Dr. Leary’s, but I hope it resonates with you anyway. Take care, friends, and here’s my rendition:
“Admit it. You aren’t satisfied. You’re not entirely sure why or how, but you aren’t. A vague sense of lack, a question — is this it? – gnaws at you, keeps you up some nights. You should be happy, you tell yourself. You’re living the dream, aren’t you? Hip, classy wardrobe. Respectable career path. Connoisseur of TV. Internet extraordinaire. Sarcastic, detached personality. Gets a bit wild on weekends. Success, right? So they said, but you aren’t sure anymore. The “right”, “safe” things feel so… obvious, boxed-in, dinky. Some days you wish you could just burst into song on the street or make animal noises in a professional setting. You hear faint whispers calling you to the dangerous, the different, the bold, and the unknown. The half-buried dream. The maybe-someday travels. The secret project. The un-slain dragon. Follow the whispers. The hardest thing is to love who you really are and be that person but you must. Courage is rewarded, and life is a tenacious quest or nothing at all. Question everything. Startle yourself. Make somebody’s day. Ask her name. Bare your naked soul to all between land and sky and disregard the naysayers. You’re never alone. Find the others.”
— Jordan Bates
Photo Credit: Dan Foy