I was listening to a bestselling novelist speaking on the radio about his recent success in winning a major book award. Among the many things he said which touched and amused me, the most striking was this, ‘I have always felt myself to be on the outside of everything, looking in.’ He gave this reply to the interviewer’s question, ‘Now you’ve won this prestigious award, do you feel you’ve arrived? Do you now feel you’re on the inside?’
What a wonderful response she received to this question! And this seemed to me an authentic writer’s response. As observers of human life, this is what creative writers spend their lives doing. Often whilst researching for novels, we are on the outside looking in. We do not wish to ‘get involved’ or ‘drawn in’. And indeed this often isn’t necessary. And yet there are times when it is necessary to ‘come alongside’ those we observe, in order to truly understand.
This is particularly true of those on spiritual journeys. To be a traveller on this path, you need an open mind and an open heart, and must be prepared to go anywhere and come in on anything. This does mean exploring other spiritual outlooks, other worldviews. This should be no contradiction to a spiritual traveller whatever religion they belong to. As Rabbi Lionel Blue discovered, “my religion is my spiritual home not my spiritual prison.”
The great mystics have transcended religious boundaries in order to experience the presence of God beyond them all. So how can we always be outsiders looking in? Or is it sometimes necessary to get involved, and come alongside? I believe both can co-exist simultaneously. There is in fact never a time when a writer is so fully involved, he or she cannot at some future time stand back and write it. Every experience, no matter how negative or difficult, can prove raw material for a writer because in the act of writing a story you are often drawing upon unconscious material. Novelist Margaret Drabble remarked that fiction writers are good at “turning personal humiliations and losses into stories… they recycle and sell their shames, they turn grit into pearls.”
I am particularly fascinated by group dynamics. And in order to learn about those you have to participate. But you can also observe. The truth lies in paradox. Thus the most successful creative people can literally be, in the eyes of the world, on the inside. Of course they have arrived! And yet they can still feel they are always on the outside looking in.