A science-fiction book by someone named Colin Wilson
It was February, 1970, and I was 23 years old. I was in a drugstore checkout line when a strong impulse led me to pick up a paperback book off the rack, a science-fiction novel called The Mind Parasites, by an author I’d never heard of named Colin Wilson. I bought it, and that moment turned my life.
The plot was simple enough. Two scientists at the end of the twentieth century discover that humans are unsuspecting hosts to — well, to mind parasites, creatures that sap our vitality and our sense of purpose. After sundry adventures, they learn to defeat the parasites, and for the first time begin to take possession of humanity’s unsuspected abilities, including a host of powers then usually called occult.
When I read that book, something within me went “click!” I was seized with the conviction that the author was telling the truth. We do have such powers, and they are inexplicably beyond our grasp. What is more, it was clear to me that the author believed it too. The strength of his conviction ran like a strong current beneath the surface of the story, and was spelled out clearly in his preface. And when I began looking for his other books, beginning with The Outsider, I found that in whatever form he uses — and he has written novels, volumes of criticism, biography, history, essays, plays — the same underlying message comes through.
I didn’t recognize it at the time, but I needed that book, and needed it then, at that exact moment. It was the right book for the right person at the right time. (Chance? Co-incidence? I would have thought so then. I don’t now. Today, I would call it guidance, but what do and don’t mean by that took most of a book to explain.)
At the time, my mental world did not extend beyond what I now call a Downstairs level. I was living without conscious access to other levels of my being. I didn’t know that other levels existed. What’s worse, I had backed myself into a corner.
It is a terrible thing to live in exile. I had left the Catholic Church because its structure left me no room to breathe. No one was going to tell me what books I could not read! Besides, something told me that reality was greater than the church’s view of it, even though the medieval view of reality was certainly larger than almost anything else to be found in materialist 20th-century America.
The fact of the matter is that I had no home. The materialist worldview had no appeal, and so I was left looking for a way out of the logical prison that said, “religion doesn’t give me what I need, but still I know that we are more than accidental collections of chemicals.”
This was more than just an intellectual dilemma. My conscious beliefs were causing me tremendous problems. I didn’t fear death (or if I did I wasn’t aware of it), and therefore (I thought) it followed that there was no reason to mourn it in others. I convinced myself that it shouldn’t hurt when loved ones died, and that therefore it didn’t hurt. Unable to acknowledge my feelings, I was unable to process them, and they remained violently alive within me. Obviously, this situation got worse, death upon death. The very public deaths of John and Robert Kennedy, both of whom I loved, took a terrible toll.
Repressing awareness of feelings takes enormous amounts of energy, even when much of the emotion becomes locked into the physical structure. The violent unacknowledged feelings sloshing around inside made me prone to violent, unpredictable, uncontrolled mood swings, and the situation had divorced me increasingly from the world around me, as I tried to cope with the world — with other people — strictly from unacknowledged, therefore unknown, feelings.
My good friend David died, just a few days after I bought Colin’s book, and I had to deal with it exclusively from my Downstairs resources, – just as I had had to deal with other deaths previously. My helplessness in the face of David’s death appalled me — though I scarcely realized it. And my dissatisfaction with my own life was so acute, my belief in the reality of any realistic path so non-existent, that I was feeling trapped. I was stranded, purposeless. (All this, of course, strictly as experienced at the Downstairs level.) Colin’s book, purchased on impulse less than a week before, gave me something to believe in.
The development of mental powers! The achievement of supernatural abilities!
Colin’s work came into my life at just the time to provide a bridge across despair. The Outsider and the succeeding books in his “Outsider cycle” were crammed with references to others who seemed to see the world this way. I was still alone, but at least now I knew that there were others out there, and perhaps they could be found.
It was only many years later that I thought to look at how it happened, that I just happened to be in a store that just happened to have the book that just happened to give the exact message that I needed, at exactly the time that I needed it. It’s the kind of thing that tends to shake your belief in Chance.