I just finished reading Gary Lachman’s thoroughgoing and evocative study of Colin Wilson’s life, Beyond the Robot, and I thought, I need to say something about what Colin’s work meant to me, but what. So I sat down with my journal and asked.
Colin: Come, Frank you always knew why I was important to you. Use the message from TGU in Muddy Tracks for your blog and Facebook.
And I thought: Of course: I’d sort of forgotten about that, over the years. I have little doubt that what Colin did for me – basically, give me a believable reason to hope—he did for many, many others.
So here is an excerpt from chapter one. I omit quotation marks: all the rest of this entry is a quote.
So what does this have to do with Colin Wilson? At this point, I have no idea. I thought I knew, when he first came up, but I see now I am blank about it. Let’s have a word from Upstairs. Gentlemen, can you assist me here?
Of course. And welcome to you, reader. What Frank calls The Gentlemen Upstairs, at your service. Perhaps he will not mind if we cast some of this in the third person. It will be easier for him to hear, and easier therefore to slip it through his mental filtration.
Frank was functioning exclusively Downstairs, as he calls it, all the years from the time he was shut down at about age seven until he gradually learned to consciously reopen the tap as a middle-aged man. The point of these early sections is to remind him—and you—of what it is like to live continuously Downstairs, without conscious access to other levels of your being. It isn’t “wrong” to do so, in any moral sense. It isn’t even “incorrect” to do so, for all paths are good, and all lead to growth one way or another. But while it isn’t wrong, and isn’t incorrect, it certainly is doing things the hard way. People do things the hard way sometimes because they are stubborn, and sometimes because they feel they have no choice. But usually they stop doing it the hard way when they learn that there is an easier way.
One purpose of this book is to convince you to try the easier way.
When Frank’s friend died, and in a way even more so when his earlier “friends”—his heroes—were killed, he had to deal with it exclusively from his Downstairs resources, and not even all of those. Because he thought he shouldn’t fear death, or mourn it, he convinced himself that it shouldn’t hurt, and that therefore it didn’t. Unable to acknowledge his feelings, he was of course unable to process them, and they remained violently alive within him. (So it seems to you in bodies, anyway.) 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 him prone to violent, unpredictable, uncontrolled mood swings, as those who were around him then could well testify. And the situation divorced him increasingly from the world around him, as he tried to cope with the world—with others—strictly from unacknowledged, therefore unknown, feelings. People were already a puzzle to him; they became even more so. He had no feel for who they were, or why they were as they were. He couldn’t understand the simplest things about what motivated them. And he had no idea how he appeared to others. Some were attracted to him, some were contemptuous, some puzzled. In no case did he have any idea why.
What all this has to do with Colin Wilson jumps the gun a bit, chronologically. Frank’s helplessness in the face of his friend’s death appalled him—though he scarcely realized it. And his dissatisfaction with his own life was so acute, his belief in the reality of any realistic path so nonexistent, that he was feeling trapped. He thought in terms of writing books, making lots of money, and living an independent existence not requiring him to go to work five days a week, but to his puzzlement he made little attempt to do the writing that would lead to the goal. He thought in terms of running for Congress in 1974, but made no attempt to lay any groundwork for the plan. He was stranded. At a deeper level, he was purposeless. (We speak here strictly of the Downstairs level that he experienced.)
Colin Wilson’s books gave him an opening he could believe in: the development of mental powers! The achievement of supernatural abilities, paranormal skills! He didn’t know whether he could believe in them or not, but here was a writer who was investigating reports of such things, and doing so from a point of view quite similar to his own: open and inquiring, yet skeptical and wanting to make sense of it all, rather than merely accepting someone’s word for it.
Wilson’s book came into Frank’s life—something he is about to learn as we bring him to write this—at just the time needed to provide him a bridge across despair. The Catholic Church had failed him, or so he would have put it, in that its rules and its perceived completeness and rigidity left no room for things he somehow knew were not as they had been described. (He called that knowing intuition then, not yet thinking in terms of layers of being.) The materialist worldview had no appeal; he similarly knew that was even less true than what he took the Catholic Church’s position to be. He was looking for a way out of his logical prison that said, “There is no God; or anyway, not as I have been taught; yet we are more than the accidental collection of chemicals.”
Wilson was there, to lead him to many others. The Mind Parasites inflamed him with the nonrational certainty that mental powers were there waiting to be developed. The Outsider and the succeeding books in Wilson’s Outsider cycle were crammed with references to others who seemed to see the world, if not just as Frank saw it, at least closer than anyone he knew in the flesh.