..................commentary .....see also on The Age of Defeat by Wilson




Reflections on the Quest for Consciousness:

Who hasn't experienced the surge in pleasure and energy from a new situation: walking into the open from an airport in a country where you've never been before? Or stepping from a train into a major terminus? Or waking on your first day in a strange hotel, hostel, or a friend's house? Or - to cite an example of Wilson's: How does a kid sense the world upon waking on Christmas morning?
These are instances when we are both least aware of our consciousness, yet at the same time are more conscious than ever. A curious paradox.

For most of our lives we are perhaps moderately conscious: hovering around between the low (while slumped in a chair watching a boring TV show), say, and the high (while walking against a bracing wind on a sunny day along the sea-front, with waves crashing and spray flying). But this variability in consciousness seems, as in these examples, largely dependent upon what we are doing - as though that is the only way we can influence it. Why else does anyone climb a mountain? For the view from the top! But there's a lot more to it. Danger, especially - real or fake, it matters not - has a dramatic effect on the level of consciousness we experience. Falling on a parachute, or riding a Disney runaway train - both will bring you to the edge of your brain, your senses sharpened to razor fine… And when you stop, rest safely back after your adventure, the adrenaline will still be circulating in your brain - telling you that life is the most glorious possible phenomenon, and that you wish you could live forever.

Indifference Threshold

Wilson (who actually recounts none of these examples) was sufficiently intrigued by a particular trivial event which happened to him when he was scarcely more than a teenager, an event that transformed him from a state of dull boredom into one of keen awareness, that he decided to examine the phenomenon in depth. He describes the incident in detail in his 'Postscript to the Outsider' 1992, and calls it 'The St Neots Margin' since he was travelling through that town at the time. A more appropriate term, which he also has used, is: 'Indifference Threshold'.

If you were to receive a phone call to tell you a close friend had been killed in an accident, you would, naturally, be shocked and devastated, and very upset. But then if, a few minutes later, you received another call to tell you that there'd been a mistake and this friend had escaped unharmed, well then, you'd immediately feel elated. In fact, for the rest of the day, you'd possibly go around in a happy mood, glad to realise that your friend is alive and well. Without either of those calls, though, you might have spent the day hardly sensing that you were conscious at all, sunk in a kind of mundane everyday mediocre normality. Whereas now, having received those calls, your consciousness has been boosted beyond anything you would have imagined. You have transcended - been elevated through - the 'indifference threshold'.

But this is only the start. Wilson was not content to leave it at that. He ended up writing book after book about it, as though each time attempting to home-in and focus on more and more ways of getting to the nub of the problem of consciousness. Indeed, in his 'Mysteries' 1977 (and elsewhere) he suggests that moving towards greater consciousness is the whole aim of evolution. And to aspire thus is the most natural, worthwhile activity Man can engage in. All art, all human endeavour, is really an effort in this direction. Ever since he first looked up at the sky and wondered what the stars were made of, as in a sense present day cosmologists still do, Man has been on this quest: in search of how to increase this remarkable magical phenomenon we call consciousness.

The following texts are the result of my examination of Wilson's work concerning this. It's not an exhaustive examination, and I have my criticisms as well as praises, but my aim here was primarily to sift what I could that might be worth looking at, and then reflecting on how we might use this knowledge to enhance the quality of our everyday lives. So dip-in and see what you can glean…

Rod: Can you explain Wilson's ideas, the ones that persuaded you to abandon the Philosophy course?

Phil: There are several angles on this. First consider this quote from his 'Beyond the Outsider' 1965:

"For those who have experienced it, the hour of the awakening of passion for knowledge is the most memorable of a lifetime… In that moment, man glimpses the possibility of becoming truly human, and recognises that the instruments required in this new existence are not weapons and tools, but intellect and imagination."

But intellect and imagination were not seen in a positive light by the Philosophy course. True, these qualities are responsible for many of the horrors Man has committed and continues to commit, but without them we'd still be living in the Stone Age. But now I'll explain more of Colin Wilson's ideas - some as copied and some as I interpreted them - along with a few thoughts of my own.


First: mindless slacking, or what Wilson calls "passivity". He points out that passivity is a condition which is deeply ingrained in civilised man: we rest passively in our mother's arms, sit passively in front of a teacher and later a lecturer, then we become an employee and are passively manipulated in some big corporation (don't we just know it!). The modern world, he says, creates a habit of conformity and obedience, and we become increasingly unaccustomed to the exercise of freedom. (This, I would add, is a central aim of the Establishment and the function of all State propaganda.) We are always inclined therefore to "switch off"; which is particularly apparent when we wait in queues, ride on a bus or sit in front of the TV (and turn a blind eye to government misdeeds). And if things happen too slowly we become bored, impatient and anxious so that all possibility of creative use of consciousness vanishes.

R: Good, but just discuss the main subject and leave out political innuendos. We all know government - any authority - is solid with corruption and obsessed with retaining power for as long as possible.

P: As you wish...

All this means we need a sense of purpose, Wilson says, because as it is we habitually waste most of our potentialities. When we see meaning clearly, we know exactly what we are supposed to do, and our energies respond. (ie, from Hesse's 'If the War Goes On...': no true action, my friends, has ever been performed by one who first asks "What am I to do?"). When we can't perceive meaning, we yawn with boredom, and our energies fail. We can be perfectly comfortable in an enviable situation, and yet thoroughly bored. We can be uncomfortable, in a highly dangerous situation, and yet feel intensely alive. Danger forces us to make a mental effort. We "stand back" from life, like a painter standing back from his canvas, and we see over-all meanings - instead of the meaninglessness of that restricting narrowed-down focus we're so used to. The result is a flood of vitality.

R: We stand back? And 'restricting' narrowed-down focus? If we're in danger isn't our focus narrowed to a fine point?

P: Wait, because soon comes the contradiction both from Wilson and the Course.

What we fail to realise is that instead of seeking discomfort or danger or some kind of self-inflicted sufferance (because, partly, it's nice when we stop), we can use our imagination, says Wilson. Using imagination is the precise opposite of the Course's approach, yet otherwise there are many similarities - ie, focussing. Wilson suggests we can focus, for example, on past events. This sounds trite, but when one realises how lazy we normally are, how we always try to economise on attention, how we look at things with only half an eye or listen (especially to music) with half an ear, it becomes apparent that we also use this half-hearted approach when we mobilise our imagination - or attempt to employ short cut methods (which are often doomed to failure) to recall a memory. 

So just as we might summon all our attention and focus it on an object in order to experience a sense of meaning, we can do the equivalent with, for example, an idea. And the result, says Wilson, is a build-up of inner power, analogous to the way a laser beam builds up by reflecting back and forth until the resulting energy can be tapped and utilised in precisely the way we require. Once this power has been generated we can focus it on things that normally leave us indifferent, and grasp their inner meaning.

R: So by focussing on an idea we build energy that can be redirected.

P: Apparently so. But listen:

When in such a state, we do not have to consider some object or past event for more than a moment to see its total reality. Imagination is the power to get back to reality, to refocus our true values, to combat that curious erosion of our vitality, an erosion which we normally succumb to so easily.

But imagination is only the driving force, as petrol is the driving force of a car. What is also needed is to utilise a certain law of nature, known to "magicians" as the Law of Correspondences.

R: Magicians?

P: According to Wilson's biography of Crowley, a "magician" is an explorer of the outer limits of consciousness.

One example of "correspondences" (and there are many), and one that is used by psychologists for character analysis, is in a colour-card test. The subject is shown 8 cards: four primaries - green, blue, red, yellow - and four "mixed" - violet, brown, grey, black - and when the subject places them in order of preference their character can be deduced. To choose a mixed colour in the first three indicates anxiety, for example - a result arrived at by thousands of trial and error assessments. It has been found that blue is associated with sweetness, which is why sugar manufacturers use blue on their packs. Green suggests astringency and sugar in green packs would stay on the shelves.

R: Would it, though?

P: Not if I wanted to make marmalade or beer.

Dark-blue is the colour of peace and passivity - probably because primitive man associated it with the coming of night. Red is connected with attack, with energy, the will to success and change - hence its association with revolutionary movements. And so on. But it seems that there are thousands of things like this, associations that "correspond" to certain aspects of the "collective unconscious" (ie, Jung) and which influence the ways we might allow our imagination to be guided. And there are things, I believe, that we naturally home in on, that we remember specifically - though not in an intellectual way, so we cannot "recall" them as we can a picture of a tree we might describe verbally to another person, at least we can't usually describe that part of it which "touches" our "collective unconscious".

I would think the same kind of thing can happen when we directly observe an object, especially something in nature; after a while we begin to construct links with elements deep within us that evoke a sense of meaning, of primordial recollection perhaps. I've veered away from what Wilson was saying; the above is my own interpretation, a kind of extrapolation of Wilson's observations on "magic", and from all appearances he seems to have studied it pretty thoroughly - historically and analytically.

Concerning memory, Wilson says: When I get up in the morning my chief occupation is observing what goes on at the end of my nose. That is not really consciousness. A dog could say the same. My real glimpses of consciousness - of the potentialities of consciousness - occur in those moments of intensity... when the world seems a deeper and richer place. In such a mood, if you listen to music, it seems to reach every corner of your being. If you look at a travel book, the places described seem to become real. This is an example of Wilson's "Faculty X", and a slightly inferior version of my own experience with maps. I can look at a map I have of the USA with a line I drew of my 16,000 mile route, and at any point I can stop and focus to take myself back to the place, the events, the smells, the feelings and so on of when I was actually there.

Boredom, on the other hand, is a condition that can be brought on by tiredness, and not merely a sleepy tiredness, but the tiredness of one's general milieu, of one's life style, acquaintances, everything. It is a "constricted" consciousness, that narrowness that prevents our glimpsing of a wider reality. Wilson suggests that we all suffer certain degrees of tension that actually provoke this contracted state. And tension is caused by mistrust. Life is difficult and dangerous, we have to keep on our guard, like someone expecting a blow.

R: I don't feel that way.

P: Neither do I. In fact the only time I'm ever bored is when I'm stuck in a situation I can't escape from. Even then, if I summoned my imagination, or meditated, that would be a way out. And although I trust authority about as much as I'd trust a crocodile, I feel not the slightest tension. But see what he (and me) says, then - as always - take from it what's useful and leave the rest aside.

Healthy people, Maslow discovered, are subject to regular "peak experiences", moments of overflowing delight, which are also characterised by a feeling of trust: ie, "pleasant expectancy". Hesse's "let yourself fall" (ie, the suicide at the end of his "Klein and Wagner") comes into my mind here. In other words: trust in yourself and the world; there is nothing to dread, nothing to fear.

In dismissing the great masquerade we continually act-out, Pirandello's 'Henry IV' says: "Away, away with this masquerade, this incubus! Let's open the windows, breathe life once again! Away! Away! Let's run-out!... [then adds, ominously:] But where? And to do what?". Henry is right, I think, and in answer to these eternal questions I'm half won-over by Wilson's argument for an optimistic solution, and half by Pirandello's "deception" in the following:

"Whoever understands the game can no longer fool themselves, but if you cannot fool yourself, you can no longer derive any enjoyment or pleasure from life. So it goes. My art is full of compassion for all those who fool themselves. But this compassion cannot help but be succeeded by ferocious derision of a destiny that condemns Man to deception. This, succinctly, is the reason for the bitterness of my art, and also my life."

O: Better a deceived sandboy than a woeful sage - at least whilst doing the analysis.

R: I'm not deceiving myself, but I still get loads of enjoyment.

P: And me. But maybe Oreth is right too because no-one ever thinks they're fooling themselves. I'll continue:

But there's a kind of tension that is creative. It is a tension that has to be built up by sheer mental effort, and then some sudden glimpse of meaning galvanises us in more mental effort. When performing a task we have to nudge ourselves back from time to time - if our activity doesn't provide the nudge for us, as artistic endeavours tend to do - so that we can again be spurred on by those initial glimpses. We can sustain the tension by focusing on the meaning. If our sense of well-being causes us to relax, the meaning vanishes. This is why, creatively speaking, misery is usually so much more productive than happiness.

According to Gurdjieff: when we embark on some important task with a great sense of energy, after a time the energy begins to gradually drop until it all leaks away; but this can be avoided if we apply a "shock" or sudden vital effort at exactly the right moment. This, I suppose, was the basis of Gurdjieff's approach. My impression of Gurdjieff is that he was - or pretended to be - so confident and imperious that he compelled total dedication and trust from his devotees, without a hint of explanation for his infuriating and apparently bizarre behaviour. Why didn't he explain what he was up to? Or did his students realise it anyway. Wilson cites, however, an event where Gandhi sent a friend who had a bad cold to a Hindu doctor who strapped his patient to an upright bed frame then pulled a lever to make it crash to the floor. The patient felt every bone in his body jar - a profound shock, but it cured his cold instantly. Wilson speculates on whether it would have worked had the man been forewarned of what would happen - giving the "robot" time to prepare.

R: What's the 'robot'?

P: It's a term Wilson uses. It's the part of your brain that takes over when you stop self-remembering - which is most of the time. The part that changes gear when you drive, the part that makes your legs walk without thought…

However, when we learn to do something "automatically", says Wilson, it is transferred to the subconscious; and depending upon how much effort it has cost us to learn, it carries with it a small label which says "important" or "unimportant". (I guess that's why learning to write is so damned hard.) So when we perform a learned activity the subconscious energy evoked corresponds to its importance - ie, the degree of effort required to learn it. So for an "unimportant" task we soon deplete our energy and give up. Repeating a boring task leaves us exhausted and enervated; the robot won't let us have any more energy - although we may be full of it for other "important" purposes.

In spite of what Gurdjieff thought - that man can only "awaken" through immense and painful effort - says Wilson (disagreeing), it is in fact relatively easy to "glide" into freedom in moments of relaxation. A little optimism - and (this I think is crucial) the knowledge that it can be done - can make the world of difference. (Wilson constantly emphasises the necessity of knowing what can be achieved.) The problem is that it is just as easy to glide out again. We need to develop a technique for "fixing" the insights. As with his "identification" with the poetry of Ronsard or the music of Mozart, Wilson's "real self" emerges with its full memory in tow. In such moments, says Wilson, I can recall the actual smell of printing ink on comics when I was a child, the taste of a lolly-pop... (ie, my map gazing again). In other words, the "real me" seems to have far greater access to my memory archives than my everyday self, and also has greater access to energy supplies.

We use the phrase "under the weather" when what we really mean is "under the robot". A condition that costs us twice as much for every effort we wish to make. By contrast, in moments of "freedom", I am astonished at how much can be achieved by so little effort.

A person with unusually strong reasons for feeling happiness or relief, he says, may quickly reach a "ceiling" and pass through into a "floating" state of ecstasy which makes them realise that our everyday self is a mere fragment of us, together with the astonished recognition of how easy it is to leave behind normal anxieties. There is also the realisation that most people decline to make the effort to get beyond their emotional debris because they fail to realise how little effort it takes.

Here's a section from Wilson's 'Man Without a Shadow' 1963, in which the protagonist recalls his meeting with a mystic:

"There is only one way to escape the "goad" of misery. Not the Buddha's perfect detachment, which is nonsense. Simpler than that. To go in the direction in which fate is trying to goad you at such a speed that it can't catch up... We take our moods and feelings for granted, as something "sent to us". In fact, we seem to assume that they are us. We wake up feeling gloomy; we are contented to wait until fate sends us events to cheer us up. The desire for life is stimulated by crisis, but subsides when the crisis is overcome, and we are content to let it subside... Our first duty, he said, is to maintain a sense of gratitude for being alive. Any other attitude is a sin, to be immediately punished by the Powers... You have to act and radiate vitality at all costs, send out waves of charm and enthusiasm, even when you can see nothing to be charming or enthusiastic about. Such a person is a magnet to good fortune, he said. He went on to say that he never allowed himself to worry... No one, he said, will be entirely great until they have succeeded in declaring themselves entirely and completely for life, with no doubt anywhere in their being. In spite of death and misery and the apparent cruelty of nature, they have to declare their total trust, without any misgivings. I was so impressed with this [adds the protagonist] that I went out and wrote it down on an envelope."

When people become neurotic and obsessed by anxiety, their energies diminish, everything is an immense effort. The best way, therefore, to increase energy it is to widen the personality, expand one's sympathies, throwing oneself open to new and interesting experiences. This is the most reliable way to contact our "vital reserves" - or perhaps the great lake of energy that Ouspensky spoke to Bennett about in the forest at Fontainebleau. His heightened consciousness enabled him to see what was already there but what few would ever normally notice.

Everything we do and want seems, according to Wilson, to boil down to a craving for greater intensity of consciousness. We imagine that we want food or sex or possessions "for their own sake". In fact, we want them because, like a work of art, they enable us to focus and intensify our desires and thereby raise the pressure of consciousness. When we find ourselves in a state in which we lack purpose, through boredom or frustration, we tend to look inside ourselves for any form of desire, and cling to it as our salvation. This leads to the psychological condition known as obsession; ie, compulsive eaters, hand washers, etc. The need for desire, for motive, is so central to mental health that people cannot do without it.

Maslow notes that when people are highly motivated they become subject to "peak experiences" - sheer overflows of vital energy. This need for heightened pressure of consciousness, says Wilson - not sex or territory or aggression - is the key to the human evolutionary drive. Evidence shows that we already possess (in our mental make-up) all the necessary qualities to advance phenomenally beyond our present condition. We don't have to wait another million years, it is here now. All we have do is to follow the appropriate route. And that's what I'll look for now, or some hint of it, somewhere in Wilson's tomes.

R: I'm beginning to see why you prefer all this to what the Philosophy Course was suggesting. But you can't deny that the Course had immediate practical effect, whereas all this theorising from Wilson remains just that: theorising.

P: A poignant observation. But, as I've said, I would have stayed with the Course if it hadn't wandered into esoterics that I found difficult to relate to. And quite a bit of what I've written above matched parts of the Course… I'll have to end now because of site-space, but next Issue I'll spell out the evolutionary route Wilson suggests we might follow.

R: Then you can conclude your autobiographical side-glance.

P: Certainly.

Most people occasionally catch a glimpse of higher consciousness, and this should tell us that for much of the time we live behind a kind of gauze of "robotic normality" which imbues everything with an illusory counterfeit quality. We become so accustomed to this that we forget we have access to much more. Our glimpses should make us realise, more than we are generally inclined, that reality is closer to what Huxley describes in 'The Doors of Perception' 1954, Ward in his remarkable 'A Drug-Taker's Notes' 1957 and Timothy Leary in several books - all after taking LSD or mescaline. What they saw was perhaps extreme, and psychedelics are disabling in various ways. It's hard, though, not to associate drugs with the enhanced state of consciousness they invoke, yet they act only as a key to opening a state of consciousness that can to some degree be attained without them. Getting high on your own is like climbing a mountain instead of taking the chairlift. It's a little more difficult, and usually requires the development of one technique or another, but the results are always more permanent. Instead of looking out on the mountain dangling from a chair that someone else erected, you stand on the face of the mountain on your own two feet. Without drugs you are the master of your own experience.

Since our glimpses show us that the world we normally see is only an insipid imitation of reality, it should follow that we can look beyond the facade if we are prepared to make the effort. As children, we naturally know how to do this but have been "programmed" to forget. Because we frequently need to concentrate we have created a filter that was absent in childhood. As small children we were unable, and were under no pressure, to concentrate, and so felt the constant awareness and aliveness that we nostalgically recall: everything is new and mysterious and we experience an intense interest in everything around us. In my (still cynical) opinion, not all of this "programming" is accidental - but that's another story!

R: Political, no doubt.

P: Right.

These observations aren't my own. I've taken them from various sources, but basically they're what Wilson tries to get across. He illustrates some routes that are traditional and which are generally inaccessible in practice to ordinary people leading ordinary lives - ie, meditation, which for various reasons doesn't come easily. And he mentions how people try all sorts of obscure and often ill-suited methods to acquire more consciousness, most of them tangential instead of direct. Some of these are effective for a few people, like religion (which is susceptible to disillusionment), while other methods work for most but can be dangerous or short-lived and are dependent upon special aids (ie, mountaineering or riding a roller-coaster). Certain crimes and even murder can serve as methods, which is why they can become addictive (see Wilson's 'A Criminal History of Mankind').

The best route to these experiences, Wilson suggests, is in our normal everyday lives, when we can make a slight effort which then becomes cumulative as though the initial effort, although actually small, is in fact the hardest, and if it is immediately followed by further effort then we can quickly and easily step into a higher plane of consciousness. The problem occurs after repeating this. One has to vary the object of focus or the circumstances in which we make the initial effort. Otherwise they too acquire an everyday normality and then we feel cheated, as though the whole experience is unrepeatable. The key is constant change. And whatever methods we use it's important to realise, as I've said, that the technique itself is not the 'high', but is merely a way of opening the channel to our innate ability to expand consciousness.

I've no doubt that anyone can do this, but they scarcely ever bother. Perhaps we are frightened for some reason by the emotions we experience - because they are heightened in an unfamiliar way we tend to feel as though we are veering "off the rails" and mistakenly believe that the kind of vulnerability we sense at such moments might take us dangerously near "the brink" and that we may not be able to recover and return to "normality"; like slipping over a cliff because we've gone too close to the edge in order to peer over at some " wondrous beyond".

There is a sense of instability at such moments. It reminds me of when I first tried "the exercise" in Philosophy and fell towards a strange black void, which as soon as I felt myself falling I "woke up" due a mixture of apprehension and an involuntary self-consciousness (like when you're about to yawn or sneeze and thinking about it stops the natural process, leaving you "unfulfilled", as it were).

In my "map gazing", for example, I remember my "awareness" on the Waycross Road near Brunswick in Georgia where I felt a profound sensation of freedom and a sheer joy of being alive (just as Wilson describes he found by deliberate concentration in his excellent "Frankenstein's Castle" 1980). And this sensation was so clear at the time that there didn't seem to be a spare corner in my mind from which to observe and fully recognise its significance. On the consciousness level I had returned to a state of early childhood. Only upon subsequent recall can I fully appreciate the impression. Ie, Pirandello:

"The taste for life! - that is never satisfied, because life, even as we are in the very act of living it, is so ravenously hungering after itself that it never lets itself be fully tasted. The taste for life comes to us from the past, from the memories that hold us bound. But bound to what? To this folly of ours, to this mass of vexations, to so many stupid illusions, to so many insipid occupations."

But we don't have to recall unpleasant memories, rather we reflect only upon the positive. So long as the sensation is felt, and if we select the best memories, it can be as refreshing and invigorating as plunging into a cold sea. It can also leave one with a strong desire to return to a chosen location or experience. Though if we do return, we stand a chance of disappointment because our former experience will have influenced our perception of it; and it will no longer be 'new' - although, in reality, every situation is essentially new.

It was after reading Wilson, and then thinking about these kinds of experiences, that I saw how important it is to recognise their value; using them to nudge myself into a greater "wakefulness" so that any past moment I choose to reflect upon, even the moment I'm in, can also be recognised for its value: effectively no less important than those special occasions that we particularly cherish such as the one I've just described.

In fact, when I decided to go to the States, the hardest bit was getting off my bum and buying the ticket. After that everything fell into place like clockwork. In practical terms buying the ticket was the easiest. Getting to Heathrow, arranging for access to ATM's in the US, organising things so my six-month absence wouldn't pose any difficulties, etc, involved much more effort. Yet once I had the ticket - just a week ahead of the trip - I found that those other tasks were simple. But to view any experience with an intention of elevating it beyond that of the prosaic everydayness of life, beyond the normal - hence, "paranormal" - is surely worthwhile. We are apt to think appropriate situations occur only seldom, but a few seconds of thought tells us how wrong we are.

Reliance on the robot also can become a habit. We become bound hand and foot in a web of routine, which strangles all our creativity - our ability to do new or different things. Creativity demands effort, and every time we try to work ourselves up into a state of creative tension, the robot says, "here, let me do that for you." and takes it out of our hands. Our actions are being carried out in a kind of trance. Alternatively, when we deliberately "live life to the full", every experience becomes a conscious transaction; we are so intent on not missing anything that we notice every detail - even every nuance of each gear-change when driving a car.

The Philosophy course suggested that we should always vary our daily activities whenever possible, because freshness is essential for continual renewal and uplift. Avoid reliance upon routine, take a different route to work, shop at a different store etc. People who profess to have interesting jobs usually affirm that no two days are the same.

We should also, Wilson suggests, pour intentionality into perception. By affording ourselves this kind of lingering attention on some inherently pleasurable activity - such as sex, music or simply staring at a tree - we strengthen the "muscle" with which we focus reality. This tightening of experience enables us to grasp the reality not simply of other times and places, but of the present moment as well. This observation, Wilson says, makes us aware that consciousness is intentional and has to be reached for. But it is also relational. Consciousness means grasping, certainly, but grasping relationships. Without this sense of relations, we are apt to quickly sink up to our necks in "reality", he says, as a man without snow shoes will sink in a snow drift. (This is what Sartre calls 'nausea'). "Intentionality" suggests an arrow fired at a target; but when consciousness is doing its proper work, it's like a whole shower of arrows fired simultaneously. Since we are inherently lazy, what ought to be a vast net of "relations" shrinks to a fragment, ie, normal consciousness.

Wilson cites an example where one of his kids kick a ball through his window. He has a number of choices, involving more, or less, creative tension (the greatest being to get out his tools and repair it himself there and then). It is far more difficult, he says, to realise that I have just as many choices when I simply look out at the scenery. For what I do, quite habitually, is to make the choice that involves the least effort - the equivalent of telling my wife to phone the glazier. And this becomes easy to grasp if I imagine a man who is about to be hanged, looking out of the window for the last time. We can imagine him staring hungrily, as if his eyes could devour the scenery. Every object would take on a new significance, and every one would shed new meaning on other objects. Perception is creative; and like all other forms of creation, it yields results in proportion to effort.

Wilson skirts over the nature of our customary misguided approaches to acquiring this intensity of consciousness; ie, the materialistic angle, but mentions what I believe is a grossly underestimated phenomenon that is obvious to everyone and yet in real life is scarcely tapped, at least for most of us.

And this is 'The Feedback Point' and where the evolutionary aspect I spoke of comes in. The feedback point is the point at which the pleasure or profit gained from an activity is greater than the effort put into it. To use a conspicuous example: if I were one day to become a concert pianist, or if I derived ecstatic pleasure from playing the piano, then all my previous graft and toil is more than repaid. I have passed "the feedback point". If, however, I never learn to play a reasonable tune, as it were, and come to loathe the entire business of piano-playing, then I shall have wasted enormous amounts of energy. I will have failed to pass "the feedback point". In the latter case, shackled by discouragement, I have to force myself to continue with an input of effort, and to keep on doing so until I reach that critical "feedback point" at which I can rest back a little and begin to enjoy the rewards.

Now, it should be clear that consciousness has still not reached the feedback point. Life has been driven to evolve largely by pain and inconvenience, which are effective only to any extent, an extent beyond which the hardships produce discouragement and death, and nature has to begin again - which explains why evolution is such a murderous and wasteful process. Sex has obviously past "the feedback point" - the intensity of consciousness achieved from the orgasm is more than sufficient to reimburse us for the struggle of securing a mate, and the caring for offspring is repaid with interest when they support us in our declining years.

Crucially, consciousness has also emerged as a response to pain and inconvenience; like claws and fangs, it has developed as an aid to survival. But it has not yet reached its feedback point. From Plato to the present, when millions of "romantics" have shared a common recognition that what really concerns them is inner freedom, man has sought this aim of evolution, this increased pressure of consciousness, says Wilson. And it should be clear therefore that the way ahead lies through more consciousness, not less. Which means that the compulsion to "return to nature and instinct" is not the answer.

Man is approaching "the feedback point" in the evolution of consciousness: the point where consciousness is self-sustaining. All my work, declares Wilson, has been concerned with this contradiction: that in spite of strange flashes of inner freedom, which reveal that our basic aim is more consciousness, man continues to be suspicious of consciousness, as though suspecting that it will land him in a bleak and cold universe. So he continues to resist the movement of his own evolution.

Human beings will one day recognise, beyond all possibility of doubt, that consciousness is freedom. When this happens, consciousness will cease to suffer from mistrust of its own nature. Suddenly, the "profits" will be clear and self-evident. Instead of wasting most of its energy in retreat and uncertainties and excursions into blind alleys (religion, dangerous sports, etc), consciousness will recycle its energies into its own evolution. The feedback point will mark a new stage in the history of the planet. When this happens, the first fully human being will be born.

* * * * * * * * * *

O: Is that it?

P: More or less.

R: Why don't we get taught these things as a matter of course?

P: Because if the teaching worked, people would incline to anarchy - the kind Chomsky advocates, which I've outlined in two previous Issues. That would mean the collapse of hierarchies, and the demise of the elite who rule over us and cream what wealth we produce so we have to keep producing it to survive - like bees when their honey is taken.

I imagine we'd all be in favour of seeing these possibilities, having them presented to us, right from immediately after we're born - in whatever suitable form they could be portrayed. As it is, even when the ideas and means of expressing them exist, we still stumble across them by chance years after they were "offered" to the world, maybe originally thousands of years ago - I don't suppose all this is entirely new (though it may be?), any more than Hesse's philosophy was. The fact is that everything in our past seems to have consisted of a concerted and systematic effort at ensuring that we weren't alerted to these potentialities that we supposedly possess. In spite of all the gurus and mystics, in spite of millions of Buddhists, the great Zen teachers, and all the other "blind alley" religions and cultures and so on that ensnare the multitudes, does Wilson really believe that what he's saying will happen will happen? How are people to realise this evolutionary nature of their consciousness when it is so universally "tampered with" by the unending vicious circle of "right men", the megalomaniacs who assert themselves and control everything, and who aspire to serve nothing but their own vanity and wealth?

R: Instead of bemoaning the negative influences in the world, you should concentrate more on useful thoughts… What's past is past.

P: Right. So now back to…

It wasn't until I'd read several of Colin's books (ie, 'The Outsider', 'The Age of Defeat', 'The Craft of the Novel', 'The Strength to Dream', 'Eagle and Earwig' and even his novel 'Adrift in Soho' and a few others) that I began to notice that his analyses of literature and philosophy, and how it related to his own experience of life, was following precisely the kind of quest that I would like to have followed. I say 'would like', but I was probably far too lazy: Wilson must have devoured thousands of books before he was even 20, and he examined their authors' aims and achievements, picking out their most striking qualities (where and why they succeeded or failed). He summarised their lives and their most important work, and explained what they were saying in just a few dazzling paragraphs.

Later, from books dated after 1970, I noticed he was moving into what he had only occasionally touched on in earlier work; ie, mysticism and related topics. Like his 'Religion and the Rebel' (1957), his 600-page 'The Occult' (1971) struck me for its masterful account of historical detail in which he provided rational explanations for all kinds of strange practices of the past - and I say that as someone who was previously bored out of his head by anything concerning history. Although often referring to intriguing personal experiences, I had an impression of complete objectivity in his work. He appeared to have no particular belief or disbelief in any aspect of the supernatural. So whatever the reader believed, they would naturally feel that the search was unbiased and genuine. And I'm sure it was.

Even his huge and gripping 650-page 'Mysteries' 1978, is impartial - though he must have been intensely interested, if only (I reasoned) from the psychological angle, to have presented all these facets of mysticism in such a compelling style.

But then, as his books began dwelling more on occult matters than philosophical ones, or ones concerning literature, I realised, reading one of them, that he had at some point persuaded himself that 'Afterlife' (yet another title, 1985) was indeed a reality - or at least a possibility.

O: You can't prove him wrong. I presume he was presenting evidence. Wasn't he just being open-minded?

P: Evidence? From case studies? Loads of people reckon to have seen a ghost or to have 'felt' a twinge at the very moment someone related to them died, and so on. Words are not evidence. If there was any substance then half the world's scientists would be onto it, surely?

R: They're all rooted in secular ideas, and are as set in their ways as anyone else.

P: But if telepathy or prediction, for instance, really worked, people would be onto it - it would hit the headlines.

Anyhow, this didn't affect my high regard for his earlier work - nor latter work such as 'Starseekers' or his notable 500-page history of forensic detection: 'Written in Blood'. But it did colour how I began to value his judgement when discussing anything concerning the supernatural.- whether traditional religion or the mysteries of Stonehenge or the Pyramids.

Even so, I realise that to some people the topics of Colin's that I've focussed on above - ie, the desirability and techniques of increasing consciousness - might also appear juvenile and simplistic, while for others such ideas could have a profound impact on the way they perceive and relate to the world.

What I personally concluded was that if only we can just allow ourselves, at every opportunity, to awaken to our immediate circumstances, focus on the positive, and above all appreciate (that was crucial: Appreciate) as often as possible our remarkable good fortune in just being alive - even for a drop-out sleeping in a bus-shelter (which could, for all we know, be a traveller living on the constant 'high' of change) - then how much more we, and everyone we associate with, could gain. As Wallace Shawn says in his masterpiece 'The Fever'1991:

"I always say to my friends, we should be glad to be alive. We should celebrate life. We should understand that life is wonderful. Shouldn't we decorate our lives and our world as if we were having a permanent party? Shouldn't there be bells made of paper hanging from the ceiling, and paper balls, and white and yellow streamers? Shouldn't people dance and hold each other close? Shouldn't we fill the tables with cake and presents?" 

But then he goes on:

"Yes, but we can't have celebrations in the very same room where people are being tortured or groups of people are being killed. We have to know: where are we, and where are the ones who are being tortured and killed?…"

Is it that we are only too aware of the horrors that are being committed in our name yet which are, or seem, beyond our control? Is it this that impinges on our peace of mind? Don't the horrors lie in the laps of the elite who rule us and everything else? If so, then why do we tolerate it? Wouldn't the most practiced slacker in the world rise up against it if it happened under their nose?

Often I think that many of our troubles stem from a striving to be "grown up", which in truth is anything but. And because of my former contempt for many of the activities of contemporary "grown up" Man, being "grown up" has been something I've always tried to avoid. It is ordinary man's "grown up" apathy that allows the dominant 5 per cent in our midst (who, paradoxically, are often regarded as being supremely "grown-up") to poise us all, by various means (war, pollution), on the brink of self-destruction. According to Carl Sagan in his impressive 'The Dragons of Eden' 1977, this 5 per cent have, in a sense, failed to evolve, and represent a remnant from a primitive past before the advent of civilisation, when the law of the jungle ruled and dominance was synonymous with survival. And because this seems to be inborn, like ginger hair or a large nose, there is no sense in trying to dissuade the trait, but rather those who have it should, like any psychopath, be barred from political power, or any power. Many of them are convicted criminals anyway.

The problem is that in spite of Buddha, Plato, Voltaire, Gurdjieff etc, or Colin, nothing seems to change. In fact with globalisation and advancing technology many things have got worse. They should, of course, have got better - but the scale and technical aspects of war, pollution, destruction of the forests, our susceptibility to media and other control (examples of "grown-up" Man in action) shows clearly that they haven't, except for some of us (speaking globally) in certain material ways. But what kind of a legacy are we creating for future generations?

R: I'm sorry to interrupt, but this is becoming a rant.

P: I get carried away. But bear with me.

It may be true that once we realise we are chained, all we want to do is to escape. But how can the "establishment" be expected to let this happen? It is they, after all, who control everything and rule our lives, and whose methods of indoctrination are self-sustaining, each generation contaminating the next as though with an indestructible virus. Almost all of us are unwitting conspirators in this process. I wonder if Colin has found the vaccine?

I was trapped in this very same cage. As soon as I awoke to my restricted life, I ceased to "enjoy" it, and began to question it in more depth than previously. By some curious stroke of luck I stumbled upon books that assisted my exit. Hesse's 'Steppenwolf' and 'Siddhartha' and in particular his Leo in 'The Journey to the East'; but also Tolstoy's 'Ivan Ilyich'; Kafka's 'Joseph K' and the Oklahoma Theatre that Karl Rossman ends up in... and so forth. But not forgetting the contemporary "ruling-class conspiracy" theory (whether true or not, it certainly seems to be) which made me feel like just another faceless slave in the great machine.

This seems precisely what happened to Colin at a much younger age when he found Shaw and others. In Colin's case, the despair he describes came not from any social concerns, but from his recognition of the vastness of space and time against the smallness of Man and the brevity and insignificance of his life.

This recognition came to me when I was about 14 when viewing a 'map' of the Milky Way spiral in the science Museum. The map was about one metre square on which the solar system was indicated, and was smaller than a pinpoint on the outskirts of the Orion arm, some 40,000 light years from the hub (ie, the solar system is only a few light-hours across - even if you double the diameter of Pluto's orbit). And beside this was a one cubic metre 3D structure of the detectable galaxies suspended on invisible wires, at the centre of which sat a sphere resembling a large pea whose shell enclosed the Milky Way and other galaxies that are within the limit of unaided vision.

For some odd reason, instead of despair, I was seized by a tremendous sense of awe as I contemplated this immensity. My despair was an echo from the behaviour of Man himself, who seemed predominately hell-bent on grabbing, squabbling and destroying both this incredible "space ship" Earth and our fellow travellers in whatever guise they appeared.

It also struck me at this time that nearly all 'good causes' were nothing more than an attempt to reverse or correct the misdeeds of others - usually members of that problematic 5%.

R: First you present reasons for optimism: how to achieve more consciousness and get the most from life - then you spoil it with all this negative stuff. You give the impression of confused paranoia. What are you trying to say?

P: I don't mean to be negative, just realistic. Suppose you go around glibly believing everything's wonderful and then one day you discover the hideous truth that Wallace Shawn illuminated, for instance? Do you ignore it and risk the consequences of self-delusion, or do you despair and abandon all hope? Better surely to acknowledge it as something you've already taken into account and have accepted, so far as you are unable to influence things. Accepting the truth provides another dimension to freedom.

R: You have a point. But I think you've said enough on both matters now, don't you?

P: Reflecting, probably more than enough. And all this to me is a decade old, at least. But last year I went on a kind of pilgrimage, to Switzerland would you believe?

R: A pilgrimage? Why Switzerland?

P: Apart from Denmark and a bit of France, I hadn't travelled much in Europe. So I decided to visit some of Hesse's old haunts: where he was born and lived as a kid, where he went to school (and famously absconded), the bookshop in Tübingen where he first worked and when he wrote 'Peter Camenzind' (1904), where he first lived as a grown-up - and even Baden where he used to visit the spar in his middle years. I didn't make it across the Alps to Montagnola. That's in the hills north of Milan, close to the Italian border and where he spent most of the latter part of his life - and where 'Klingsor's Last Summer' took place - among other stories, I guess.

R: If you'd read all of Hesse's translated work by let's say ten years ago, then why did you leave it so long?

P: Slacking! That's the simple answer. And the impressions grow on one as time passes. And because it's virtually on our doorstep, I knew I could go anytime. When I arrived at the Grand Canyon and stopped at the first parking area with a view, I was stunned by the unfamiliar perspective. It really was breathtaking. I must have stood there for twenty minutes before I could turn away. And when I did, this guy about my age with two kids on tow, said to me in an American accent: "Sensational, ain't it?" When I replied, he responded by asking if I was from the UK. Then I asked him how far he'd come. "Flagstaff." he said, "Lived there all my life and this is my first visit." I was astonished. Flagstaff is about 70 miles south of the Grand Canyon. Then a couple of years later in Aussie, riding from Adelaide to Alice Springs on the 'Ghan' (the 23 carriage train that replaced Afghanistan Camels), I met a woman in her sixties with her daughter of about my age who'd both lived in Alice Springs all their lives, and neither of them had ever been to Ayres Rock - approx 170 miles from Alice Springs (a stone's throw by Aussie standards).

R: I guess what you're saying is that if only we stopped to think, we'd realise how many opportunities we actually have available for breaking routine.

P: Maybe. But living here at Hastings, with the beach so crowded this time of year, I often wonder whether it might be better if less people did that.

R: Better for you.

P: Not if their presence spurs me to things I might not otherwise do. But the roads get choked-up, and your lungs too - though there's always a breeze off the sea. The shops get solid with queues - even the naturist beach can have hardly space to move.

R: A beautiful wild terrain out at Fairlight.

P: Indeed, but no more space.