As we enter a new year many of us will think something along the lines of ‘Here we go again..another year…more problems’. The negative aspects of our lives can distract us from actually enjoying the day to day process of living. However, there are many reasons to be cheerful if we do but dare to dream. The author and philosopher Colin Wilson once considered his life useless and contemplated killing himself, these are his words: ‘When I was 16, I decided to commit suicide. This was not a sudden emotional decision. When I made it, it seemed to me entirely logical.’ Wilson had been working in a chemistry lab whilst studying to be a chemist and had lost all hope, he continues: ‘I went into the other room, to the reagent shelves, and took down the bottle of hydrocyanic acid, with its waxed glass stopper. I removed this, and smelt that distinctive almond smell. I knew that hydrocyanic acid would kill me in less than half a minute. Mentally, I had already raised the bottle and taken a swig of the bitter liquid. Then an odd thing happened. I became two people. I was suddenly conscious of this teenage idiot called Colin Wilson, with his misery and frustration, and he seemed such a limited fool that I could not have cared less whether he killed himself or not. But if he killed himself, he would kill me too. For a moment I felt that I was standing beside him, and telling him that if he didn’t get rid of this habit of self-pity he would never amount to anything. It was also as if this ‘real me’ had said to the teenager: ‘Listen, you idiot, think how much you’d be losing’, and in that moment I glimpsed the marvellous, immense richness of reality, extending to distant horizons. So I re-stoppered the bottle and went back to my analytical chemistry. I felt relaxed and light-hearted and totally in control of myself.’
Colin Wilson went on to earn wide critical acclaim for his international best-selling book ‘The Outsider’ published in the year 1956 when he was just 24 years of age. Since then Wilson has continued his successful career with over a hundred books published world wide. Colin Wilson has produced many philosophical works based on his belief in positivity i.e. that no matter how dismal it all may seem there are, if we really try, always reasons to be cheerful. I have been a Colin Wilson reader for over forty years and I find his philosophy inspiring and even inspirational. Wilson argues, as does his one time colleague the eminent psychologist Abraham Maslow (they taught at the same American University) that as a general rule we live our lives on automatic pilot and only when faced with an emergency or some moment of extreme interest do we overtake the robot and assume command. Such moments Maslow termed as being ‘Peak Experiences’. When Wilson reached for the bottle of acid and lifted the stopper he experienced just such a moment, replaced the stopper and became alive.
There are numerous other gifted individuals that did not resist the urge to end the tedium or pain of life. I Think of Van Gogh who, before shooting himself in the stomach wrote a brief suicide note: The misery will never end’. Yet in his work there appears to be a delight in living, look at ‘A Starry Night’ or ‘Road with Cypress and Star’ both paintings contain uplifting images but Van Gogh, no doubt in a moment of despair, took the negative pathway and failed to recognise the truth of eternal hopefulness and life that his own work depicted.
The philosophy of John Paul Sarte may offer an insight into the despair that obviously grips many individuals at certain times in their lives. Sarte suggested that ‘hell is other people’ and his constant theme is one of alienation. That is summed up by Sarte in these words: ‘Man can will nothing unless he has first understood that he must count on no one but himself; that he is alone, abandoned on earth in the midst of his infinite responsibilities, without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.’ Sarte’s philosophy is a mistake, he argues that we are all alone, that life is meaningless and he is wrong. Colin Wilson’s argument is that we are living in a world of infinite possibilities which we can see if we will just open our minds to them.
COLIN WILSON: Speaks of the Peak Experience.
As Spiritualists we accept that beyond this sometimes troubled material world there is another dimension, another life that we will live once this short journey is at an end. What we find when we do eventually walk through the doorway called death will have been prepared by us, for as we have sown in this life so we will reap in the next. That is why I agree with Wilson and strongly disagree with the negative nihilism of Sarte. Hell is not other people, hell is not trying, hell is accepting the little defeats that life deals us and hell is giving in. We each owe ourselves a duty to try and make our lives a success within the limitations of the possibilities presented. But, believe me, there are many exciting possibilities and the limits are surprisingly distant. All that is holding one back is the lack of self belief. If you can summon the strength to dream, if you can visualise yourself succeeding and achieving a certain target or goal, then you are halfway there already.
Colin Wilson had to sleep rough on Hamstead heath in London whilst he researched his first book ‘The Outsider’. He was virtually penniless, had no Oxbridge education and yet he had a dream of being a writer, and a philosopher. Against all the odds he succeeded. For us all there exists hope and we should find in each day reasons to be cheerful. 2011 looks like being a difficult year, so let’s start by deciding that no matter what it brings we will face it with determination. We are such stuff as dreams are made of, so dream on.