“Mystical Experiences and Glimpses of Eternity” Mini Series Part 3 – Sir Laurens Van Der Post, Explorer of the Spirit

We shall not cease from exploration wrote TS Eliot in his poem “Little Gidding”.

Sir Laurens Van Der Post with bushman
Sir Laurens Van Der Post with bushman
(credit: http://www.jonathanstedall.co.uk/heaven/sample.php)

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

These words seem very appropriate for author and explorer Sir Laurens Van Der Post (1906-1996), whom I first came across at a talk he gave in London, and whose spiritual writings had a profound impact on me.

I met  Sir Laurens at a meeting of  THE CENTRE FOR SPIRITUAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL STUDIES, a group I mentioned in my last post. Based in London, it was run by a lady who seemed to have a talent for booking charismatic spiritual figures as Keynote Speakers at the various meetings.  Sir Laurens Van Der Post was one of them.

Sir Laurens gave a talk, accompanied by a slideshow of his Africa photos, called “All Africa and Its Heart Within Us”.

As I listened to him, I felt that for him Africa proved the touchstone for his spiritual seeking.

We can all be explorers of the spirit and we don’t need to travel anywhere to do it.

Different life-experiences may trigger religious or mystical experiences for us. But Sir Laurens wrote: I was compelled towards the Bushmen of the Kalahari  like someone who walks in his sleep, obedient to a dream of finding in the dark what the day has denied him.

I loved Sir Laurens’ philosophical ideas and his way of approaching the mystery of life. He was a friend and close associate of Carl Jung, another man of wisdom whom I greatly respect and admire. The first book of  Sir Laurens’ which I read was Venture into the Interior. In that book I remember him describing his experiences in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in World War II. He said that as his eyes met those of his torturer, The distance between us was the distance of unreality.

Those words have stayed with me across the years. And they have linked into many areas since then. For instance, they remind me of John Berryman’s poem The Song of the Tortured Girl, in which the girl is clearly spiritually, emotionally and mentally detached from the physical torture she is suffering. And they also link in to Sir Alister Hardy’s research into triggers for spontaneous religious experiences. He found that in the greatest number of cases, Depression/Despair was the trigger.

Sir Laurens’ ideas also link in to a film which I loved. The Gods Must Be Crazy came out in 1980, although I didn’t see it till several years later. Set in Botswana, and made by a South African film-maker, it tells the story of a scientist, his romantic aspirations, and a Bushman of the Kalahari meeting up with the ‘civilised world’. As I watched it, enjoying the comedy but also the wisdom, I couldn’t but be reminded once again of Sir Laurens and his deep respect and love for the Bushmen.

Sir Laurens Van Der Post with a praying mantis (credit: www.jonathanstedall.co.uk/heaven/sample.php)
Sir Laurens Van Der Post with a praying mantis (credit: http://www.jonathanstedall.co.uk/heaven/sample.php)

We can all be explorers of the spirit, and we don’t have to travel anywhere, geographically. As a famous example of this, I like to cite Emily Bronte. She travelled little in her life but she was herself a mystic as her poem No Coward Soul is Mine testifies. What she learned of life she learned in her own home, through her own family members, and through those who lived in the Yorkshire moors she herself inhabited.

For Sir Laurens it was Africa. For each one of us it may be different.

Have you done any spiritual exploring? Did you need to travel far? Share your thoughts and feelings with me about this journey of the spirit.  Have you been inspired by any books or authors in this way? I’d love to have your comments!