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Laurens van der Post

The extraordinary life of Laurens van der Post is not easily capsulized. Author of many books, farmer, soldier, prisoner of war, political adviser to British heads of state, educator, humanitarian, philosopher, explorer, and conservationist are titles that barely indicate the depth and breadth of this rare individual. Born in 1906 in the interior of southern Africa, he lived among the people who created the first blueprint for life on earth, becoming the principal chronicler of the Stone Age Kalahari Bushmen. He was also one of C.G. Jung's closest friends for sixteen years. Van der Post dedicated his life to teaching the meaning and value of indigenous cultures in the modern world, a world he felt is in danger of losing its spiritual identity to technology, prejudice, empty values, and a lack of understanding of the interconnectedness of all life on earth. Awarded a knighthood (the C.B.E.) in 1981, Sir Laurens died after his 90th birthday, in December, 1996.

Coincidences have never been idle for me, instinctively, but as meaningful as I was to find they were to Jung. I have always had a hunch that they are a manifestation of a law of life of which we are inadequately aware and which in terms of our short life are unfortunately incapable of total definition, and yet however partial the meaning we can extract from them, we ignore it, I believe, at our peril. For as well as promoting some cosmic law, coincidences, I suspect, are some sort of indication to what extent the evolution of our lives is obedient or not obedient to the symmetry of the universe.

-- Laurens van der Post, Jung and the Story of Our Time, p.47


In the late winter of 1996 i began reading a story of Sir Laurens spanning 2 volumes, A Story like the Wind and A Far Off Place. These had been given to me more than a year before by Dr. Kenneth Graham, an osteopath who had helped with an injury to my sternum i'd experienced back in 1991. At that time i was gripped by a powerful sneezing and coughing bout from allergies and apparently had torn either a ligament or a tendon between my left fourth rib and the cartilage connecting it to the sternum. As coincidences go, there was much about this injury, its proximity to my heart, and where its aftermath has led me, that has bestowed much grace upon my spirit and blessings upon the life expressing itself through me.

i had gone to Kenneth's house on Saturday for an extra healing session. We had already discovered an area of mutual interest in the works of Krishnamurti and David Bohm. He had a stack of both books of Laurens' on a bureau and before i left gave one of each to me. It was clear this story was very significant for him and i was grateful for his generosity in giving me a set. But back at my house, they lay on a shelf unopened for more than a year. Intuitively i knew they were important. But inwardly i had not allowed myself the feeling of leisure to even think of "spending time" exploring them as i had been as caught in the trap of the "i'm too busy" dis-ease as so many of us feel on such a desperate level in this epoch.

When i did begin to wade into A Story like the Wind, i was initially very circumspect and non-committal about the idea of even reading it all the way through. However i came, by degree, to have a deepening sense of François, the story's young protagonist, as being some sort of long-lost especially dear and close friend, who, while engaged in the act of reading, was consistently restored life-size and vital to me inwardly in such a way that i cannot recall when i last felt as connected to so rich a sense of life through the act of story telling.

Since that time Laurens' perceptions -- his experiences in life and tremendous gift for articulating something elementally ineffable and of such inestimable value concerning the nature of life, the nature of what it means to be human, and our relationship to the infinite world within, as objectively factual as that of the world without -- have deeply and indelibly enriched my own being and experience of the meaning of life. The more of his stories i read, the more i feel each book is but a chapter in a larger book of magnificently vast proportions -- as vast as the mystery each of us manifests within our human overcoats and the unknown depths we contain and express and live out here at this time, in this place.

The revitalization and sense of meaning in my own life has manifested to such a significant degree, i feel compelled to do what little i can to call attention to the extraordinary legacy and body of work his life took in, digested, metabolized, synthesized, and then expressed through the medium of books as well as films and video and audio recordings.

At the present time (May 31, 1998) i am grateful to be able to present the following to people who may likewise find a re-engagement of meaning and wholeness in their own lives as i have felt renewed with from drinking in what i have so far been able to find of Sir Laurens' works. Of all his books and stories i've read and listened to, the 48-page testament of Witness to a Last Will of Man is unique and singular in both its concise as well as extraordinarily wide-ranging articulation of the real source of lethal illness daily consuming the human spirit. It also provides great healing insights and illumination. --Can't recommend this highly enough!

Dave Ratcliffe

Book Excerpts :


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