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!
Book Excerpts :
- Witness to a Last Will of Man, from Testament to the Bushman, 1984
Late, partial and hurried as it was in the doing, [this testament] will make those who ponder its fragmentary bequests nonetheless rich because they are all he had left to bequeath of the wealth and natural spirit out of which in his own day he gave so abundantly with all the grace, willingness and fulness of which he in his time on earth was capable.
gzip'd PDF and PostScript and txt formats are also available
- in-depth exploration of Witness to a Last Will of Man
from the 1998 June Solstice ratitor's Corner
- Race Prejudice as Self Rejection,
An Inquiry into the Psychological and Spiritual Aspects of Group Conflicts
a consolidation of lectures presented at the Workshop for Cultural Democracy, in New York City, December, 1956.
- The Psychological Origins of
a talk given in San Francisco, October 1, 1961, under the sponsorship of the Analytical Psychiatry Club of San Francisco and the Society of Jungian Analysts.
- List of Published Works by Sir Laurens van der Post
An incomplete ( but attempting to amend this ) list of books, booklets, films on video and audio tapes, with brief synopses from book jackets so far located.
- The New Myth For Our Species: The Creation of Consciousness
ratitor's Corner, September Equinox, 2001
Celebrating ratical's 6th revolution around SOL, Chapter 1 of Edward Edinger's book, The Creation of Consciousness, Jung's Myth for Modern Man is included to convey something of the growing understanding for the need in human society of a new central living myth, grounded in the creation of more and more consciousness. Such a fact of the creation of more consciousness provides, as Edinger explains, a tangible "meaning for every experience and gives each individual a role in the on-going world-drama of creation." Many relevant quotations of Laurens are included and discussed.
- ratitor's Corner, September Equinox, 1997
In celebration of the completion of ratical's 2nd revolution around SOL, the ratitor takes this occasion to step through some excerpts of Laurens' perceptions centering on the transcript of the talk from 1961 as well as excerpts from some of his other books.
- quotations of Laurens van der Post, from texts and recordings
- The Freedom to Choose Between Truth and Error
(from A Walk With A White Bushman)
It may be that there are other worlds with forms of being, with a greater awareness of this responsibility than we have, but this is what is on our doorstep and knocking so powerfully to be allowed in. For the moment this is our unique role. We have already got power enough to destroy the whole of human life; but we have not yet got the moral obligation, the sense of good and bad, to match it and follow it as our instrument of metamorphosis. We have not yet accepted that every act of knowledge, every increase of knowledge, increases our responsibility towards creation. We have been induced into believing that we are completely helpless in the grip of powerful new forces and that we are caught up in a process that is meaningless, and just sweeping us along like the swine of a new Gadarene. But we have the power to be creative if we turn back to what I can only call `the dreaming process' in ourselves, and we put our imaginations and our lives into this area where the dream occurs; then we can `do', and we can change life.
But the message is clear: the power which does not corrupt comes to man not in multitudes, it comes to him as an individual man, as it came to the man alone with his cattle, his natural self in the Forest of the Night and which, by his failure to recognize it, lost him his soul. It comes first to the individual alone: the individual who has to guard his individuality in an aloneness that is not loneliness but, as the Zulus say, a house of dreams. There he can discover the greatest of freedoms, to live out his own gift of life without diminishing or imperilling, but enriching his association with the society of man. And the dreaming to which I refer is not some lush, comfortable, pink marshmallow kind of concept. It is a voice of steel, calling us to live and fight for truth not in hate but love, for love. But it calls in a language to be decoded, since it is -- as someone I know in America, who left his church to do just this, put it -- `the forgotten language of God'. We have no excuse any more, and it is the greatest scandal of our day that neither religion nor science acknowledges it, that we have the code to read the ancient instructions inscribed in our dreams -- and we do not use it.
- PostScript (from The Night of the New Moon)
. . . The conduct of thousands of men in war and in prison with me confirmed with an eloquence which is one of my most precious memories of war, that the spirit of man is naturally a forgiving spirit. I was convinced that if the cancellation of the negative past which is forgiveness could take its place, it would automatically be followed by the recognition that men could no longer change the pattern of life for the better by changing their frontiers, their systems and their laws of compulsion of judgement and justice, but only by changing themselves.
- The `Wind of Change' in 1926 for European Empire Around the World
Many more stars were about to fall out of their courses, he warned me, and that, he stressed, was how and why he had been called on to prophesy and warn, for that was all a prophet could do. But warn to what effect? It was not for prophet or man to say in an age, he declared tragically, when no-one spoke any more of Umkulunkulu, the great first spirit. His praise-names were forgotten, and men now spoke only of things useful to them. How could I, a child of the same Africa, myself have failed then to conclude that no year for centuries had been of so meaningful a transition as this year of our absent Lord, 1926?
- A Japanese Story Teller (this and the previous both from Yet Being Someone Other)
Somehow I seemed to know him and his function before Mr Tajima whispered to me, "He is a travelling and professional story-teller."
I knew it because the look in his eye and the tone of his appearance, despite dress and dissimilarity of circumstances and place, were familiar and dear to me. I had met it on the faces of men charged to pass on the stories of Africa from one generation to another without help of the written word, in the belief that, if their story were ever to be forgotten, they and their peoples would lose soul.
- Jung's Understanding of the Meaning of the Shadow (from Jung and the Story of Our Time)
. . . The dark, rejected forces massing in the shadow of the unconscious, as it were, knife in hand, demanding revenge for all that man and his cultures have consciously sacrificed of them in the specialised conscious tasks he has set himself, are real and active enough to keep us too busy for academics and scholasticisms. They show how all our history is a progression on two levels: a conscious and unconscious, a manifest and latent level. . . .
That is why all men tend to become what they oppose, why the New Testament exhorted us not to resist evil because what follows logically is that ultimately the dark, dishonoured self triumphs and emerges on the scorched level of the manifest to form another tyranny as narrow, producing another swing of the opposites of which Heraclitus spoke. The answer, as Jung saw it, was to abolish tyranny, to enthrone, as it were, two opposites side by side in the service of the master pattern, not opposing or resisting evil but transforming and redeeming it. These two opposites in the negations of our time could be turned into tragic enemies. But truly seen psychologically and again defined best perhaps in the nonemotive terms of physics, they were like the negative and positive inductions of energy observed in the dynamics of electricity; the two parallel and opposite streams without which the flash of lightning, for me always the symbol of awareness made imperative, was impossible.
Containing those two opposites, putting the light of the superior functions at the service of the dark, bearing all the tensions induced thereby, the individual could grow into a resolution of the two into a greater realisation of himself. One says greater because the self realised thereby is more than the sum of the opposites, because in the process of their resolution the capacity of the individual to join in the universal and continuing act of creation wherein his own life participates enables him to add something which was not there before.