A Quest for Wisdom: Inspiring Purpose on the Path of Life, by David Lorimer
Reviewed by Gary Lachman.
For many years David Lorimer has been an influential mover and shaker in the neighbouring fields of mind/body/spirit, esotericism, consciousness, mysticism and their fruitful interactions. This collection of very readable and edifying essays, articles, lectures, and other occasional pieces covers the wide range of his experience and encounters with a number of spiritual, scientific, religious, and existential philosophies and teachings. All are focused on the question of achieving wholeness, of integrating the apparent opposites the human spirit finds itself caught between in what often seems an unresolvable tension. Whether any of the paths the author opens up for us ultimately offers a creative resolution to this need, readers must decide for themselves. That the author is dedicated to pursuing them and finding out, is clear from the start.
A lively and informative autobiographical introduction charts Lorimer’s journey from his early university days, his time as tour guide for Moet and Chandon – encountering spirits of a different sort than those he would later on – to his travels across Europe and the many people he met along the way. I was pleased to hear of his visit to the writer Colin Wilson’s home in Cornwall, after Wilson had given his publisher an enthusiastic endorsement for his first book, Survival (1984). His account of spending an evening with Wilson, surrounded by his library - some 40,000 books – and drinking wine reminded me of my own visit to the Sage of Tetherdown in 1983. Lorimer makes clear the impact Wilson’s first book, The Outsider, had on him, and I had to say I was surprised not to see him referenced in the passages on Husserl and Whitehead and the importance of their notions of “intentionality” and “ prehension” in some of the early selections, devoted to “Philosophy, Spirituality, and Meaning.” Wilson wrote extensively on both and Lorimer’s use of them here certainly has a Wilsonian ring.
Lorimer’s path led him, through some interesting turns, to the Science and Medical Network (SMN), a loosely knit collection of individuals, interested in the links between science and spirituality, and what they can tells us about the central mystery of human existence: consciousness. The SMN, as it is generally known, has numbered some important figures among its members, people like Rupert Sheldrake, Iain McGilchrist, Peter Fenwick, and Lorimer has been at the centre of its activities for decades. One theme running through the collection is the need to go beyond the current materialist bent in how mainstream science sees the universe and ourselves in it.
Although materialism of some sort still holds the helm, a counter, alternative worldview, one that sees spirit, mind, or consciousness as primary, has been slowly building up. Lorimer’s pieces on how we arrived at our current epistemological and ontological impasse – with a materialist science often baldly denying that consciousness even exists – are enlightening potted histories on the evolution of consciousness in the west. His analysis of what our outmoded worldviews require, in order to meet the demands of what is turning out to be a rather interesting century, has behind it the collective work of many scientists, philosophers, and religious thinkers. One hopes the sense of perpetual crisis we seem to be living under can prompt the kind of social and cultural metanoia, or “change of mind” that Lorimer sees is needed to transcend what seems a more and more obvious dead end.
One area that offers evidence of a radically different kind of universe than the materialist one are the reports of what is known as the Near-Death Experience (NDE). In these Lorimer sees if not proof, then certainly strong suggestion that consciousness, rather than a product of the brain (as bile is of the liver, according to the philosopher John Searle) is a kind of non-material ‘something’, transmitted, or, as the philosopher Bergson argued more than a century ago, ‘edited’ by our grey matter. Our cerebral cortex dampens down the amount of reality accessible by consciousness, reducing it to what Aldous Huxley, referencing Bergson during his mescaline experience, called “the thin trickle needed for life on this planet.” Otherwise, we would be overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of it, as Huxley was under the drug. Lorimer allows for all the possible scientific objections to the idea that consciousness could somehow continue, after the death of the brain, but he remains convinced that the accounts by doctors like Eben Alexander and Pim van Lommel and those of hundreds of other rank and file “survivors” can’t be ignored.
One reason, I suspect, that Lorimer is convinced by the NDE is his profound appreciation of the work of the eighteenth century Swedish scientist and spiritual visionary, Emanuel Swedenborg. Swedenborg wrote a 700 page volume on the brain. He was one of the first to argue for a division of labour between the right and left hemispheres, and he sought the “seat of the soul” in the pineal gland. He didn’t find it, but the soul, as it were, found him, and in his mid-fifties he was subject to a remarkable spiritual awakening – or “creative illness,” depending on your point of view. He abandoned science and began his accounts of his journeys, when he was taken to heaven, hell, and other places by inner guides, that is, angels. Lorimer’s neat appraisal of Swedenborg’s accounts, and the links he finds between them and reports of NDEs, suggests that Swedenborg was privy to knowledge that open-minded scientists today are just beginning to grapple with. Lorimer’s comparison between NDEs and the traditional wisdom about the process of dying and the experiences of the soul – Lorimer has no qualms about using this term – found in the Tibetan Book of the Dead offers more evidence that the materialist view is inadequate.
Eastern cosmologies again meet those of the West in reflections on David Bohm’s “implicate order,” the “unbroken wholeness” at the root of the phenomenal world, in light of the Hindu tradition, as interpreted by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. And a fine essay on the Tao sees its reflection in the individuation of Jung and the novels of Hermann Hesse.
The pieces on the teaching of the Bulgarian mystic Peter Deunov, known as Beinsa Douno, informed me about a spiritual master about whom I was sadly ignorant. Deunov, and his follower, Omraam Mikhael Aivanhov, have been central influences on Lorimer’s life, and their significance for his worldview is evident throughout the book; the selection of Deunov’s writings that Lorimer edited, A Prophet for Our Times (2015), is another testament to this. Five spiritual principles form the core of Deunov’s teaching: Love, Wisdom, Truth, Justice, and Goodness. That these virtues have pointed the way on Lorimer’s path seems pretty clear . There is some repetition, and a reader will certainly want to have a notebook ready. My advice is not to read the book straight through, but to dip in here and there. The pieces are just the right length to inspire a meditative walk, company for a congenial stretch along the reader’s own path.