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A Quest for Wisdom: Inspiring Purpose on the Path of Life

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A review of David Lorimer's book

This is a fascinating and beautiful book, one of those gems you serendipitously discover and shake your head at your good fortune. Although it is new and I received it as a gift, it reminds me of a few books I have discovered over the years while rummaging through used bookstores that have startled me into a new perspective on life. Ironically, these books have advised me, whether explicitly or implicitly, to be done with books, because what I was seeking cannot be found in them, for it floats on the wind. But this paradox is their secret. Such discoveries are memorable, and this is a memorable book in so many ways.

Despite having read more books than I wish to remember, I had never heard of David Lorimer until being informed by a friend. A Scottish writer, poet, editor, and lecturer of great accomplishments, he is the editor of The Paradigm Explorer and was the Director of the Scientific and Medical Network from 1986-2000 where he is now Program Director. He has written or edited over a dozen books.

He is one of a dying breed: a true intellectual with a soul, for his writing covers the waterfront, by which I mean the vast ocean of philosophy, science, theology, literature, psychology, spirituality, politics, etc. A Quest for Wisdom [] is precisely what its name implies. It is a compendium of wide-ranging essays written over the past forty years in pursuit of the meaning of life and the sagacity to realize one never arrives at wisdom since it is a process, not a product. Like living.

His opening essay on Victor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist who survived Auschwitz and wrote so profoundly about it in Man's Search for Meaning [], sets the stage for all the essays that follow. For Frankl's life and work, and the stories he tells about it, are about experiential, not theoretical, discoveries in the world where one finds oneself - even Auschwitz - where he learned that Nietzsche's words were true: "He who has a why to live can bear almost any how." He discovered that along life's path - between life and death, happiness and suffering, peaks and valleys, yesterday and tomorrow, etc. - is where we always find ourselves by responding to the questions life asks us. He tells us, "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

We are always in-between, and it is our attitude and conduct that allows us to freely will the meaning of our lives, no matter what. Frankl came to call this search for meaning logotherapy, or meaning therapy, by which an individual is always free to choose one's stance or course of action, and it is by such choosing that the greatness of life can be measured and meaning confirmed in any single moment, even retrospectively. He maintains that modern people are disorientated and living in "an existential vacuum," pursuing happiness when it cannot be pursued since it is a derivative, a side effect, and "it is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness." Happiness falls out of our pockets when we aren't looking. Additionally, as Lorimer writes about Frankl, "He rejects psychoanalytical determinism... and the actualization of the self through any form of gratification."

So does Lorimer, for he is an in-between man (as we all are if only we realized it), whether he is writing about Frankl, the absurd and the mysterious, the Tao, science and spirituality, the brain and the mind, near-death experiences ("near" being the key word), Albert Schweitzer, Dag Hammarskjà ld, freedom and determinism, ethics and politics, etc.

Whatever subject he touches, he illuminates, leaving the reader to interrogate oneself. I find such questions in every essay in this book, and the path to answer them snaking through its pages.

I was especially touched by his 2008 essay, which was originally a memorial lecture, about his friend the Irish writer and philosopher John Moriarty, who died in 2007. Moriarty's work was rooted in the wild land of western Ireland, a place whose rugged beauty has sprouted many a passionate artist and visionary who have drunk deep of the mythical spiritual connections of Irish culture and natural beauty. He was a brilliant thinker and storyteller - that mysterious quality that seems so Irish - who left an academic career to seek deeper truths in nature. Influenced by D. H. Lawrence, Wordsworth, Yeats, Boehme, Melville, and Nietzsche, among other visionary seeking artists, he discovered a Blakean sense of reality that counteracted the deification of Reason and emphasized the need to recover our souls through sympathetic knowing that involved an embrace of intuition that went beyond cognition. Lorimer writes:

Or, as John would put it, we have fallen out of our story and need to find a new one. Not only a new story, but also a new way of seeing and being, of relating as a part to the whole, as individuals to society, as cells to the body... To be is to have the potential to become something else, a potential which we don't always fulfill, in spite of life's invitations and initiations... We too easily retreat into fear, we batten down the hatches in the name of security, which is a mere shadow of peace.

Lorimer is clearly not anti-science, since for thirty-five years he has been deeply involved with the Scientific and Medical Network. But he has long realized the limitations of science and all the essays touch on this theme in one way or another. Wisdom is his goal, not knowledge. He mentions Iain McGilchrist's work in this regard - The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World - wherein McGilchrist argues for a reemphasis on the master right hemisphere "with its creative and holistic mode of perception," rather than the left hemisphere with its logical, scientific mode of perception. "Two voyages," says Lorimer, "two modes of perception, which should coexist in a state of mutual respect. The rational and the intuitive are complementary rather than mutually exclusive." Nevertheless, in his pursuit of wisdom, Lorimer, despite his nod to this mutuality, has discovered that the recovery of soul and meaning can only be found beyond cognition and Kantian categories.

His essay on "Tao and the Path towards Integration," drawing on Carl Jung and Herman Hesse, et al., is a lucid exploration of what Jung calls "the vocation to personality." This is the call life puts to everyone but many refuse to hear or answer: "Become who you are," in Nietzsche's enigmatic words, advice that is as much a question as a declaration. Lorimer writes:

Those who have not been confronted with this question will often consider those who have as peculiar, adding that there is no such thing as a vocation to personality, and their sense of being isolated and different is a form of spiritual arrogance; they should concern themselves with the really important things in life, viz 'getting on', and leading an inconspicuously normal existence.

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