Towards the Unknown
Gay Watson discovers traces of a unique spiritual search. Fathomless Heart: The Spiritual and Philosophical Reflections of an English Poet-Sage by Lewis Thompson (ed. Richard Lannoy). North Atlantic Books, 2011. ISBN: 9781583942802
These aphorisms of Lewis Thompson are not easy to review. Editor Richard Lannoy notes that one reviewer’s response to Thompson’s previously published journals was that it was the most difficult review he had ever attempted. This is largely owing to the fact that Thompson believed that truth cannot be told. It must be lived.
Writing, for Thompson, was a form of yoga, its aim no less than transformation. Thus this is not a book to read from start to finish, but a collection of sometimes difficult, sometimes startling, yet always interesting aphorisms, whose aim is at all times to challenge normal perception and common understanding. Thompson says: “There is only one evil, laziness, stupidity, lack of imagination.” The enemy is “the whole false universe of the ego”, which gives rise to a familiarity that is delusory and limited.
Thompson’s vision is unique and strong, his language both clear and idiosyncratic. Certain terms are talismanic and carry unusual weight and meaning outside their normal reference. ‘Poetry’ goes way beyond poem, standing for transformed life; ‘Nature’ represents the intrinsic poetry of the physical world prior to any mode of experiencing or conceiving it; ‘Luxury’ stands for the ultimate.
Throughout, Thompson urges us to “look with the whole sensibility, the whole imagination … Not with but through.” Unfettered by its usual egoic limitations, for Thompson Imagination is “the sense of possibility – that is, a sense of the intrinsic nature of Reality as the infinite”. Only imagination can perceive the Whole.
The writing is mystical, yet ultimately both transcendent and immanent, as he states that “perfect disinterested concentration on anything as it is leads to the Ultimate … Real Possibility exists only in the present.” “The World”, he says, “begins Now,” and thus he exhorts us to “look with wonder”.
Such quotation can only be a mere taste of a book that is full of wisdom and also of paradox.
Thompson wrote frequently of the necessity for spiritual solitude and once stated: “My life must be as short as possible.” He perhaps got his wish, and we can only thank Lannoy for dedicating so much of his time and energy over so many years to preserving these powerful writings. Lannoy’s sensitive and skilful editing – along with a most helpful introduction and afterword for this collection – leaves us an immeasurable treasury of wisdom and challenge.