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Lawrence Blair: Reconciling mysticism & science

Lawrence Lilley
Lawrence Lilley

The Jakarta Post

London | Thu, September 28, 2017 | 09:24 am
Lawrence Blair: Reconciling mysticism & science

Lawrence Blair (ptthead.com/File)

“I’ve been going back to building the sacred geometric crystals that always blew my mind, which I made while I was in Los Angeles. I used to make these Pythagorean crystal forms out of lasers, which is indirectly how I burned my house down,” the voice over the phone laughed, reminiscing.

Under most other circumstances, such a phrase may have suggested the ramblings of a madman, aging hippie or straight up “quack.” On this occasion, however, the wizened voice emerging from the smartphone was that of Lawrence Blair.

In a rare interview held shortly before heading off as board member at the Balinale International Film Festival, Blair spoke to The Jakarta Post in anticipation of the upcoming Geometry and the Jungle event at Potato Head Beach Club. 

Famous for hosting international music gigs and a veritable hub of Seminyak nightlife, the club is soon set to host a special evening of storytelling, music, poetry and art, centered on a seminar by Blair as he delves into the topics of mysticism, altered states of consciousness and Indonesia’s rich cultural depths.

An English expatriate, Blair has lived in Indonesia for over 35 years and been variously credited as explorer, mystic seeker, and anthropologist. 

Eluding easy summation, Blair first rose to fame and entered the public eye as an adventure filmmaker, travelling to the edges of Indonesia, in search of its mysteries, and living to tell their tales.

The first act of the seminar will focus on Blair’s breakout television series Ring of Fire, created with his late brother Lorne, which on two Emmy awards in 1988. 

Produced by former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, the series documented the Blair brothers’ decade-long exploration of Indonesia’s remote cultures and creatures, and was a pioneering effort in sharing Indonesia’s indigenous peoples and islands with a wider audience. 

The brothers’ extraordinary adventures included voyaging through the spice islands, guided by Bugis pirates, and learning about the practice and wisdom within cultures like that of the Asmat cannibal tribe of then West New Guinea.

“The idea was to keep a record on film of their way of life before they forever vanished, which is virtually what’s happened in the last twenty years or so,” Blair said.

He and his brother were exploring the Indonesian archipelago while working as data gatherers under psychoanthropology, a scientific field he had helped to define as researcher and lecturer.

Blair defines psychoanthropology as something that deals with the range of the human mind, all the different sorts of belief systems, and therefore all the different sorts of abilities that people are capable of.

Ring of Fire by Lawrence BlairRing of Fire by Lawrence Blair (Amazon.com/File)

“For many years we lived among these tribal peoples, trying to learn something of their totally different ways of dealing with birth, sex, death, mysticism, environmentalism and medicine,” he said.

Some of the tribes Blair lived with practiced ancient techniques, such as using dreams to navigate the jungle. 

“It’s probably more difficult for us left-brained guys to revert back to this subtle palate,” he said.

The talk will also feature stories from Blair’s 2007 documentary series calledMyths, Magic, Monsters, which further explores the mysteries of Indonesia by navigating the blurry zone between natural and supernatural spectacles.

The seminar’s final act will turn to Rhythms of Vision: The Changing Patterns of Belief, an international best-selling book upon its publication in 1976 that explores the subject of sacred geometry. 

The book is based on Blair’s doctoral thesis on psychoanthropology when he was studying at Lancaster University. In the face of a materially-dominated mainstream culture, the resurgence of Blair’s studies reflects renewed interest among youths into mysticism.

“There’s an argument that people’s interest in mysticism swings like a pendulum between rationalism and mysticism. We had a great swinging toward it in the 60s and a swinging away from it until very recently, when people realized you can only go so far with rationalism,” Blair said.

“We have a left and right cranial hemisphere and they both deal with different areas of experience. The left hand side deals with rational, practical, consecutive thought; and the right side is a sort of storehouse of the genetic wisdom we have locked in our cellular memories since earliest times,” he added.

Blair is a proponent for more balance in society, through reconciling people’s’ engagement with the supernatural and more scientific, rational approaches. 

“There’s reason to suspect that previous civilizations, and indeed tribal communities who live in the forest were much more developed in areas that we have suppressed with the growth of our rational minds.” he said.

As well as the seminar, the event will also feature an art exhibition, featuring prints by Mati Klarwein, and photographs of tribal people taken over 30 years of the Blair brothers’ expeditions. 

“It will be a glimpse of what Indonesia’s surprisingly recent past was like, and in some remote areas still actually is,” Blair said.

— The Geometry and the Jungle event takes place on Sept.28 and will be presented by seminar platform Budocon.

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