It Is What It Is — Thomas' book launch speech presented at a function at Protea Ranch
I wanted to introduce my book to you on my 60th birthday in January  but the universe had a different plan. I apparently still had a lot to learn about authoring and publishing and even more about patience. However, today is as good as any to be here as it's an important occasion and I'm truly humbled to share this moment with all of you.
Spring seems to be an auspicious time for me. It's often a symbolic period of renewal and many of my life-changing experiences occur around this time of year [August]. Even more strangely, big events frequently happen for me on odd numbered years .
I spend a lot time thinking. Most of the time is spent thinking of quite trivial things. But, there are times when I catch myself pondering some of life's deeper meaning. A few nights ago I was thinking about … sex. Who doesn't? I was mulling over the fact that sexual climax ranks amongst one of the most lovely experiences one can have with one's body. What other highs are there besides a good adrenalin rush, the morphine-like smoothness produced by endorphins during hard exercise or some mind-blowing idea that leaves one in awe of the scope of human ingenuity. I have experienced most of those highs: I once dived off the Victoria Falls bridge and bungeed one-hundred meters into the ravine below; I flew tight turns in a fighter jet, piloted by my friend Ralf (I don't know which part of that experience was the most frightening, doing the loops or having Ralf as pilot in command); and, I've been in awe of the craziness of my mind while tripping on LSD. Yip, I've done them all, but sex is much easier to find; one doesn't always need the cooperation of someone else to experience it; and afterwards, it generally leaves one in a state of chemical and emotional bliss. So, I was thinking: if sex is that awesome state of physical ecstasy, could there be a diametrically opposite shadow experience in the non-physical realms of our being, even something way beyond the reaches of our minds? If so, where could we find it? And, would it be as easy to procure as a good bonk?
I know what you're all thinking: 'Ever since his retirement from the real world, this poor guy's kinda lost his marbles! Give the poor bugger a break. I'll just humour him, buy a copy of his book and get the hell out of here.'
Yes, it's true that there were moments of near insanity in my past and, because I was capable of that kind of madness back then, perhaps it's fair to ask if I've again lost my mind and point of reference by trotting off on another bizzare and strangely insane quest searching for something unquestionably abstract. Don Quixote, to the concern of some and the amusement of many, spent his life fighting windmills. The question on your lips is probably: 'Is Thomas trying to tell us that he wants to indulge in continuous sexual experience, fuzzing all rational thoughts with copious amounts of LSD in order to pursue some ethereal nothingness? Surely these are initial signs of dementia or insanity.'
Peter O'Toole, playing the part of Don Quixote in the 1972 film: The Man of La Mancha, is asked: 'Why are you poets so fascinated with madmen?' He responds to the question about madness in his famous soliloquy: 'We have much in common … we both select from life … I have lived for over forty years, and I have seen life as it is. Pain, misery, cruelty beyond belief. I have heard all the voices of gods and noblest creature. Moans from bundles of filth on the streets. I have been a soldier and a slave. I have seen my comrades fall in battle or die more slowly under the lash in Africa. I have held them at the last moment. These were men who saw life as it is, yet they died despairing. No glory, no brave last words but in their eyes, filled with confusion, questioning 'why'. I do not think they where asking why they were dying, but why they had ever lived. When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? Perhaps to be too practical is madness. To surrender dreams this may be madness. To seek treasure where there is only trash. Too much sanity may be madness and maddest of all: is to see life as it is, and not as it should be!'
Yes … I have been going mad. Saddened by all the world's woes, I strongly believe there is a state of bliss beyond the realms of form. However, I'm not saying that prolonged sex and LSD are prerequisites to obtain glimpses of that ethereal nothingness, although they could lead to it, I'm saying that I'm really curious about those blissful states. 'How then', you might ask, 'does he hope to find something by obsessively seeking in the realms nothingness (if that makes any sense)? What does he hope to find?'
My short answer is: I hope to find meaning and purpose in a seemingly meaningless and purposeless world. I hunted everywhere for answers and solutions. I once tried to live a piously religious lifestyle in order to find meaning; I thought that by standing up to the national apartheid government on matters of principle which cost me my freedom for two years whilst confined in solitary, might help me find purpose; I later imagined that personal power and financial freedom could liberate the essence of life; I also loved deeply and passionately; yet, untarnished, undamaged adroitness persistently remained elusive. Something was always missing in the core of my being. It was a strange emptiness, an unsatisfied, insatiable yearning for a concept I couldn't gestate. It felt as if I had been running helter-skelter trying to catch the wind.
Is the idea of a state of ecstasy outside form truly insane? Gone are the days when us scientists look at matter through Sir Isaac Newton's eyes, seeing it as discrete and separate bundles of matter, equitably interacting with each other in the cold and dark vacuum of space under the rigid laws of physics. The quantum view is radically different. Lynne McTaggart's book, The Field, is a fascinating insight into some of the contemporary discoveries in this relatively new branch of science.
Firstly, we've concluded that there is no observable, measurable vacuum. What was once considered complete emptiness, is now known to be a cauldron of energy, a seething sea of photons, radiation and other forces. Quantum matter seems to be the carrier of information that is instantly communicated across the gigantic voids at a velocity arrogantly defying Einstein's maximum limits of the speed of light. Quantum forces are now known to show up in our experiments in ways we would like to see them, either as particles or as waves of energy, as if the consciousness of an observer had some morphing influence over energy and matter itself. Newton's ideas and the laws of physics seem to govern bundles of matter in localised neighbourhoods in space. But these very laws buckle, creak and collapse when we try to apply them at the universal scale.
Fritz-Albert Popp is a German researcher in biophysics, turned his attention to the study of biophotons — photons of non-thermal origin in the visible and ultraviolet spectrum emitted from a biological system. This bioluminescence is thought to facilitate a form of cellular communication. He demonstrated that all cells in our bodies are in communication with all other cells at a frequency of 380 nanometres of light. All known carcinogens either absorb, or convert this frequency of light, wreaking havoc in the body. Perhaps light is the coordinator of the 100,000 chemical reactions, taking place in every cell in every second, that are essential to our survival. Nerve impulses, neurochemical transmitters and hormones in the blood are just too slow to correlate inter- and intracellular functions. So after all, it is perhaps not too far-fetched to believe that we are essentially beings of light.
How the hell did we make a giant leap from getting a good bonk to quantum physics? Let's come back to earth.
Sadly, when I was a teenager, sex was a major taboo unless practised within the tightly-defined parameters laid out in Jehovah's Witness dogma. Even strangling the goose was seen as something deeply offensive. I tried to adapt to a pietistical lifestyle to fit the doctrinal mould expected of me but I wasn't wired that way. Libido ruled. I was faced with the harrowing choice of antagonising self to appease the church or, mollifying self and infuriating the church. Back then, I believed my homosexuality was my Achilles' Heel but I later came to accept it as my champion for freedom. Choosing forced me to resolutely affiliate with my true self — the definition of which intrigues me to this day. For those of you who know me well, choosing to honour my sexual self led to expulsion from the Jehovah's Witnesses and the loss of my family because of the Witness' practice of shunning.
The intervening years, between my excommunication and the reclamation of my spirituality, were emotionally torturous. And, as I modernised my spiritual beliefs, I had horrible feelings of silliness.
'This all-to-common situation,' says Charles Tart, in his well-written book The End of Materialism, 'easily makes for an ineffective and stuttering kind of spiritual search, two or three steps forward (that spiritual idea or experience rings true in my heart!) and two or three steps back (scientifically ridiculous — I must be stupid or crazy!). One day our heart and head open towards the spiritual, and then the next day our (apparently) scientific mind rules it out as an illusion and delusion.' Tart goes on to say: 'So here you are, a human being with a yearning for something higher than simple material gratification, something 'spiritual.' Yet modern science, the most powerful knowledge-refinement system in history, which has led to enormous power over the physical world, seems to tell you in no uncertain terms that you yearn for nothing but fantasy — superstitious, outmoded nonsense that will make you feel less fit to live in the 'real' world… [yet,] something in us yearns for the higher thing we vaguely call 'spirit,' but we don't want to feel stupid or crazy… I've talked to innumerable people who consciously thought of themselves as spiritual seekers, who were often quite knowledgeable about spiritual matters but, nevertheless, had something in them holding them back, doubting, sabotaging and invalidating their own spiritual knowledge.'
Unsolicited sexual imprinting on my character turned from torturer to tutor but its rewards, apart from liberation from bigoted enslavement, were no more than physical highs and emotional rushes. The more I craved them, the less ecstasy and pleasure they brought me and I soon found myself caught in the problematic paradigm of: 'more is never enough'. Surely, there had to be a more satisfying and purer form of existence that would bring enduring and abundant bliss.
If my instincts were right, I wasn't likely to find what I was seeking physically or mentally. On that hunch, I suspected it would come from something spiritual, but not from the archetypal, inculcative religiosity I was raised under. Ram Dass, one of the most beloved contemporary spiritual figures serving four generations, was a lighthouse that helped me navigate spiritually to the safer shores of a very different land. I'd heard about him from some friends who lent me two audio cassettes containing a recording of one of his speeches. It gave me a glimpse of a pathway to the illusive formless bliss I had so yearned to find. This is the storyline of my book: my quest to find grace through the acceptance of what is.
It Is What It Is is my story. There's not another that I could tell with more authority and conviction. Writing it wasn't easy as I had to dig deep within, at times stirring up the silt of past hurt which had already settled. It's a story that deeply distressed my mother when she read the first draft as it cast a net of culpability over the religion she staunchly upholds. Alas, not one member of my family is here to celebrate this occasion with me today — despite all having been invited. They are duty-bound by Jehovah's Witness rules and regulations and may not be in my company.
The book begins with me as a nineteen year-old incarcerated in military detention and solitary confinement during South Africa's apartheid past. It's about a young man having to face his personal demons and the injustice of others, the ways in which state, society, and creed systems suppress the life of individuals like you and me. It's about religious fanaticism which upturns love and compassion in favour of forceful, cruel and unsympathetic adherence to dogma; the actions of overly zealous, spiritually myopic people who believe they are called to judge others even if the consequences of their decisions rip families apart, leave fields of broken hearts and decades of hurt. But, out of this, I also speak of the miraculous release and deeper transformation that comes from wise and courageous choices. Ram Dass, my spiritual teacher, led me in my own life, along a different path.
The book is a story of change. It is dedicated to Ram Dass and Justin Lovell, my nephew. I had so wished that Justin could be present here today, but he had to think long and hard about attending and declined my invitation, because: 'It would have been inappropriate'. I include him in the dedication as it was he that broke rank, defied the Jehovah's Witness embargo on associating with me, and, at great personal risk of expulsion, one day came to visit. 'I want to know how you think,' he said, 'and why everyone has been so horrible to you.' I promised to write him a letter explaining the situation and my newfound insights but my letter to him merged with a different purpose, to document my meeting and friendship with Ram Dass. My book is the confluence of both promise and project.
Ram Dass wasn't the first and only person to teach me. Many people played pivotal roles throughout my life. Specific individuals contributed immensely to the publication of my book. The words and storyline are mine but the final product is a collaboration of so many.
Maharaj-ji (Neem Karoli Baba), from his lofty spot of ascendant supremacy, showed me my completed book before I had even began writing it.
Mark Lotter, one of my dearest friends, taught me about audacious self-acceptance and heartfelt love. But more strikingly, he eminently showed me the stark realities around life and death. Thanks to my interactions with him during his confused, yet auspicious experiences with near-suicide, I had opportunity to crisply focus my beliefs about non-attachment and learn invaluable lessons in selfless service to others.
My present life partner, Yvonne Munshi, is the first woman to have shown me how to peel away layers of my safe and rigid sexual identity and to explore the cross-gender tenderness of a wider dimension of love. She supported me with love and compassion throughout the writing of my book. She was there when the words and tears flowed and mingled on the pages of the manuscript as my story slowly unfolded. Writing was a deeply cathartic and cleansing experience.
Terry Winchester (here in attendance today) is another astonishing being that played a crucial role in my life. Terry encouraged me to take a different view of the world, giving me a peek into my formless true nature and nudging me to explore beyond the illusions of my mind.
Ralf Dominick (also here today) and I started a software engineering business in 1984. I was always inspired by his tenacity and his keen eye for good technical solutions. Ralf taught me bravery and courage. He, long ago, prompted me to get my pilot's license and, more recently, as the first South African to sail his yacht through the icy, treacherous North Atlantic Passage between Canada and Greenland, induces stoutheartedness in me.
My late friend and tutor, Malcolm Hendry-Holland, masterfully taught me hypnosis.
I'm most grateful for the impeccable advice, tutorship and careful editing, executed so perfectly by Dr. Peter Merrington, affiliated professor extraordinaire in the English Department, University of the Western Cape. Peter took a manuscript and transformed it into a book.
It was lovely working with the gentle and exceptionally creative David Ross who is credited for the book's cover photographs. I've known David for the past thirty years and enjoyed finding reason to work with him. Another long-term friend is Martin Meerholz who transformed my ideas of a book cover into a 'Budge Brand'.
Pamella Quin, dear friend and former headmistress of Parktown Girls High, found heaps of typos during her loving voluntary proofreading.
Hendali Steynberg enthusiastically took on the complexities of project management, helping me find a decent local printer who could produce the final hardcopy rendition.
I hope to impart some of my insights and wisdom to everyone reading my book. I trust that it will help you make better and braver choices in life. I am, of course, very keen to hear all your comments — both positive and constructive. [Ed: For anyone reading this online and who wishes to leave Thomas a comment regarding his book, please do so by using the [ contact ] facility at the foot of this page.
I proudly offer you my book: It Is What It Is — Grace through acceptance
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