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Mystical Experiences of Jane Goodall
(1934 - )

Internationally famous primate expert and environmentalist, Jane Goodall writes here of two experiences that forced her to deeply explore her view of humanity, nature, and her long term role in the world.
In Notre Dame Cathedral
"Many years ago, in the spring of 1974, I visited the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. There were not many people around, and it was quiet and still inside. I gazed in silent awe at the great Rose Window, glowing in the morning sun. All at once the cathedral was filled with a huge volume of sound: an organ playing magnificently for a wedding taking place in a distant corner. Bach's Tocata and Fugue in D Minor. I had always loved the opening theme; but in the cathedral, filling the entire vastness, it seemed to enter and possess my whole self. It was at though the music itself was alive. That moment, a suddenly captured moment of eternity, was perhaps the closest I have ever come to experiencing ecstasy, the ecstasy of the mystic." (p. xiii)
 
"It is hard now, after twenty years, to recapture that moment of ecstasy in the cathedral---although the experience has never left me. It became incorporated into the warp and woof of my very being. If I hear Bach's fugue, no matter where I am, the result is the same: just as the chimes of Big Ben trigger an unconscious spasm of fear, so that music floods my whole being with love, joy, and a sort of spiritual exaltation. It was not important, I think, that the music was Bach, or that particular fugue. And I suspect the experience could have occurred in another cathedral, or a church, a mosque, a temple, a synagogue. It was the glorious reverberation of the organ in an ancient place of worship, sanctified over hundreds of years by the sincere prayers of so many thousands of people. The impact was so powerful I suppose because it came at a time when so much was changing in my life, when I was vulnerable. When I was, without knowing it, needing to be reconnected with the Spirit Power I call God---or perhaps I should say being reminded of my connection. The experience, whatever else it did, put me back on track; it forced me to rethink the meaning of my life on earth." (p. 266)
 
 
In The Jungle
"Lost in the awe at the beauty around me, I must have slipped into a state of heightened awareness. It is hard---impossible, really---to put into words the moment of truth that suddenly came upon me then. Even the mystics are unable to describe their brief flashes of spiritual ecstasy. It seemed to me, as I struggled afterward to recall the experience, that self was utterly absent: I and the chimpanzees, the earth and trees and air, seemed to merge, to become one with the spirit power of life itself. The air was filled with a feathered symphony, the evensong of birds. I heard new frequencies in their music and also in the singing insects' voices---notes so high and sweet I was amazed. Never had I been so intensely aware of the shape, the color of the individual leaves, the varied patterns of the veins that made each one unique. Scents were clear as well, easily identifiable: fermenting, overripe fruit; waterlogged earth; cold, wet bark; the damp odor of chimpanzee hair, and yes, my own too. And the aromatic scent of young, crushed leaves was almost overpowering." (pp. 173-174)
 

Source: Goodall, Jane. Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey, (New York: Warner, 2000).


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