The Many Faces of Coincidence by Laurence Browne

Book Launch at The Avid Reader Bookshop, Brisbane, Australia, 4th September 2017

Laurence Browne and Adam Williams at The Many Faces of Coincidence book launch

Laurence Browne and Adam Williams at The Many Faces of Coincidence book launch

Ladies and Gentlemen

It is more than an honour to be here today because Laurence is my oldest friend – probably there’s nobody on the planet except his brothers who have known him as long, and it is an enormous pleasure to be able to participate in the launch of his first book, which I consider to be a masterpiece.

It’s also, believe it or not, an extraordinary example of synchronicity that I am here today, for I haven’t been in Australia for 45 years and it’s sheer serendipity, totally unconnected with Laurence, that I happened to buy a ticket that brought me to Brisbane at 5.00 this morning in time for the event!

You’ll hear more of coincidence later – but just to point out to those here who don’t yet know Laurence, that when you’re around him, synchronicity (or meaningful coincidence) – just – well – tends to happen.

The Many Faces of Coincidence by Laurence Browne

The Many Faces of Coincidence by Laurence Browne
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For Laurence, synchronicity has been a lifetime’s study (the fruits of which you’ll find in the book). It’s a journey that began nearly half a century ago, when we were all into I Ching and mysticism (remember the Sixties!). He was a bit of a guru to me then (I think on all our subsequent journeys I had the role of Boswell to his Dr Johnson, or Dr Watson to his Sherlock Holmes.) We both lived in Hong Kong and he was just back from Australia. At the time I was madly and hopelessly in love with a girl we both knew. Laurence and I went to Lantau Island and walked down from the Buddhist Monastery far down the mountain to the ferry in a cove below. It was a glorious day, the sun had begun its decline, so all was deep blue sky, colour and clarity, and we were in hilarious mood – we’d just met a ridiculous shaven headed Australian monk who felt he had to talk in a Chinese accent as he expounded the Sutras to us. “That’s very interesting, Bruce,” said Laurence. “Down’t call me Bruce!” the monk shouted. “My name is Ting Hong.” Still laughing at this silly ass, conversation moved to the girlfriend, and I said something soppy. In Laurence came with lines from Leonard Cohen that scuttled me. “I stepped into an avalanche” “Dress Rehearsal Rag” – for everything I said there was an apposite put-down “Where are you golden boy where’s your famous golden touch?” By the time we reached the harbor, I knew there wasn’t much hope in my pursuit of this girl. I had also been given my first lesson in ‘meaningful coincidence’.

Synchronicity and its pleasurable pursuit, as I might call it, defined our relationship from then on. Over the years we moved about as far away across the planet as you can get – me in England and for the last 30 years in Beijing, he in the southern hemisphere. Sometimes we didn’t see each other for years – but whenever we did meet, and ‘circumstance’ always somehow made sure that we did, bang, we were back to where we’d last left off and synchronistic events just happened around us. And usually it was a high – as it might have been if we were madcap children, only now it was our intellects that were honed. Coincidences buzzed around us like static. We once freaked out the solemn participants of a ‘Synchronicity Seminar” on a mountain top near Siena.

Laurence Browne and Adam Williams at The Many Faces of Coincidence book launch

Laurence Browne and Adam Williams at The Many Faces of Coincidence book launch

But let’s have a look back to the very beginning of our relationship when we really were madcap children. When we met, the Brownes were boys of twelve, eleven and nine and my brother and I were ten and seven.

We were all sons of Hong Kong taipans, and lived in adjoining houses on the Peak separated by a small rainforest. We’d shared an early childhood in Japan, though our families weren’t acquainted then, but such postings were usual enough in trading companies in those times – our lives all had similar trajectories: nothing overly coincidental in that.

In Hong Kong, our parents quickly became friends, and we boys in the care of my tolerant mother went on launch picnics together – wild, manic adventures with jokes and japes and humour, which bonded us all for life. For two months each summer we were inseparable. So far nothing out of the ordinary. We all tend to make intense friendships in our youth.

Well, it was a little surprising when we found out that our parents had, independently and years before even meeting each other, booked their boys into the same public school – Radley, near Oxford. The first person I saw when I arrived there, terrified into this new life, was Laurence. OK, that was a coincidence, no denying, but not a big one: there are only a number of boarding schools to choose from.

And then our fathers each independently decided that they should buy flats in London – again, no discussion, no consultation, no mention of their intentions. Amazed, we boys – and even our parents now – were staggered to find that our families had bought flats in the same apartment block in Putney, and that we were next door neighbours in London as well as Hong Kong….

What was it with the Brownes and the Williamses?

Our lives had somehow become aligned. Meaningful coincidence had been dogging us from the start….

In recent years Laurence and I have taken to going on pilgrimages together. We travelled the Roman Catholic Camino through Portugal and Spain to Santiago; with Laurence’s other brother Rollo we walked the Shinto Kumano Kodo in Japan. Strange things continued to happen. Not always comic, sometimes disturbing, challenging, dark. Synchronicity, as Laurence will tell you, is not always benign. We went to see the Church of St Michael and the tomb of Padre Pio on the Gargano Peninsula in Italy, and there weird things occurred….

This summer I chose to follow a Song Line in Arnhem Land and then go in to see the Rock Paintings in the Kimberley. There were many sacred places, beautiful rock formations with strange art. There was an atmosphere in each, a Numen, as you find in Delphi, or Dodona or St Michael’s Mount and other shrines along the Apollo Line in Europe. I was trying to understand the Dreaming. One day exhausted in 40 degrees heat I collapsed into a gorgeous pool, cascades massaging my back, and I wondered at the power of water, and in my altered state I discovered the same power in the beauty of the rocks around and the surrounding bush, and I sensed a unity and a meaning, almost a portal to a parallel world that seemed to vibrate through me like electricity. Now, Laurence will tell you about the Unus Mundus in connection with his studies. I may just have been hallucinating in the heat, but is it so strange that there could be a parallel spiritual dimension, like Chinese Qi, which our science has not grasped yet, and of which these strange, strange coincidences might be a sign?

Well, stuck in the bush I didn’t have many resources to investigate scientifically, but we did have a Police record in the four-by-four we were being driven in, with a song called Synchronicity on it. Going by their lyrics they’d obviously picked up some similar ideas:

A connecting principle
Linked to the Invisible
Almost imperceptible
Something unexpressible
Science unsusceptible
Logic so inflexible
Causally connectible
Yet nothing inevitable…
.. Etcetera

But Laurence has done better than this gobbledygook. He’s written a treatise. We’re celebrating its launch tonight. And I’ve already had the privilege of reading it in its various stages of composition. I think you’ll find that coldly, rationally he has described something universal and important.

And we’re lucky enough to have him here to explain it.

I give you Laurence

And by the way Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s no mere coincidence that you are here tonight….!

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