Aldous Huxley (01894 - 01963)

( recorded @ MIT in 01962 )

( recorded @ MIT in 01962 )



excerpts from


Aldous Huxley's writings on
 Psychedelics & the Visionary Experience
( 01931-01963 ) 

with introductions by



In the mid-1950s when Aldous Huxley's _The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell_ appeared, I found therein descriptions of experiences and the articulation of ideas which, since the discovery of LSD twelve years earlier, had constantly occupied my mind. 

By that time scientific research along the broadest hues had already been carried out with LSD in medicine, biology, pharmacology, and psychiatry, and about one thousand papers had already been published. But it seemed to me a fundamental potentiality of this chemical agent had not yet been sufficiently considered or recognized, namely its ability to produce visionary experiences. I. was therefore very pleased to learn that a person of such great literary and spiritual rank as Aldous Huxley, using mescaline which exhibits similar qualitative effects as LSD, had turned to a profound study of this phenomenon. Research on mescaline had been done as early as the turn of the century, but interest in this drug had afterwards largely diminished. 

About the same time that Huxley carried out his experiments with mescaline, I held LSD sessions with the well-known German author Ernst Jiinger in order to gain a more profound knowledge of the visionary experiences produced by the drug in the human mind. Ernst Jiinger recorded his experiences in an essay entitled Besuch auf Godenhqlm (Vittorio Klostermann, Frankfurt, 1952), which gives in literary form the essence of his interpretations. On the other hand, Aldous Huxley in the aforementioned books not only provides a masterly description of his encounter with mescaline, but also an evaluation of this type of drug from the highest spiritual and mental point of view, taking into account sociological, aesthetic, and philosophical aspects. 

Aldous Huxley indeed advocated the use of certain drugs, which led some people who studied his works superficially, or not at all, to reproach him with being to a certain extent guilty for the rising wave of drug abuse, or even of being a drug addict himself. This accusation has of course no justifiable basis, as Huxley has only dealt with substances for which Humphry Osmond has created the term "psychedelic." These are the psychotropic agents which had so far been denominated in scientific literature by the terms "phantastica," "hallucinogens," or "psychotomimetics." These are not narcotic addiction-producing substances like the opiate heroin, or like cocaine, with their ruinous consequences for body and mind of which Huxley warned emphatically. 

Psychotropic substances of plant origin had already been in use for thousands of years in Mexico as sacramental drugs in religious ceremonies and as magical potions having curative effects; The most important of these psychedelics are: mescaline, found in the peyotl cactus; psilocybin, which I have isolated from sacred Mexican mushrooms called teonanacatl; and, of course, LSD. Despite the fact that LSD (Lysergsaure-diathylamid, lysergic acid diethylamide) is a semisynthetic substance which I have prepared in the laboratory from lysergic acid contained in ergot, a fungus growing on rye, from the viewpoint of its chemical constitution as well as its psychotropic mode of acting, it belongs to the group of Mexican sacramental drugs. This classification is further justified because we have found in another Mexican sacramental drug ololiuqui the active substances lysergic acid amide and lysergic acid hydroxyethylamide, which are, as the chemical terms express, very closely related to lysergic acid diethylamide. Ololiuqui is the Aztec denomination for the seeds of certain morning glory species. LSD can be regarded as an ololiuqui drug raised to higher potency because, whereas the active dose of the ololiuqui constituent lysergic acid amide amounts to 2 mg (0.002 g), a similar effect can be produced with as little as 0.05-0.1 mg of LSD. 

There are the profound consciousness-altering psychic effects of peyotl, teonanacatl, and ololiuqui which made the Indians of the Latin American countries so respectful and awestruck of these drugs, causing these people to place a taboo on them. Only a ritually clean person, one prepared by a period of prayer and fasting, had the right and qualification to ingest these drugs and then only in such a purified body as their divine nature could develop, whereas the impure felt themselves going insane or mortally stricken. 

It was the endeavor of Aldous Huxley to show how the inward power of these sacramental drugs could be used for the welfare of people living in a technological society hostile to mystical revelations. The collected essays and lectures in the present volume will promote better understanding of these ideas. In Huxley's view, the use of psychedelics should be part of a technique of "applied mysticism," which he described to me in a letter of February 29, 1962 as a technique for helping individuals to get the most out of their transcendental experience and to make use of their insights from the "other world" in the affairs of "this world." Meister Eckhart wrote that "what is taken in by contemplation must be given out in love." Essentially this is what must be developed—the art of giving out in love and intelligence what is taken in from vision and the experience of self-transcendence and solidarity with the universe. 

In his last and most touching book, the Utopian novel _Island_, Aldous Huxley describes the kind of cultural structure in which the psychedelics— in his narration called "moksha-medicine"— could be applied in a beneficial manner. Moksha is therefore a very appropriate title for the present book, for which we have to be very grateful to the editors. 


 _Moksha_ is a collection of Aldous Huxley's writings taken largely from the last decade of his life. An appreciation of these addresses, essays and letters, and of the value he placed upon them, requires some introduction to the writer as well as to the written heritage he has left us. Aldous Leonard Huxley was born on July 26, 1894, notable literary and scientific family. He was the third son of Dr. Leonard Huxley— teacher, editor, man of letters— and of Julia Arnold, niece of the poet Matthew Arnold and sister of the novelist, Mrs. Humphrey Ward. He was the grandson of T. H. Huxley, the scientist, and the great-grandson of a formidable moralist. Dr. Thomas Arnold. His eldest brother, Julian, died February 21, 1975, ending that generation of world-recognized Huxleys. 

Huxley's own writings best document his transition from poet to novelist to mystic to essayist to scientist. At the age of sixteen a disastrous eye infection left Huxley substantially blind, putting an end to a hoped-for medical career. Forced to depend upon braille for reading, a guide for walking, and a typewriter for writing, he considered his disability irreversible, and his early poems such as
The Defeat of Youth (1918) and Leda (1920) express bitterness. However, the title poem of The Cicadas (1931) shows a recovery from this morbidness, and in a storm of productivity Huxley turned from poetry to the novel, shocking the reading public with _Chrome Yellow_ (1921), _Antic Hay_ (1923), and _Those Barren Leaves_ (1925). He was compared with two contemporary literary rebels, Noel Coward and Richard Aldington; however, whereas these latter attacked the middle class without suggestions for improvement, Huxley's writings provided the seeds of constructive synthesis. In the collection of travel essays _Jesting Pilate_ (1926) and his novel _Time Must Have a Stop_ (1944), one can see the polish of phrase that was to become his signature and catch glimpses of the philosophical concerns which were soon to command his attention. 

_Brave New World_ (1932) preceded George Orwell's _1984_ by some twenty years and is today perhaps the best-known work of Huxley. A disturbingly large number of his prophecies have been fulfilled. In this novel Huxley presents a panacea-drug called Soma (Christianity without tears, morality in a bottle) which must be contrasted with his later creation Moksha (a process of education and enlightenment). 

Huxley's view of the scientist, as one who bridges the disciplines of religion and philosophy with science, follows principles he had first aid down in Time Must Have a Stop. In this novel he carefully avoided extremes of commitment: he felt that in a quest for truth and understanding, to have no hypothesis would deny one a motive or reason for experimentation, whereas to construct too elaborate a
hypothesis would result in finding out what one knows to be there and ignoring all the rest. His "minimum working hypothesis" assumes the existence of a Godhead or Ground, a transcendent and immanent selflessness, with which one must become identified through love and knowledge. 

The meeting with Dr. Humphry Osmond in 1953, which provided the crucible for Huxley's personal experiments in challenging this "minimum working hypothesis," is the logical starting place for this present collection of writings. Mescaline, then a little-studied drug found in the dumpling cactus Anhalonium lewinii, was to serve as the catalyst for this experiment. Mescaline was first isolated from the plant in 1894 by Heffter, first synthesized by Spath in 1919, and pharmacologically explored by Rouhier and Beringer in the middle 1920s. Yet by the early 1950s, only clinical and physiological studies had been recorded concerning the effects of this drug; there had been no literary or humanistic inquiry. 

The results of Huxley's scientific-humanistic inquiry were profound and immediately apparent. The short-term consequences were the recording of the drug-induced experiences in _The Doors of Perception_ (1954), elaboration upon these and their extrapolation to other consciousness phenomena in Heaven and Hell (1956). The longer term consequence of this experiment and the several that followed convinced Huxley of the soundness of his working hypothesis: that there was a Ground and it was the "everything that is happening everywhere in the universe," or better, the awareness of this "everything." He was fascinated by the potential in drugs such as mescaline, LSD, and psilocybin to provide a learning experience normally denied us within our educational system. His lectures, novels and essays repeated the theme of desperation and hope. In an article in Playboy (Nov. 1963) he expressed despair that "in a world of explosive population increase, of headlong, technological advance and of militant nationalism, the time at our disposal— for the discovery of new energy sources for overcoming our society's psychological inertia— is strictLy limited." The hope, as expressed in his Utopian fantasy _Island_ (1962), 
is that "a substance akin to psilocybin could be used to potentiate the non-verbal education of adolescents and to remind adults that the real world is very different from the misshapen universe they have created for themselves by means of their culture-conditioned prejudices." 

In Island the concept of such a drug is developed with the introduction of a fungus, Moksha. From its name it is apparent that it is not the Soma presented in Brave New World; Moksha is derived from the Sanskrit word for "liberation" and Soma from the Greek for "body." In this book Huxley again precipitated controversy ahead of his time with his description of the death process as a learning process, and one which may be enriched by the administration of psychedelic drugs. The sincerity of this concept is evident in his ultimate experiment, in which he received two small doses of LSD, one several hours before death and a second just prior to death. In the last moments, he was conscious and peaceful. 

During the last decade of his life, Huxley was intentionally controversial, yet he was desperately sincere. It is impossible to guess what he would write today, some fifteen years later, following the extensive proselytization for the use of psychedelic drugs that occurred in the late 1960s. There was an explosive usage at that time, often by people who had not prepared themselves for the experience or for the personal integration of its values. Whatever he might have written, Huxley's role in literature and in the expression of the philosophy of consciousness expansion can never be denied. "

( 01954 )

It is difficult to speak of mental events except in similes drawn from the familiar universe of material things. A man may be said to consist of an Old World of personal consciousness, and, on the other side of a dividing ocean, of a series of New Worlds. These New Worlds of a subconscious can never be colonized, are seldom thoroughly explored, and in many cases await even discovery. As in this earth, if you go to the antipodes of the self-conscious personality, you will encounter all sorts of creatures at least as odd as kangaroos. We do not, in either case, invent these creatures. They live independently, and beyond our control. But we may go where they are, and observe them. They exist "out there" in the mental equivalent of distant space. From "in here" we can sometimes watch them as they go about their mysterious business. 

Some never consciously discover their antipodes. Others make an occasional landing. A few others come and go easily at will. For the naturalist of the mind— who must gather his data before we become true zoologists of the mind— the primary need is for some safe, easy, reliable method of transportation between the two Worlds. Two such methods exist. Neither is perfect; both are sufficiently reliable, easy and safe to justify their use by those who know what they do. The first is by use of mescalin, an alkaloid chemical. The second is by means of hypnotism. The two vessels carry consciousness to the same region; the drug has longer range and carries one farther into the terra incognita. 

As to hypnosis, we do not know how it produces its observed effects. Nor need we know. About the physiological effects of mescalin we know a little. It interferes with the enzyme system regulating cerebral functioning, impairs the brain's efficiency and permits entry into consciousness of certain kinds of mental activity normally excluded as possessing no survival value. We have visions. But they are not random visions. What takes place in them follows patterns as logical internally as are the things seen in the antipodes of the external world. They are strange, but with a certain regularity. 

Certain common features are imposed by this pattern upon our visionary experience. First, and most important, is the experience of light. Everything is brilliantly illuminated, shining from within, and a riot of colors is intensified to a pitch unknown in the normal state. (Most normal dreams are either in black and white or only faintly colored.) Color in dream or vision probably represents sight of "something given" as distinguished from the dramatic symbols of our own struggles or wishes, which are usually uncolored. The visions seen in these antipodes of the mind have nothing to do with the dreams of normal sleep, which we ourselves generate. We see them because they are there, but they are not our creations. Such preternatural light is characteristic of all visionary experience. 

Along with light, there comes recognition of heightened significance. The self-luminous objects possess a meaning as intense as their color. Here, significance is identical with being: objects do not stand for anything but themselves. Their meaning is precisely this: that they are intensely themselves, and, being so, are manifestations of the essential givenness and otherness of the universe. 

Light, color, and significance do not exist in isolation. They modify, or are manifested by, objects. Certain classes of perceptual images appear again and again; colored, moving, living geometrical forms which undulate into more concrete perceptions of patterned things, such as carpets, carvings, mosaics, transmuting continually into other forms in heightened color and grandeur. The observer is cut off from his past; he views a new creation. Much in them is similar to the heavens and fairylands of folklore and religion, the prototype of many Paradises. 

But there may be infernal experience as well, as terrible as the other is glorious. In paradisal visions there is a sense of dissociation from self and its body; in infernal visions the consciousness of the body is heightened and continually degraded. This comes when one lacks that faith and loving confidence which alone guarantees that visionary experience shall be blissful. And what takes place in visions may be but a foretaste of what shall come after the moment of death. "

( 01955 )

What was my own initiation to LSD? It was very simple: Aldous asked me to keep him company one whole day when he was going to take LSD.

"I would love to stay with you all day," I answered. "Is there anything I should know or do?" 

Aldous smiled. "Nothing— just be as you are." 

Was it naivete rather than wisdom that made me pass over that statement so lightly? 

I arrived at Aldous's home about nine o'clock. Aldous took the pills and gave me a paper on which he had written his main purpose for this session. I cannot quote his words exactly— however, their essence was this: "I want to know, and constantly be, in the state of love." 

I wondered. To me Aldous seemed always to be in the state of love! However, my opinion was not the point; his feelings and his search only were important. 

This was October 1955. Except for reading _The Doors of Perception_, I had no idea then what a psychedelic session was. However, I had had five years of experience in giving therapy. The best attitude, in these sessions, is to cancel out for that period one's opinions and to put aside one's tendency to judge others— just to be there, very attentive and free. Not that this free state is always reached or even reachable— but it is one of the goals. That state of attention would be appropriate, I thought, for the LSD day. 

The levels on which we exist are probably infinite— though there are certain levels on which in everyday life, more or less, we meet. But a person in the psychedelic state is on completely different levels. I saw an example of this right at the beginning of our LSD day: Aldous was looking at my hair very closely and smiling that smile which later I recognized almost every time he was in the psychedelic state. With a voice lower and rounder than usual, he said, very slowly, "If you could only see your hair." And after a long silence: 

"You cannot imagine . . ." 

I said nothing but remembered the new rinse I had put on my hair the day before. Did it show? Was it the right color? This is typical of the different levels of consciousness. Aldous was looking at hair, seeing in it the very mystery and wonder of life. He was on a cosmic level, while I, on the cosmetic one, was worrying about the new rinse. I remained silent but was glad when he stopped looking. 

Aldous said that day things which I began to understand only later. At the beginning of the day we tried to enter that period of Aldous's childhood of which he remembered very little. Our attempts failed completely. Very soon I gave up trying as I became aware that something awesome was taking place. I did not know what it was, but I felt that one had no right to disturb what was happening with the usual recall techniques of psychotherapy. I felt it would be like trying to find a faded photograph of a great cathedral while being in the cathedral itself. 

That first psychedelic day as a companion to Aldous flowed easily and quietly. There is so much mystery in a psychedelic day, so much happens in the person who is having the experience that he cannot express. That day, as on many others when I was a companion to a "voyager," I became slightly affected by the drug, although I did not take it and never do when I am a companion. It is one of the many unaccountable qualities of these chemicals. Perhaps the breath of a person who has taken LSD has some trace of it; maybe it comes out from the skin pores. Or is this phenomenon due to hypnosis, imagination, energy-transfer, telepathy? Or to a yet unexplained osmotic process? I do not know. It is a fact, however, that some of the most sensitive companions feel a slight effect of LSD when in the presence of a person who has taken it. In slang, this is called "having a free ride." It is desirable that it should happen, for then the companion is not too separated from the voyager— the companion may participate, even though in a minute way, in the voyage. This natural participation is basic to psychedelic companionship. 

The first trip with Aldous I remember as a timeless roundness. I was not this timeless roundness; Aldous was. My surface mind was still going at its petty pace, but I was aware enough of the timeless roundness not to disturb it. In Aldous's case it could hardly have been disturbed, but in people not as prepared as he was, feelings, revelation, and reaction can be of a different nature. So are states of consciousness. The companion should not interfere with these states or judge them by word, gesture, or feeling— for it is important that the voyager accept all of them, whether blissful or hellish, intellectual or emotional, or unqualifiable— and relate them to his life, for they are all different aspects of himself and of his history. 

As Aldous wrote to Dr. Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of LSD, "in _Island_ the account of individual [psychedelic] experiences is firsthand knowledge," But I had not the slightest idea that day, and for a long time afterwards, that these experiences were to be the raw material for Aldous's writing. I was so totally unaware of anything connected with the process of writing that it was an enormous surprise for me to find much of our lives in Island. 

That first LSD day was filled with aesthetic revelations. We listened to Bach's Fourth Brandenburg Concerto: 

It was the same, of course, as the Fourth Brandenburg he had listened to so often in the past— the same and yet completely different. This Allegro— he knew it by heart. Which meant that he was in the best possible position to realize that he had never really heard it before. . . . The Allegro was revealing itself as an element in the great present Event, a manifestation at one remove of the luminous bliss. Allegro was the luminous bliss; it was the knowledgeless understanding of everything apprehended through a particular piece of knowledge; it was undifferentiated awareness broken up into notes and phrases and yet still all-comprehendingly itself. And of course all this belonged to nobody. It was at once in here, out there, and nowhere. . . . Which was why he was now hearing it for the first time. Unowned, the Fourth Brandenburg had an intensity of beauty, a depth of intrinsic meaning, incomparably greater than anything he had ever found in the same music when it was his private property. 

. . . And tonight's Fourth Brandenburg was not merely an unowned Thing in Itself; it was also, in some impossible way, a Present Event with an infinite duration. Or rather (and still more impossibly, seeing that it had three movements and was being played at its usual speed) it was without duration. The metronome presides over each of its phrases; but the sum of its phrases was not a span of seconds and minutes. There was a tempo, but no time. So what was there? 

"Eternity." ... He began to laugh. 

"What's so funny?" she asked. 

"Eternity," he answered. "Believe it or not, it's as real as shit." 

I could follow Aldous in the world of music and colors; but when he spoke about the fusion of subject and object I did not understand. I did not understand, but I knew that he knew, and that, sometime, I would also know. "Subject and object," he said quietly and lovingly many times. "No separation between subject and object." In the silence of the large house, in the roundness of that day, there was his
knowing, there was my ignorance. I was aware of both, and of the absence of conflict between the two. His whole person was emanating love and his voice was full of wonder— "Subject and object— they are one." 

That day, partly due to my experience in psychotherapy, I had expected— in spite, alas, of trying not to expect anything— that Aldous might speak about Maria. I had hoped he would, and that he would express emotionally his pain. I had not realized yet that Aldous had his own and best way of directing the unfathomable alchemy by which we continuously transform our feelings and ideas into something else. Aldous transformed his love for Maria, and the pain of her loss, into the death of Lakshmi, an unforgettable passage in _Island_. 

During that first LSD day the thought of Maria was often present. We were in her house, where nothing had been changed since her death. We had been silent for a long while, listening to music. Now the record came to an end— I wanted to stop the machine to avoid the forthcoming shocking click of the automatic stop. To do this I had to walk a few steps away from Aldous toward the record player. As I took the first step I felt suddenly that Maria was present. Present, but not outside of me— present in me. Amazed and fascinated, I knew that I was walking as Maria— that she, not I, was walking. It must have been at the third or fourth step toward the record player and away from Aldous that his voice reached and touched my shoulder. Extremely firm and gentle, the voice said, ''Don't ever be anyone else but yourself." 

Aldous did not have to remind me of that again. 

Now that I have experience in LSD, this episode— which lasted two or three seconds at the most— is less surprising, though no less mysterious. I cannot explain what it was that made me feel, for a second or two, that I was Maria— and what on earth made Aldous realize my fleeting impression? Certainly not his seeing me take two or three steps in a dimly lighted room. 

Since that first day as a psychedelic companion I have learned to be prepared to have no secrets from the voyager. A person in the psychedelic state can perceive much more in other human beings than he can when he is in his everyday mind. The voyager may see his companion at different ages of life, at different periods of history, and as different persons, sometimes conflicting with each other. At one time or another, during the psychedelic session, the voyager looks at his companion. Often it is an overwhelming discovery'. Anyone who is a companion must give up any attempt at self-hiding. Not only is it useless, but it creates a fatiguing and distracting tension for both. 

"Who are you?" Spoken or not, the question is loudly asked in almost every voyage. Silent and naked, the companion must know that he cannot answer— for the essence of the answer lies as much in the questioner as in himself.

( 01960 )

((( as a subject in the Paris Review's celebrated series of interviews with great authors, Huxley was asked to comment on the relationship between psychedelic drugs and the creative process, and on the value of the psychological insights the drugs afforded the fiction writer. )))


Do you see any relation between the creative process and the use of such drugs as lysergic acid?


I don't think there is any generalization one can make on this. Experience has shown that there's an enormous variation in the way people respond to lysergic acid. Some people probably could get direct aesthetic inspiration for painting or poetry out of it. Others I don't think could. For most people it's an extremely significant experience, and I suppose in an indirect way it could help the creative process. But I don't think one can sit down and say, "I want to write a magnificent poem, and so I'm going to take lysergic acid." I don't think it's by any means certain that you would get the result you wanted— you might get almost any result. 


Would the drug give more help to the lyric poet than the novelist? 


Well, the poet would certainly get an extraordinary view of life which he wouldn't have had in any other way, and this might help him a great deal. But, you see (and this is the most significant thing about the experience), during the experience you're really not interested in doing anything practical— even writing lyric poetry. If you were having a love affair with a woman, would you be interested in writing about it? Of course not. And during the experience you're not particularly in words, because the experience transcends words and is quite inexpressible in terms of words. So the whole notion of conceptualizing what is happening seems very silly. After the event, it seems to me quite possible that it might be of great assistance: people would see the universe around them in a very different way and would be inspired, possibly, to write something about it. 


But is there much carry-over from the experience? 


Well, there's always a complete memory of the experience. You remember something extraordinary having happened. And to some extent you can relive the experience, particularly the transformation of the outside world. You get hints of this, you see the world in this transfigured way now and then— not to the same pitch of intensity, but something of the kind. It does help you to look at the world in a new way. And you come to understand very clearly the way that certain specially gifted people have seen the world. You are actually introduced into the kind of world that Van Gogh lived in, or the kind of world that Blake lived in. You begin to have a direct experience of this kind of world while you're under the drug, and afterwards you can remember and to some slight extent recapture this kind of world, which certain privileged people have moved in and out of, as Blake obviously did all the time. 


But the artist's talents won't be any different from what they were before he took the drug? 


I don't see why they should be different. Some experiments have been made to see what painters can do under the influence of the drug, but most of the examples I have seen are very uninteresting. You could never hope to reproduce to the full extent the quite incredible intensity of color that you get under the influence of the drug. Most of the things I have seen are just rather tiresome bits of expressionism, which correspond hardly at all, I would think, to the actual experience. Maybe an immensely gifted artist— someone like Odilon Redon (who probably saw the world like this all the time anyhow)— maybe such a man could profit by the lysergic acid experience, could use his visions as models, could reproduce on canvas the external world as it is transfigured by the drug. 


Here this afternoon, as in your book. _The Doors of Perception_, you've been talking chiefly about the visual experience under the drug, and about painting. Is there any similar gain in psychological insight? 


Yes, I think there is. While one is under the drug one has penetrating insights into the people around one, and also into one's own life. Many people get tremendous recalls of buried material. A process which may take six years of psychoanalysis happens in an hour— and considerably cheaper! And the experience can be very liberating and widening in other ways. It shows that the world one habitually lives in is merely a creation of this conventional, closely conditioned being which one is, and that there are quite other kinds of worlds outside. It's a very salutary thing to realize that the rather dull universe in which most of us spend most of our time is not the only universe there is. I think it's healthy that people should have this experience.


Could such psychological insight be helpful to the fiction writer? 


I doubt it. After all, fiction is the fruit of sustained effort. The lysergic acid experience is a revelation of something outside of time and the social order. To write fiction, one needs a whole series of inspirations about people in an actual environment, and then a whole lot of hard work on the basis of those inspirations. 


Is there any resemblance between lysergic acid, or mescalin, and the "soma" of your Brave New World? 


None whatever. Soma is an imaginary drug, with three different effects— euphoric, hallucinant, or sedative— an impossible combination. Mescalin is the active principle of the peyote cactus, which has been used for a long time by the Indians of the Southwest in their religious rites. It is now synthesized. Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD-25) is a chemical compound with effects similar to mescalin; it was developed about twelve years ago, and it is only being used experimentally at present. Mescalin and lysergic acid transfigure the external world and in some cases produce visions. Most people have the sort of positive and enlightening experience I've described; but the visions may be infernal as well as celestial. These drugs are physiologically innocuous, except to people with liver damage. They leave most people with no hangover, and they are not habit-forming. Psychiatrists have found that, skillfully used, they can be very helpful in the treatment of certain kinds of neuroses. 


How did you happen to get involved in experiments with mescalin and lysergic acid? 


Well, I'd been interested in it for some years, and I had been in correspondence wiith Humphry Osmond, a very gifted young British psychiatrist working in Canada, When he started testing its effects on different kinds of people, I became one of his guinea pigs. I've described all this in _The Doors of Perception_. 

( 01962 )

The following is a report of a psychedelic session with Aldous. It is the only one of which I have a tape recording, not of the entire session but of the major portion. 

A few months after Aldous's death, when I found this tape, I was deeply moved by it. I had forgotten it, and now, after his death, these words were more than ever meaningful if, at times, equivocal. And how nice it was to swing from "life after death" to "soup here and now," from the Sermon on the Mount to running noses! And again I realized the constant consideration and encouragement Aldous gave to my current project, even on that extraordinary day. 

I first thought of publishing his recorded words as they are, without comment. But when the tape was transcribed on paper I began to see that they would not be as clear to a reader as they were to me, a participant in the dialogue. There is a world of difference between reading a conversation and hearing it. In reading, two important
elements are missing: the voice, so significant particularly in Aldous's case, for he had such a variety of inflections, of color and moods and rhythm; and the pauses, always important but more so in this kind of dialogue. I could have edited this conversation, but I prefer to leave it as it is on the tape. Aldous's phrases are not as well rounded and clear as in his writings and lectures— but he was not giving a lecture; he was speaking to me. I feel that the content and the authenticity of his words outweigh the consideration of literary elegance. 

Another reason for commenting on this taped conversation is that Aldous is referring to subjects unfamiliar to many people. The experiencing of the Clear Light of the Void, of the Bardo or after-death state, of the fighting hero of the Bhagavad-Gita— these are not everyday topics; yet they are of the greatest importance for us all. In this conversation Aldous refers to two books: The Bhagavad-Gita and the Tibetan Book of the Dead. I had not read these books at the time, but Aldous had told me a great deal about them. To anyone who has read them, what Aldous says is intellectually clear. But while familiarity with these books throws a light on our dialogue, Aldous's conversation —the atmosphere, the aura of it— is in no way a discussion of them. The extraordinary part of this conversation is the feeling that Aldous is experiencing that which he has known for a long time. But, as he wrote in "Knowledge and Understanding," there is a world of difference: ''Understanding is primarily direct awareness of raw materials." On the other hand, knowledge is acquired and "can be passed on and shared by means of words and other symbols. Understanding is an immediate experience and can only be talked about (very inadequately), never shared." Knowledge is "public." Understanding is "private." In _Island_ the children are given an illustration of this difference in the lower fifth grade, at about the age of ten. 

'Words are public; they belong to all the speakers of a given language; they are listed in dictionaries. And now let's look at the things that happen out there.' He pointed through the open window. Gaudy against a white cloud, half a dozen parrots came sailing into view, passed behind a tree and were gone. . .what happens out there is public— or at least fairly public,' he qualified. 'And what happens when someone speaks or writes words— that's also public. But the things that go on inside ... are private. Private.' He laid a hand on his chest. 'Private,' He rubbed his forehead. 'Private.' 

The words Aldous spoke in this psychedelic experience can be looked up in the dictionary; they are public. The understanding of his experience is a private matter for each of us. 

This session was different from others in many ways. Usually, when we had a psychedelic session, the evening before and the day of the session were kept absolutely and rigorously empty. This time we went out to dinner the night preceding the session. I further notice from my calendar that on the day of the session, January 22, 1962— a Monday—there were three other entries: a house guest arriving at the airport, the maid's birthday, and a tentative visit to a family whose three members were all mentally ill, but at large. 

It was because the day was not to be entirely free that we changed from LSD to psilocybin. Unlike LSD, which lingers on for many hours even after the high point is passed, psilocybin usually shuts off completely. In fact, this session lasted only from 10:40 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Considering that Aldous had taken such a small dose, we wondered, later, that it had such a marked effect. 

That morning after breakfast we went to my studio apartment, where we would not be disturbed. The studio is practically empty of furniture. The floor is covered by a shaggy white rug— it looks like white grass and is soft and pleasant to sit on. As usual, but especially for a psychedelic session, there were fresh flowers and fruits. Here and there, punctuating the white emptiness, there were fresh bamboo, shells, art books, records, and a few branches of golden acacia that had just burst into bloom in our half-burned garden. In the nook off the living room there were unpainted bookshelves, a large piece of unpainted wood which serves as a desk, a tape recorder, and two small armchairs. 

At 10:40 a.m., Aldous took four mg of psilocybin. There is a period of half an hour to about two hours between the ingestion of psilocybin and the beginning of its effect. Usually during this period we talked or looked at pictures; more often we listened to music— or did nothing at all. One never knows in which direction these experiences may move. Sometimes the "doors of perception" are cleansed suddenly with a jolt; sometimes the cleansing comes gradually with ever increasing discoveries. These discoveries may be psychological insights, or may be made through any of the senses— it is usually from the eyes that the scales first flake off. 

In the psychedelic session the role of a companion is to be there, fully attentive, and with no preconceived opinion of what might happen. A companion must be, at the same time, completely there and completely out of the way. Sometimes one feels that one should be there in the most intense and alert passivity one can master— but, paradoxically, be there invisibly. However, this was never the case with Aldous. Sessions with him had always been easy, and I knew he wanted me there, visible and tangible. 

A companion to the psychedelic experience should not have a preconceived idea— but to have no opinion is very hard to achieve. As it happens, that morning I found myself thinking that this session would be very light, since the dosage was so small, and that it would be similar to the others I had with Aldous— that it would modulate from beauty and the intense presence of life to love on all levels, the human as well as the mystical. 

Surprisingly Aldous asked me to stop the music. It was Bach, probably the Musical Offering or a cantata. 

I turned off the record player, and as I was wondering whether Aldous would want to hear something else, he got up from the floor where he was sitting and began pacing the corridor joining the living room to the bedroom. This also had never happened before. Aldous, like most people in a psychedelic experience, would move very little, generally staying in the same place most of the day.

I paced with him a few times, trying to feel what he was feeling. He looked preoccupied, and there was a feeling of agitation in him, and— again most unusual— he was muttering something in a low, unclear voice. I could not at first make out what he was saying. Then I understood the words "Confusion— terrible confusion." I paced the floor with him again— there was an unusual agitation in his movements, in his expression, in the half phrases he was saying. After a while, to my question, "Where is this confusion?" he said it was in life after death; I think he mentioned the word limbo. He was contacting, or being, or feeling, a bodiless world in which there was a terrifying

In psychedelic sessions there are often long periods, sometimes hours, when not a single word is uttered. Music, or sometimes silence, is the least inadequate way to express the unspeakable, the best way not to name the unnamable. But I knew those ecstatic moments, for they were reflected in Aldous's face— and even in those moments Aldous would say a word or two. But this was a different situation. Aldous was not having an ecstatic experience— he was going through something very intense, of great importance, but not pleasant. He did not seem to be willing or able to put it into words. This state lasted perhaps half an hour. Then quite suddenly he said, "It is all right now— it is all right." His face changed; he sat in the armchair near the tape recorder; that other world had suddenly dissolved. He looked well and I could feel he was now ready to speak about his experience. His mind was at a high pitch of activity. 


You see, this is— I was thinking of one of your titles— this is one of the ways of trying to make ice cubes out of running water, isn't it? To fix something and try to keep it— of course, it is always wrong. 

I thought he meant it was wrong to fix his impression on tape. 

LAURA: Well, let's stop the recorder. 

ALDOUS (immediately and with emphasis): No, no— I don't mean that. 

I mean the pure light is the greatest ice cube of all, the ultimate ice cube. 

Aldous was referring to one of my "Recipes for Living and Loving," which had required a lot of rewriting. The title of the recipe is: "Don't Try to Make Ice Cubes Out of a Flowing River." - Its concept is that our organisms are continuously changing in a continuously changing world; that the essence of life is its fluidity, its ability to change, to flow and to take a new course; that the trouble is that sometimes, 
usually unconsciously and unwillingly, we freeze a piece of this flowing life into an "ice cube." In the recipe, examples are given illustrating how harmful this can be; then there are directions on how to unfreeze these "ice cubes" that imprison our life and energy. Briefly, "ice cube" refers to the enduring, chilling effect of an unexpressed overemotional experience of grief, anger, or fear in their varied and numerous manifestations. Aldous had helped me with the recipe, and the phrase "ice cubes in a flowing river" was a current phrase with us. 

ALDOUS: The pure light. This is the greatest ice cube of all— it's the ultimate ice cube. 

The Pure Light. The Clear Light of the Void. The experience of Godliness. Mystical experience. The peak experience. . . . How many names, throughout the centuries and in all different cultures, have been given to that state for which the most sophisticated of word virtuosos say there are no words! I remember Aldous's saying that Saint Augustine, who wrote volumes of treatises basic to Catholic theology, toward the end of his life had the experience of Pure Light— and never wrote a word again. In Island Aldous describes that experience as "knowledgeless understanding, luminous bliss." 

LAURA: You thought you were going to have that [the Pure Light] today? 

ALDOUS: Well now, I can if I want to! But I mean it is very good to realize that it is just the— so to say— the mirror image of this other thing. It is just this total distraction— I mean, if you can immobilize the total distraction long enough, then it becomes the pure, one-pointed distraction— pure light. 

LAURA: If you can immobilize it? What do you mean? 

ALDOUS: You can immobilize it, but it isn't the real thing— you can remain for eternity in this thing at the exclusion of love and work. 

LAURA: But that thing should be love and work. 

ALDOUS (with emphasis): Exactly! I mean this is why it is wrong. As I was saying, this illustrates that you mustn't make ice cubes out of a Flowing River. You may succeed in making ice cubes . . . this is the greatest ice cube in the world. But you can probably go on for— oh, you can't go on forever— but for enormous eons— for what appears [this word is greatly emphasized] to be eternity, being in light.

In his later years Aldous put more and more emphasis on the danger of being addicted to meditation only, to knowledge only, to wisdom only— without love. Just now he had experienced the temptation to an addiction of an even higher order: the addiction of being in the light and staying there. "Now, I can if I want to," he had said. Staying in this ecstatic consciousness and cutting oneself off from participation and commitment to the rest of the world— this is perfectly expressed today, in powerful slang, in the phrase "dropping out." 

ALDOUS (continuing): It completely denies the facts: it is morally wrong; and finally, of course, absolutely catastrophic. 

"Absolutely catastrophic." Those two words are said with the most earnest and profound conviction. The voice is not raised, but each letter is as if sculptured on a shining block of Carrara marble —and remains sculptured on the soul of anyone who hears it. It is a definitive statement: one cannot isolate oneself from one's fellows and environment, for there is no private salvation; one might "get stuck" even in the Pure Light instead of infusing it in "Love and Work," which is the direct solution for everyone's life, right here and now. 

Love and Work— if I should put in a nutshell the essence of Aldous's life, I could not find a more precise way of saying it. 

After the words "absolutely catastrophic," the tape runs for a while in silence. And then there is a complete change of mood. A tender, enveloping smile is in Aldous's voice, my smile. It comes through the voice, creating an atmosphere of love and amused surprise, but, above all, of tenderness. 

ALDOUS: I don't know how you got all these things, darling. (Laughter.) What came into this hard, hard skull of yours— how do all these extraordinary ideas come in? 

He was always so pleased when I invented something, and he was now going back to the ice-cube recipe. 

LAURA: At least the one of the ice cubes I remember very well. I was giving LSD to and I had this feeling ... I just practically was seeing a torrent of water— you know, a river— and he was trying to make such logic out of it— so that he would show that all those people lied, you see. . . . 

ALDOUS : (interrupting with hearty laughter): Of course they lie! 

LAURA: And I had the impression that he was rationalizing water, or even trying to freeze a piece of this flowing river and make ice cubes of it. . . . 

ALDOUS : (still laughing, and touching my head) : But you have so many ideas. Obviously, this terribly hard skull has a hole in it somewhere. 

(A great deal of chuckling and laughter.) 

LAURA: I hope so. 

ALDOUS (after a silence): It is certainly very remarkable. 

Having "a. hole in one's skull" has different meaning for different people. Aldous meant here that these ideas must have flowed into my head, not out of it. Especially after his psychedelic experiences, Aldous often mentioned the Bergson theory— that our brain and nervous system are not the source of our ideas, but rather a reducing valve through which Mind-at-Large trickles only the kind of information that is necessary for us to survive on this planet. A temporary widening of that valve, or "a hole in the head," permits a fragment of Mind-at-Large to flow in— that is what we usually call inspiration. In The Doors of Perception, where Aldous reports his first psychedelic experience, he speaks at length of this theory of Bergson's and says that it should be seriously considered. 

There is a silence on the tape and then the dialogue continues in a thoughtful, serious mood. 

LAURA: I don't remember if I told you, or I dreamed I told you— did I tell you of the phrase running in my mind these days, "I am a thousand people"? 

ALDOUS: No, you didn't tell me. 

LAURA: But that also doesn't make anything easy. 

ALDOUS: No, obviously. And when there is no anchorage anywhere—when, to come back to after death, I mean, there will be no anchorage. . . . 

LAURA: Oh, yes. I see. 

Aldous was thinking about, and putting in words, the experience he had had a while before, when he was walking up and down the corridor. He had experienced the bodiless state of After-Death, where there is a survival of consciousness, but not of the body as we know it. 

ALDOUS: So, when there will be a thousand people rushing in different directions— I mean, anyhow . . . (then in a yery low aside) your hair smells the same as acacias . . . your head is very solid (touching my head) because the point is: when there isn't anything like this. . . . 

This— a. tangible body, something to see, to hear, to smell, to touch- in contrast to that other state of being, which he had experienced before, where there were feelings and thoughts, but no perceptions, senses, or solid forms as we are used to them. 

LAURA: When there is nothing to hold on. . . . 

ALDOUS: There are a thousand different people going in a thousand different directions: and this is what you have a hint of now. And this, of course, is what is so terrible, but I think that I know— (And after a pause, with deep conviction) but I know that there will always be— and I mean this is the extraordinary experience— at least there is somebody there who knows there are a thousand other people going in different directions— that there is a fundamental sanity of the world, which is always there in spite of the thousand people going in a thousand different directions. And while we are in space and time, surrounded by gravity, we are controlled to a considerable extent. (I wish I could convey the depth of Aldous' s voice here, the feeling of wonder.) But to have an insight into what it is when there isn't any control except this fundamental knowledge— I mean this is where the Bardo is right. 

Aldous is referring to the Tibetan Book of the Dead, or the After Death Experience on the Bardo Plane. I had first heard of this book from Aldous a few days after Maria's death. In answer to a note from me he had asked me for lunch and a walk. He knew innumerable country lanes right in the middle of Los Angeles and not far from his home, so after lunch we went walking in Laurel Canyon. I had many questions in my mind about Maria and he answered them without my asking, telling me all that had happened after our summer meeting in Rome. 

He said that for the last few hours of her life he had spoken to her, encouraging her to go forward, as in the Bardo. "What is that?" I asked. He told me then about the Bardo— or the intermediate plane following bodily death, as described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, explaining that in these ancient teachings the dying person is encouraged to go on— to go further— not to be preoccupied or encumbered with this present body, or with relatives or friends or unfinished business, but to go into a wider state of consciousness. 

He went on to say that the Tibetan Book of the Dead is as much a manual of the Art of Living as it is of the Art of Dying. The survivors are advised to think of the loved one and of his need and destiny in his new state of consciousness rather than to be completely and egocentrically involved in their own grief. "Go on. Go forward"— to both consciousnesses, the one who is still using the body and the one whose body is being discarded— that is sound and compassionate advice. "Go on. Go forward." 

How many of us are walking around, not wholly alive because part of us did not go forward but died with Mother or Father or some other beloved person— even, at times, a pet? The terrifying, incomprehensible fact of death is difficult enough to accept and assimilate even with the most illumined teaching, even with the warmest, most tangible encouragement— let alone when there is no help in understanding, in accepting, in speaking about death. How can one even begin to understand death when it is hardly a permissible subject in good society? Sex is now an acceptable topic of conversation; death is still swept under the carpet, still locked in the dungeon, as the insane were, not too long ago. 

That first walk after Maria's death remained impressed on me. I had vaguely heard of this wise, noble way of dealing with death, as an esoteric doctrine. Now Aldous, stricken and pale, yet fully alive, was telling me how he had applied this knowledge; how he had encouraged Maria to go on without worry or regrets. As he spoke during that walk I compared my own acquaintance with death: the lugubrious services, tragically chanting of sin, hellfire, and eternal damnation; the piteous begging for mercy from a distant deity, alternately irate and forgiving; while we, the survivors, enmeshed in grief and completely centered in it, hardly gave thought to the dead person except in relation to our anguish. It is distressing to think that the concern and money lavished on cadavers in America would be enough to feed millions of children, enough to divert lives of delinquency and despair into lives of human dignity and happiness. 

Aldous continued to tell me, during that first walk after Maria's death, how he had carried her over as far as he could. He was as crushed as any human being who has lost a beloved companion of a lifetime; and yet, at the time of her death, he had been able to divert his own attention from the pain of losing her and focus both her mind and his on that most important fact— on that fundamental sanity of which he speaks in every psychedelic experience— and throughout this one. 

The tape continues. 

ALDOUS: The Bardo is right. You see, you have to be aware of this thing, and hang onto it for dear life- otherwise you are just completely in a whirlwind. 

LAURA: Yes. But how many people do know this? 

ALDOUS (with great emphasis): Exactly! But this is why they say we really ought to start preparing for this. (Aldous was speaking about preparation for death.) And I must say I think it is terribly important that through this knowledge that we get through these mushrooms or whatever it is,^ you understand a little bit of what it is all about. I think the most extraordinary experience is to know that there is all this insanity which is just the multiplication . . . the caricature of the normal insanity that goes on. But that there is a fundamental sanity which you can remain one with and be aware of. This, of course, is the whole doctrine of the Bardo— helping people to be aware of the fundamental sanity which is there in spite of all the terrifying things— and also not really terrifying, but sometimes ecstatic, wonderful things. You mustn't go to heaven, as they continually say. 

Again and again! No dropping out from Love and Work, even from an unsatisfactory society, into the personal isolated security of Pure Light with or without psychedelics. "As they continuously say"— Aldous is referring to the Mahayana Buddhists, for whom the Bodhisattva is the highest form of man: such a man does not wallow in private salvation but lives and participates in the world's activities out of compassion for those who have not yet achieved enlightenment. 

I wanted to know more about not going to heaven. 

LAURA: You mustn't go to heaven? 

ALDOUS: You mustn't go to heaven. It is just as dangerous. It is temporary— and somehow you want to hold on to the ultimate truth of things. 

LAURA: THe ultimate truth of things? 

ALDOUS: Well, I mean . . . the total light of the world, I suppose, which is in the here and now we experience. It's of course the mind-body. But when you are released from the body there has to be some experimental equivalent of the body, something has to be held on to ... I don't know. 

LAURA: What does one hold to then? 

ALDOUS: All you can say is one holds to this fundamental sanity, which as I say is guaranteed, as long as one is in the body, by the fact of space and time and gravity, and three dimensions and all the rest of it. Somehow, when you get rid of those anchors— 

In the Tibetan Book of the Dead, we are often warned of this
danger of going to a phantasmagoric, illusionary hell or heaven. The guide (or guru) explains that in this bodiless state all our thoughts and feelings seem to take concrete form. Thoughts are things. The dead person sees these things and, unless helped, he gets trapped in them. So he is continuously told that these apparitions are only hallucinations— are only a projection of his consciousness— and that he. must go forward without becoming involved in them, without repulsion or attraction; that he must realize that they arc only distractions which he himself has created. Continuously repeated is the admonition: "Oh, Nobly Born! Let not thy mind be distracted." Similarly, the first and last word in Island is ''Attention." It is the first word the distracted, wounded traveler from the Western man who would not take yes for an answer— hears on that Island, sung by the mynah bird; a charming way the novelist synthesizes in a single word an ancient vital message to all: Attention.

ALDOUS (continuing): But there is an equivalent of some kind which has to be caught hold of. Otherwise, the world about you is thin and becomes— what is the word— Pretds, the world of the restless ghosts. One goes to hell and then in desperation one has to rush back and get another body. 

LAURA: To hold on again? 

ALDOUS: To hold on again. Well, this is obviously the best thing, if one hasn't got the ultimate best. But clearly they all have said that there is something which is the equivalent— again in this extraordinary doctrine of Christianity, the resurrection of the body, and ultimately immortality will have something like the body attached to it. I don't know what it means, but obviously one can't attach any ordinary meaning to it. But one sees exactly what they are after— some idea that somehow we have to get an equivalent on a higher level of this anchorage which space and time and gravitation give us. And which can be achieved. One has, as I say, in this strange experience, one has the sense that there is this fundamental sanity in spite of all the distraction and preposterous nonsense which is going on— and which is irrelevant to oneself— which has nothing to do, in a strange way, although it may seem very, very important. {Silence, them) 

It is very important, if one can, while it is happening, if one can see the outer-appearance of it. It is obviously important to look after one's affairs in a sensible way and see their importance, in a silly way, but if one can, through all this, see this other level of importance, in the light of which a lot of activities will have to be cut down. There will seem to be absolutely no point in undertaking them— although a great many have to be undertaken, but they will be undertaken in a new kind of way— with a kind of detachment, and yet with a doing things to one's limit. This is again one of the paradoxes: to work to the limit to succeed in what you are doing, and at the same time to be detached from it— if you don't succeed, well, that's too bad— if you do succeed—tant mieux— you don't have to gloat over it. This is the whole story of the Bhagavad-Gita : somehow to do everything with passion but with detachment. 

LAURA: Passion and detachment. . . . 

Passion and detachment. Years ago, before I had ever heard of these philosophies, with what passion I had longed for detachment! That was the ideal I had set for m3'self as a musician; to play with all I had, to burn with passion, yet maintain a crystalline purity and detachment in technical and stylistical perfection. And in these recent years of psychological work and exploration, I had seen, in my everyday life and work, in me and outside of me, all kinds and degrees of passion only or of detachment only— but how rarely the fusion of the two! 

In the Bhagavad-Gita the hero Arjuna is a great warrior, and Krishna, or Incarnation of the Supreme Spirit, is his guide. Arjuna is told that he must fight with all his strength and valor— and yet must be detached from the fight. 

If we look inside and around, we can see many ways in which this battle is carried on, three of which are the most conspicuous. One is the way of the fighter, who, being inwardly discontented, resentful, and punitive, is chemically and psychologically compelled to fight. He has to be contrary; he must give and take no for an answer even if— sometimes especially ii—yes is to his advantage. He is fighting an outer enemy who often is only a reflected shadow of the inner one; even when the outer enemy is conquered, the inner one is only temporarily appeased. Then there is another kind of fighter: the man who is easily discouraged, who remains passive, rather than risk the possibility of defeat; overcautious and suspicious, he deceives himself rather than face problems and decisions. There is still another kind of fighter, the one of which Krishna speaks. We encounter this type also— but how rarely! He is one that fights only after an ethical evaluation of the issue and of his own original motives. Regardless of victory or defeat, an inner peace is there. This warrior, liberated from subconscious demons, clear-minded and controlled, may appear on the outside relentless, determined, even furious; inwardly, he is invulnerably harmonious. In the Gita these three types of men are so described: 

The doer without desire. 
Who does not boast of his deed. 
Who is ardent, enduring, 
Untouched by triumph, 
In failure untroubled: 
He is a man of sattwa [the energy of inspiration]. 
The doer with desire, 
Hot for the prize of vainglory, 
Brutal, greedy and foul
In triumph too quick to rejoice. 
In failure despairing: 
He is a man of rajas [the energy of action]. 
The indifferent doer
Whose heart is not in his deed, 
Stupid and stubborn, 
A cheat, and malicious, 
The idle lover of delay, 
Easily dejected: 
He is a man of tamas [the energy of inertia] 

Aldous was speaking of the man who fights with the energy of inspiration (sattwa). 

ALDOUS: One can see what it is— he is not involved even though he is involved up to the limit. What part of him is not involved? But it's no good trying to make an analysis because, as usual, it is a paradox and a mystery. 

LAURA: But even if . . . 

ALDOUS: One begins to understand it, that that is the main problem.

There were many pauses in this conversation. Most of the words were formulated slowly, in an effort to clarify realities to which most of us are unaccustomed. Aldous had been speaking quietly and thoughtfully. In spite of the poor recording, which is often blurred by noises of cars and static, one can feel that the atmosphere is impregnated with thought and discoveries. Now there is a pause, then a few noises— we are taking Kleenex out of a box. Then: 

ALDOUS: My nose is running. (Now the mood and the voice change completely, become light, and there is amused laughter in Aldous's voice.) A very good reminder that the greatest philosophy is connected inextricably with running noses. One of the things they should have talked about in the Gospel. Obviously he was on a mountain— the Sermon of the Mount— it must have been very breezy and cold up there. Probably his nose did run. 

There is no iconoclastic intention in the voice— only a chuckling and a reaffirmation of Aldous's conviction that everything is connected with everything else and that we should not forget it; no matter on what high plane of spirituality we dwell we are still bound by the laws of nature. I am sure also that Aldous realized at that moment that he had been speaking gravely for quite a while— it was natural for him, thank heaven, to lighten gravity with charm and humor. 

LAURA (after a silence): But it is very difficult. How does one prepare for death? All of this seems, as you say, to make it very. . . . 

ALDOUS: I think that the only way one can prepare for death . . . you realize that, well, after all, all your psychotherapy is in a sense a preparation for death inasmuch as }0u die to these memories which are allowed to haunt you as though they were in the present: "Let the dead bury their dead." Obviously, the completely healthy way to live is "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." 

Aldous often quoted these words, which were Christ's way of saying, "Live here and now." He suggested I put this quotation in my recipe, "Lay the Ghost," which deals with the problem of haunting emotional memories that interfere with our present. He felt that Christ's saying to the man who wanted to bury his father, "Follow me, and let the dead bury him," was about as strong a way as there was to say, "Live here and now." One should not worry about the past or the future, since each day has enough problems. Tliat principle he also lived— either he could do something here and now about a problem or he would not permit it to interfere with here and now. 

ALDOUS: You accept this without being obsessed by what is in the past —you die to it. Preparation for ultimate death is to be aware that your highest and most intense form of life is accompanied by, and conditional upon, a series of small deaths all the time. We have to be dying to these obsessive memories. I mean, again the paradox is to be able to remember with extreme clarity, but not to be haunted. 

Aldous is speaking here of the difference between the two memories, the informational memory and the emotional memory. The informational memory is essential to us, to carry on our daily life. The emotional memory has a more subtle, powerful, and, at times, all-pervading quality; especially when unconscious, it can haunt us with ghosts of
our emotional past, robbing us of the energy and attention we need here and now. 

LAURA: But even without the memories there is this composite figure that we are— the composition of so many characters— and if they don't have something to meet on, a common ground, which is the body, where do they meet? 

ALDOUS: Well, they have to meet, I suppose, in some— what is called quote "the Spirit," as we meet normally on this unconscious-subconscious level. And then they also meet on the superconscious level, which, of course, completely contains the unconscious. (Pause.) And this would be certainly the teaching of the Bardos— these thousand figures— they can either meet in the wrong way which is by ... to the point of distraction through the ice cube or they can meet through the recognition of the ultimate in the spirit, on that level.

This is a repetition of what Aldous said in the beginning: either there is a meeting in that terrifying confusion of thoughts and emotions whirling around without the safety of a common ground which is the body; or there is meeting in awareness of that fundamental sanity-of-the-world which he felt so strongly. 

ALDOUS : And this is why they all say you have to work rather hard, and try and realize this fact— and one of the ways of realizing it is— after all, in that little "Zen Flesh, Zen Bones"''— the preparation is through these exercises in consciousness. This sort of leads on to the third layer of consciousness.

LAURA: But then in between the two extremes there is so much leeway. . . . 

ALDOUS: There are too many ways of going wrong. I mean, the best-intentioned people go wrong. (Long silence.) I will look at this Rembrandt— 

On the tape, one hears confused noises. Aldous was looking at art books— Rembrandt was to him the greatest of all painters. My voice is heard, from the other room, speaking on the phone to Paula, Ginny's daughter, then eleven years old, who was not in school that day. Then we again hear Aldous's voice. Since the fire we had been living with Ginny and her two children, and this close association made the problem of education very concrete to Aldous. He was seeing every day the difficulty of educating two children in a large city like Los Angeles. The problem had so many facets; he brought up one in this conversation. 

ALDOUS: If she wants us, darling, we can go back there. Is she alone? She probably doesn't want to be alone. Maybe we should go. (Silence.) She said she wanted to write a story so I gave her a pen. (Another silence.) When I think of the admirable thing which was in my little boys' school. 

LAURA: Yes? A routine? 

ALDOUS: Well, I mean we had this carpenter's shop. We could always spend our spare time there when we wanted to, and this was compulsory two or three hours a week. There was this carpenter who was the school handy man, but he was a trained carpenter. We went through all the exercises which the apprentice had to learn— almost up to the master work. This is what "masterpiece" means: the apprentice learns all the things, and finally he produces his final examination as Ph.D. 

LAURA: Really? 

ALDOUS: In the case of a carpenter there would be all the different kinds of mortices, dovetail, and so on— various things joined together. 

LAURA: Which is very difficult. 

ALDOUS: Very difficult. You see, all the surfaces would be absolutely planed— you will have learned to plane absolutely even. 

LAURA: Did you do that? 

ALDOUS: Yes. Yes, we went right through the different kinds of mortices, dovetail, and so on— just as a medieval apprentice would have done. 

LAURA: Well, but .... 

ALDOUS: Then when we had done all this sort of exercise, then we were allowed to do what we wanted— to make a sledge or a box or a bookcase—and we did it— but always up to the very highest standards. I mean, there was absolutely no nonsense of these things being nailed together; these things were always done dovetailed. 

LAURA: But here they don't do that— even professional carpenters. 

ALDOUS: Good cabinet work is still done in this way, but of course nowadays it isn't really— I mean, it's quite different. 

LAURA: But in this school they don't do anything: they just stay there all afternoon just running around. 

ALDOUS : Well, one of the problems is wages. I mean, there was this ex- cellent man who did all the odd jobs around the school, but who was an old-time artisan who got through all this himself. But he was a very shrewd man: it was a pleasure to be with him. And he could talk; and he had delightful phrases— like when he sharpened a tool he said, "Now it is sharp enough to cut off a dead mouse's whiskers without its waking up." But all that is gone now. But what shouldn't have gone is the perfectly sensible thing of providing boys with something to do. 

LAURA: Shall I make us soup? Would you like some soup? 

ALDOUS : Yes, that would be nice.

( 01963 )

Between culture and the individual the relationship is, and always has been, strangely ambivalent. We are at once the beneficiaries of our culture and its victims. Without culture, and without that precondition of all culture, language, man would be no more than another species of baboon. It is to language and culture that we owe our humanity. And "What a piece of work is a man!" says Hamlet: "How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! ... in action how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god!" But, alas, in the intervals of being noble, rational and potentially infinite, 
man, proud man. 
Dressed in a little brief authority. 
Most ignorant of what he is most assured, 
His glassy essence, like an angry ape. 
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As make the angels weep. 
Genius and angry ape, player of fantastic tricks and godlike reasoner
—in all these roles individuals are the products of a language and a culture. Working on the twelve or thirteen billion neurons of a human brain, language and culture have given us law, science, ethics, philosophy; have made possible all the achievements of talent and of sanctity. They have also given us fanaticism, superstition and dogmatic bumptiousness; nationalistic idolatry and mass murder in the name of God; rabble-rousing propaganda and organized lying. And, along with the salt of the earth, they have given us, generation after generation, countless millions of hypnotized conformists, the predestined victims of power-hungry rulers who are themselves the victims of all that is most senseless and inhuman in their cultural tradition. 

Thanks to language and culture, human behavior can be incomparably more intelligent, more original, creative and flexible than the behavior of animals, whose brains are too small to accommodate the number of neurons necessary for the invention of language and the transmission of accumulated knowledge. But, thanks again to language and culture, human beings often behave with a stupidity, a lack of realism, a total inappropriateness, of which animals are incapable. 

Trobriand Islander or Bostonian, Sicilian Catholic or Japanese Buddhist, each of us is born into some culture and passes his life within its confines. Between every human consciousness and the rest of the world stands an invisible fence, a network of traditional thinking-and-feeling patterns, of secondhand notions that have turned into axioms, of ancient slogans revered as divine revelations. What we see through the meshes of this net is never, of course, the unknowable "thing in itself." It is not even, in most cases, the thing as it impinges upon our senses and as our organism spontaneously reacts to it. What we ordinarily take in and respond to is a curious mixture of immediate experience with culturally conditioned symbol, of sense impressions with preconceived ideas about the nature of things. And by most people the symbolic elements in this cocktail of awareness are felt to be more important than the elements contributed by immediate experience. Inevitably so, for, to those who accept their culture totally and uncritically, words in the familiar language do not stand (however inadequately) for things. On the contrary, things stand for familiar words. Each unique event of their ongoing life is instantly and automatically classified as yet another concrete illustration of one of the verbalized, culture-hallowed abstractions drummed into their heads by childhood conditioning. 

It goes without saying that many of the ideas handed down to us by the transmitters of culture are eminently sensible and realistic. (If they were not, the human species would now be extinct.) But, along with these useful concepts, every culture hands down a stock of unrealistic notions, some of which never made any sense, while others may once have possessed survival value, but have now, in the changed and changing circumstances of ongoing history, become completely irrelevant. Since human beings respond to symbols as promptly and unequivocally as they respond to the stimuli of unmediated experience, and since most of them naively believe that culture hallowed words about things are as real as, or even realer than their perceptions of the things themselves, these outdated or intrinsically nonsensical notions do enormous harm. Thanks to the realistic ideas handed down by culture, mankind has survived and, in certain fields, progresses. But thanks to the pernicious nonsense drummed into every individual in the course of his acculturation, mankind, though surviving and progressing, has always been in trouble. History is the record, among other things, of the fantastic and generally fiendish tricks played upon itself by culture-maddened humanity. And the hideous game goes on. 

What can, and what should, the individual do to improve his ironically equivocal relationship with the culture in which he finds himself embedded? How can he continue to enjoy the benefits of culture without, at the same time, being stupefied or frenziedly intoxicated by its poisons? How can he become discriminatingly acculturated, rejecting what is silly or downright evil in his conditioning, and holding fast to that which makes for humane and intelligent behavior? 

A culture cannot be discriminatingly accepted, much less be modified, except by persons who have seen through it— by persons who have cut holes in the confining stockade of verbalized symbols and so are able to look at the world and, by reflection, at themselves in a new and relatively unprejudiced way. Such persons are not merely born; they must also be made. But how?

 In the field of formal education, what the would-be hole cutter needs is knowledge. Knowledge of the past and present history of cultures in all their fantastic variety, and knowledge about the nature and limitations, the uses and abuses, of language. A man who knows that there have been many cultures, and that each culture claims to be the best and truest of all, will find it hard to take too seriously the boastings and dogmatizings of his own tradition. Similarly, a man who knows how symbols are related to experience, and who practices the kind of linguistic self-control taught by the exponents of General Semantics, is unlikely to take too seriously the absurd or dangerous nonsense that, within every culture, passes for philosophy, practical wisdom and political argument. 

As a preparation for hole cutting, this kind of intellectual education is certainly valuable, but no less certainly insufficient. Training on the verbal level needs to be supplemented by training in wordless experiencing. We must learn how to be mentally silent, must cultivate the art of pure receptivity. 

To be silently receptive— how childishly simple that seems! But in fact, as we very soon discover, how difficult! The universe in which men pass their lives is the creation of what Indian philosophy calls Nama-Rupa, Name and Form. Reality is a continuum, a fathomlessly mysterious and infinite Something, whose outward aspect is what we call Matter and whose inwardness is what we call Mind. Language is a device for taking the mystery out of Reality and making it amenable to human comprehension and manipulation. Acculturated man breaks up the continuum, attaches labels to a few of the fragments, projects the labels into the outside world and thus creates for himself an all-too-human universe of separate objects, each of which is merely the embodiment of a name, a particular illustration of some traditional abstraction. What we perceive takes on the pattern of the conceptual lattice through which it has been filtered. Pure receptivity is difficult because man's normal waking consciousness is always culturally conditioned. But normal waking consciousness, as William James pointed out many years ago, "is but one type of consciousness, while all about it, parted from it by the filmiest of screens, there lie potential forms of consciousness entirely different. We may go through life without suspecting their existence; but apply the requisite stimulus, and at a touch they are there in all their completeness, definite types of mentality which probably somewhere have their field of application and adaptation. No account of the universe in its totality can be final which leaves these forms of consciousness disregarded." 

Like the culture by which it is conditioned, normal waking consciousness is at once our best friend and a most dangerous enemy. It helps us to survive and make progress; but at the same time it prevents us from actualizing some of our most valuable potentialities and, on occasion, gets us into all kinds of trouble. To become fully human, man, proud man, the player of fantastic tricks, must learn to get out of his own way: only then will his infinite faculties and angelic apprehension get a chance of coming to the surface. In Blake's words, we must "cleanse the doors of perception"; for when the doors of perception are cleansed, "everything appears to man as it is— infinite." To normal waking consciousness things are the strictly finite and insulated embodiments of verbal labels. How can we break the habit of automatically imposing our prejudices and the memory of culture-hallowed words upon immediate experience? Answer: by the practice of pure receptivity and mental silence. These will cleanse the doors of perception and, in the process, make possible the emergence of other than normal forms of consciousness— aesthetic consciousness, visionary consciousness, mystical consciousness. Thanks to culture we are the heirs to vast accumulations of knowledge, to a priceless treasure of logical and scientific method, to thousands upon thousands of useful pieces of technological and organizational know-how. But the human mind-body possesses other sources of information, makes use of other types of reasoning, is gifted with an intrinsic wisdom that is independent of cultural conditioning. 

Wordsworth writes that "our meddling intellect [that part of the mind which uses language to take the mystery out of Reality] misshapes the beauteous forms of things: we murder to dissect." Needless to say, we cannot get along without our meddling intellect. Verbalized conceptual thinking is indispensable. But even when they are used well, verbalized concepts misshape "the beauteous forms of things." And when (as happens so often) they are used badly, they misshape our lives by rationalizing ancient stupidities, by instigating mass murder, persecution and the playing of all the other fantastically ugly tricks that make the angels weep. Wise nonverbal passiveness is an antidote to unwise verbal activity and a necessary corrective to wise verbal activity. Verbalized concepts about experience need to be supplemented by direct, unmediated acquaintance with events as they present themselves to us. 

It is the old story of the letter and the spirit. The letter is necessary, but must never be taken too seriously, for, divorced from the spirit, it cramps and finally kills. As for the spirit, it "bloweth where it listeth" and, if we fail to consult the best cultural charts, we may be blown off our course and suffer shipwreck. At present most of us make the worst of both worlds. Ignoring the freely blowing winds of the spirit and relying on cultural maps which may be centuries out-of-date, we rush full speed ahead under the high-pressure steam of our own overweening self-confidence. The tickets we have sold our- selves assure us that our destination is some port in the Islands of the Blest. In fact it turns out, more often than not, to be Devil's Island. 

Self-education on the nonverbal level is as old as civilization. "Be still and know that I am God"— for the visionaries and mystics of every time and every place, this has been the first and greatest of the commandments. Poets listen to their Muse and in the same way the visionary and the mystic wait upon inspiration in a state of wise passiveness, of dynamic vacuity. In the Western tradition this state is called "the prayer of simple regard." At the other end of the world it is described in terms that are psychological rather than theistic. In mental silence we "look into our own Self-Nature/' we "hold fast to the Not-Thought which lies in thought." we "become that which essentially we have always been," By wise activity we can acquire useful analytical knowledge about the world, knowledge that can be communicated by means of verbal symbols. In the state of wise passiveness we make possible the emergence of forms of consciousness other than the utilitarian consciousness of normal waking life. Useful analytical knowledge about the world is replaced by some kind of biologically inessential but spiritually enlightening acquaintance with the world. For example, there can be direct aesthetic acquaintance with the world as beauty. Or there can be direct acquaintance with the intrinsic strangeness of existence, its wild implausibility. And finally there can be direct acquaintance with the world's unity. This immediate mystical experience of being at one with the fundamental Oneness that manifests itself in the infinite diversity of things and minds, can never be adequately expressed in words. Like visionary experience, the experience of the mystic can be talked about only from the outside. Verbal symbols can never convey its inwardness.

It is through mental silence and the practice of wise passiveness that artists, visionaries and mystics have made themselves ready for the immediate experience of the world as beauty, as mystery and as unity. But silence and wise passiveness are not the only roads leading out of the all-too-human universe created by normal, culture-conditioned consciousness. In Expostulation and Reply, Wordsworth's bookish friend, Matthew, reproaches the poet because

You look round on your Mother Earth, 
As if she for no purpose bore you; 
As if you were her first-born birth. 
And none have lived before you !

From the point of view of normal waking consciousness, this is sheer intellectual delinquency. But it is what the artist, the visionary and the mystic must do and, in fact, have always done. "Look at a person, a landscape, any common object, as though you were seeing it for the first time." This is one of the exercises in immediate, unverbalized awareness prescribed in the ancient texts of Tantric Buddhism. Artists, visionaries and mystics refuse to be enslaved to the culture-conditioned habits of feeling, thought and action which their society regards as right and natural. Whenever this seems desirable, they deliberately refrain from projecting upon reality those hallowed word patterns with which all human minds are so copiously stocked. They know as well as anyone else that culture and the language in which any given culture is rooted, are absolutely necessary and that, without them, the individual would not be human. But more vividly than the rest of mankind they also know that, to be fully human, the individual must learn to decondition himself, must be able to cut holes in the fence of verbalized symbols that hems him in. 

In the exploration of the vast and mysterious world of human potentialities the great artists, visionaries and mystics have been trail-blazing pioneers. But where they have been, others can follow. Potentially, all of us are "infinite in faculties and like gods in apprehension," Modes of consciousness different from normal waking consciousness are within the reach of anyone who knows how to apply the necessary stimuli. The universe in which a human being lives can be transfigured into a new creation. We have only to cut a hole in the fence and look around us with what the philosopher, Plotinus, describes as "that other kind of seeing, which everyone has but few make use of." 

Within our current systems of education, training on the nonverbal level is meager in quantity and poor in quality. Moreover, its purpose, which is simply to help its recipients to be more "like gods in apprehension" is neither clearly stated nor consistently pursued. We could and, most emphatically, we should do better in this very important field than we are doing now. The practical wisdom of earlier civilizations and the findings of adventurous spirits within our own tradition and in our own time are freely available. With their aid a curriculum and a methodology of nonverbal training could be worked out without much difficulty. Unhappily most persons in authority have a vested interest in the maintenance of cultural fences. They frown upon hole cutting as subversive and dismiss Plotinus' "other kind of seeing" as a symptom of mental derangement. If an effective system of nonverbal education could be worked out, would the authorities allow it to be widely applied? It is an open question. 

From the nonverbal world of culturally uncontaminated consciousness we pass to the subverbal world of physiology and biochemistry. A human being is a temperament and a product of cultural conditioning; he is also, and primarily, an extremely complex and delicate biochemical system, whose inwardness, as the system changes from one state of equilibrium to another, is changing consciousness. It is because each one of us is a biochemical system that (according to Housman) 

Beer does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man. 

Beer achieves its theological triumphs because, in William James' words, "Drunkenness is the great exciter of the Yes function in man." And he adds that "It is part of the deeper mystery and tragedy of life that whiffs and gleams of something that we immediately recognize as excellent should be vouchsafed to so many of us only in the fleeting earlier phases of what, in its totality, is so degrading a poisoning." The tree is known by its fruits, and the fruits of too much reliance upon ethyl alcohol as an exciter of the Yes function are bitter indeed. No less bitter are the fruits of reliance upon such habit-forming sedatives, hallucinogens and mood elevators as opium and its derivatives, as cocaine (once so blithely recommended to his friends and patients by Dr. Freud), as the barbiturates and amphetamine. But in recent years the pharmacologists have extracted or synthesized several compounds that powerfully affect the mind without doing any harm to the body, either at the time of ingestion or, through addiction, later on. Through these new psychedelics, the subject's normal waking consciousness may be modified in many different ways. It is as though, for each individual, his deeper self decides which kind of experience will be most advantageous. Having decided, it makes use of the drug's mind-changing powers to give the person what he needs. Thus, if it would be good for him to have deeply buried memories uncovered, deeply buried memories will duly be uncovered. In cases where this is of no great importance, something else will happen. Normal waking consciousness may be replaced by aesthetic consciousness, and the world will be perceived in all its unimaginable beauty, all the blazing intensity of its "thereness." And aesthetic consciousness may modulate into visionary consciousness. Thanks to yet another kind of seeing, the world will now reveal itself as not only unimaginably beautiful, but also fathomlessly mysterious— as a multitudinous abyss of possibility forever actualizing itself into unprecedented forms. New insights into a new, transfigured world of givenness, new combinations of thought and fantasy— the stream of novelty pours through the world in a torrent, whose every drop is charged with meaning. There are the symbols whose meaning lies outside themselves in the given facts of visionary experience, and there are these given facts which signify only themselves. But "only themselves" is also "no less than the divine ground of all being." "Nothing but this" is at the same time "the Suchness of all." And now the aesthetic and the visionary consciousness deepen into mystical consciousness. The world is now seen as an infinite diversity that is yet a unity, and the beholder experiences himself as being at one with the infinite Oneness that manifests itself, totally present, at every point of space, at every instant in the flux of perpetual perishing and perpetual renewal. Our normal word-conditioned consciousness creates a universe of sharp distinctions, black and white, this and that, me and you and it. In the mystical consciousness of being at one with infinite Oneness, there is a reconciliation of opposites, a perception of the Not-Particular in particulars, a transcending of our ingrained subject-object relationships with things and persons; there is an immediate experience of our solidarity with all being and a kind of organic conviction that in spite of the inscrutabilities of fate, in spite of our own dark stupidities and deliberate malevolence, yes, in spite of all that is so manifestly wrong with the world, it is yet, in some profound, paradoxical and entirely inexpressible way. All Right. For normal waking consciousness, the phrase, "God is Love," is no more than a piece of wishful positive thinking. For the mystical consciousness, it is a self-evident truth. 

Unprecedentedly rapid technological and demographic changes are steadily increasing the dangers by which we are surrounded, and at the same time are steadily diminishing the relevance of the traditional feeling-and-behavior-patterns imposed upon all individuals, rulers and ruled alike, by their culture. Always desirable, widespread training in the art of cutting holes in cultural fences is now the most urgent of necessities. Can such a training be speeded up and made more effective by a judicious use of the physically harmless psychedelics now available? On the basis of personal experience and the published evidence, I believe that it can. In my Utopian fantasy. Island, I speculated in fictional terms about the ways in which a substance akin to psilocybin could be used to potentiate the nonverbal education of adolescents and to remind adults that the real world is very different from the misshapen universe they have created for themselves by means of their culture-conditioned prejudices. "Having Fun with Fungi"--that was how one waggish reviewer dismissed the matter. But which is better: to have Fun with Fungi or to have Idiocy with Ideology, to have Wars because of Words, to have Tomorrow's Misdeeds out of Yesterday's Misdeeds? 

How should the psychedelics be administered? Under what circumstances, with what kind of preparation and follow-up? These are questions that must be answered empirically, by large-scale experiment. Man's collective mind has a high degree of viscosity and flows from one position to another with the reluctant deliberation of an ebbing tide of sludge. But in a world of explosive population increase, of headlong technological advance and of militant nationalism, the time at our disposal is strictly limited. We must discover, and discover very soon, new energy sources for overcoming our society's psychological inertia, better solvents for liquefying the sludgy stickiness of an anachronistic state of mind. On the verbal level an education in the nature and limitations, the uses and abuses of language; on the wordless level an education in mental silence and pure receptivity; and finally, through the use of harmless psychedelics, a course of chemically triggered conversion experiences or ecstasies— these, I believe, will provide all the sources of mental energy, all the solvents of conceptual sludge, that an individual requires. With their aid, he should be able to adapt himself selectively to his culture, rejecting its evils, stupidities and irrelevances, gratefully accepting all its treasures of accumulated knowledge, of rationality, human-heartedness and practical wisdom. If the number of such individuals is sufficiently great, if their quality is sufficiently high, they may be able to pass from discriminating acceptance of their culture to discriminating change and reform. Is this a hopefully Utopian dream? Experiment can give us the answer, for the dream is pragmatic; the Utopian hypotheses can be tested empirically. And in these oppressive times a little hope is surely no unwelcome visitant.


( 01964 )

November 22, 1963 was for Aldous Huxley the time to go. 

In paying tribute (a curious word) to a departed luminary, it is customary to appraise his contribution, to wrap up the meaning and message of the hero and to place it with a flourish in the inactive file. 

This ceremonial function is notoriously risky in the case of writers. The literary game has its own stock-exchange quotations in which hard-cover commodities rise and fall to the irrational dictates of scholarly fashion. 

To predict the place that Aldous Huxley will have as a literary figure is a gambling venture we shall leave to the professionals who are paid to do it. They might note that he did not win a Nobel prize— a good sign, suggesting that he made the right enemies and was properly unacceptable to the academic politicians. They will note also that he was a visionary— always a troublesome issue to the predictor. Since all visionaries say the same thing they are perennial commodities, difficult to sell short, annoyingly capable of turning up fresh and alive a thousand years later. 

But Aldous Huxley is not just a literary figure, and for that matter not just a visionary writer. Which adds to the critic's problem. The man just wouldn't stop and pose for the definitive portrait. He just wouldn't slide symmetrically into an academic pigeonhole. What shall we call him? Sage? Wise teacher? Calypso guru? Under what index-heading do we file the smiling prophet? The nuclear age Bodhisattva? 

Many of the generation of scholars and critics who presently adjudicate literary reputations received their first insights into the snobbish delights of the mind from the early novels of Huxley. 

I believe that no one under fifty can quite realize how exciting Huxley seemed to us who were schoolboys or undergraduates in the 'twenties. . .he was a popularizer of what, at the time, were "advanced" ideas. . .he was a liberator, who seemed to encourage us in our adolescent revolt against the standards of our parents.

This obituary appraisal, a nice example of the "cracked looking glass" school of literary criticism, continues in the same vein: 

I remained under the Huxleyan enchantment well into my twenties. The magic began gradually to fail after Point Counter Point (1928); its failure was due partly to my discovery of other contemporary writers (Proust, Joyce, Lawrence), partly to the fact that Huxley himself had by that time lost something of his original sparkle. I felt little sympathy for his successive pre-occupations with scientific Utopias, pacifism, and Yoga. . . 

Of all the misunderstandings which divide mankind, the most tragic, obvious, and vicious is the conflict between the young and the old. It is surely not Huxley who lost his sparkle but perhaps the quoted critic, who graduated from "adolescent revolt" (a dubious, ungracious middle-aged phrase) to a static "post-adolescent" fatigue with new ideas. Huxley continued to produce prose which sparkled to those who could transfer their vision from the mirror to the events which were occurring around them. 

I believe that no one over fifty can quite realize how exciting Huxley seems to the generations which followed their own. The early Huxley was the urbane sophisticate who taught naive youngsters that parental notions about sex and society left something to be improved. The early Huxley was an exciting coach in the game of intellectual one-upmanship, wickedly demonstrating how to sharpen the mind so that it could slice experience into categories, how to engage in brilliant witty repartee, how to be a truly sophisticated person.

But, "then came Brave New World (1932), an entirely new departure, and not, I think, a happy one . . ." Yes indeed. Then comes the grim new world of the 1930's and a new generation who were less concerned with sparkling conversation than with trying to figure out why society was falling apart at the seams. The game of polishing your own mind and developing your own personality (although kept alive in the rituals of psychoanalysis) starts to look like narcissistic chess. Huxley was one of the first men of his times to see the limitations of the obsession with self and never again wrote to delight the intellectual. 

But old uncles are supposed to keep their proper place in my picture album. They have no right charging off in new directions. Investigating meta-self social ideas and meta-self modes of consciousness. No right to calmly ask the terrible new questions of the mind: is this all? Shakespeare and Joyce and Beethoven and Freud— is there no more? Television and computers— is this all? Uncle Aldous who taught us how to be clever, rational, individualistic, now claims that our sharp minds are creating air-conditioned, test-tube anthills. ". . . as Mr. Cyril Connolly put it, 'science had walked off with art,' and a latent streak of vulgarity found expression . . ." Yes, the specific prophecy is vulgar. 

And what is even more tasteless— to be so right. Within fifteen years the ludicrous, bizarre mechanization of new world fantasy had become a reality. The conventional artistic response to automation is the nihilist protest. But again Aldous Huxley refuses to play the literary game, insists on tinkering with evolutionary resolutions. Some of us forgot that Uncle Aldous was also grandson. The extraordinary, dazzling erudition which spun out bons mots in the early novels is now sifting through the wisdom of the east.

Huxley's diplomatic journey to the east brings back no final answer but the right questions. He seeks the liberating seed while avoiding the deciduous underbrush of ritual. 

The first question: is there more? Need the cortex be limited to the tribal-verbal? Must we use only a fraction of our neurological heritage? Must our minds remain flimsy toys compared to the wisdom within the neural network? How to expand consciousness beyond the learned mind? How to find and teach the liberation from the cultural-self? Where are the educational techniques for exploiting the potentials? 
Here again Huxley avoids doctrinaire digressions into mood, authority, semantics, ritual. He keeps moving; looking for the key which works. 

In 1954 he announces the discovery of the eastern passage. Doors of Perception. Heaven and Hell. Psychedelic drugs can provide the illumination, the key to the mind's antipodes, the transcendental experience. You may not want to make the voyage. You may have no interest in transcending your cultural mind. Fine. Don't take LSD. Or you may want illumination but object to the direct, short-cut approach. You prefer the sweat-tears of verbal exercises and rituals. Fine. Don't take LSD. But for those who can accept the "gratuitous grace," there it is. 

The age-long problem of how to "get out" has finally been solved. Biochemical mysticism is a demonstrated fact. Next comes the secondary problem. There is the infused vision of the open cortex, flashing at speeds which far outstrip our verbal machinery. And there is the tribal marketplace which cannot utilize or even allow the accelerated neural energy. How can the gap be bridged? 

Aldous Huxley preached no escape from the insanity and semantic madness of the 20th century. His next message was not one of quietism and arhat passivity. No one was more concerned, more engaged, more involved in the active attempt to make the best of both worlds. 

To make the best of both worlds— this was the phrase we heard him repeat over and over again during the last years. Of course most of his readers and critics didn't know what he was talking about. If you don't realize that it is now a simple matter to reach ecstasy, to get out, to have the vision, to reach the other worlds of your own cortex, then technical discussions of "reentry" problems make little sense to you. 

But there it was. The old Mahayana question now made real and practical. How to apply the now-available potentialities of the accelerated cortex? 

Aldous Huxley's last message to the planet contains the answer to this question in the form of the Utopian novel, Island. 

This book, published in 1962, is the climax of the 69-year voyage of discovery. It is a great book. It will become a greater book. 

Like all great books it is misunderstood in its time because it is so far in front of its time. It's too much to take. Too much. Island is a continent, a hemisphere, a galaxy of a book. 

At the most superficial level it's a science-fiction tale with heroes and villains in a fantasy land. It's a satire as well— of western civilization and its follies. So far, the book can be dealt with. 

But it's much more. It's a Utopian tract. Huxley's final statement about how to make the best of both worlds. Of individual freedom and social responsibility. Of East and West. Of left and right cerebral hemispheres. Of action and quietism. Of Tantra and Arhat. Of verbal and non-verbal. Of work and play. Of mind and meta-mind. Of technique and nature. Of body and spirit. Of religion and the secular. 

It's a manual on education. A handbook on psychotherapy and mind control. A solution to the horrors of the bi-parent family, the monstrous father-mother pressure cooker. 

Too much, indeed, for one book; but there's more. 

Island is a treatise on living, on the living of each moment. 

And most important and staggering, the book is a treatise on dying.

The easy intellectual rejection of this wealth of practical, how-to-do-it information is to call it fantasy. Adolescent daydreams about how things could be, in a society imagined and run by gentle, secluded scholars. 

But here is the terrible beauty of Huxley's science-fiction-satirical- utopian manual on how to live and how to live with others and how to die and how to die with others: it's all based on facts. Island is a popular presentation of empirical facts--anthropological, psychological, psychedelic, sociological. Every method, every social sequence described in Island is based on data. Huxley's Utopian ideas can work because they have worked. It's all been done— not in a fantasied future but yesterday. 

It has been tried and done by Huxley himself, and by his "Palanese" wife Laura Archera Huxley, who presented many of these intensely practical down-to-earth ideas in her book, You Are Not the Target. It's a mistake to think of him as a detached novelist observing and commenting on the scene. Huxley was a tall, slightly stooped Calypso singer— intensely topical— strolling nearsightedly through the crowds, singing funny stilted verses in an English accent, singing about the events in which he is participating. He didn't just figure it out— he experienced much of it himself. 

Huxley's explorations with psychedelic drugs are an example of his engagement. His willingness to get involved. Remember, every
person who can read without moving his lips has heard about what the Saturday Evening Post calls "the dangerous magic of LSD." 
And despite the controversy, almost everyone knows what is involved —the mind-loss and vision. Everyone has had to come to terms with the new development in his own fashion. 

There are as many rational reasons for not taking LSD as there are facets to the human mind— moral, practical, medical, psychiatric, 
mental. The real reason— however it is expressed— is fear. Fear of losing what we have. Fear of going beyond where we are. 

Aldous Huxley had spent years preparing himself for the fearful psychedelic voyage, and he made it without question when it presented itself. Why? Duty? Curiosity? Conviction? Courage? Faith in the process? Trust in his companions— divine or human? 

He did it, and the world will never forget it. 

But the gamble of the mind was not the last act of faith and courage. Aldous Huxley went on to face death as he had faced the
whirling enigma of the life process. . .

The choice is always ours. Then, let me choose
The longest art, the hard Promethean way
Cherishingly to tend and feed and fan
That inward fire, whose small precarious flame, 
Kindled or quenched, creates
The noble or the ignoble men we are. 
The worlds we live in and the very fates. 
Our bright or muddy star. 

— Aldous Huxley
from Orion, ( 01931 )