“If we could sniff or swallow something that would, for five or six hours each day, abolish our solitude as individuals, atone us with our fellows in a glowing exultation of affection and make life in all its aspects seem not only worth living, but divinely beautiful and significant, and if this heavenly, world-transfiguring drug were of such a kind that we could wake up [the] next morning with a clear head and a undamaged constitution – then, it seems to me, all our problems (and not merely the one small problem of discovering a novel pleasure) would be wholly solved and the earth would become paradise.”
-Aldous Huxley (1894 – 1963)
It has been quite the week for people departing from this side of things over to the Western Isles…
It always seems that these events occur in groupings, kinda like births did at one time… The one thing we are certain of is our mortality. It is the sweetener to every moment, making life a precious thing.
We have been given a fabricate of lies that tries to conceal the end game of our lives. I think we should practice for our deaths, and be aware that each moment is unique. A gracious parting is something I think one should wish for.
Life is the great gift. How are we living ours? Are we seeding the future with beauty and hope? Do we reach out to those yet born with a message of love and joy?
Thoughts… thoughts… thoughts…
On The Menu:
Peter Stafford Departs
Unanswered Questions from Huxley’s Experiments
Dao Te Ching (for Peter)
Sad News: Peter Stafford, died a couple of days ago. (seen here with Clark Heinrich at the Sacred Elixirs Conference) I understand he fell off of a ladder at his place in Santa Cruz.
He was one of the originals, and will be missed. I was privileged to have spent time with him on a couple occasions. A gentle soul, a gentleman. A pioneer in psychedelic circles, he touched many people on many levels.
Unanswered Questions from Huxley’s Experiments
by Peter Stafford
Editors Note: This essay was first published in Blotter No. 2, in early 1978. The newsletter was the work of The Psychedelic Education Center/Linkage, a Santa Cruz based group that organized two psychedelic conferences and met regularly from 1977 to 1982. The main writings of Aldous Huxley about psychedelics and the visionary experience have now been gathered into a single volume — entitled Moksha, Stonehill Press, edited by Michael Horowitz and Cynthia Palmer. Though more than a quarter century has passed since Huxley’s death, this material resurrected from letters, talks and articles is timely today. For as the law and public reassess psychedelic questions via the door of medicine, nowhere will they find a more profound study of implications and of the questions raised.
In 1931, Aldous described his delight upon coming upon an unpromising looking, ponderous work by a German pharmacologist — “a thick book, dense with matter and, in manner, a model of all that literary style should not be.” He read this from cover to cover with a growing interest in “how the story of drugtaking constitutes one of the most curious and also, it seems to me, one of the most significant chapters in the natural history of human beings.” But it wasn’t until 22 years later, after he had published 39 books concerning human nature, that Huxley tried a psychedelic — 400 mg. of mescaline sulfate, administered at about 11 am on May 6th, 1953 by a young Canadian psychiatrist named Humphry Osmond.
In one of several remembrances of Aldous appearing in this volume, Osmond comments that the finest praise one could receive came in his expression, “How absolutely incredible!” Well, after about an hour and a half into the experience, Aldous noticed he was “not looking now at an unusual flower arrangement. I was seeing what Adam had seen on the morning of his creation — the miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence.” (In a letter to Chatto & Windus just after this mescaline experience, Huxley writes: “It is without any question the most extraordinary and significant experience available to human beings this side of the Beatific Vision; and it opens up a host of philosophical problems, throws intense light and raises all manner of questions in the fields of aesthetics, religion, theory of knowledge . . .”)
Over the next decade, there were to be nine other tries — two more with mescaline, one with morning glory seeds (8 of them), two with psilocybin and four with LSD. This may not be considered by some that much experience. But Huxley and his colleagues — mainly Osmond — were unusually sensitive to and articulate about what was at stake here. In an important sense, they have affected the way in which we see the issues.
In the first of his two short books about psychedelics — The Doors of Perception — Huxley remarked that the “untalented visionary may perceive an inner reality no less tremendous, beautiful and significant than the world beheld by Blake; but he lacks altogether the ability to express, in literary or plastic symbols, what he has seen.” Aldous, by way of contrast, by the time of his first contrived mystical experience had already spent a long lifetime as a student of the curious and mystical, and of English prose. Writing first about psychedelics at the age of 60, he was able to give (quoting from the above passage again) “some hint at least of a not excessively uncommon experience.”
I mean by this that the exploration of inner space is at least as vast and mysterious a study as that of outer space — and that in the former we were lucky to have had an Aldous Huxley and Humphry Osmond aboard as investigators. It is as if we had sent poets that first time to the moon!
It took Huxley 70 pages to describe what had happened on that first trip, to give some hint of this “not excessively uncommon experience,” as when he wrote that “All at once I saw what Guardi had seen and (with what incomparable skill) had so often rendered in his paintings — a stucco wall with a shadow slanting across it, blank but unforgettably beautiful, empty but charged with all the meaning and the mystery of existence.” Compare just this fragment with the total remaining report from the Harvard Psilocybin Project invesigators — when Huxley took 10 mg. psilocybin, and was observed: “No. 11 sat in contemplative calm throughout; occasionally produced relevant epigrams; reported experience was an edifying philosophic experience.”
There is much truth to the claim that to get the Aldous Huxley mescalinized experience you had to be Huxley — especially if talking about the bringing back of souvenirs. Aldous Huxley, blind at the age of 20, after regaining his sight was probably not by accident to become the most listenable of all as to the content of the contrived visionary experience. That appeared principally in his two books on the subject, after only two or three experiments. What he thought of the rest — which were quite different — is here, in what should stand as an unparalleled guide to investigators.
Speculations and explanations provided by Huxley are based on wide-ranging inquiries he undertook after having been greatly energized by that initial experiment. Most of this seems fresh today. How odd it seems, for example, to hear him describe the work of John Lilly with dolphins, or that of those accumulating death and dying accounts — and to realize that this was written more than a quarter century ago!
What struck me, reading through this compilation, most forcefully was Huxley’s questioning (mainly of Osmond). Here are some of those questions, which yet deserve clear answers:
# How many of the current ideas of eternity, of heaven, of supernatural states are ultimately derived from the experience of drug-takers?
# Do Galtonian visualizers react in a different way from non-visualizers? Again, is there any marked difference between the average reactions of extreme cerebrotonics, viscerotonics and somatotonics? Do people with a pronounced musical gift get auditory counterparts of the visions and transfigurations of the external world experienced by others”? How are pure mathematicians and professional philosophers affected?
# The inexplicable fact remains the nature of the visions. Who invents these astounding things? And why should the not-I who does the inventing hit on precisely this kind of thing?
# What those Buddhist monks did for the dying and the dead, might not the modern psychiatrist do for the insane?
# My old friend, Naomi Mitchison writes from Scotland, after reading the Doors, that she had an almost identical experience of the transfiguration of the outer world during her various pregnancies. Could this be due to a temporary upset in the sugar supply to the brain?
# Have you ever tried the effects of mescalin on a congenitally blind man or woman? This would surely be of interest.
# Can you tell me in a line or two what was the nature of the experiences induced by being shut up in silence, in the dark? Were those visions of a mescalin-like kind?
# Why should gems ever have been regarded precious? What has induced men to spend such enormous quantites of time, trouble and money on the finding and cutting of colored pebbles?
# Did I tell you that my friend Dr. Cholden had found that the stroboscope improved on mescalin effects, just as Al Hubbard did? . . . And anyhow, what on earth are the neurological correlations of mescalin and LSD experiences? And if neurological patterns are formed, as presumably they must be, can they be reactivated by a probing electrode, as Penfield reactivates trains of memories, evoking complete vivid recall?
# Who, having once come to the relization of the primoridal fact of unity in Love, would ever want to return to experimentation on the psychic level?
# Who on earth was John Sebastian? Certainly not the old gent with sixteen childen in a stuffy Protestant environment. Rather, an enormous manifestation of the Other — but the Other canalized, controlled, made available through the intervention of the intellect and the senses and emotions.
# How and why is heaven turned into hell?
# Can we with impunity replace systematic self-discipline by a chemical?
# Is a mescalinized person hypnotizable? If so, can hypnotic suggestions direct his new found visionary capacities into specific channels — e.g. into the realms of buried memories of childhood, or into specific areas of thought and imagery? Can we suggest to him, for example that he should see an episode from The Arabian Nights, or from the Gospel, or in the realms of archetypal symbols or mythology?
# How strange that we should all carry about with us this enormous universe of vision that which lies beyond vision, and yet be mainly unconscious of the fact! How can we learn to pass at will from one world of consciousness to the other? . . . The supreme art of life would be the art of passing at will from obscure knowledge to conceptualized, utilitarian knowledge, from the aesthetic to the mystical; and all the time to be able, in the words of the Zen master, to grasp the non-particular that exists in particulars, to be aware of the no-thought which lies in thought — the absolute in relationships, the infine in finite things, the eternal in time. The problem is how to learn that supreme art of life?
# Did you get what I have got so strongly on the recent occasions when I have taken the stuff — an overpowering sense of gratitude, a desire to give thanks to the Order of Things for the privilege of this particular experience, and also for the privilege — for that one feels it to be, in spite of everything — of living in a human body on this particular planet?
# Human beings will be able to achieve effortlessly what in the past could be only achieved with difficulty, by means of self-control and spiritual exercises. Will this be a good thing for individuals and for societies? Or will it be a bad thing?
# If we have a meeting of this highly pickwickian organization, what (aside the pleasure and interest of meeting a number of intelligent people interested in the same sort of thing) will be gained? . . . Would there be ulterior advantages? . . . Couldn’t the same results be attained more simply and cheaply by discussing matters at a meeting, or by correspondence, and dividing up the work among the various experimenters?
# Is it possible for a powerful drug to be completely harmless?
# Most of us function at about 15 percent of capacity. How can we step up our lamentably low efficiency? . . . Will it in fact be possible to produce superior individuals by biochemical means?
# To think of people made vulnerable by LSD being exposed to such people is profoundly disturbing. But what can one do about the problem? Psychiatry is an art based on a still imperfect science — and as in all the arts, there are more bad and indifferent practitioners than good ones. How can one keep the bad artists out? Bad artists don’t matter in painting or literature — but they matter enormously in therapy and education; for whole lives and destinies may be affected by their shortcomings.
# Have you any idea why some people visualize and others don’t?
# If you were having a love affair with a woman, would you be interested in writing about it?
# What’s happening in the brain when you’re having a vision? And what’s happening when you pass from a premystical to a genuinely mystical state of mind?
# To what extent are our thoughts, beliefs and actions the products of our inherited physique and temperament, and of the fluctuations, in response to internal and external events, of our body-chemistry? Just how valid is a philosophy based upon a state of mind (say the conviction of sin) which can be radically changed by the prick of a needle or a small daily dose of Ritalin? And what about those experiences induced by Dr. Hofmann’s physically harmless mind-changers — experiences of a world transfigured into unimaginably loveliness, charged with intrinsic significance, and manifesting, in spite of pain and death, an essential and (there is no other word) divine All-Rightness? Yes, what about them?
(Found on the Island.org Site. Thanks to Bruce for having a home for this.)
Dao Te Ching (for Peter)
The best of man is like water,
Which benefits all things, and does not contend with them,
Which flows in places that others disdain,
Where it is in harmony with the Way.
So the sage:
Lives within nature,
Thinks within the deep,
Gives within impartiality,
Speaks within trust,
Governs within order,
Crafts within ability,
Acts within opportunity.
Embracing the Way, you become embraced;
Breathing gently, you become newborn;
Clearing your mind, you become clear;
Nurturing your children, you become impartial;
Opening your heart, you become accepted;
Accepting the world, you embrace the Way.
Bearing and nurturing,
Creating but not owning,
Giving without demanding,
This is harmony.
Too much colour blinds the eye,
Too much music deafens the ear,
Too much taste dulls the palate,
Too much play maddens the mind,
Too much desire tears the heart.
In this manner the sage cares for people:
He provides for the belly, not for the senses;
He ignores abstraction and holds fast to substance.
Looked at but cannot be seen – it is beneath form;
Listened to but cannot be heard – it is beneath sound;
Held but cannot be touched – it is beneath feeling;
These depthless things evade definition,
And blend into a single mystery.
In its rising there is no light,
In its falling there is no darkness,
A continuous thread beyond description,
Lining what can not occur;
Its form formless,
Its image nothing,
Its name silence;
Follow it, it has no back,
Meet it, it has no face.
Attend the present to deal with the past;
Thus you grasp the continuity of the Way,
Which is its essence.