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26 February 2010

Revisiting Aldous Huxley: For the Modern Shaman/Healer/Alchemist in All of Us

"I continued to look at the flowers, and in their living light I seemed to detect the qualitative equivalent of breathing--but of a breathing without returns to a starting point, with no recurrent ebbs but only a repeated flow from beauty to heightened beauty, from deeper to ever deeper meaning. Words like 'grace' and 'transfiguration' came to my mind, and this, of course, was what, among other things, they stood for." (18)

The above quote is from Huxley's The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell (1954). A fresh look at Huxley, in my case, has revealed work that is as important and timely as if it were written today, and particularly important for an herbalist/alchemist. Huxley's work is so big it cannot properly be contained in any one box or category but spans so many genres and generations. Deep down I see him as a person primarily interested in personal, academic, and spiritual freedom, and the perfect antidote to today's politically dyed, lazy intellectuals and half-baked new age gurus and theorists. Quite simply he is the real deal. His is a mind that would have been truly treasured in any time and place in the history of humankind.

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I'd like to delve a bit deeper into The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell. In the following passage, Huxley attempts rather well I might add to put into words that which has mostly gone unsaid but is indeed understood by a select few who would seek such an understanding. When I imagine a language of healing or alchemy, I find our current languages, especially English, woefully inadequate to capture the nuances of energy and relations. Perhaps the part of our brain that processes language is simply not capable of understanding (or connected to) the vastness on the other side of symbol. Science and religion certainly haven't caught up to Huxley either. Huxley is quoting here from Dr. C.D. Broad

"'The suggestion is that the function of the brain and nervous system and sense organs is in the main eliminative and not productive. Each person is at each moment capable of remembering all that has ever happened to him and of perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe. The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge, by shutting out most of what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful.'" Huxley continues, "To make biological survival possible, Mind at Large has to be funneled through the reducing valve of the brain and nervous system. What comes out at the other end is a measly trickle of the kind of consciousness which will help us to stay alive on the surface of this particular planet. To formulate and express the contents of this reduced awareness, man has invented and endlessly elaborated those symbol-systems and implicit philosophies which we call languages. Every individual is at once the beneficiary and the victim of the linguistic tradition into which he has been born -- the beneficiary inasmuch as language gives access to the accumulated records of other people's experiences, the victim in so far as it confirms him in the belief that reduced awareness is the only awareness and as it bedevils his sense of reality, so that he is all to apt to take his concepts for data, his words for actual things....The various 'other worlds,' with which human beings erratically make contact are so many elements in the totality of the awareness belonging to Mind at Large. Most people, most of the time, know only what comes through the reducing valve and is consecrated as genuinely real by the language." (22-24)

I use an analogy of a small dot on a large whiteboard. I tell my students to imagine the white board to be as large as the side of an enormous building, skyscraper, stadium, whatever, and to imagine the dot (a very small dot) to be all the knowledge that has ever been recorded and taught to humans throughout our history via the usual channels of transmission, in essence the power of the conscious mind, the scientific brain, the physician, (especially today) the technology -- all the university professors, philosophers, theologians -- what we now accept as our current world-view, what we know to be real, our religions and gods (small "r" and small "g"). By trusting in the small white dot instead of accessing the expanse of empty space surrounding the dot, the void, which is really not empty at all, we miss the source of true wisdom and reality, and, more importantly, allow ourselves to be enslaved. This condition of anemic understanding and willful bondage is especially egregious among the modern slaves and masters -- ego and power driven priests and priestesses, our celebrities, CEOs, billionaires, and the rest of us following along, hoping for crumbs from their tables. Though I don't know what the ancients thought of themselves and their egos and intellects, we certainly think we are all that, and we trust in our so-called leaders and our current educational processes as being completely valid, when in truth they are completely incompetent and practically worthless. Any belief that doesn't fit into or gain acceptance, within the temple walls, remains outside of the world of legitimacy, and we spend our lives serving these gods and goddesses of educational/intellectual conformity, pseudo-liberalism, or so-called progressivism, material prestige, religion, elitism and arrogance that worships the dot and chooses not to acknowledge the void. When Huxley speaks of "Mind at Large" he is referring to the void, not the dot. The dot is the "eliminative" aspect of the mind and consciousness into which we place so much trust. You might say on our altars we are worshiping the fruits of the "eliminative" mind-- what I'm really saying is we are worshiping shit. Huxley says this more poetically when he writes, "Most people, most of the time, know only what comes through the reducing valve and is consecrated as genuinely real by the language". The language in which we trust so mightily is woefully inadequate to express the void, and we often run from the opportunities existing outside the narrow realm of perceived reality.

Huxley continues in the following passages to explore the limits of our linguistic inadequacies: "However expressive, symbols can never be the things they stand for....Art, I suppose, is only for beginners, or else for those resolute dead-enders, who have made up their minds to be content with the ersatz of Suchness, with symbols rather than what they signify, with the elegantly composed recipe in lieu of the actual dinner." (29-30) I suppose that condition wouldn't be so terrible if we (society at large) didn't insist with such absolute resolve (and impose that iron-willed certainly upon all those we would enslave, especially children and students!) that the symbol is all there is -- I do so love that phrase "the ersatz of Suchness" (29). Huxley isn't completely down on artists, but I would say the "craft" should not be worshiped as the ultimate success, when the artist hasn't captured or attempted to capture the energy beyond the symbol: "What the rest of us see only under the influence of mescaline, the artist is congenitally equipped to see all the time. His perception is not limited to what is biologically or socially useful. A little of the knowledge belonging to Mind at Large oozes past the reducing valve of brain and ego, into his consciousness. It is a knowledge of the intrinsic significance of every existent." (33) While praising mescaline as the deliverer from the small mind to the "Mind at Large", Huxley would be the first to say, I think, that the means to this journey is not the important aspect, rather that one undertakes it at all: "...mescaline had delivered me -- [from] the world of selves, of time, of moral judgments and utilitarian considerations, the world (and it was this aspect of human life I wished, above all else to forget) of self-assertion, of cocksureness, of overvalued words and idolatrously worshiped notions." (36) Huxley writes at length of the actions of the substance on the brain; he speaks of mescaline limiting blood sugar to the brain thereby reducing the amount of fuel for the ego. A removal of the heavy-handed little self and mind that trusts only in the "ersatz of suchness" and as indicated enslaves others with that same prison of symbols(29).

Here is an interesting take on the relationship between this limited ego reality and one's physical health. Huxley is describing the opposite of what we know as the zone, a term applied mostly to sports visualization and performance, but certainly one we have all experienced at peak moments of transcendent awareness, almost paranormal in our union with the cosmos -- life in these timeless moments seems effortless, with a clear and powerful telepathy between will and outcome, all experienced with a level of ease seldom if ever experienced in any other part of our lives. I suppose one seeking to shift energies, promote healing, and encourage transformation, would be wise to consider the intentions expressed here: "All that the conscious ego can do is to formulate wishes, which are then carried out by forces which it controls very little and understands not at all. When it does anything more -- when it tries too hard, for example, when it worries, when it becomes apprehensive about the future -- it lowers the effectiveness of those forces and may even cause the devitalized body to fall ill."(52) What a marvelous description of dis-ease. Is this merely our fate as humans? Why is it so hard to move away from this little dictator ego? It is as if we were offered a way out, yet often refuse to take it: "The literature of religious experience abounds in references to the pains and terrors overwhelming those who have come, too suddenly, face to face with some manifestation of the Mysterium tremendum [simple translation,overwhelming mystery].In theological language, this fear is due to the incompatibility between man's self-aggravated separateness and the infinity of unregenerate souls, the divine Light at its full blaze can be apprehended only as a burning, purgatorial fire. An almost identical doctrine is to be found in The Tibetan Book of the Dead, where the departed soul is described as shrinking in agony from the Pure Light of the Void, even from the lesser, tempered Lights, in order to rush headlong into the comforting darkness of self-hood as a reborn human being, or even as a beast, an unhappy ghost, a denizen of hell. Anything other than the burning brightness of unmitigated realty -- anything!" (55-56) Huxley is asking us to seek out the experience of the void; he is asking us to test the limits of our "eliminative" reality against the vast ocean of revelation and creation accessible only through emptiness.

All quotes from:
Huxley, Aldous. The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell. Harper & Brothers, New York: 1954.

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  1. Check out "The Resolution of Mind" and get past substance as soon as possible. It's a crutch, and reinforces the sense matrix. You don't have a face, hands, feet or other senses in that "white light" you referred to. Get over it now. Or shortly hereafter.

  2. I'm not totally sure I understand the comment!? I checked out the website for "The Resolution of Mind" and can't say I could really make heads or tails out of it! I'm not looking for therapy anyway.

    The point of my blog is that the wisdom of experience is the great teacher (and therapist) to which we all have free and unlimited access and, of course, the plants are here to teach us too, provided we stop and listen to what they are saying.

    I wish you well where ever and whoever you are!


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