On 22nd November 1963, a long shadow fell across America to the news that JFK had been assassinated. Meanwhile, Aldous Huxley, a bright English visionary, lay in bed at home, dying from cancer in Los Angeles. Nominated 9 times for the Nobel Prize in Literature and considered one of the great intellectuals of his generation, he knew that his time had come. Huxley’s wife grew more agitated by her husband’s discomfort and at his request, she injected him with a high dose of LSD. As his life finally ebbed from his body, his spirit was to be carried away on a colossal psychedelic trip into the next life.
Huxley’s book, The Doors of Perception, published in 1954, was about discovering spiritual enlightenment through psychedelic drugs. It was of great inspiration to the 60s hippie movement and inspired action to invade young American minds as the military dropped poison on the jungles of Vietnam. Social unrest and rioting spread across the nation where traditional values were being challenged in a cultural war that from the mid-sixties and for a decade long afterwards would rage unabated. Huxley wrote The Doors of Perception after taking mescaline, a naturally occurring psychedelic drug found in various species of cacti. He describes in infinite detail the subjective netherworlds of a trip. Of freezing time and living in it infinitely. How light throbs and the shape of objects become sacred. Of how flowers come to life. A man was reborn on that trip, like Adam on the morning of the Creation.
In Huxley’s dystopian science-fiction novel Brave New World (1932), soma is a drug that is handed out to all citizens of the World State. In small doses, it makes people feel good. In large doses, it creates pleasant hallucinations and a sense of timelessness. “A gram is better than a damn” is a common expression used by the citizens of the World State and take a soma ‘holiday’ as they seek to find relief from negative emotions. One character, Linda, spends her last days hallucinating on soma until given a final respite from all the trauma she has endured throughout her life. It indicates that he may have been planning his final escape route for a long time.
Huxley’s book Island, written not long before his death, tells the story of how local inhabitants on an isle use a psychedelic drug called moksha-medicine as an entheogen so as to directly confront suffering and death. Huxley was a mystic who had dedicated his life to achieving a deeper, healthier consciousness and rallied against the stigmatisation of expanding your mind. He promoted leaving the constructed, conventional and closely conditioned world we live in to spend some time in another universe completely. In this passage he could not have made his ideology clearer:
”Take four hundred milligrams of moksha-medicine and find out for yourself what it does, what it tells you about your own nature, about this strange world you’ve got to live in, learn in, suffer in and finally die in. Yes, even you will have to die one day — maybe fifty years from now, maybe tomorrow. Who knows? But it is going to happen, and one’s a fool if one does not prepare for it”.
Most people would consider a high dosage of liquid acid taken intravenously on their deathbed a frightening prospect. It’s not uncommon for a bad trip to leave the user feeling so isolated in their subjective experience that they may consider that they were already dead. A trembling head-long panic into the tremendous unknown can make for a hairy time.
Huxley thankfully was in the hands of his wife Laura who detailed this last period of his life in an 8-page letter to friends. She explains how she consulted Sidney Cohen, a psychiatrist who had pioneered the use of LSD. “I had asked him if he had ever given LSD to a man in this condition. He said he had only done it twice actually,” wrote Laura, “and in one case it had brought up a sort of reconciliation with death.” She mentions that in the days leading up to his passing that they read The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead by Timothy Leary. Leary was a psychologist and author who was also to champion the consumption of LSD in this era. His slogan Turn on, tune in, drop out horrified a conservative America threatened by inertia and what they considered mindless drug abuse. Acid was being taken as resistance to an oppressive state. In Huxley’s condition on his deathbed, it was being taken as a means to soothe his agonies and to guide him to what Laura describes as “…the most beautiful death. Both doctors and nurse said they had never seen a person in similar physical condition going off so completely without pain and without struggle”
“Both doctors and nurse said they had never seen a person in similar physical condition going off so completely without pain and without struggle”
In the 60s and 70s, the mystical traditions of Indian religions were taken on for a generation refusing to accept the brutality of their own culture. Huxley had made significant references to Hinduism and Buddhism in his writing, practised yoga and became a vegetarian. Ultimately Californian. In his final mystical experience, he comprehends truth beyond ordinary human understanding. Hindus believe that a person’s spirit is permanent and lives on beyond biological death. Moksha is the final release from rebirth. Where the cycle of reincarnation is broken and you are free.
From Laura’s letter, she says: “I said it more convincingly, more intensely – “go, go, let go, darling; forward and up. You are going forward and up; you are going towards the light. Willing and consciously you are going, willingly and consciously, and you are doing this beautifully; you are doing this so beautifully – you are going towards the light; you are going towards a greater love; you are going forward and up. It is so easy; it is so beautiful. You are doing it so beautifully, so easily. Light and free. Forward and up. You are going towards Maria’s love with my love. You are going towards a greater love than you have ever known. You are going towards the best, the greatest love, and it is easy, it is so easy, and you are doing it so beautifully.” Like a religious mantra, she repeated it over and over until his breathing slowed to a stop. What a way to go.