Hypnosis and Awareness Expansion: The Case of Aldous Huxley
by James Whitlark Professor and Associate Chairperson of English Texas Tech University
“…those who have experimented with hypnosis find that, at a certain depth of trance, it happens not too infrequently that subjects, if they are left alone and not distracted, will become aware of an immanent serenity and goodness that is often associated with a perception of light and of spaces vast but not solitary (Aldous Huxley, The Devils of Loudon 99).”
Hypnosis was a major interest for the novelist, poet, and essayist Aldous Huxley. He practiced it and used to put his guests into trances (Letters July 1952 650), sometimes with Mesmeric passes he learned from his friend Dr. James Esdaile, a pioneer of hypnotic anaesthesia and model for the character Dr. Andrews in Huxley's novel Island (Laura Huxley 7). Huxley helped one of his friends through painless surgery under hypnosis (Letters July1952 646). Hypnosis was a subject he treated in essays and in fiction, e.g., the “hypnopaedia” of his best known work, Brave New World.
Most interesting, however, as the above quotation illustrates, his literary style is itself hypnotic when he wants to intensify reader response. Note the quoted sentence's repetitive structure: three phrases joined with an “and.” Furthermore, as often with Milton Erickson's famous confusion technique, it relies heavily on negation: “not too infrequently…not distracted…not solitary.”“[I]nfrequently” and “distracted” are negative ideas, turned into double negatives by the preceding “not,” a piling of negation until the sentence practically cancels itself out, leaving one in the vast spaces, which are, nonetheless, “not solitary” but a uniting with the light. Obviously, it is also a vivid description of what the deeply hypnotized experience and a hidden suggestion to “become aware” by joining them—an invitation made attractive by the promise of that unity as well as of “immanent serenity and goodness.”
The style's interest stems from the large issue it raises: literature that may be experienced as an expansion of awareness. I do not mean merely introducing readers to previously unfamiliar contents (as all literature does) but expanding faculties of awareness. For the title of his book The Doors of Perception , Huxley quotes from William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear as it is, infinite (Huxley 1956 6). Huxley writes, “It had always seemed to me possible that, through hypnosis, for example, auto-hypnosis, by means of systemic meditation, or else by taking the appropriate drug, I might so change my ordinary mode of consciousness to be able to know, from the inside, what the visionary, the medium, even the mystic were talking about” (9). Can this be attained from a book? The Jesuit academician R. C. Zaehner stated that on reading Arthur Rimbaud's poetry he entered suddenly into a trancelike state, causing him to have a joyous union with his “not-self” in an experience he considered to have been identical to that of Huxley under the influence of mescaline (Zaehner xiii). This was part of an argument between Huxley and Zaehner, the former believing that if cleansed properly, the doors of perception show Reality to be relatively impersonal (as in Vedanta) whereas Zaehner held that true visions of Reality must reveal a personal God (as in Christianity). 1 Where they agreed was that, used hypnotically (as in poetry), language can evoke an expansion of awareness.
This idea implies much about both literature and hypnosis. As to literature, my wife and I have already contributed the essay, “Poetry as Hypnosis: An Ericksonian Approach to ‘Song of the Open Road'” (http://www.hypnos.co.uk/whitlark.htm). It analyzes Walt Whitman's evoking a expansion of consciousness in his readers through linguistic devices later utilized by Milton Erickson in hypnotherapy. The present article engages the integrally related issue: can hypnotic language actually expand awareness?
What raises this question is that such expansion would run counter to some prominent theories about hypnosis. For example, the major researcher Ernest Hilgard contended that hypnosis is invariably a dissociation—a narrowing, not an expanding of consciousness. Even worse, the very academic Theodore Xenophon Barber went so far as to theorize that only suggestion, not hypnosis, exists, and suggestion may be inimical to an unconditioned, “cleansed” perception.
Since brain research has shown a difference in ERPs between deeply hypnotized and non-hypnotized subjects, Barber's most skeptical position, never a close fit to the actual experience of the hypnotized, grew even harder to defend (as he seems to have recognized before his death). For obvious reasons, I am thus not relying on some reduction of hypnosis to a single component (such as Hilgard's to dissociation or Barber's to suggestion). Instead, I am grounding my approach on Akira Otani's more comprehensive “Eastern Meditative Techniques and Hypnosis: A New Synthesis,” which appeared in The American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis in October 2003. What gives that article particular credibility is that it accords with the current recognition that two contrasting groups are both particularly hypnotizable: those prone to dissociation and those prone to fantasy. Otani notes that dissociation (such as staring at a candle flame, concentrating on a koan, etc.) characterizes one variety of Eastern meditations and that an expansion of awareness, as in Buddhist mindfulness, characterizes the other, which (in that it adds to consciousness) is comparable to the use of hypnosis for “ego-receptivity, e.g., in accessing repressed memories. In other words, either narrowing awareness significantly as in dissociation or widening it in enhanced sensitivity to external or internal stimuli constitutes altered states attainable through Occidental hypnosis or Eastern meditations. Otani notes that the concentrative meditations were used as preparations for the expansive. This is reasonable since, in dynamic systems, opposites tend to turn into one another, e.g., hypnotic inductions can be either concentrative or a flood of stimulations (such as Erickson's confusion technique) yet, once trance is achieved, the client can be moved back and forth between narrowing dissociation and expansive association. Jean Holroyd's “The Science of Meditation and the State of Hypnosis,” American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis, 46.2 (October 2003): 109-128 comes to very similar conclusions as Otani. Their comparison of East and West is useful because it provides a theoretical foundation for a major activity of hypnotists today, the human potential movement, which presupposes that hypnosis can expand awareness.
In order to address this issue in a concrete manner, I am focusing on Aldous Huxley. His very public, career-long struggle with it (a struggle during which he was himself trying for a synthesis of Occidental hypnosis and Eastern meditation) greatly influenced the human potential movement in the 1960s and thereafter. I say “struggle” because he was also pulled in other directions—notably psychedelics, about which he wrote two books. Right before that experimentation, however, he stated in The Devils of Loudun, “Less dangerously and more effectively than the drugs which sometimes produce ‘anaesthesic revelations,' hypnotism temporarily abolishes distinctions and allays the passions, leaving the consciousness free to occupy itself with what lies beyond….” (Huxley 1952 105-106). According to Huxley's friend Milton Erickson, Huxley after trying psychedlics still “felt at times that the insight gained with drugs could be compared to going down into a deep ditch and then climbing up onto a ladder. You felt that you were seeing very far, but, actually, you were still below ground level. Drugs elevate you from a very low level but not to a height that you could reach without drugs” (Rosen 474). The phrase “at times” is pertinent because Huxley's attitudes toward hypnosis developed (and vacillated) over time. He thus illustrates the complexity of the subject and the difficulties even for a gifted seeker.
And Huxley was unusually gifted. When he was a small boy, his ability to dissociate was so pronounced that he could simply ignore the school bullies until they stopped torturing him. Recalling this, his cousin Gervas remarked, “Aldous possessed the key to an inviolable inner fortress of his own, into which he could and did withdraw from the misery of school existence” (Julian Huxley 57). During his adult life, he developed this capacity to the point that, when he was preparing to write, he would fall into a trance such that, for instance, he could answer the phone and write down a message, but retain no memory of the event. (Amnesia is, of course, a common concomitant of deep hypnotic dissociation.) For about a year in the 1950s, he was the subject of a series of experiments conducted by Dr. Milton Erickson, largely to investigate these spontaneous dissociations. 2 Their opposite (association) may not have come quite as naturally, in that his Doors of Perception describes him as unskilled in visual imagery, though that could be just the effect of his having spent much of his life almost blind. Certainly, his memory was remarkable. Erickson verified that Huxley could recite whole books and sometimes even give the page number of passages chosen for him. Under deep hypnosis, this skill increased to the point that Huxley was identifying the page numbers from books he had not read for over twenty years. Also relevant are his knowing encyclopedically a staggering number of subjects and his prominence as a creative writer. In sum, he lived much of his life either in the narrowness of absent-minded dissociation or the broadness of an almost-all-embracing inclusiveness, with the former concentration helping him to attain the latter. His first published volume of poetry, The Burning Wheel (1916), recognizes the interdependence of these opposites. Its title poem, inspired by Shakespeare's King Lear, iv, vii, 47, describes a wheel of “agony contracting,” where the grinding of atoms “Closer and closer…beget/A flaming fire upward leaping… [toward] infinite calm” (Huxley 1971 15). The motivation for the expansive flaming forth is the agony of the contraction.
Huxley's best known presentation of this idea is Brave New World . Its title, also a Shakespearean allusion, it climaxes with Mustapha Mond, the world controller, arguing that “high art” (such as Shakespeare's plays) and real religion require pain, which is too high a price to pay. The extremely brilliant “emotional engineer” of hypnopaedia, Helmholtz Watson, however, is willing to suffer on an island if that is necessary for him to perfect his art. The underlying presumption is the same Modernist idea beneath Erickson's early hypnotherapy, in which he would sometimes deliberately make symptoms worse with the (usually realized) expectation that the patients' condition would then bounce back to health, once he had shaken their conviction that their plight was unchangeable. For early Erickson and Huxley, progress thus required uncomfortable effort. This reflected their own experience—the former having painfully recovered from polio paralysis, the latter having achieved a career despite the traumas of his mother's death, his afflicted eyes, and his brother's suicide. This early sense of life as hard was consonant with the Modernist period, when science had problematized belief in an omnipotent, omniscient, protective God. (Attentive to that science, Erickson and Huxley were agnostic.) What was left to such Modernists was an indifferent, perhaps even hostile nature, against which progress had to be earned, always at a price. Underpinning this was the notion that only matter was truly real; mental activity derived from matter and should describe matter verifiably or else it would be mere wish and fantasy. One could not just change the world by changing one's mind; one had to earn the change.
That perspective is the undermining context surrounding Helmhotz Watson's poem:
….All silences rejoice,
Weep (loudly or low),
Speak—but with the voice
Of whom, I do not know…. (Huxley 1932 148).
The “silences” are a fusion of the dissociation/association dichotomy. Shut off from sound (dissociated), silence, nonetheless, has for Watson a mysterious voice, suggesting a previously un-sensed Reality, an expansive association. He seems to hope that he can listen for this voice and recognize it, but is told that if he pursues this course, he must do so in agony—and according to the Modernist ambience, hearing such internal voices is likely to be merely a delusion. Jerome Meckier has commented that this poem “confers an expanse of awareness upon its author… In Huxley's analogy, poetic inspiration and religious meditation become forms of each other, both attesting to the individual's perennial responsiveness to the invisible world” (Meckier 131) If, as Meckier seems to be doing, this poem is interpreted in the light of Huxley's later Post-Modern works, e.g., The Perennial Philosophy (1945), the “voice” would be that of Watson's true Self, One with the universe and God. According to the somewhat simplistic chemistry of Huxley's Heaven and Hell (1956), adrenaline produced during suffering, decays into substances, which reduce brain glucose to the point that the ego is suppressed and the true Self may manifest. By the 1950s, he was, however, well aware that such agonies of cerebral contraction were not the only route to Samadhi. During his early career, however, his fascination with mysticism keeps stumbling across major obstacles, including Mond's theory that it can only arise from pain. Looking back on himself at the time he wrote the book, Huxley denounced that earlier self as a “Pyrhonic aesthete” (“Preface” to 1946 edition of Brave New World ).
Part of the problem during his Modernist period is thus his cynicism, but the issue is also that hypnosis then consisted largely of specific suggestion: dissociate the subject as in hypnopaedia, and then keep repeating manipulative directions. Even auto-suggestion followed the same agenda. In his first novel, Crome Yellow , thus, this kind of almost exclusively dissociative hypnosis plays a part in the person of a Mr. Barbecue –Smith, whose automatic writings are the result of a recall under auto-suggestion of the commands he has previously given himself. These commands are to model his automatic writings only on books of quotations and sentimental literature so that he may quasi-plagiarize aphoristically on some subject he has previously chosen. (During his later years, however, Huxley practiced automatic writing, because he had found that it could eventually lead to mysticism if not forced into a materialistically subverted channel (Huxley 1952 100)). While Barbecue-Smith is manipulating himself, the character Scogan, who dreams of a civilization like that in Brave New World , is the crypto-hypnotic seducer of a sort Huxley developed further in later novels. In his next one, Antic Hay, the figure is Gumbril, capable of delivering such hypnotic patter to Emily as the following: “It re-establishes itself, an inward quiet, like this outward quiet of grass and trees. It fills one, it grows—a crystal quiet, a growing expanding crystal. It grows”—and so on for well over a hundred words (Huxley 1923 163-164). After the patter, Huxley informs us that Gumbril is actually thinking of Emily's pink underwear.
That Huxley spent much of his youth reading the mystics probably means that he wanted to believe, but his presentation of it tends to be undercut with satire before Eyeless in Gaza (1936) and Time Must Have a Stop (1944). The latter contains the following description of a disembodied consciousness: “Absence endured through ever-lengthening durations. Durations of restlessness. Durations of hunger. Durations that expanded and expanded as the frenzy of insatiability became more and more intense, that lengthened out into eternities of despair” (125). Whereas Gumbril was in literal and figurative darkness, this later situation takes place in a “shining silence,” and there is an equally important stylistic difference. It is neither as protracted nor as much stock hypnotic patter as in Antic Hay. Once he was no longer hiding behind a mask of parody, he was perhaps feeling reluctant to entrance his readers. In the Perennial Philosophy (1945), he wrote: “We perceive beauty in the interval between the part and the whole. In this context, the divine Ground might be paradoxically defined as Pure Interval, independent of what is separated and harmonized within the totality” (158). This implies that mystic literature should be like Japanese haiku, where the blanks between the words are important as the words themselves, or like Zen painting, famous for the wide emptiness surrounding the ink, but he never developed such a style—a different kind of hypnotic induction--which might incorporate the reader or viewer's imagination in the experience. Certainly, by the time of The Devils of Loudun (1952), he objected to the power of authorial suggestion, because it might deepen “the quasi-hypnotic trance in which most human beings live, and from which it is the aim and purpose of all true philosophy, all genuinely spiritual religion to deliver them” (Huxley 1952 99).
Not having devised an alternative style, he was thus a writer suspicious of writing powerfully in any style he knew. One result of this is obvious: as most studies of him admit, he gave up poetry (stylistically the genre closest to hypnotic induction), then radically decreased his output of fiction; and his later novels are less interesting, certainly less entrancing. An equally important point, however, is that a writer suspicious of writing is in conflict with himself. The issue of self-division is important because in The Doors of Perception , Huxley accepts the position of William Blake, Henri Bergson, and C. D. Broad that the ego is a reducing valve, constricting conscious input to a manageable volume, so that a direct perception of Reality (if such is possible) would require an end to all the mechanisms restricting access to the unconscious, i.e., the elimination of self divisions. 3 Relevant to this, despite his remarkable memory, Huxley had lost access to memories of about two years from his childhood. He kept trying to use auto- and hetero-hypnosis to recollect this period, at one point spending hours under the hypnosis of Laura, the therapist he later married. In her frustration, she hoped (incorrectly) that if she had him hypnotize her, that might increase rapport and thus bring success. He then “forgot” to un-hypnotize her, thus ending the session. Later, they tried with a mixture of hypnosis and mescaline, again unsuccessfully. Since Huxley also spent a year being hypnotized by Milton Erickson, the greatest hypnotist of the time, one may wonder why the existing record of their sessions does not include work on that amnesia.
A possible reason for this may be that Huxley's own record and a portion of Erickson's was lost in a house fire, but we do have an article that Erickson made from his remaining notes. The closest it comes to Huxley's self-division was his asking Erickson “urgently that further deep hypnosis be done with him in which more complex phenomena be induced to permit him to explore himself more adequately as a person.” Erickson decided to employ the Ericksonian confusion technique but as part of a “two-stage dissociative regression.” His suggestion was that Huxley would see with "utter clarity, in living reality, in impossible actuality, that which once was, but which now in the depths of the trance, will, in bewildering confrontation challenge all of your memories and understandings." Erickson explained that he deliberately left the suggestion vague so that Huxley's unconscious could provide what it found most meaningful. What transpired for over two hours was a confrontation between a 23-year-old version of Huxley and a 52-year old one. Every time Erickson tried to intervene, Huxley would hush him. This sounds as if the split arose from Erickson's suggestion of a “bewildering confrontation challenge.” Admittedly, a very obvious difference already existed between the near-blind, 23-year-old, Modernist aesthete that Huxley had been and the Post-Modern 52-year-old, who had partly recovered his eyesight and become an evangelical mystic. Erickson's suggestion, however, seems to have intensified this potential division into a temporary personality dissociation. Surprisingly, comparisons of Erickson's treatment of multiple-personality disorders show that he was less prone to end up finding large numbers of personalities than other hypno-therapists (Richeport 424). I am willing to believe that Erickson was more skillful than most hypno-therapists at avoiding inadvertent suggestions that might accentuate dissociation; nonetheless, despite his relying less on dissociation than was common at the time, his confusion technique this time still involved “dissociative regression.” Furthermore, Huxley's urgent request for personality exploration followed an experiment when Erickson had hypnotized Huxley into musing about previous psychedelic experience, but Huxley found this musing less emotionally satisfying than the kind of dissociation he practiced spontaneously—i.e., even more dissociated than his ordinary absent-mindedness. Most puzzling, in one experiment, Erickson suggested that Huxley sense in color and (since intense color had been a major aspect of his psychedelic experience) he underwent something very like that experience. What is puzzling is that when a mere accident came this close, one might wonder why Huxley did not request again and again that Erickson develop a technique for stimulating such experiences. Instead, Huxley seems to have concluded immediately if the accident did not produce the full effect, then hypnosis was incapable of anything so intense. Given the fragmentary nature of Erickson's notes, it is, of course, possible that the two actually continued and gave the project due time, but if that were the case, one may be puzzled that Erickson completely omitted mentioning in his article a lengthy and important part of the research. More likely, Huxley had not entirely freed himself from the Modernist notion that anything truly significant must have a material basis (e.g., drugs) and thus any lack of evidence that hypnosis could deliver the most intense experience for him was enough to dissuade him from continuing.
Was any more expansive technique than Erickson had so far developed available? Ironically, the reason Huxley chose to work with Laura was that she had had resounding success with Maria, who had entered what Maria considered a mystic state during the therapy. The irony is that Laura only realized that she was employing hypnosis after Maria pointed it out. In other words, Laura's technique was subtle, indirect, and unconscious—embodying what Zenists call “beginner's mind,” i.e., unspoiled by deliberation and effort. When she worked with Aldous, however, she hypnotized deliberately. There are obviously too many variables here to assign the difference in results entirely to differing attitudes, but please do not underestimate that difference. One of Aldous's continuing complaints was that expansive hypnosis should interfere as little as possible with the patient (e.g., as in his repeatedly trying to hush Erickson). Such complaints, of course, arose partly from his willful character, but they also accorded with his goal of a direct experience of Reality, not a delusion created or even warped by suggestion. Not surprisingly, after trying many kinds of meditations, he was particularly attracted to the non-directional practice of his friend Krishnamurti. He also found a handwritten pamphlet by the psychologist A. L. Kitselman, which, with reference to Buddhism and Hinduism, advocated auto-hypnosis, while an observer asked questions of the portion of the mind that removes obstructions (Sawyer 151). According to a letter (Smith 1969 650), Huxley felt a little uncomfortable about why the observer was necessary, but found it useful. Maria, presumably the primary observer, felt that he had made great progress thereby, but it was not the kind of peak experience he was craving. As early as 1921, Huxley's friend T. S. Eliot had recovered enough sanity to complete his great poem The Waste Land because of a therapy that was largely mindfulness, conducted by Dr. Roger Vittoz. The Vittoz method, though, was far from non-directive and, like Kitselman's or Krishnamurti's did not usually produce mystical experiences. Since then, many therapists have employed hypnosis to facilitate or intensify mindfulness, though doing so to the level of psychedelics is, of course, inherently dangerous, and unlikely to be sanctioned in ordinary counseling (see Lynn, Rhue, and Kirsch). Huxley, though, wanted that intensity. He was, however, highly cognizant that psychedelics would probably be made illegal, if debate about them spread beyond spiritual adventurers such as himself. For instance, he tried frantically to keep his acquaintanceTimothy Leary from sensationalizing them. Given that hypnosis (especially auto-hypnosis) would be very difficult to criminalize, one may wonder why Huxley did not do more, himself, or through his hypnotist friends, to perfect a psychedelic hypnosis (rather than merely combining hypnosis with psychedelic drugs as he often did).
As already mentioned, his interest in hypnosis waxed and waned. In The Devils of Loudun (1945), he cites with favor F. W. H. Myers's statement: “in certain states of trance[,] mediums go beyond the personal subconscious, beyond the verminous realm of Original Sin, into an area of subliminal merit, like a radiation from a distant source, the influence of Original Virtue makes itself faintly but still distinctly felt” (107).The month before taking mescaline under the supervision of Dr. Humphry Osmond, he wrote to the latter: “Incidentally, for some people at least, deep hypnotic trance is a way that leads into the other world—a less dramatic way than that of mescaline inasmuch as the experiences are entirely inward and do not associate themselves with sensory perceptions and the character of things and people ‘out there' but still very definitely a way” (Huxley, Moksha 30). His assumption is thus that hypnosis is necessarily dissociative and introverted. His 1954 essay on Maine de Biran takes the odd tack of criticizing that would-be mystic for not studying the Mesmerism popular in his time, and practiced by several of Biran's friends.
In 1955, Aldous adapted the Tibetan Book into a series of hypnotic inductions to ease his wife's death. In a subsequent letter, he offers a third-person paraphrase of these inductions: “Now she must go forward into love, must permit herself to be carried into love, deeper and deeper into it, so that at last she would be capable of loving as God loves—of loving everything, infinitely, without judging, without condemning, without either craving or abhorring and then there was peace.” (Smith 735-37). In a 1956 letter he sent to Osmond for forwarding to Dr. Howard Fabing (the co-developer of the tranquilizer Frenquel), Huxley wrote: “That some people enter the visionary world under hypnosis, I know experimentally. My wife, for example, would enter a world having the same sort of luminosity and significance as the mescalin[e] world, where there were vast landscapes, mostly of the desert, and a variety of personages.)” ( Moksha 102). His temporarily quite positive presentation of hypnosis here probably reflects his very positive experience with her. In a 1960 lecture at M.I.T., however, he said, “Quite a number of people can—in a certain stage, a rather deep stage of hypnosis—can and do enter some kind of visionary world…I think this hypnotic visionary world is probably not quite so brilliant and extraordinary as some of the other visionary worlds…” ( Moksha 273).
His last novel, Island (1962), envisions a utopia, which employs every means of spiritual enhancement he could imagine, including, hypnosis, meditation, birds trained to repeat the command “Attention!,” sexual yoga, and drugs. Because of this mix, conquerors destroy the island culture and justify their intervention by the “immorality” of the inhabitants. The novel has almost no plot—a flaw of which Huxley was himself aware but did not know any way to fix. As Erickson had demonstrated in hypnotherapy, a story about problem solving has great power to transform human consciousness, but Huxley does not have the islanders try to solve their predicament, nor does he depict their spirituality with poetic/hypnotic intensity, so that the readers could share it. He simply outlines what he considers a desirable future, yet without making it particularly interesting, perhaps assuming that not words but pharmacology was needed to make his point.
For his own death in 1963, he thus hedged his bets, relying on both LSD and hypnosis. His second wife Laura provided the induction: “Light and free you let go, darling; forward and up. You are going forward and up; you are going toward the light…. You are going toward the best, the greatest love, and it is easy, it is so easy, and you are doing it so beautifully“ (Sawyer 185).
During his last days, he had managed to finish the essay, “Shakespeare and Religion.” After all, reference to Shakespeare lay behind the title of his first book as well as of his best known one. In the latter, the Savage brings a volume of Shakespeare's works with him and sees the future society through it. It inspires Helmholtz Watson, who believes, “Words can be like x-rays, if you use them properly, they go through anything. You read and you're pierced” (58). Despite this, as we've seen, the continuing motif of Huxley's descriptions of mysticism is silence. Furthermore, Shakespeare is not by any normal definition a mystical poet. Huxley's essay celebrates Shakespeare's lack of overt metaphysics (at least compared to Milton). With a plaintive tone, though, Huxley interprets the retiring wizard Prospero (from Shakespeare's The Tempest ) as modeled on Shakespeare himself, giving up the magic of words at the end of his career. Huxley, of course, after years of tapering creativity was, only about a day from his death, in the midst of a final farewell to the magic of language. As he had been insisting for decades, magic belongs to the will (like hypnotic suggestion), whereas Reality (he presumed) lies beyond this.
Huxley's belief that personifying the Absolute is dangerous idolatry finds its most vivid form in his biography Grey Eminence (1941), about a mystic who superimposed current Catholic beliefs on his mystical experience, so that the enormous energy the mysticism unleashed in him went to serve his amoral support of a crusade. Huxley's own transpersonal experiences under psychedelics, however, caused him to perceive the Absolute as Love—an inherently personal image, so the difference between Huxley's and Zaehner's positions in 1961 may not have been as large as Zaehner presumed.
Huxley lost both his own and most of Erickson's notes for this project when Huxley's house burned down in 1961—an event mentioned by Erickson and thus prior to his putting the notes together. The only remaining information about their encounter is “ A Special Inquiry with Aldous Huxley into the Nature and Character of Various States of Consciousness by Milton H. Erickson, MD, from The Collected Papers of Milton H. Erickson , volume I; Irvington Publishers 1980; p. 83. It describes the investigation as beginning “Early in 1950,” but mentions that this beginning included a discussion of Huxley's mescaline experiences, which took place in spring 1953, according to Huxley's The Doors of Perception (12). Based on a very few notes that Erickson had copied and taken home, he composed “A Special Inquiry…” at some time after the fire, apparently long enough so that he no longer recalled the initial date of that “Inquiry.”
Even psychedelics cannot always be counted on to suppress self-division, e.g., during the famous Good Friday administration of LSD to Harvard Theology students in 1963, the participant Mike Young was immobilized, torn by a career choice (Baruss 182), comparable to the Huxley vs Huxley hypnotic experience recorded by Erickson, who commented that he had previously had patients with similar experiences. Indeed, a number of the participants had self-divisions “resolved during the course of the Good Friday service and according to the subjects contributed to their learning and growth” (Doblin 21; Baruss182). Although hypnotherapy most certainly can and often does work toward such resolutions, Erickson does not record it having helped Huxley to resolve his discrepancy between his 23-year-old and 52-year old perspectives, nor apparently did he bother to ask Erickson for help in such a resolution. Since even with multiple personalities Erickson did not integrate them unless such seemed necessary for the patients goals, he probably would not have been inclined to impose such integration on Huxley without a request. When psychedelics temporarily eliminate the sense of self, they presumably may produce at least a temporary reduction of self division, but hypnosis also may temporarily eliminate a sense of self during during deep states (Shor 123). As to Huxley's assumption of the brain as a “reducing valve,” it was, for instance, also the conclusion the historian of religion Huston Smith reached on taking mescaline (Smith 2000 11; Baruss 169).
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J ames Whitlark, Ph.D. and Lynn Whitlark are NLP Master Practitioners and Trainers. Author of two books (Illuminated Fantasy and Behind the Great Wall) as well as contributor to several others, James is a Professor of English at Texas Tech University. E-mail: email@example.com , or firstname.lastname@example.org .