Doors of Perception by Aldus Huxley
One Line Summary
What happens when Huxley trips on mescaline?
Many of you probably have an idea of who Aldus Huxley is. You know he wrote Brave New World, that dystopian novel you had to read in school (not 1984). You may even know he was nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature
However, you probably have no idea that Huxley also was really interested in spirituality. Brave New World came out in 1932, but as Huxley got older, he found himself exploring ideas related to Enlightenment and Non-Duality.
Doors of Perception, written in 1954, is a very short book by Huxley detailing his experiment with Mescaline. Mescaline, for those of you who don’t know, is a psychedelic drug and the main ingredient in Peyote.
So what happens when one of the greatest minds of all times takes half a gram and trips his face off? I had to find out. Keep reading.
Why it’s Awesome
Doors of Perception does not read like a DMT or Ayahuasca trip. There’s no visions of other beings or weird trippy experiences. What Huxley experiences is far more profound: full ego-death. Or some might call it an “Enlightenment experience”.
Your ego is “you”. It’s the psychological construct you have of who you are and how the world works. It’s the totality of your mind.
What is an ego-death experience like? That’s a bit like explaining “what is the Sun like” to someone who has lived in a cave their whole life. They’d be much better off just walking outside.
But there’s still a ton of value to gain from Huxley’s insights. So let’s get to it.
One of the first things that Huxley experiences is total indifference and perfection. Here is what he says:
“Is it agreeable?” somebody asked.
“Neither agreeable nor disagreeable,” I answered. “it just is.”
…He could never, poor fellow, have seen a bunch of flowers shining with their own inner light and all but quivering under the pressure of the significance with which they were charged; could never have perceived that what rose and iris and carnation so intensely signified was nothing more, and nothing less, than what they were – a transience that was yet eternal life, a perpetual perishing that was at the same time pure Being, a bundle of minute, unique particulars in which, by some unspeakable and yet self-evident paradox, was to be seen the divine source of all existence.
To someone who has never had a religious or spiritual direct experience, they would immediately take this as nonsense coming from someone who has just taken drugs. It’s an easy way to dismiss that Huxley might actually be seeing something significant.
What’s happening is that as Huxley’s sense of Self (ego) is eroded by the drug, all sense of human “right” and “wrong” go with it.
“Right” and “wrong” are relative terms. They exist nowhere outside the human mind and only reflect a particular person’s agenda. Killing is “wrong” if you’re the one in danger of being killed. Killing is “right” in your mind if you want to kill.
That doesn’t mean practical ramifications still don’t exist for certain actions. But the existential truth is that these are constructs of the human psyche. And Huxley is seeing the world without them for the first time.
As it turns out, in the absence of human notions of “right” or “wrong”, reality is beyond perfect. It transcends our notions of right and wrong. This is what Huxley is trying to say.
But this is only the start. Here is what Huxley has to say about Space:
The really important facts were that spatial relationships had ceased to matter very much and that my mind was perceiving the world in terms of other than spatial categories.
At ordinary times the eye concerns itself with such problems as Where? – How far? How situated in relation to what? In the mescalin experience the implied questions to which the eye responds are of another order. Place and distance cease to be of much interest.
The mind does its Perceiving in terms of intensity of existence, profundity of significance, relationships within a pattern. I saw the books, but was not at all concerned with their positions in space. What I noticed, what impressed itself upon my mind was the fact that all of them glowed with living light and that in some the glory was more manifest than in others.
Space, much like right and wrong, is also a human construct. The mind says, “I’m over here, and that object is over there”. BUT NOTICE THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED ANYWHERE BUT IN YOUR HEAD.
Space is simply a concept we use to navigate the world. And it’s obviously extremely effective, which is why we all use it. But this does not change the existential truth that it has no actual reality.
What does this mean? This means for someone like Huxley experiencing beyond the mind, he is seeing reality without spatial separation between anything. That doesn’t mean he is hallucinating. Rather, everything in his field of vision remains the same except his perception of it.
How about Time? This is what Huxley notices about Time:
And along with indifference to space there went an even more complete indifference to time. “There seems to be plenty of it,” was all I would answer, when the investigator asked me to say what I felt about time. Plenty of it, but exactly how much was entirely irrelevant. I could, of course, have looked at my watch; but my watch, I knew, was in another universe. My actual experience had been, was still, of an indefinite duration or alternatively of a perpetual present made up of one continually changing apocalypse.
Hopefully you can guess by now what I’m going to say about time.
The popular belief in science is that time was created at the start of the Big Bang. This belief is wrong.
Time was not created by the Big Bang. It was created in the human mind.
Have you ever noticed just how arbitrary our system of time is? Think about it. Sometimes clocks move forward an hour, different countries have different times zones, and we basically just all agreed that the day “starts” at 12 AM.
And while this is extremely useful for practical purposes, the truth is that time is a joke. We made that shit up. There is no time outside the human mind.
If you still don’t see it, ask yourself this: why do you not experience time when you sleep? Where does it go?
That doesn’t mean I’m not going to use a clock. There is a fine line between delusion and truth in explaining these ideas through words. Better would be if you just took half a gram of mescaline like Huxley.
Since Huxley is experiencing ego-death, time has become completely irrelevant. Much in the same way time becomes irrelevant to someone enjoying their favorite activity. It’s just gone. You’re not even aware that you’re not thinking about time. It’s just nothing.
So that’s the highlights from Huxley’s trip. It’s important to realize that any Enlightenment experience is just another experience and it will end. So the rest of the book is him trying to make sense of everything that just happened to him.
Here’s is the most significant question Huxley asks:
“This is how one ought to see, how things really are.” And yet there were reservations.
For if one always saw like this, one would never want to do anything else. Just looking, just being the divine Not-self of flower, of book, of chair, of flannel. That would be enough.
But in that case what about other people? What about human relations? How could one reconcile this timeless bliss of seeing as one ought to see with the temporal duties of doing what one ought to do and feeling as one ought to feel?
One of the most popular posts I ever wrote was where I explained my own sober experience of what Huxley went on this trip. Ultimately it was a great thing for me, but at the time it was extremely jarring to my sense of reality.
Yes, in an Enlightenment experience you gain profound wisdom about existential truth. But after Enlightenment, the laundry. You’re back in the everyday world and now you’ve got to decide how to live.
This is why for the first couple months of Aurum Review’s existence, there was no mentioned of Enlightenment or Non-Duality. The experience was such a shock to my system that I basically tried to forget about the whole thing. I was struggling with the exact same questions Huxley is asking, which is what led to posts like Man’s Search for Meaning, Pursuing Consciousness and Integral Spirituality.
At this time, I can say I’ve made a lot of peace with what Huxley is asking. I’ve started doing things more just for the love of them then actually trying to get somewhere. Because when face to face with the total meaninglessness of your situation, to be happy is really the only thing worth doing.
Almost paradoxically though, I actually feel like my motivation for work and contribution has been supercharged by the experience. You might think ego is the source of your higher motivations, but it’s not. That comes from Nothingness.
I wouldn’t be talking about Enlightenment and taking psychedelics if I thought it was going to make people into a bunch of sociopaths. Universally, that’s not what I see happen to people.
What I see is that after people wrestle with it, they almost always come out far better. They’re happier, have more self-esteem, are more authentic, love more and give more.
It’s not a guarantee of course. People who go through this still need proper guidance, which I had with my therapist.
That’s largely why I share the diverse selection content I do on Aurum Reviews. I want people to see that life is still to be lived and enjoyed. Not suffered through.
Who Will Love It
-Anyone into psychedelics and the interplay with spirituality
-Aldous Huxley fans
Why Does It Suck
Huxley is not an easy read. You can probably tell just from those quotes that he doesn’t exactly use simple language. So be prepared to strain your brain a bit.
Also, this book is like 30 pages long. He does get right to the chase but it’s still short for a book.
Who Will Hate It
-Those we automatically dismiss drugs as useless or dangerous
The Wrap Up
Psychedelics can be very dangerous. Let’s face it, many people have bad experiences when it comes to any kind of drug, let alone one that warps your reality as much as a psychedelic. So don’t think I’m blatantly endorsing all psychedelic or drug use.
But when done in the right context, my experience has shown me that psychedelics may be the key in the next stage of human understanding. They are mind-blowingly powerful tools that anyone can use. You could get more results from one trip on mushrooms than years of meditation.
And while you’re still required to do the hard work of understanding anything you experience on psychedelics, the power of these drugs makes them probably the most powerful spiritual tool that exists.
That’s all for now. Like, leave a comment and share this post with a friend if you liked it. Check out the Aurum Reviews YouTube channel as well! Weekly videos from now on where I talk on personal development topics.