Home Bookend - Where reading meets review The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell by Aldous Huxley

The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell by Aldous Huxley

by Venky


On a Monday morning in the spring of 1953, Aldous Leonard Huxley dissolved four-tenths of a gramme of mescaline in a glass of water, and, armed with the use of a sitter (his spouse) and a voice recorder, waited for the effects of the psychotropic substance to kick in. The resulting psychedelic experience was chronicled by Huxley later on in an essay titled “The Doors of Perception”. The title itself is derived from a passage by William Blake. The musings as contained within the pages of The Doors of Perception do not constitute the incoherent ramblings of a Drug Addled Mind, but on the contrary provide some thought provoking albeit controversial insights into experiencing the innermost outreaches of human perceptions.

While experiencing a spiritual awakening that is aided and abetted by a psychotropic substance is in itself sufficient to create a swirling storm of controversy (as it inevitably did when the book was first published), Huxley’s contention that there ought to be a more benevolent outlook on the use of drugs such as mescaline (derived from the cactus peyote), – especially when it is imbibed under ‘controlled supervision’ – to enable the triggering of inner psychedelia set the cat amongst the pigeons. While there will definitely be contrasting views regarding the radical methods suggested by one of the greatest writers of our era, the outcome of such a practice as elucidated by him brooks close attention.

Huxley in “Doors of Perception” describes in great detail the physical, psychological as well as spiritual experiences triggered within him as a result of taking mescaline. A kaleidoscopic profusion of colours interspersed with peculiar landscapes pleasantly assails the partaker of the narcotic substance. Simple and trivial objects such as a vase of flowers and even the crease in a trouser take on a hue that is profound and philosophical. Huxley terms these sensations a journey into the ‘antipodes’. Antipodes refer to the far reaching interiors of the human psyche that are otherwise blocked by the brain filters that merely concentrate upon the mundane aspects of life. Once access is granted to the antipodes courtesy the use of controlled substances (hypnosis being an alternative choice), the human being experiences a sensation that is transcendental and ethereal.

Aldous Huxley equates the process of being in contact with the antipodes to be a state which is akin to the one described by Meister Eckhart. Eckhart used the term “Istigkeit” or “Is-ness”to signify an intensity that was nothing more or nothing less than what they were. Huxley terms this as “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”.

“Heaven and Hell” is a companion essay to the “Doors of Perception”. Huxley derived the title from William Blake’s book ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’. The essay elaborates the intricate relationship between bright, colorful objects, geometric designs, psychoactives, art, and profound experience. Read together both Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell have the collective impact of both shocking as well as astonishing the reader – and in equal measure at that!

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