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Carolyn and I have appreciated the work of Andrew Weil, M.D., who is an internationally recognized expert on Integrative Medicine, which combines the best therapies of conventional and alternative medicine. Weil’s lifelong study of medicinal herbs, mind-body interactions, and alternative medicine has made him one of the world’s most trusted authorities on unconventional medical treatments, as his sensible, interdisciplinary medical perspective strikes a strong chord in many people.
Andrew Thomas Weil was born in Philadelphia in 1942, and he grew up as an only child. His parents operated a hat-making store and were Reform Jews. In 1959, Weil graduated from high school, and he was awarded a scholarship that allowed him to study abroad for a year, living with families in India, Thailand, and Greece. As a teenager, he was deeply influenced by Aldous Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception, about the author’s visionary experiences.
In 1960, Weil was admitted to Harvard University, where he studied biology, with a concentration in ethnobotany. Weil had an interest in psychoactive drugs, and while at Harvard, he met with Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), and wrote about their research, as well as some of their extracurricular exploits, in a series of articles for the school paper, The Harvard Crimson, which stirred up considerable controversy.
In 1964, Weil graduated “cum laude,” and he entered Harvard Medical School, “not to become a physician but rather simply to obtain a medical education.” Weil received his medical degree in 1968 after the Harvard faculty threatened to withhold it because of a controversial cannabis study that he helped conduct in his final year.
After Weil received his medical degree, he moved to San Francisco and completed a one-year internship at Mount Zion Hospital. During this time in San Francisco from 1968 to 1969, Weil volunteered at the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic. Weil then spent a year attending a program at the National Institute of Health, before taking a position at the National Institute of Mental Health to pursue his interest in psychoactive drugs.
In 1971, Weil experienced opposition to his line of inquiry at the National Institute of Mental Health, so he left for his home in rural Virginia, where he began to experiment with different health-enhancing practices— such as Yoga, meditation, and a vegetarian diet— and he began writing a book. In 1972, his book The Natural Mind was published, which is an investigation into the relationship between drugs and higher consciousness, and has sold over 10 million copies to date.
From 1971 to 1984, Weil was on the research staff of the Harvard Botanical Museum, where he conducted investigations into medicinal and psychoactive plants. Then from 1971 to 1975, as a Fellow of the Institute of Current World Affairs, Weil traveled throughout Central and South America, collecting information and specimens for this research. These explorations— where he not only studied plants but indigenous peoples, their medicine, and pharmacology—were to have a profound effect on Weil’s medical career.
In 1994, Weil founded the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson, where he serves as director to this day. Weil is also the founder of True Food Kitchen, a restaurant chain serving meals on the premise that “food should make you feel better.” There are currently 44 restaurants in this chain.
Weil has had a life-long talent for blending the conventional with the unconventional, and he has been interested in altered states of consciousness, and how the mind affects health, since before he began studying medicine. He has written extensively about this interest, and about how his early psychedelic experiences profoundly influenced his views on medicine. Because of this interest in altered states of consciousness, Weil has been honored by having a psychedelic mushroom named after him— Psilocybe Weilii— which was discovered in 1995.
Weil is the author of more than twenty popular books, including The Marriage of the Sun and Moon, From Chocolate to Morphine, Natural Medicine, Spontaneous Healing, and Healthy Aging. In addition to being the Director of the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine, Weil also holds appointments as a Clinical Professor of Medicine, Professor of Public Health, and the Lovell-Jones Professor of Integrative Rheumatology.
Weil has been a frequent guest on many television shows, such as Larry King Live, Oprah, and The Today Show. He has also appeared in three videos featured on PBS: Spontaneous Healing, Eight Weeks to Optimum Health, and Healthy Aging. Many of his books are New York Times bestsellers, and he has appeared on the cover of Time magazine twice, in 1997 and again in 2005. USA Today” said, “Clearly, Dr. Weil has hit a medical nerve,” and The New York Times Magazine said, “Dr. Weil has arguably become America’s best-known doctor.”
I interviewed Andrew Weil in 2006. We talked about some of the most important lessons that physicians aren’t being taught in medical school, why conventional Western medicine needs to be more open-minded about alternative medical treatments, and how the mind and spirituality affect health. This interview appears in my book Mavericks of Medicine. Here is an excerpt from our conversation:
David: What role do you see the mind and consciousness playing in the health of the body?
Andrew Weil: I think it’s huge. This is an area that I’ve been interested in, I think, since I was a teenager— long before I went to medical school— and a lot of my early work was with altered states of consciousness and psychoactive drugs. I reported a lot of things that I saw about how physiology changed drastically with changes in consciousness. I just reviewed a paper from Japan; one of the authors is a doctor I know. This is a group of people looking at how emotional states affect the genome. They have shown, for example, that laughter can affect gene expression in patients with Type 2 diabetes. Now that’s really interesting stuff, and I think that this is the type of research that is generally not looked at here. I think that our mental states— our states of consciousness— have a profound influence on our bodies, and even our genes. And I think they have a lot to do with how we age.
David: What role do you think that spirituality plays in health?
Andrew Weil: Again, I think, large, but it’s hard to define spirituality. For me, I make a very sharp distinction between spirituality and religion. Religion is really about institutions, and for me, spirituality is about the nonphysical, and how to access that and incorporate it into life. In “Eight Weeks to Optimum Health,” I gave a lot of suggestions each week about things that people can do to improve or raise spiritual energy, and they are things that at first many people might not associate with spirituality. But they were recommendations like having fresh flowers in your living space and listening to pieces of music that elevate your mood. Some of the other suggestions included spending more time with people in whose company you feel more optimistic and better, and spending time in nature. I think that I would put all of these in the realm of spiritual health.
Carolyn and I have appreciated the work of physician, inspirational speaker, and spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra, who is the author of more than 80 books on the topics of alternative medicine, self-improvement, and spirituality. He is well known for integrating modern theories of quantum physics with the timeless wisdom of ancient cultures.
Chopra combines conventional Western medical approaches with traditional Ayurvedic medicine from India, and has been one of the leading figures in mind/body medicine for close to 40 years. His work has had a significant influence on many Western physicians, and he helped to bring the notion of holistic medicine to many people’s attention with his innovative combination of Eastern and Western healing.
Deepak Chopra was born in New Delhi, India in 1946. His father was a cardiologist, and head of the department of medicine at a New Delhi Hospital, as well as a lieutenant in the British army. As a child, Chopra went to a Catholic missionary school, and was very interested in Shakespeare, the dramatic arts, debating, and cricket. He told me that he “had a wonderful childhood.” His “parents were extremely caring and loving,” he said, and his “father flooded the house with books of knowledge and literature.”
Chopra completed his primary education in New Delhi, and graduated from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in 1969. Chopra had a particular interest in neuroendocrinology, the branch of medicine that studies the relationship between the nervous system and hormonal system, because he was interested in finding a biological basis for the influence of thoughts and emotions. After Chopra graduated from medical school, he worked for six months in a village in rural India.
In 1970, Chopra moved to the United States, and he began a series of residencies at hospitals in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts. In 1973, he earned his license to practice medicine in Massachusetts, becoming board certified, and he set up a private practice in Boston.
In 1981, Chopra retuned to New Delhi, where he met with a physician who introduced him to Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient Indian medical tradition that includes herbal treatments, special diets, meditation, and yoga. He then took up transcendental meditation, a form of silent mantra mediation, which he practiced regularly for several hours a day.
Ayurvedic medicine and meditation had a profound influence on Chopra’s medical perspective. He became disenchanted with prescribing drugs as the primary way to treat medical problems, and adopted more holistic treatments. Chopra became a spokesperson for the Transcendental Meditation movement, and in 1985 he became the founding president of the American Association of Ayurvedic Medicine. Chopra established the Maharishi Ayur-Veda Health Center for Behavioral Medicine and Stress Management in Lancaster, Massachusetts, which utilized both Ayurvedic and Western practices, and he treated a number of celebrity patients, such as Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, and Madonna.
In 1989, Chopra published his landmark book Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine, which integrates Western medicine, neuroscience, and physics with the insights of Ayurvedic medicine, and became a New York Times bestseller. Chopra contends that all occurrences within the mind and brain possess physical representations elsewhere in the body. Mental states, including thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and memories, are believed to directly impact physiology through neurotransmitters like dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin.
A year later, this was followed by his book Perfect Health: The Complete Mind/Body Guide, and in 1993 Chopra was interviewed on the Oprah Winfrey Show about his books, after which he gained a huge following. That same year, Chopra moved to California, where he became executive director of Sharp HealthCare’s Institute for Human Potential and Mind/Body Medicine, and head of their Center for Mind/Body Medicine, a clinic in an exclusive resort in Del Mar.
In 1996, Chopra co-founded the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Carlsbad. Chopra is the owner and supervisor of the Mind-Body Medical Group within the Chopra Center, which in addition to standard medical treatment offers personalized advice about nutrition, sleep-wake cycles, and stress management based on mainstream medicine and Ayurveda.
Chopra has lectured around the world, and has made presentations to such organizations as the United Nations, the World Health Organization in Geneva, and London’s Royal Society of Medicine. Esquire magazine designated Chopra as one of the top ten motivational speakers in the country; and in 1995, he was a recipient of the Toastmasters International Top Five Outstanding Speakers award. In 1999 Time magazine selected Dr. Chopra as one of the Top 100 Icons and Heroes of the Century, describing him as “the poet-prophet of alternative medicine.”
Chopra’s books, which have been translated into more than 43 languages, explore many spiritual and health-related topics. His book How to Know God: The Soul’s Journey into the Mystery of Mysteries presents a seven stage theory of how people perceive religious experiences. Some of his other bestselling books include The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Unconditional Life, Perfect Health, The Return of Merlin, The Path to Love, and Return of the Rishi. He has also produced more than a hundred audio and video titles.
I interviewed Deepak Chopra in 2003 for my book Conversations on the Edge of the Apocalypse. I found him to be a very eloquent speaker. He expresses his ideas with clarity, simplicity, and charm. We spoke about the relationship between the mind and body, whether or not one can be certain of spiritual beliefs, psychic phenomena, mystical experiences, and the nature of God and consciousness. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
David: What do you think happens to consciousness after the death of the body?
Deepak: Nothing happens to consciousness after the death of the body. When two people are speaking on the phone, and the lines are cut off, nothing happens to them. If the room I’m sitting in is destroyed, nothing happens to the space I’m in. Consciousness just loses a vehicle to express itself. If I destroy my radio set the broadcast is still happening, but it’s not being actualized in the physical form, because the instrument is missing. So, I think that when the instrument gets destroyed, consciousness ceases to express itself in the realm of space-time and causality, until it finds another vehicle to express itself. And, after a sufficient period of incubation, it does do that, by taking a quantum leap of creativity.
David: You know Deepak, even though I sense that there’s wisdom in what you’re saying, I have to admit, that I always have this scientific skeptic inside me that questions all spiritual and mystical assertions, when they are expressed as facts. I’m curious as to how you can be so sure about things that have mystified human beings since the beginning of time — such as the nature of God, the existence of a soul, and what happens to consciousness after death. What gives you such a sense of certainty about your spiritual ideas?
Deepak: The only thing that can give you any degree of certainty is direct experience, and I come from there. Science is just one of the ways to express the truth, and it’s really not an adequate way. Science is not an adequate way to express the truth; it’s just a way to express our conceptional map of what we think the truth is. The conceptional map of science keeps changing. So, I think science is extremely inadequate as a way of understanding reality. Reality is the observer, the process of observation, and that which is observed. Science addresses only that which is observed, completely excluding both the process of observation, and more fundamentally, the observer. So actually, even though I express my ideas in a scientific vocabulary, because that seems to be the fashion of the day, I really don’t think science is adequate to address these deeper questions.
David: But still, I don’t understand how you can be so certain. I mean, you say that your experience gives you a sense of certainty— but we can certainly be fooled by our experiences.
Deepak: I’m more certain that I exist than of anything else. Then, in the certainty of existence, is the certainty of consciousness. The fact that I exist is the only thing I can be certain about. Everything else is really a perceptual artifact. I spend three hours in meditation every day, and I’ve been obsessed with these ideas ever since I was a child. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I’m certain about anything else. I think the only thing I’m certain about is the nature of God and the existence of the soul.
I’m not certain about what I see or perceive, because I really know, from the depth of my being, that if you can think about something — if you can conceptualize it, if you can visualize it, and if you can experience it through your senses — then it’s not real. It depends on something that you can’t conceptualize, that you cannot visualize, that you cannot experience through your senses, and yet, is much more real than anything that you can conceptualize. So, conceptualization, visualization, perception, understanding, intuition, creativity, meaning, purpose, and decision-making all depend on consciousness.
So, to me, consciousness or God is not difficult to explain; it’s impossible to avoid. Everything else is very difficult to explain. How do you explain perception? Your brain only recognizes PH, body temperature, biochemical changes, and electromagnetic impulses. That doesn’t tell me how you experience a red rose in your consciousness, how you feel beauty or, for that matter, how you experience sexual orgasm. Nothing that we explain in science really explains anything.
Ram Dass was one of the most respected and beloved spiritual teachers in the world. His books and lectures have been responsible for exposing many Westerners to Eastern philosophy, and he has been an inspiration to many people, including Carolyn and me. Ram Dass is the author of seventeen books about topics such as personal transformation and compassionate social action— including the classic book of illustrated Hindu revelations, Be Here Now, which was one of the most important books in my, as well as many others, developmental process.
Born Richard Alpert in 1931, Alpert was a psychology professor at Harvard in the early 1960s, who along with Timothy Leary, researched and experimented with controversial methods of consciousness expansion that caused quite a stir at that prestigious university, resulting in them being formally dismissed from the faculty in 1963. Leary and Alpert moved to the legendary Millbrook estate in upstate New York, where they continued their research, and historical advances were made into how to access new states of consciousness, but once again their controversial research methods stirred up added controversy.
Alpert left Millbrook in 1967 and traveled to India, where he met his spiritual guru— Neem Karoli Baba— who gave him the name Ram Dass, which means “servant of God.” Under his guru’s guidance, he began to study yoga and meditation, and this profoundly affected his life. Ram Dass created the Hanuman Foundation in 1974 to spread “spiritually-directed social action” in the West, and in 1978 Ram Dass co-founded the Seva Foundation , an international service organization dedicated to relieving suffering in the world.
Ram Dass had a stroke in 1997, which paralyzed the right side of his body. Despite the difficulty that he had speaking and walking, Ram Dass continued to teach, write and lecture for another twenty-two years. Ram Dass left this world in 2019.
It was such a great joy to have been friends with Ram Dass, and to have spent time hanging out with him over the years. He had a big influence on the development of my spiritual perspective; I carried his book “Be Here Now” around with me everywhere that I went when I was in High School, and, to this day, I still turn to it for inspiration. Ram Dass was a funny, lovable guy, and he has a lot of charisma, but I think that it was his profound honesty, and openness about his own spiritual evolution, that made his teachings so powerful. He had such a beautiful heart and spirit, and once sat on the phone with me for hours, while I sobbed over a lost relationship.
Here’s a story that stands out in my mind. One evening Ram Dass came to Santa Cruz to pick up his medical cannabis from a WAMM meeting that I was also attending. This was after his stroke, so he would speak slowly, in brief utterances, but still gave a talk to the WAMM members about death and dying. After the talk he took some questions, and I asked him, “Ram Dass, how can you speak with such certainty about life after death?”
There was a pause. Ram Dass thought for a moment and then said, “Well, first there was the mushrooms. Then, my guru, and my reading the works of great spiritual masters.” When he finished I said, “But Ram Dass, I’ve had mystical experiences as well. I’ve also had great teachers and read many books too, but I can’t speak with any certainty about what happens after we die…” Ram Dass interrupted me and added, “And chutzpah!”
When Carolyn first met Ram Dass they had an immediate acknowledgment. Ram Dass gazed into Carolyn’s face and said, “I know you,” and she felt the same recognition of knowing him since ancient times. Also, Carolyn met Ram Dass on several other occasions. Her last memory was of him calling Laura Huxley during the last week of her life, when she answered the phone. Ram Dass told Laura, “Everything is brand new,” which she repeated until she departed.
I interviewed Ram Dass on three occasions. Here is an excerpt from one of my interviews with him.
David: What is your concept of God?
Ram Dass: I think it’s a word like a finger pointing to the moon. I don’t think that what it points to is describable. It is pointing to that which is beyond form that manifests through form. A God defined is a God confined. I can give you thousands of poetic little descriptions. It’s all, everything and nothing. It’s all the things that the Heart Sutra talks about. It’s God at play with itself. God is the One, but the fact is that the concept of the One comes from two, and when you’re in the One, there’s no One. It’s zero, which equals one at that point.
David: What do you think happens to consciousness after death?
Ram Dass: I think it jumps into a body of some kind, on some plane of existence, and it goes on doing that until it is with God. From a Hindu point of view, consciousness keeps going through reincarnations, which are learning experiences for the soul. I think what happens after you die is a function of the level of evolution of the individual. I think that if you have finished your work and you’re just awareness that happens to be in a body, when the body ends it’s like selling your Ford— it’s no big deal.
Carolyn and I have admired the work of French painter and sculptor Paul Gauguin, who was an influential post-Impressionist artist. Gauguin styled himself and his art as “savage, and he is particularly known for his experimental use of color, as well as for his paintings of the people and landscapes in Polynesia.
Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin was born in Paris in 1848. His father was a journalist, and his mother was the daughter of a proto-socialist leader. Due to the political climate in France at the time, in 1850 Gauguin’s family sailed to Peru and his father died of a heart attack on the voyage. Gauguin lived in Lima for four years with his uncle, mother, and sister.
It was in Lima that Gauguin first encountered art, when his mother collected Pre-Columbian Inca pottery. In 1855, Gauguin and his family returned to France, where he lived with his grandfather in Orleans. Gauguin learned to speak French, although his first and preferred language remained Peruvian Spanish. Gauguin attended a Catholic boarding school, and although he did well in his studies, he disliked the school.
In 1865, Gauguin joined the merchant marines, and three years later he joined the French navy, where he served for two more years. In 1871, Gauguin returned to Paris where he worked as a stockbroker, and he became a successful businessman for eleven years. Gauguin came to art late in his life; he had no formal art training, and there is little in his early life that seems to predict his outstanding artistic career.
In 1873, Gauguin married a Danish woman, and over ten years they had five children. It was around this time that Gauguin began painting in his spare time. Gauguin also visited galleries and collected works by Impressionist artists. Gauguin formed a friendship with Camille Pissarro, and he visited him on Sundays to paint in his garden. Pissarro introduced Gauguin to a community of other artists, such as Paul Cézanne, who he also occasionally painted with. In 1881 and 1882, Gauguin showed paintings at Impressionist exhibitions in Paris, although he received dismissive reviews at the time.
In 1884, Gauguin moved his family to Copenhagen, Denmark, where he pursued a new career as a tarp salesman, which he wasn’t very successful at, perhaps because he couldn’t speak Danish, and there wasn’t much a market for French tarps in Denmark. However, Gauguin’s wife was able to support them by giving French lessons to diplomats.
It was during this time that Gauguin’s marriage began to fall apart, the stock market crashed, and he began painting full-time. In 1885, Gauguin returned to Paris, where he initially had difficulty re-entering the art world, lived in poverty, and was forced to take a series of menial jobs. However, Gauguin continued to paint, and in 1886 he exhibited 19 paintings at the last Impressionist exhibition, although many of these paintings were from very earlier periods in his life, such as from his time in Denmark.
In 1886, Gauguin spent time at an artist’s colony in Brittany, where he was popular with the young art students. In 1887, Gauguin sailed to a French Caribbean Island with painter Charles Laval, where he intended to “live like a savage.” Up until this point, Gauguin’s paintings were done in an Impressionist style, and this was where he changed his style. His paintings Tropical Vegetation and By the Sea were done in a new post-Impressionist style, where he began working with blocks of color in large, unmodulated planes.
Later that year Gauguin returned to France, where he adopted a new sense of identity— connected with his Peruvian ancestry, and incorporating “primitivism” into his artistic vision. Primitivism is a mode of aesthetic idealization that values that which is simple and unsophisticated, and seeks to express the experience of primitive times, places and people in art or literature, as well as in a philosophy of life.
In 1888, Gauguin began searching for what he called “a reasoned and frank return to… primitive art.” He began painting with broad planes of color, clear outlines, and more simplified forms. Gauguin coined the term “Synthetism” to describe his style during this period. This refers to the synthesis of his paintings’ formal elements with the ideas or emotions that they conveyed. Gauguin no longer used lines and color to replicate an actual scene, as he had as an Impressionist, but rather explored the capacity of those pictorial forms to induce a particular feeling in the viewer.
That same year Gauguin traveled to the south of France, where he went to stay with Vincent van Gogh in Arles. This was done partially as a favor to van Gogh’s brother, Theo, who was an art dealer that had agreed to represent Gauguin. However, as soon as Gauguin arrived in Arles, the two artists began engaging in heated exchanges about the purpose of art. Gauguin had initially planned to stay in Arles through the spring, but his relationship with van Gogh grew ever more tumultuous. During a particularly intense quarrel, Gauguin claimed that van Gogh attacked him with a razor, and van Gogh then reportedly mutilated his own left ear. This proved to be too much for Gauguin to handle, and so he left for Paris after staying only two months.
Gauguin eventually relocated to the remote village of Le Pouldu. There, he engaged in a heightened pursuit of “raw expression,” and he became interested in the ancient monuments of medieval religion, such as crosses and representations of Christ’s crucifixion. Gauguin began incorporating this imagery into his artwork, such as in his painting The Yellow Christ. Gauguin said that he identified with Jesus, because he felt lonely and misunderstood, and he compared his suffering and burden to that of Jesus. In his artworks, Gauguin painted Jesus with some of his own facial features.
In 1891, Gauguin moved to Tahiti, where he had a romantic image of an untouched paradise. However, when he arrived he was disappointed by the extent to which French colonization had actually corrupted the island. Nonetheless, Gauguin attempted to immerse himself in what he believed were the authentic aspects of the culture there, and he emulated Oceanic traditions in his artwork during this period.
In 1893, Gauguin returned to France, thinking that his new work would bring him the success that had thus far eluded him. In 1894, Gauguin created a book of his impressions of Tahiti from his journals, illustrated with his own artwork, titled Noa Noa. However, this project, and an exhibit at a gallery in Paris, met with little success. Gauguin self-published the text from his diary at the time, and it wasn’t published until a hundred years later with the woodblock illustrations, drawings, and sketches that he originally intended to accompany the text.
In 1895, Gauguin left for Tahiti again. However, he was increasingly “disgusted” with the rising Western influence in the French colony. In 1901, Gauguin moved to a more remote environment, on the French Polynesian island of Hiva Oa. He purchased land there, and with the help of his neighbors, he built a home that he called “the house of pleasure.”
In 1902, Gauguin began suffering from an advanced case of syphilis, which restricted his mobility, and he concentrated his remaining energy on drawing and writing. During this time Gauguin worked on his memoir, Before or After. Gauguin died in 1903, at the age of 54, and his memoir wasn’t published for another twenty years.
After his death, Gauguin’s influence grew substantially. A large part of his collection is now displayed in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. Gauguin’s paintings are rarely offered for sale, but when they have been sold their prices reached tens of millions of dollars. Gauguin’s 1892 painting When Will You Marry? became the world’s third-most expensive artwork when it was sold for $210 million in 2014.
Some of the quotes that Paul Gauguin is known for include:
Color! What a deep and mysterious language, the language of dreams.
I shut my eyes in order to see.
Do not copy nature. Art is an abstraction. Rather, bring your art forth by dreaming in front of her and think more of creation.
Stay firmly in your path and dare; be wild two hours a day!
Color which, like music, is a matter of vibrations, reaches what is most general and therefore most indefinable in nature: its inner power.
Life is merely a fraction of a second. An infinitely small amount of time to fulfill our desires, our dreams, our passions. Such a little time to prepare oneself for eternity!
It is better to paint from memory, for thus your work will be your own.
Art is either revolution or plagiarism.
In order to produce something new, you have to return to the original source, to the childhood of mankind.
Photo: Associated Press
The late, widely acclaimed poet and writer Allen Ginsberg was the cousin of our beloved friend, Dr. Oz Janiger, and Allen used to stay with Oz whenever he was visiting Los Angeles, so Carolyn and I spent some time with him, and I interviewed him for my book Mavericks of the Mind.
Along with Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, Ginsberg was part of a core group of experimental writers that came to be known as the “Beat Generation,” and he received numerous honors and awards, including the National Book Award for Poetry, and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship.
Ginsberg is probably best known for his revolutionary poem Howl, which caused such a stir when it was first published in 1956 that it was seized by the San Francisco police and U.S. Customs. The controversial poem became the subject of an obscenity trial because it described homosexual acts, at a time when those acts were illegal in every state, and it went on to become one of the most widely read and translated poems of the 20th century.
Carolyn used to send some of her manuscripts to Allen when he lived in New York, and one night when we all had dinner at Oz’s home Carolyn showed Allen the book that she was currently working on, The Alchemy of Possibility. Allen returned it to Carolyn with edits and ideas, and she was able to use some of them after “scrutinizing what fit” for her “as the author, and yet much respecting Allen.”
Interestingly, our friends Jerry and Estelle Cimino have documented much of Allen’s work, and have an extensive collection of Beat memorabilia, including original manuscripts, rare books, letters, personal effects, and cultural ephemera at The Beat Museum in San Francisco.
Here is an excerpt from my conversation with Allen in Mavericks of the Mind:
David: What was is that originally inspired you to start writing poetry?
Allen: It’s a family business. My father was a poet, his Collected Poems were posthumously published. . .
David: Was it something that you always knew you were going to do?
Allen: No, but I always wrote poetry; since I was a kid I knew poetry. My father taught high school and college, so I knew a lot of Milton, Poe, Shelley, and Blake when I was five, six, seven years old. And I memorized it, or it just sort of stuck in my head. I started writing when I was maybe fifteen, or younger, but I never thought of myself as a poet. I just thought that it was something you did on the side, like my father had done. But then, when I met Jack Kerouac at the age of seventeen, I realized that he was the first person I had met who saw being a writer as a sacramental vocation. Rather than being a sailor who wrote, he was a writer who also went out on ships. That changed my attitude towards writing, because now I saw it as a sacred vocation.
Photo by John Engstead
Carolyn and I met Laura Huxley in the early 1990s through our friend Oz Janiger. Laura was an extremely gifted psychotherapist, a concert violinist, documentary filmmaker, author, and lecturer, as well as a cherished friend and a great inspiration.
Laura Archera Huxley was born in Turin, Italy in 1911. A musical prodigy, Laura began playing the violin at the age of 10 and she had special magic; at the age of 14, she played before the Queen in her native country. Laura performed with her violin all over Europe and left for America before the start of World War II. In 1939, Laura performed a violin concerto by Mozart at Carnegie Hall in New York City, and she played in the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra from 1944 to 1947 as a virtuoso.
Laura settled in Los Angeles. In 1949 she worked on freelance documentary films, and she was hired as an assistant film editor for RKO Radio Pictures in Hollywood. Around this time Laura’s close friend Virginia Pfeiffer became ill, and this had a profound effect on Laura. Laura donated her violin to another violinist, put her music study aside, and began training to become a psychotherapist. Laura pursued a lifelong interest in health, nutrition, psychology, and the advancement of human potential.
Laura first met celebrated British novelist and visionary Aldous Huxley in 1948, when she was pursuing an idea for a film, and although the film was never produced, this was the beginning of their legendary relationship. They were married in 1956. Laura wrote the revered book This Timeless Moment, about her experience with Aldous, who she was married to for the last 7 years of his life.
Laura had a number of mystical and transcendent experiences in her life, and she was outspoken about her beliefs. Between 1963 and 1987, Laura wrote three popular self-help books about getting through life’s difficulties, You Are Not the Target, Between Heaven and Earth, and One-a-Day-Reason to be Happy, as well as a book about conscious conception, The Child of Your Dreams. In 1977, Laura founded Children: Our Ultimate Investment, a nonprofit organization dedicated to “nurturing the possible human.” The organization sponsored a four-day conference in the early 1990s that Carolyn and I attended.
In 1994 Laura participated in the roundtable discussion at UCLA that I co-hosted about the future of technology, along with Carolyn, Timothy Leary, Oz Janiger, John C. Lilly, and Nina Graboi.
Laura died in 2007 at the age of 96 in her home in the Hollywood Hills, with Valerie Corral, Dr. Paul Fleiss, and Carolyn by her side. Valerie Corral wrote this about her experience with Laura while she was dying:
“She closed her eyes. We sat in that vast silence. Suddenly Laura spoke. ‘Emptiness, emptiness, emptiness. It is emptiness.’ Laura laughed with weakened enthusiasm. With that smile still on her face she looked at me, ‘Tell Ram Dass, it’s all brand new. It Is All Brand New,’ in a soft, rich laugh. She began to speak about the things we all must face, uncertainty, longing, and pain. But there was no remorse or sorrow, only peace, and luminosity. She was stunningly beautiful.”
Carolyn had this to say about her experience with Laura: “I cherish our timeless camaraderie in the last years of her life, and the mischievous comments she loved to sprinkle into the mundane. She was my beloved mentor and friend and is forever in my heart. I have great memories of us walking around the Hollywood sign, and spending numerous evenings with her marvelous friends — the DiCaprios and her daughter Karin Pfeiffer — and of our dancing together, with scarves she would drop down to us from her perch on the stairs above.〞
Laura wrote the introduction to Carolyn’s book The Alchemy of Possibility. Here’s an excerpt:
“Like all nature mystics, Carolyn has a symbiotic relationship with nature. The Alchemy of Possibility might remind us, not through statistics but through poetic prose, that the Golden Rule is to be applied to every tree, every rock, every creature, and everything on the planet. The poem, “is you, is me,” says it all. There is a numinous presence in her identification with nature… In writing freely about her amorous, spiritual, and mundane life, Kleefeld offers… [an] effective intangible therapy for “surfing the waves of existence.” … The Alchemy of Possibility is to be kept nearby and enjoyed slowly…”
I interviewed Laura in 1992 for my book Mavericks of the Mind, which also includes my interview with Carolyn. There was an old-world elegance and mischievous charm about Laura that I adored. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:
David: What do you think happens to human consciousness after death?
Laura: I think and feel that it goes on. I can’t imagine that this extraordinary complex of feeling, thought, and whatever else, just vanishes. I believe that it goes on; but how is a mystery. Perhaps it goes on into vibrations, or into other bodies, or into something totally different and unknown to us.
David: I read the experience that you wrote about at the end of This Timeless Moment, with the medium and the bookcase, that suggested the possibility of contact with Aldous after he had passed on into the afterlife.
Laura: That was extraordinary wasn’t it? I never speak about that because I wrote it with such exactness. I think that if I were to speak about it, I would not remember the moment, the time, and all that exactly. What I have written is absolutely correct.
David: Have you had any other experiences where you felt the presence of Aldous after he had died?
Laura: I went to one or two other mediums who also gave me a very strong presence, but not like that one. That one was…
Laura: That’s right.
David: What’s your personal understanding of God?
Laura: I think, I feel, that there is an immense power; something that is so incredible that we cannot even imagine it— it has so much more imagination than we have. So that when we imagine God, we just imagine as far as we can imagine. But our imagination is very limited when you think of all the flowers and stars. You think of a star, and you think of a cell, and it’s mind-boggling.
David: We can’t even grasp ourselves, let alone a supreme being of cosmic proportions.
Laura: Exactly. How can we grapple with God when we don’t even understand the simplest of things? I don’t even know what goes on when I speak to you, or how you hear, and how you interpret what you hear, and how this influences what I am going to say, etc., etc.
David: If you could sum up the central message that you learned from the time you spent with Aldous, what would you say that was?
Laura: He said it himself. I can do no better than what he said. It was at this important meeting of outstanding scientists in Santa Barbara. Everyone was very serious, and they said, well, Mr. Huxley, what is your final advice after all these years of inquiry? He said, “I’m very embarrassed because I worked for forty years, I studied everything around me, I did experiments, I went to several countries, and all I can tell you is to be just a little kinder to each other.”