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Although I recall seeing a book by the late Wayne Dyer in my mom’s library when I was a teenager, it was Carolyn who first introduced me to his writings years later, during a time of great difficulty in my life. Carolyn says he changed her life and is her foremost muse. I found Dyer’s wise, insightful, and encouraging words to be extremely helpful at the time and he has remained a powerful inspiration.
Dr. Wayne Dyer was an internationally renowned motivational speaker and self-help author, who published more than 40 books in the fields of self-development and spiritual growth, including 21 New York Times bestsellers.
Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1940, Dyer had a difficult childhood. He spent the first ten years of his life in an orphanage, and then in foster homes because his father left the family when he was a child. After graduating from high school, Dyer served 4 years in the U.S. Navy. Then, in 1970, he completed a doctorate in educational counseling at Wayne State University. His dissertation was titled: Group Counseling Leadership Training in Counselor Education.
Early in his career, Dyer worked as a guidance counselor with high school kids in Detroit. He went on to have a successful private therapy practice and then to teach counseling psychology at St. John’s University in New York City as an associate professor. Around this time, a literary agent approached Dyer and encouraged him to write a book about his ideas.
Dyer took his advice, and in 1976 he wrote Your Erroneous Zones. The book offers step-by-step advice on how to break patterns with negative thinking and take greater control of one’s life. Dyer began driving across the country by himself, selling copies of Your Erroneous Zones from the trunk of his car, and this was how he began his career as a self-help author and motivational speaker. The book became the bestselling book of the 1970s, and one of the bestselling books of all time, selling around 100 million copies to date.
Dyer went on to write 20 more bestselling books and he produced a number of television specials for PBS. His books Wisdom of the Ages, Manifest Your Destiny, There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem, The Power of Intention, and others have been featured as National Public Television specials.
Dyer also created many of his own audio and video programs, and he appeared on thousands of television and radio shows, including the Oprah Winfrey Show, The Tonight Show, and virtually every major talk show at the time. Dyer’s feature film, The Shift, was released in 2009, and a film based on his life, My Greatest Teacher, was released in 2012.
Dyer discovered that there was a widespread need for the principles of self-discovery and personal growth, and he sought to bring these ideas to a wider audience. His early work was influenced by psychologists Albert Ellis and Abraham Maslow, and it focused on themes such as self-actualization and motivation. Yoga guru Swami Muktananda influenced his later work and he focused more on spirituality, collaborating with physician Deepak Chopra on a number of projects.
Dyer was also a generous philanthropist, whose charitable contributions included donating a million dollars to his alma mater, Wayne State University, and raising over $150 million for National Public Television through his PBS specials.
Dyer left our world in 2015. According to Dyer’s official website, “His main message was that every person has the potential to live an extraordinary life. What’s more, it’s possible for every person to manifest their deepest desires — if they honor their inner divinity and consciously choose to live from their Highest Self.”
Carolyn has been close with Marcelene, Dyer’s wife and the birth mother of their 7 children. Here’s what she had to say about Carolyn’s book Immortal Seeds: Bearing Gold from the Abyss:
“Carolyn Kleefeld, my beloved heroine, in Immortal Seeds, paints on the page opposite her words of love for David Campagna. These paint her world for me. This love pulses a rapture rare of design and rarer still of existing. Oh, how I long for this to play differently. Yet it is perfection in its telling.”
Some of the quotes that Wayne Dyer is remembered for include:
Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.
How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.
With everything that has happened to you, you can either feel sorry for yourself or treat what has happened as a gift. Everything is either an opportunity to grow or an obstacle to keep you from growing. You get to choose.
I am realistic – I expect miracles.
When the choice is to be right or to be kind, always make the choice that brings peace
Begin to see yourself as a soul with a body rather than a body with a soul.
Photo: ©Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com/Alamy
Bob Dylan is often regarded as one of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time, and he has been a favorite musician of both Carolyn and mine for decades. With a prolific career spanning more than 60 years, Dylan has profoundly influenced music and popular culture in many ways, with his unique poetic gifts, acute political awareness, and natural storytelling abilities.
Born Robert Allen Zimmerman in 1941, and raised in Hibbing, Minnesota, Dylan’s grandparents were Jewish refugees from Russia and Lithuania, who arrived in the United States around the turn of the 20th Century.
While attending Hibbing High School, Dylan performed in several bands. He played cover songs by Elvis Presley and Little Richard in a band called The Golden Chords, and his performance of Rock and Roll is Here to Stay with Danny & the Juniors at his high school talent show was so loud that the principal cut the microphone during mid-performance.
In 1959 Dylan enrolled at the University of Minnesota, where he studied American folk music. Dylan started performing at coffee shops around this time, and he began introducing himself as “Bob Dylan” to give himself anonymity and recreate his persona. He used various aliases initially in his career, such as “Elston Gunn” and “Robert Dillion,” but Bob Dylan is the one that stuck.
In 1960, after his first year in college, Dylan dropped out of school, and a year later he traveled to New York City where he went to perform, and he visited his music idol Woody Guthrie, who was seriously ill in the hospital. In 1961 Dylan began playing in clubs around the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan and often accompanied other folk musicians on the harmonica. When Dylan was 19, he performed at the Café Wha? in Greenwich Village, which was started by our beloved friend Jai Italiaander and her husband.
That same year Dylan played the harmonica on an album by Carolyn Hester, which brought his work to the attention of the album’s producer, who signed Dylan on to Columbia Records. Dylan’s first album, Bob Dylan, consisted of traditional folk, blues and gospel songs, with only two original compositions. The album sold just enough copies to break even, but Dylan was starting to become better known.
Dylan’s second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, was released in 1963, and his music— often labeled as “protest songs,” with lyrics that questioned the social and political status quo— became more popular. This album contained his well-known song Blowin’ in the Wind, which was partly derived from the melody of a traditional slave song. Along with the politically charged The Times They Are a Changin, these songs became anthems for the antiwar and civil rights movements of the 1960s.
Dylan’s revolutionary third album Bringing it all Back Home, which was released in 1965, featured his first recordings using electric instruments, and with free-association lyrics that were reminiscent of beat poetry. Using electric instruments with folk music caused some controversy within the folk music establishment, but Dylan’s popularity continued to soar. Dylan has since gone on to sell more than 125 million records, making him one of the bestselling musicians of all time. To date, Dylan has released 39 studio albums, 95 singles, and 15 live albums.
Dylan has strong spiritual beliefs and he has “always thought that there’s a superior power.” Although Dylan was raised in a small, close-knit Jewish community, and even had his Bar Mitzvah when he was 13, he converted to Christianity in the late 1970s and has released three popular albums of contemporary gospel music.
Dylan’s lyrics have received detailed attention from academics and poets. In 1998 Stanford University sponsored the first international academic conference on Dylan’s work, and in 2004 Harvard Classics professor Richard Thomas created a seminar on Dylan’s song lyrics, that put him in the context of classical poets like Virgil and Homer.
Dylan has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has won numerous other prestigious awards, including 10 Grammy Awards, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a Golden Globe Award, an Academy Award, a Pulitzer Prize in 2008, and a Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016. Dylan has also published eight books of drawings and paintings, and his watercolor and acrylic work has been exhibited in major art galleries around the world.
Some of the quotes that Bob Dylan is known for include:
There is nothing so stable as change.
I consider myself a poet first and a musician second. I live like a poet and I’ll die like a poet.
I change during the course of a day. I wake and I’m one person, and when I go to sleep I know for certain I’m somebody else.
I think of a hero as someone who understands the degree of responsibility that comes with his freedom.
I define nothing, not beauty not patriotism. I take each thing as it is, without prior rules about what it should be.
Yesterday’s just a memory, tomorrow is never what it’s supposed to be.
You’re going to die. You’re going to be dead. It could be 20 years, it could be tomorrow, anytime. So am I. I mean, we’re just going to be gone. The world’s going to go on without us. All right now. You do your job in the face of that, and how seriously you take yourself you decide for yourself.
A few weeks ago I wrote a profile about the 14th Century Persian poet Rumi. A passion for Rumi’s poetry led me to the work of another 14th Century Persian poet, Hafez, whose beautiful spiritual poetry is equally insightful and inspirational. Carolyn and I have both enjoyed Hafez’s wonderful lyrical poems over the years, and his collected works are often regarded as some of the most treasured literature to emerge out of Persia.
Commonly known by his pen name “Hafez” (or “Hafiz”), the late Sufi poet was born as Khwāje Shams-od-Dīn Moḥammad Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāzī sometime between 1310 and 1325 in Shiraz, which is located in present-day Iran. Although accounts vary, most scholars think Hafez was born in 1315 or 1320. Not much is known for certain about Hafez’s early life, so historians rely on anecdotes to try and understand what happened, and separating fact from legend about Hafez is tricky, as many mythical stories were written about him after his death.
Hafez is said to have memorized the entire Quran when he was young, by listening to his father read it. He was given the name “Hafez” at an early age, which was a title given to those who had memorized the Quran by heart, and means “memorizer and safe keeper.” Hafez must have had an incredible memory, for he is said to have memorized numerous other writings as well, including the works of Rumi.
Hafez had two brothers; his father was a coal merchant who died young and left the family in debt. Hafez’s uncle helped to raise him, and he had to leave school to work for his family, first in a drapery shop and then in a bakery. While working at the bakery, Hafez had to deliver bread to a beautiful young woman named Shakh-e Nabat, who he fell in love with, and to whom many of his poems were addressed.
Enraptured by this young woman’s beauty, but knowing that his love for her would not be returned, he supposedly held a 40-day-and-night “mystic vigil” at the tomb of Baba Kuhi (a 10th Century Persian Sufi), where he encountered an angel. This was a life-changing event for Hafez, as the angel led him into his pursuit of a spiritual union with the divine.
Hafez became a Sufi, a practitioner of the mystic branch of Islam. He received a classical religious education, lectured on the Quran and other theological subjects, and he wrote commentaries on religious classics. Hafez married when he was in his twenties and had one child.
Hafez mostly wrote lyrical poetry, or what is known as “ghazals,” which are lyric poems with a fixed number of verses and a repeated rhyme, and usually set to music. Some of the themes of Hafez’s ghazals include love, faith, and exposing hypocrisy. He was also known to ignore the religious taboos of his time, and he found humor in some of his society’s religious doctrines. Hafez was a court poet, and as such, was supported by patronage from several successive Persian regimes, although he briefly fell out of favor with one of the rulers due to his mocking of inferior poets.
Hafez wrote approximately 994 poems, which were collected into (at least) 5 volumes, and his poems have been translated into all major languages. The Complete Divan of Hafez, which contains 793 of his ghazals and other spiritual love poems, is available in English translation. Translations of his collections Faces of Love, Beloved: 81 Poems from Hafez, and The Collected Lyrics of Hafiz of Shiraz are also available.
At the age of 60, Hafez is said to have begun another 40-day-and-night vigil, by sitting inside a circle that he had drawn. On the 40th day, it was said that he had achieved “cosmic consciousness” and attained spiritual union with the divine.
Hafez died in 1390. His tomb is located in Shiraz, the city of his birth. The Tomb of Hafez, known as Hāfezieh, is a popular destination for tourists. It is composed of two memorial structures erected on the northern edge of Shiraz, which house the marble tomb of Hafez.
Today Hafez is the most popular poet in his native country, and October 12th is celebrated every year as Hafez Day in Iran. His spirit is alive and well here too. His poetry is read widely, and I see Hafez’s wisdom shared on social media memes almost daily.
Some of the quotes that Hafez is remembered for include:
I wish I could show you… the astonishing light of your own being.
You, yourself, are your own obstacle; rise above yourself.
Your heart and my heart are very, very old friends.
What we speak becomes the house we live in.
This place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you.
The heart is a thousand-stringed instrument that can only be tuned with love.
For I have learned that every heart will get what it prays for most.
An awake heart is like a sky that pours light.
Thích Nhất Hạnh’s wisdom and teachings have been a great inspiration to Carolyn and I. He was a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, as well as an author, peace activist, poet, and teacher, who had a major influence on Western practices of Buddhism. According to The New York Times, “Among Buddhist leaders influential in the West, Thích Nhất Hạnh ranks second only to the Dalai Lama.”
Nhất Hạnh combined a variety of teachings from Early Buddhist schools, with different Buddhist traditions, and ideas from Western psychology, in order to teach the foundations of mindfulness, offering a modern perspective on meditation practice. Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.
Nhất Hạnh was born in 1926, in the ancient capital of Huế, which is located in central Vietnam and was under French colonial rule at the time. His father was an official with the French Administration and his mother was a homemaker. Nhất Hạnh was the fifth of six children, and until the age of five, he lived at his grandmother’s home with his large extended family.
At the age of seven or eight, Nhất Hạnh saw a drawing on the cover of one of his older brother’s magazines of a peaceful, smiling Buddha sitting on the grass, and he recalls that this picture gave him joy, and left him with a feeling of peace and tranquility.
One day on a school trip when Nhất Hạnh was eleven, he visited a nearby sacred mountain where a hermit was said to live, and he had what he would later describe as his first spiritual experience. The hermit was said to sit quietly every day to become peaceful like the Buddha. Nhất Hạnh explored the area, looking for the hermit, who he never found. However, he found a natural well there, which he drank from, before falling into a deep sleep on the nearby rocks. When Nhất Hạnh awoke he felt so completely satisfied from drinking this magical well water that he was inspired to become a Buddhist monk.
Nhất Hạnh first expressed interest in training to become a monk at the age of 12. Although his parents were cautious about this at first, they eventually let him pursue his calling at the age of 16. In 1942 Nhất Hạnh entered the monastery at Từ Hiếu Temple, where he received three years of instruction, and his primary teacher there was a Zen Master.
From 1955 to 1957 Nhất Hạnh lived in Huế and served as the editor of the official publication of the General Association of Vietnamese Buddhists. However, after two years the publication was suspended, as higher-ranking monks disapproved of Nhất Hạnh’s writings. In 1964 Nhất Hạnh became involved in co-founding the Institute of Higher Buddhist Studies, a private institution in Saigon that taught Buddhist studies, Vietnamese culture, and languages.
In the early 1960s in Vietnam, Nhat Hanh also co-founded Van Hanh Buddhist University and the School of Youth for Social Service, a grassroots relief organization of 10,000 volunteers based on the Buddhist principles of “non-violence and compassionate action.” This was a neutral corps of Buddhist peace workers who went into rural areas to establish schools, build healthcare clinics, and help rebuild villages.
In 1966 Nhất Hạnh received the “lamp transmission” at the Từ Hiếu Temple in Vietnam from a Zen master, making him a Buddhist teacher and spiritual head of temple and associated monasteries. That same year he was exiled from South Vietnam, after expressing opposition to the war and refusing to take sides. Nhat Hanh continued his humanitarian efforts, rescuing boat people and helping to resettle refugees. Nhất Hạnh then spent decades living in exile, mostly residing in France during this time.
In 1967 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. nominated Nhất Hạnh for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work for peace and reconciliation during the war in Vietnam. Nhất Hạnh played an important role in educating Dr. King about the reality of the war from a Vietnamese perspective and inspiring King’s transformation into a national leader in the anti-war movement.
In 1982 Nhất Hạnh established Plum Village France, the largest Buddhist monastery in Europe and the hub of the international Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism, a social movement composed of Buddhists who are “seeking ways to apply the Buddhist ethics, insights acquired from meditation practice, and the teachings of the Buddhist dharma to contemporary situations of social, political, environmental and economic suffering, and injustices.”
Nhất Hạnh published over a hundred books during his lifetime, which have been translated into more than forty languages, and have sold millions of copies worldwide. Some of his popular books include Being Peace, Peace is Every Step, and The Miracle of Mindfulness.
After a 39-year exile, Nhất Hạnh was permitted to visit Vietnam in 2005. Nhat Hanh was fluent in seven languages until 2014 when he experienced a brain hemorrhage that left him unable to verbally communicate for the remainder of his life. In 2018, he returned to Vietnam, to his “root temple,” Từ Hiếu Temple, near Huế, where he lived until his death in 2022, at the age of 95.
Thích Nhất Hạnh’s spirit is still very much alive. His students continue his work of healing, transformation, and reconciliation, establishing “communities of resistance” around the world. His teachings continue to be read widely, and I see his wisdom shared regularly on social media memes.
Some of the quotes that Thích Nhất Hạnh is known for include:
Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.
Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything— anger, anxiety, or possessions— we cannot be free.
People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.
Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.
Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.
Through my love for you, I want to express my love for the whole cosmos, the whole of humanity, and all beings. By living with you, I want to learn to love everyone and all species. If I succeed in loving you, I will be able to love everyone and all species on Earth… This is the real message of love.
The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, the wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms.
We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.
Life is available only in the present moment.
I was systematically reading through Hermann Hesse’s novels when I first met Carolyn in 1983, and we have both really enjoyed his inspiring books and other creative output.
Hesse was a brilliant German-Swiss novelist, poet, and painter who lived between 1877 and 1962. Some of his most well-known books include Siddhartha, Demian, Steppenwolf, and Magister Ludi: The Glass Bead Game, which are my favorites as well. Each book explores a similar theme, of an individual’s efforts to break free from the established modes of civilization, and begin a quest for self-knowledge and spiritual understanding.
Hesse was born in Calw, Germany and he later became a citizen of Switzerland. Hesse began working in a bookstore in Tübingen as a teenager, and at the end of his twelve-hour shifts, he worked on his own writing. His first publication came in 1896, with his poem Madonna in a Viennese magazine, and later that year this was followed by the publication of a small volume of his poetry titled Romantic Songs. Hesse’s first poetry collection wasn’t met with much success— it only sold 54 copies in two years— and Hesse’s mother didn’t like the poems, calling them “vaguely sinful,” which was upsetting to Hesse.
In 1899 Hesse began working at another bookstore in Basel, and spent much time alone, engaged in self-exploration. Due to an eye condition, in 1900 he was exempted from compulsory military service, and he suffered from nerve disorders and persistent headaches throughout his life.
In the early years of the last century, Hesse published more poems and some short prose in journals. In 1904 Hesse’s novel Peter Camenzind was published, and this was a breakthrough novel for him, as from this point on, Hesse could now earn a living as a writer. The novel became popular throughout Germany, and the Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud praised Peter Camenzind as one of his favorite novels.
Hesse’s parents had a profound influence on his spirituality, and he said of his parents that, “their Christianity, one not preached but lived, was the strongest of the powers that shaped and molded me.” Self-exploration and spiritual development became important themes in many of Hesse’s writings. There was a ‘quest for enlightenment or self-realization’ theme in his books Siddhartha, Journey to the East, and Narcissus and Goldmund, and he often drew from Buddhism, Hinduism, and other Eastern philosophies in his novels. Hesse saw value in the varied forms of spiritual expression, and said, “For different people, there are different ways to God.”
Hesse is the author of 29 books. He also began painting when he was in his early 40s, and he created a legacy of around 3000 beautiful watercolors. The book Trees: An Anthology of Writings and Paintings collects Hesse’s poems and essays on the subject of trees and is accompanied by 31 of his watercolor illustrations, and the book Hesse as Painter collects 20 of his watercolors.
In 1946 Hesse received the Nobel Prize in Literature for his book Magister Ludi: The Glass Bead Game. However, despite Hesse’s status as a Nobel laureate, when Hesse died in 1962, his work wasn’t very well known in the United States. In fact, in the obituary that The New York Times published after Hesse’s death, said that his work was largely “inaccessible” to American readers.
This all changed in the mid-1960s when Hesse’s books suddenly became bestsellers in the U.S., and within the span of a few years, he became the most widely read and translated European author of the 20th century. The revival in popularity of Hesse’s works has been credited to their association with some of the popular themes of the 1960s counterculture, and according to Bernhard Zeller’s autobiography on Hesse, “in large part, the Hesse boom in the United States can be traced back to enthusiastic writings by two influential counterculture figures: Colin Wilson and Timothy Leary.”
Hesse’s work has had a considerable cultural influence. The band Steppenwolf took its name from Hesse’s novel with that title, and there is also a theater in Chicago called The Steppenwolf Theater. Throughout Germany, many schools are named after Hesse. Hesse’s novel Siddhartha required reading in my high school English class, which is how I first discovered his work.
Some quotes that Hermann Hesse is remembered for include:
“I have always believed, and I still believe, that whatever good or bad fortune may come our way we can always give it meaning and transform it into something of value.”
Learn what is to be taken seriously and laugh at the rest.
Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else … Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.
Whoever wants music instead of noise, joy instead of pleasure, soul instead of gold, creative work instead of business, passion instead of foolery, finds no home in this trivial world of ours.
I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me.”
“Some of us think holding on makes us strong but sometimes it is letting go
Carolyn and I have both seem evidence of Hesse’s influence in one another’s writings. On the back cover of my first book, Brainchild, Carolyn wrote. “Brown is the Hesse of our time.” Similarly, in the introduction to Carolyn’s book The Alchemy of Possibility, I wrote, “Following the tradition of William Blake and Hermann Hesse, The Alchemy of Possibility is a poetic blend of mysticism and imagination.”
Photo by Bettmann
British writer, philosopher, and social satirist Aldous Huxley’s work has had a profound impact on Carolyn and I, and our dear friends Oz Janiger and Laura Huxley told us wonderful stories about their precious time with him.
Aldous Leonard Huxley was born in 1894 in Surrey, England. He was born into an intellectually active family; his father was a schoolteacher and writer, and his mother founded an independent girls’ boarding and day school. Aldous was the grandson of the famous zoologist Thomas Huxley, who was an early advocate for Darwin’s theory of evolution, and his brothers Julian and Andrew became noteworthy biologists.
Aldous’ father, Leonard Huxley, had a well-equipped botanical laboratory where Aldous began his science education as a child. His brother Julian described him as someone who “frequently contemplated the strangeness of things.”
Aldous faced some serious challenges as a teenager. In 1908 his mother died, and in 1911 he contracted an eye disease that caused the surface of his eyes to become inflamed. This ocular inflammation left him almost blind for around three years, and then he partially recovered, with one eye just capable of light perception, and the other with about 5 percent of normal vision. Unable to pursue a career in medicine, as he had initially intended, due to his loss of sight, Huxley studied English literature at Oxford from 1913 to 1916.
After graduating from Oxford, Aldous taught French for a year at Eton College in Berkshire. One of his students at the time was a young fellow named Eric Blair, who also went on to become a well-known writer; he took the pen name George Orwell and wrote the classic dystopian novel 1984.
In 1916 Aldous edited the Oxford Poetry journal, and he completed his first (although unpublished) novel at the age of 17. In 1921 Aldous published his first novel, Crome Yellow, which, like the novels that followed— Antic Hay in 1923, Those Barren Leaves in 1925, and Point Counter Point in 1928, were social satires.
In 1919 Aldous married his first wife, Maria Nys, and they had one child together, Matthew (who Carolyn and I met at a conference during the 1990s). Aldous and Maria lived with Matthew in Italy during the 1920s, where Aldous would spend time with his friend, English novelist and poet D. H. Lawrence.
In 1932 Aldous published his most well-known work, Brave New World, a dystopian novel about a World State in the future, where citizens are environmentally engineered into an intelligence-based social hierarchy. The book has since become a classic of modern literature— it ranked number 5 on a list of the 100 best-selling English-language novels of the 20th Century — and carried a profound warning about the dangers of social control that seem especially relevant today.
In 1937 Aldous moved to Los Angeles with his wife Maria, where he worked as a screenplay writer for Hollywood films. Aldous received screen credit for Pride and Prejudice in 1940, and he worked on a number of other films, including Jane Eyre in 1944. In 1955 Aldous’ wife Maria died.
Aldous grew interested in philosophical mysticism and in 1945 he published The Perennial Philosophy, which explores the common ground between Eastern and Western mysticism. Our beloved friend Laura Huxley first met Aldous in 1948, when she was pursuing an idea for a film, and although the film was never produced, they stayed close and were married in 1956. Laura was married to Aldous for the last 7 years of his life.
In 1953 Canadian psychiatrist Humphry Osmond introduced Aldous to a psychedelic medicine, mescaline, and he had a powerful mystical and transcendent experience that became the basis for his revolutionary book The Doors of Perception. It’s a slim volume, just 63 pages, but it had a powerful cultural impact and is generally regarded as one of the most important books on psychedelic mysticism. The popular rock band The Doors took their name from the title of Huxley’s book.
In 1962 Aldous published his final novel, Island, a utopian fantasy about a shipwrecked journalist on a fictional island, which incorporates the insights that he gained from his mystical experiences, and provides a wonderful alternative future to his dystopian vision in Brave New World. During his lifetime, Aldous published more than 50 books, and a large selection of poetry, short stories, articles, philosophical treatises, and screenplays.
Aldous died in 1963, on the same day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. On his deathbed, Aldous asked Laura to administer LSD to him and he died while undergoing a psychedelic experience, as Laura read to him from The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Laura wrote about this experience, and her final days with Aldous, in her much-loved book This Timeless Moment.
Laura shared a favorite story with me about Aldous. She told me about this one time that Aldous was at a meeting of professional scientists, and how he was asked what final words of advice he could offer after a lifetime of inquiry. His response was, “I’m very embarrassed because I worked for forty years. I studied everything around. I did experiments. I went to several countries. And all I can tell you is to be just a little kinder to each other.”
Some of the quotes that Aldous is known for include:
After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.
I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.
Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.
The more powerful and original a mind, the more it will incline towards the religion of solitude.
That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.
Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are the dead.
The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm.
There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.
I wish so much that I had had an opportunity to interview Aldous, but I was only 2 years old when he died.