Ganga Interviews Laura Huxley, wife of Aldous Huxley
by Ganga White June, 1998
Laura Archera Huxley is a shining example of a woman who has practiced and lived yoga most of her life. She has been creating and riding the wave of awakening that we now call the "new age". As one of our respected elder Yoginis she is an inspiring model of the possibility open to all of us to age gracefully, intelligently and creatively. Now 86 years old, her mind is fast, sharp and endlessly inquisitive. She prefers to sit in an asana on the floor, bolt upright, to chat or dialogue.
Laura Huxley made her teenage debut as a concert violinist in Carnegie Hall and first came to the United States shortly before World War II. She studied violin in her native Turin, Italy as well as Paris, Berlin and Rome where she earned a professor of Music degree. Prevented by wartime regulations from pursuing her musical career, she sought other avenues of creative exploration. She produced documentary films, played in a major symphony orchestra and intensively studied health, nutrition, spirituality and psychology. She has authored many books focusing on her central concern of human relations and healing the vast amount of avoidable unhappiness. Her book, You are Not the Target, was an early model and inspiration for books in the self-help trend.
In 1956 she married Aldous Huxley the legendary author, essayist, visionary thinker and philosopher. Together they explored ways of opening the mind to new levels of consciousness. Aldous Huxley is author of Brave New World, one of the first books to anticipate the chilling technological and ecological problems of the modern computer age. He also wrote what many consider his masterpiece--the novel Island, his inspirational vision of a utopian new age culture that integrated many systems of healing, meditation, yoga and the awakening of consciousness. The Doors of Perception, his book about the inward journey and psychedelic inquiry, helped spark the flashing sixties and gave a name to Jim Morrison's band. Laura and Aldous Huxley were there at the early opening of those doors with Tim Leary, Richard Alpert (now Ram Das) and other key movers of culture. Their list of friends, students, co-workers and admirers reads like a Who's Who? of remarkable people. After her husband's death in 1963 (the same day John Kennedy was shot) she wrote This Timeless Moment, a book describing life with her husband.
From 1977 to the present, Mrs. Huxley has focused much of her energy on helping children, "Our Ultimate Investment". Her foundation by that name does worldwide service in areas that engender conscious preparation for conception, conscious conception and reverence for life. "The most effective way to set world improvement in motion is to initiate it as early as possible in the life of all individuals." She considers Karma Yoga, the yoga of action and service, as central to her philosophy.
Mrs. Huxley is grandmother to her adopted child, Karen, who is now 24. She has received widespread recognition for her humanistic achievements. These include an honorary Doctorate of Human Services, Honoree of the United Nations, Fellowship to the International Academy of Medical Preventics and World Health Foundation Peace Price in 1990. Yoga is in a new and evolving incarnation in the West and we can learn a lot from one who has pioneered the way in practice, living and service. It is an honor and joy to know this grand lady.
Ganga: Laura, I consider you a national resource and treasure.
Laura: Thank you very much. A national resource, that is very impressive. You mean I pay my taxes. Is that what you mean?
Ganga: I mean a real inspiration. I hope you will share, after being a yogini all your life, some insights for people new to the path. I wanted to get at some of your secrets.
Laura: There are no secrets, really. It is difficult because it seems so complicated. Probably, the secret is to be less complicated. We of course love to make complications—look at the way we live. We have this tremendous amount of information, and probably it is really not so necessary. Maybe if you just drink water, you are kind to people and walk a little bit it’s all done already. But we cannot resist this sophistication.
I’ve done a little yoga, not as a professional, and every time I have a good teacher, like recently Cheri Clampett, I see the immense possibilities and subtleties in this discipline. It’s a little bit like music. Each asana is like a piece of music that has a certain characteristic, a certain power. One asana is strong, then again another is very soft and gentle. So you have this modulation from one asana to another, just as you have from one feeling to another. Then they all, of course, make you lighter, give you space. I feel that space is what I get and receive and like to have—space inside which makes more space for openness outside.
Ganga: Space in the mind. Space in the body.
Laura: Yes, space in the body, space in the mind. .
Ganga: How did you get into yoga? What brought you to it?
Laura: My introduction was reading a book on a streetcar going downtown Los Angeles, many years ago. Someone told me about it and I bought one of the very early books on yoga. It was in 1945, when I played in the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra. I took a lesson and immediately could see how wonderful it was. I already had this idea of the empty spine even before I knew about yoga. I always felt the spine is central. Why didn’t anyone ever speak about it?
Ganga: What do you mean by the empty spine?
Laura: The spine should be empty so that energy moves up and down. I always felt this way as a child. Yoga is a natural thing. One time I think I was at the hairdresser and they had those uncomfortable chairs so I put up my feet like this [sitting cross-legged]. Somebody said, "Can you give me some yoga lessons?" They thought right away that I knew about yoga because I sat in a comfortable way.
Yogananda was already around when I started, and I met him and I met a few others. But when you speak about "this secret", there are no secrets really. Most of it is just common sense. I call it visionary common sense. Although it is inspirational, it is just common sense. It is attention and openness.
You have so many different kinds of yoga. I met Iyengar in Switzerland with Krishnamurti and [acclaimed violinist] Yehudi Menuhin. He was giving a lesson to Yehudi and Krishnamurti. Then I asked for a lesson and finally he gave me some. They were very strong lessons and very good of course. It was strange because I was standing on my head and he came and he slapped my derriere and I thought I was going to fall—but I didn’t.
Ganga: He is famous for that.
Laura: He’s famous for that, yes.
Ganga:You’ve met so many extraordinary people. Can you say more about some of them?
Laura: Yes, I have. There was always an intensity in Krishnamurti. There was that tremendous intensity most of the time. It was as though he were ready to explode. And sometimes he was also playful. I stayed in his house in Madras. Somehow I felt that what he was saying was to be discussed and absorbed, but he could be easily misunderstood. He was fiery natured. And very elegant! A man of tremendous refinement in all that was visual, in materials, in all the senses, totally refined and ready to discuss anything and be very strong about it. We discussed healing, my work with human potential and Aldous' research with psychedelics.
Ganga:Drugs are such an extraordinary problem in our society and there is such hysteria. Do you think there is a positive aspect that is being overlooked and the baby is being thrown out with the bath water.
Laura: Oh, certainly. There is danger in everything that we do. We are to eat food otherwise we don’t live and sometimes we eat food that is very damaging.
Ganga: Or we become addicted to food.
Laura: Or addicted to food. Oh, yes, addiction to food is unfortunately really grave, also to alcohol or to anything else. But these drugs can be such an extraordinary gift, really. Some, not all drugs. Again, how can we speak about "drugs"? It is like speaking about the human race—each person is different, each drug is different!
Ganga: There are different classes of drugs and they are all being lumped together.
Laura: Yes, but they don’t consider nicotine as a drug. Why don’t they put it together with all the other drugs? And alcohol is certainly one of the most abused drugs since ever and ever, since Dionysus. They say have a glass of wine at dinner, which was done in the Latin countries. In Italy we always had a glass of wine at dinner. It is a good thing. But if you have dozens of glasses of wine at dinner it is not so good. Paracelsius said that the difference between a good medicine and a poison is the dosage.
Ganga: There is a big resurgence of interest in shamanism as well as "plant teachers". Do you think this is a good direction and what would you advise people?
Laura:I would advise them to study everything that they ingest. Study first of all their own organism and see what kind of reaction they might have. Some people just cannot take certain foods. That’s all. People are allergic. Some people are allergic to orange juice, can you imagine? Orange juice is very healthy isn’t it? Yet some people cannot drink it without having an allergic reaction. Also, who is the person giving it to you? With whom area you taking it? And where, and even why. It can be a tremendous gift but it also might be a dangerous gift.
Ganga: Like electricity.
Laura: Like electricity, exactly.
Ganga: How have psychedelics helped or harmed or influenced you?
Laura: I was deeply affected. They gave me a much wider view of the world, as well as a much wider view of our ignorance, and ignorance, according to the Buddha, is our basic difficulty. Psychedelics and the process of aging make that clear to me all the time.
Ganga: Let's come back to yoga. You are eighty-six and you are extraordinarily alert and aware and interested in so many things. Do you attribute some of this to yoga? Is this something that was innate in you or did your yoga practice help?
Laura: It’s always nature and nurture together. The practice of yoga certainly is a fantastic practice. I only wish I would do it more. I find I can do it alone but it is much better if I have some guidance. Although I can do it alone it is a little bit sloppy. Ultimately, all of those techniques try to bring more oxygen to the brain. We can think and love better if we have more oxygen.
Ganga:Do you have a pranayama practice? Do you work with your breath?
Laura: I do it and don't do it. Lately I have not been very disciplined. You would think that as you get older you would be more disciplined. As I get older I get less disciplined. I just play around!
Ganga:Maybe that is good! Aldous, of course, was an extraordinary person. He’s been called a prophet of the present age. He’s been called the father of the psychedelic 60’s, one of the fathers. What were your times with him like?
Laura: They were extraordinary years, not many years but extraordinary years, because we had this basic, extraordinary relationship. We had so many interests in common. He would be in one room and run to my room and say, "look what I found". He was always researching, and of course researching on many different levels. I was interested in these things even before I married him but that accelerated and made my own knowing much wider and deeper. Wider and deeper, that is what I would say. Even more than anything else, those were the exchanges. But more than anything was the extraordinary kindness of this man, for everyone really. He started very young to be well known, when he was 20. Of course as a writer he was sardonic and ironic and all of that. But as a person he was always very, very kind. You can find reports from the time he was fifteen that he was always considerate with people. But as a writer he was very ironic and shocking and all of those things that made him famous. There was a sense of humor, strong and sophisticated. I never saw the part that was cynical, however. He was never cynical. One of the things that was said about him when he was young was that he had a contempt for the masses. On the contrary, he had a concern for the masses. He had a tremendous concern for people who did not have the possibilities and the privileges that he, you or I had—access to knowledge, to really be able to improve ourselves because we didn’t have to work ten hours a day in the mines or somewhere like that.
Ganga: You mentioned his kindness. In the beginning of our discussion you said that kindness was one of the most important things. Isn’t that how Aldous summed up his life’s insights once when he was asked by someone? What was his reply, treat each other a little kinder?
Laura: Be a little kinder to each other. There was a prodigious group of people, all doctors, Ph.D.’s, probably Nobel Prize winners, and they said, "Mr. Huxley, Would you tell us something that you found from your research?" He was so precise and deep in research. He said, " It is a little embarrassing that after years of experience, study and research all I can tell you is to be a little kinder to each other."
Ganga:There is nothing more profound.
Laura: Yes, that is right.
Ganga: His epochal book, Brave New World, was just voted the fifth best novel of our time. What were the early days like with him and Timothy Leary and Ram Dass? You were around for a lot of that.
Laura: Yes. Timothy was always fun. He was always a charming man. We went to Copenhagen together and Ram Dass was there too, for a big conference. Tim gave LSD to half a dozen people, or maybe many more. The next day it was all over the newspapers. Aldous kept saying, "Tim, just keep it private, keep it quiet because we want to research it." Tim could not keep it quiet.
Ganga: They debated that amongst themselves, didn’t they? Aldous wanted to keep it for scientists and religious people and Timothy wanted to give it to the masses.
Laura: Yes, to everybody.
Ganga: Do you think it was a mistake in retrospect?
Laura: In retrospect it did do some harm because there has not been much research for thirty years, no research in drugs, LSD and psychedelics. Now it is beginning again. After thirty years one should be able to use it properly, particularly for short term therapy, for enhancement of talent, certainly for the dying or very sick people so that they can detach from the body more easily. There are many other substances, it is not only LSD that does that. So in that sense it was not good what Tim did. On the one hand we know some people were hurt, but on the other hand it accelerated this awareness that there is more to ourselves than we think there is. It did open the eyes and feelings and the hearts of many people. I think it would have been better to keep it quiet just for another few years, but Timothy couldn’t.
Ganga: Aldous left us on the same day that John Kennedy did?
Laura: That was ironic because the two men were both very good men and very much concerned with humanity. Aldous died in this house so quietly and so serenely and Kennedy being shot like that, really a contrast. I wonder if they met that afternoon? I hope they did. The ironic thing also is that we were invited twice to go to the White House and for some reason, some stupid reason, we didn’t go. And it would have been very good if we had gone. In fact when we were in Copenhagen in ’61 we thought, now we are going to the White House and give it to them, this group of people some opening with psychedelics. We didn’t do it. Today is the anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s death, which was really as tragic.
Ganga: One's yoga eventually expresses itself in one's action in the world and I think you have been exemplary in that. Can you talk a little bit about children as our ultimate investment?
Laura: That is what I am involved in mostly now. The situation with children is not good in this country, nor in other countries. It may be much worse in other countries. It is not just because of the lack of money. It is the lack of the awareness that children are very open, smart and knowing people when they are still very little. Afterwards they close down. Then they become like everyone and we have to work again to open up. One of the reasons is that people become pregnant without preparation. Sixty-eight percent of the pregnancies in the United States are neither prepared for nor expected. Of those sixty-eight percent, quite a bit end in abortion, but still there are a large number of children that come in this world without being expected. The preparation for conception to me is one of the most important things, if we are we interested in the general progress of our species.
Ganga: Moving toward conscious conception.
Laura: Yes, conscious conception. In other words you make love for the pleasure and the passion and for the love that two people have for each other. But then there is also this other thing. Are we going to make love to have a child? One has to be clear to do that. If you decide that you are making love to have a child then you are to prepare. Prepare physiologically, spiritually, and know that you have enough money to give him what you have to give him. Very often mothers go to work right away after the child is born and, unless the father or someone else stays home, this is quite serious. A baby has to be near its kin most of the time when he is little for three, four or five years. To give him this grounding, this feeling of connection, this feeling of relationship, is the most important thing.
That is why my work is now Our Ultimate Investment I have a project that I have been carrying out in Nevada City and am trying to put it in the public schools. It is called "Teens and Toddlers" which is a project for prevention of teenage pregnancy. I get children, young people fourteen, fifteen, sixteen and even up to eighteen, to take care of toddlers two or three years old. Toddlers are so powerful and so egocentric and teenagers are also so powerful, so egocentric. Here they are put in a school situation where they are to relate to these little giants and to think about them, instead of thinking about their own needs and all of that--which is a natural thing for all of us. When you are fourteen, fifteen years old it is even more so.
Ganga: What insight does it give them?
Laura: The first insight is, after two hours of working with the children, they are exhausted. That’s the first insight. Then they say, "What, I would have to continue with this for 24 hours a day!" The baby has all these needs, almost continuously, every hour you have to do something for the baby. They always decide to wait until they are 25 or 30 years old to have a baby. In the groups that we have made up in the North, there has been not a single unwanted pregnancy.
Ganga: That’s fantastic.
Laura: Yes, it is because the teenage pregnancy is such a tragic thing. It is such a sad and tragic thing because the children who have children do it because they think they are going to be loved. They are going to be loved, but they have to give love to be loved otherwise the child becomes depressed. Isolated and depressed. In other words apathetic. There have been many experiments with cameras. I speak about babies all the time, a baby tries to get the attention of the mother for awhile by looking and moving and it cries, and cries. Then after awhile, if there is no response from the mother, it just gives up. You can see already the giving up in relationship. There is a lot of that in the world. So teenagers have to be sustained; they have to be given something to live for and something that involves them without having to make a child, a human being. It is extraordinary. I come in this house and if I want to put in a new bathroom I have to ask the city to come and check. But anybody can make a baby without any checking, without thinking. This type of parenting can be tragic because one of the greatest actions a human being can do is to create another life. I call children "our ultimate investment."
Ganga: That is a great phrase.
Laura: Yes, but it has a double meaning. They are also the ultimate investment for tobacco companies or the liquor industry or the gun industry. Children are the ultimate investment of all of those that want to make money, to sell, to dominate. So there are two meanings. They are our ultimate investment for anyone who is honest and ethical and loving, but also for all the commerce.
Ganga: It cuts both ways.
Laura: It is a very important work and I hope I can do it and that it can be done regardless of me. There is a little bit more awareness we need to have about all this. Things are happening! Every four hours a gun kills a child. Every fifty-nine seconds a teenager becomes pregnant. Can you imagine, every fifty-nine seconds? Today is Saturday. By Wednesday night there will be one million more people on Earth. Aldous’ book was about that sixty-five years ago. As long as there is no control of population, the population explosion will make it so easy for politicians to dominate.
Ganga: It is interesting that the population explosion started at the same time as the nuclear explosion—the baby boom and the atomic bomb. What is your view of spirituality? I think that is what you’ve been expressing in our discussion but can you verbalize it?
Laura: I believe more in concrete spirituality rather than in a spirituality that is divided from the body and from nature. There are four verses of William Blake.
Man has no Body distinct from his Soul;
for that call'd Body is a portion of Soul
discern'd by the five senses,
the chief inlets of Soul in this age.
And what he says is that the way that the soul is expressed now, and the only way it expresses itself in this age, is through the senses. He doesn’t mean tomorrow or in the next century, but in this age. How do I know you or how do you know me unless there is a connection? The connection comes by speaking, seeing, being present, or through hearing if you are not present. Everything has to come through the senses, as though the soul is speaking out through the senses. We are not yet communicating with extrasensory perception. Blake speaks about the soul in this age, not in the future. So how can we express the soul in this age, in this life, except through our body?
Ganga: Which also means through our works, our life.
Laura: What we do, what we feel, what we express, certainly.
Ganga: What would you say about the darkness in the world, in life?
Laura: The darkness. It is there. There is light. There is darkness. There is high and there is low. But in the world now it seems to me this struggle between light and darkness is more evident than ever. I don’t know if it is more evident because I look into it more or because there are just so many wonderful people, and much more so than we even know, trying to do something to help. And look what’s happening now in India, the land of Gandhi, with atomic bombs. Power is just so much part of the human being because power is survival. But I wonder if that is the best way to survive, by killing someone else.
Ganga: To move from darkness to light, you have an exquisite and sensitive use of light here. The way you have different colors and there is a lot of beauty around, nature is practically coming in the windows. What do you say about beauty and bringing beauty into our lives? What is your understanding of beauty as you’ve gone through the years?
Laura: To me it is a great savior. It’s almost an addiction, and also because you can always do it better. You know what I mean, you can do gardening a little bit better. For instance I just try to keep rooms empty, but I don’t succeed. Beauty, well, it’s one of the greatest, greatest gifts. I feel sorry sometimes because people are so worried and so involved in something that they don’t have even five minutes to look at something beautiful. I find beauty almost everywhere. Now more and more I find almost everything beautiful. That is why I have great difficulty in throwing away things because I think they are quite beautiful. Even the garbage, but I have to throw that away!
Ganga: Do you have any advice to new people starting yoga, to young people starting yoga, that would help them throughout their life?
Laura: My advice is very simple. Just do it. Just do it! I think that they stop because they do it so much and then it is too much. I think it probably should be done continuously. Also, to think about yoga not as something that you do fifteen minutes a day or half an hour a day. The awareness that yoga and gives can be used when you wash dishes.
Ganga: In all areas of your life. I just thought of something else. You have such lovely couches and furniture here but every time I’ve been here we always sit on the floor. Is that one of your secrets?
Laura: Probably it is. Most furniture is not made for people—they are made for the people who sell them. I would much rather sit on the floor. Very rarely do I find a table and a chair that is comfortable. But the floor is comfortable. Some people sit on their feet—three-fourths of the earth sits like that. I would tell to young people to sit on their heels. Children do that naturally so if they never had furniture they would do it. It’s wonderful for all parts of the body.
Ganga: We’ve talked about conscious conception and conscious birth. What can you say about conscious aging, conscious dying?
Laura: There is no way not to know that one is aging, but how much attention do you pay to it and of what kind, morbid or healthy? Morbid attention is when we focus only on the shortcomings that come with aging, which are inevitable, and think that everything that is wrong is a result of aging. Healthy attention is to improve what can be improved and to accept what we cannot improve. And, one would hope that age teaches us how to be more aware of other people's feelings.
Many times I thought I was dying. I think, "this is it", but I never did die. So it is always still a question of a projection of our imagination. One time I thought I was dying (remember, you were there) and I didn’t so it is very difficult to speak about it. We don’t know what happens when, one by one, all the senses go and the body is already starting this disintegration. So we don’t know how our mind and our feeling will be. I have seen several deaths, too many deaths in my life, and they were all different. Each one was different. It didn’t seem to be necessarily connected with the life of the person. Some people that were not particularly developed or outstanding or spiritual died very easily. Some other people were on a very high level and had a difficult time in dying. So I don’t know, but it’s certainly something to think about because it could happen at any moment. I think that, at least in my experience, it is difficult when there is unfinished work. That makes it difficult to think of dying when what you have to do is not quite done. Of course it’s never quite done.
Since I was young my wish has been to die in perfect health—I mean to die with a body that is not destroyed by illness but a body that is consumed by its own long burning fire. Such a wish may be judged as an expression of hubris—I don't know—but it is a project that cannot hurt anyone and may even be a blessing to those that love us.
Ganga: What inspired you to do service work and work with children?
Laura: Service. Service or giving is the other side of receiving. Giving and receiving is a full circle: a full circle feels more natural than a half circle.
Children. Initially it was emotional and personal experiences that turned my attention to children—that was the start. It continued not only emotionally, but also logically, for it is clear that our society can improve only if the next generation is given the chance, through loving and intelligent education, to be better developed than the present one. That is why my foundation is called Our Ultimate Investment. For many of us it is obvious that children are our ultimate investment, but unfortunately children are also the ultimate investment of the gun, tobacco and the liquor industries.
Ganga: Any final thoughts that you can share?
Laura: What I say is focus your mind and respect your body. But mostly love your heart. I think that is where to begin, from there and then it goes out.
Ganga: What do you mean love your heart?
Laura: Love your heart. It really is to love yourself to begin with and help everybody else in doing the same. But the heart being the center. You can focus your mind. You can respect your body. All of that is important. Then if you love your heart, this can be transmitted to other people. I mean you can help anybody that wants to do the same.
Have we covered the world and all the wisdom of the ages?
Laura: Of the ages of eighty-six, in any case.
Ganga: Thank you.
Resource: Our Ultimate Investment
Post Office Box 1868
Los Angeles, CA 90028