The Doors of Perception

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28 February 2020

The universal and ever-present urge to self-transcendence is not to be abolished by slamming the currently popular Doors in the Wall. The only reasonable policy is to open other, better doors in the hope of inducing men and women to exchange their old bad habits for new and less harmful ones. Some of these other, better doors will be social and technological in nature, others religious or psychological, others dietetic, educational, athletic. But the need for frequent chemical vacations from intolerable selfhood and repulsive surroundings will undoubtably remain.

- Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception

Aldous Huxley, in deciding to take mescalin on a Hollywood afternoon in 1953, write about it, and then publish that writing, forever changed western culture, especially that of America. His literary wit combined with logical argument legitimized the taking drugs for the experience they provided. Lost in that interpretation is the sentiment of the above paragraph. Huxley was trying to save humanity from chemical dependency on substances that destroyed our minds and bodies. Full confession: I've never taken mescalin myself, so maybe I haven't fully embraced the spirit of his book either. Nevertheless, I have sought self-transcendence in vacations from intolerable selfhood and repulsive surroundings by other means:

Twitter was the incarnation of nirvana with the Self on display as the minds of millions spilled out into view like a firehose. Reading a feed you could slip into this nirvana, before they decided to start filtering things to make the site more addictive like Facebook. One could lose oneself in the thoughts of countless others and be carried along on the stream of conciousness of the world.

Alcohol is something Huxley advocated against in his book and in my own personal experience using it to escape form a failing marriage I found self-transcendence and it's dark side. If, however, one follows Paracelsus' maxim of moderation in all things, then alcohol can add much to the experience of life both as a social lubricant and uninhibitor as well as a digestif. One of my favorite writers about running, Sarah Lavender Smith, wrote in a recent blog post about her own struggle with alcohol and her journey back to moderation.

Mathematics. Self-transcendence is achievable in the act of solving a difficult problem; leaving the ego completely behind to uncover the truth of the solution. The problem must be solved, regardless of whether or not I exist. As a college student I would often read problem sets before bed and then let my brain work through the problems in my dreams, where my Self had completed evaporated. Like Kekulé I would awaken with the solutions in my head.

Tobacco, like alcohol, is a substance legal in America that Huxley rails against. But, yes, it does cause lung cancer like he says. Increasingly unpopular in America where it grows, it remains quite popular in Europe where it doesn't. Reading a book in a French café at 3 AM smoking a Caribbean cigar is not a path to self-transcendence for me, but Ayn Rand famously thought that it was. She said, "I like to think of fire held in a man's hand. Fire, a dangerous force, tamed at his fingertips. I often wonder about the hours when a man sits alone, watching the smoke of a cigarette, thinking. I wonder what great things have come from such hours. When a man thinks, there is a spot of fire alive in his mind--and it is proper that he should have the burning point of a cigarette as his one expression."

Running provides a high like none other I've experienced. The giggly euphoria one feels after running a marathon makes all the pain of the journey worth it. And during a good, long run one really loses the sense of self. As Yoda told Luke, "here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship." This is why elite athletes will sacrifice their own times to help an injured competitor across the finish line. Selfhood fades into the background and surroundings become beautiful.

Marijuana is the Door in the Wall most recently opened to Americans in many states, and hemp was even legalized at the federal level two years ago. In the Netherlands it's been gedogen for some time, but that concept of illegal but tolerated is hard for the non-Dutch mind to comprehend. The price paid, however, for the self-transcendence marijuana offers is the dulled wits of the user the next day.

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