with Laura 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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
Ganga: Which also means through our works,
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
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
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