‘Inner’ and ‘Outer’ Enlightenment

Both British writers and philosophers C.S Lewis and Aldous Huxley share the strange privilege of dying on the same day as J.F Kennedy, on 22 November 1963. Despite their international notoriety, their death was overshadowed, that day, by the Dallas tragedy. Lewis and Huxley followed a different philosophical path but they showed the same intense desire to reach a higher level of psychological and spiritual reality. Born in the 1890’s, both belonged to a generation traumatised by the horrors of WW1 and disillusioned by its political and social aftermath.  Lewis took refuge in Christianity and classical mythology, Huxley into poetry and a growing interest in mysticism and Eastern philosophy. Lewis looked for the ‘outer’ enlightenment to be found in a life inspired and guided by Christian love, a theme illustrated in his famous Chronicles of Nania.  Their religious message may have been presented under the various guises of Persian or Celtic mythology but their author was a committed member of the Church of England. His spiritual autobiography Surprised by Joy (1955) reveals the depth of his agony in the absence of a visible God. He would find a way out of his despair through an ‘outer’ conversion and the total acceptance of the divine in his life.  The moment of his conversion was particularly poignant as he describes himself alone in his room at Magdalene College Oxford when ‘in the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed.’

 Huxley actively campaigned for peace and disarmament throughout the 1930’s before his permanent move to California. There, he became acquainted with the followers of Swami Prabhavananda who taught him meditation and spiritual exercises. His early interest in medieval Christian mystics led him to study Hindu philosophy and the Upanishads. His meeting with Timothy Leary, advocate of the use of psychedelic drugs, opened for Huxley the ‘doors of perception’ and access to an ‘inner’ world, until now confined to a purely mystical experience: ‘To be enlightened is to be aware, always, of total reality in its immanent otherness.’ Huxley is rightly considered as a major influence on the American counter-culture of the mid-sixties. His Brave New World remains a chilling projection into a world of test tube babies where to be an ‘individual’ demands the ultimate sacrifice. His less well-known last novel Island (1962) is a plea for a return to nature and community values that C S Lewis would have been the first to endorse as part of the long Christian tradition.

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