Anais Nin’s Doors of Perception

The following is the concluding seven pages, 255 to 262,  from The Diary of Anais Nin Volume Five (1947-1955) in which Nin describes her experiment with LSD, which she felt reaffirmed her own creative vision.

I had just read Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception but it did not impress me as much as Gil Henderson’s talk about the visionary effects of LSD.  He had participated in an experiment with Dr. Oscar Janiger.  He painted an American Indian doll before taking LSD and then again after the ingestion of the drug, and the difference between them was astonishing.  The first version was rigid and photographic.  The second impressionistic, emotional.  Gil asked me if I wanted to participate in an experiment because Dr. Janiger was hoping a writer would be more articulate about the experience.  There were to be two other subjects there, a biologist from UCLA and another painter.  Gil would be my sober pilot, that is, a person who has taken LSD before and now stands by to help one and guide one if necessary.

It seemed strange to be coming to a psychiatrist’s office for such an adventure.  Dr. Janiger took Gil and me into his private office, which was lined with books and very dark.  I had little time to form an impression of him, for he immediately dispensed a number of blue pills, five or eight, I do not remember, with a glass of water.  Then he conducted us to the waiting room, where the biologist sat already with a pad on his knee, pen in hand.

At first everything appeared unchanged. But after a while, perhaps twenty minutes, I noticed first of all that the rug was no longer flat and lifeless, but had become a field of stirring and undulating hairs, much like the movement of the sea anemone or a field of wheat in the wind.  Then I noticed that doors, walls, and windows were liquefying. All rigidities disappeared. It was as if I had been plunged to the bottom of the sea, and everything had become undulating and wavering. The door knobs were no longer door knobs, they melted and undulated like living serpents.  Every object in the room became a living, mobile breathing world. I walked away, into a hallway opening into several small rooms.  On the way there was a door leading to the garden. Gil opened it. The dazzle of the sun was blinding, every speck of gold multiplied and magnified. Trees, clouds, lawns heaved and undulated too, the clouds flying at tremendous speed. I eased looking at the garden because on the plain door now appeared the most delicate Persian designs, flowers, mandalas, patterns in perfect symmetry. As I designed them they produced their matching music. When I drew a long orange line, it emitted its own orange tone. My body was both swimming and flying. I felt gay and at ease and playful. There was perfect connection between my body and everything that was happening. For example, the colors in the designs gave me pleasure, as well as the music. The singing of mocking birds was multiplied, and became a whole forest of singing birds. My senses were multiplied as if I had a hundred eyes, a hundred ears, a hundred fingertips.  The murals which appeared were perfect, they were Oriental, fragile, and complete, but then they became actual Oriental cities, with pagodas, temples, rich Chinese gold and red altars, and Balinese music. The music vibrated through my body as if I were one of the instruments and I felt myself becoming a full percussion orchestra, becoming green, blue, orange. The waves of the sounds ran through my hair like a caress. The music ran down my back and came out of my fingertips. I was small, light, mobile. I could use any method of levitation I wished. I could dissolve, melt, float, soar. Wavelets of light touched the rim of my clothes, phosphorescent radiations.  I could see a new world with my middle eye, a world I had missed before.  I caught images behind images, the walls behind the sky, the sky behind the infinite. The walls became fountains, the fountains became arches, the domes skies, the sky a flowering carpet, and all dissolved into pure space. I looked at a slender line curving over into space which disappeared into infinity. I was a million zeros on this line, curving, shrinking in the distance, and I laughed and said: “Excuse me, I am not a mathematician.  How can I measure the infinite?”  To Dr. Janiger, who was passing by, I said: “Without being a mathematician I understood the infinite.” He did not seem impressed. I was his face as a Picasso, with a slight asymmetry. It seemed to me that one of his eyes was larger, and this eye was prying into my experience, and I turned away.  Gil was sometimes there, but now I became aware that he was a child, that he had a big round face with a grin. Now I was standing on the rim of a planet, alone. I could hear the fast rushing sound of the planets rotating in space. Then I was moving among them and I realized a certain skill would be necessary to handle this new means of transportation. The image of myself standing in space and trying to get my “space legs” amused me. I wondered who had been there before me and whether I would return to earth. The solitude distressed me for the first time, the sense of distance, so I asked Gil very vehemently: “Are you sure that I will find my way back?” Gild answered reasonably: “Of course, I found my way back. I’m here.” He asked me if there was anything I wanted, a glass of water or a sandwich. I answered: “I want a pagoda.”  And after a while I added: “I realize this is an unreasonable request.”  I returned to my starting point. I was standing in front of an ugly door, but as I looked closer it was not plain or green but it was a Buddhist temple, a Hindu column, a Moroccan ceiling, gold spires being formed and re-formed as if I were watching the hand of a designer at work. I was designing red spirals which unfurled until they formed a rose window or a mandala with edges of radium. As each design was born and arranged itself, it dissolved and the next one followed without confusion. Each form, each line emitted its equivalent in music in perfect accord with the design. An undulating line emitted a sustaining undulating melody, a circle had corresponding musical notations, diaphanous colors, diaphanous sounds, a pyramid created a pyramid of ascending notes, and vanishing ones left only an echo. These designs were preparatory sketches for Oriental cities. I saw the temples of Java, Kashmir, Nepal, Ceylon, Burma, Cambodia, in all the colors of precious stones illumined from within. Then the outer forms of the temples dissolved to reveal the inner chapels and shrines.  The reds and the golds inside the temples created an intricate musical orchestration like Balinese music.  Two sensations began to torment me: one that it was happening too quickly and that I would not be able to remember it, another that I would not be able to tell what I saw, it was too elusive and too overwhelming. The temples grew taller, the music wilder, it became a tidal wave of sounds with gongs and bells predominating.  Gold spires emitted a long flute chant. Every line and color was constantly breathing and mutating.

Traces of Women: "Anais Nin" 1999 oil painting http://www.vanderluis.com

It was then I began to experience difficulties in breathing.  I felt immensely cold, and very small in my cape, as if I had undergone an Alice in Wonderland metamorphosis.  I told Gil I could not breathe, and he took me to the doctor.  The doctor calmed me with words.  I had asked for oxygen. He suggested I lie down and cover myself well. Gil was seated near me, grinning.  I asked him if he had had difficulties breathing.  I still had the impression I had been among the planets. I remember the illustration from Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, the child standing all alone on the edge of the planet.  I lay down and covered myself.  I was smoking a cigarette.  I looked at the curtains of the room and they turned to a gauzy gold. The walls turned to gold, the bedcover was gold, my whole body was becoming GOLD, liquid gold, scintillating, warm gold, I WAS GOLD.  It was the most pleasurable sensation I had ever known, like an orgasm.  It was the secret of life, the alchemist’s secret of life. From the feeling of intense cold, as if I were chloroformed, of loss of gravity of the legs, and diminution in size, I passed to the sensation of being gold.  Suddenly I was weeping, weeping. I could feel the tears and I saw the handkerchief in my hand. Weeping to the point of dissolution. Why should I be weeping?   I could see Gil smiling, and realized the absurdity of weeping when traveling through space. As soon as the concept of absurdity struck me, the comic spirit appeared again. It was another Anais, very lively, very restless and mobile. The comic spirit of Anais was aware of Gil’s predicament: “Poor Gil, you are out with an ordinary weepy female! What a ridiculous thing to spoil a voyage through space by weeping. But before we go on, I want to explain to you why women weep. IT IS THE QUICKEST WAY TO REJOIN THE OCEAN.  You liquefy, become fluid, flow back into the ocean where the colors are more beautiful.”  The comic spirit of Anais shook herself jauntily and said? “Let’s stop this weeping.  Everything is more wonderful under water  (than in space?) . It is alive and it breathes.”  Space was lonely, and empty, a vast desert. After the feeling of GOLD I had a feeling of danger. My world is so beautiful, so beautiful, but so fragile.  I was pleading for protection of this evanescent beauty.  I thought I was the quickest mind alive and the quickest with words, but words cannot catch up with these transformations, metamorphoses.  They are beyond words, beyond words….  The Oriental cities vanished and the infinite appeared again, but now it was bordered on each side by celestial gardens of precious stones on silver and gold stems.  Temptation not to pursue the infinite, but to enjoy the gardens.  Space is definitely without sensuous appeal.

The comic spirit of Anais stood aside and laughed at so much Russian-opera extravaganza. But the other Anais maintained her pose as a Balinese dancer with legs slightly bent, the tips of the fingers meeting in a symbolic gesture of pleading.  I could feel the weight of the brocade.

I watched a shoreline of gold waves breaking into solid gold powder and becoming gold foam, and gold hair, shimmering and trembling with gold delights.  I felt I could capture the secret of life because the secret of life was metamorphosis and transmutation, but it happened too quickly and was beyond words. Comic spirit of Anais mocks words and herself.  Ah, I cannot capture the secret of life with WORDS.

Sadness.

The secret of life was BREATH. That was what I always wanted words to do, TO BREATHE. Comic spirit of Anais rises, shakes herself within her cape, gaily, irresponsibly, surrenders the abstruse difficulties, NOW I KNOW WHY THEY FAIRY TALES ARE FULL OF JEWELS.

Anais Nin: Come as Your Madness, oil, bonnireid.com

After my experience with LSD I began to examine whether it was an unfamiliar world, inaccessible except to the chemical alterations of reality.

I found the origin of most of the images either in my work or in literary works by other writers.

In House of Incest, written in 1935, objects become liquefied and I describe them as seen through water. There is a reference to Byzantium and I was brought up on volumes of Voyages Autour du Monde, which had images of Cambodia, Thailand, Bali, India, Japan, and which remained forever in my memory.  I have listened to countless recordings of Balinese music, tapes made by Coin McFee.

Images of split selves appear in House of Incest.

The image of loneliness on another planet is derived from my frequent reading of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

In House of Incest there is a mention of crystals, precious stones: “The muscovite like a bride, the pyrite, the hydrous silica, the cinnabar, the azurite of benefic Jupiter, the malachite, all crushed together, melted jewels, melted planets.”

The sensation of becoming gold is one I had many times when sunbathing on the sand; the sun’s reflection came through my closed eyelids, and i felt myself becoming gold.

I could find correlations all through my writing, find the sources of the images in past dreams, in reading, in memories of travel, in actual experience, such as the one I had once in Paris when I was so exalted by life that I felt I was not touching the ground, I felt I was sliding a few inches away from the sidewalk.

Therefore, I felt, the chemical did not reveal an unknown world.  What it did was to shut out the quotidian world as an interference and leave you alone with your dreams and fantasies and memories.  In this way it made it easier to gain access to the subconscious life.  But obviously, by way of writing, reveries, waking dreams, and night dreams, I had visited all those landscapes. The drug added a synthesis of color, sound, image, a simultaneous fusion of all the senses which I had constantly aspired to in my writing and often achieved.

I reached the fascinating revelation that this world opened by LSD was accessible to the artist by way of art. The gold sun mobile of Lippold could create a mood if one were receptive enough, if one let the image penetrate the body and turn the body to gold.  All the chemical did was to remove resistance, to make one permeable to the image, and to make the body receptive by shutting out the familiar landscape which prevented the dream from invading us.

What has happened that people lose contact with such images, visions, sensations, and have to resort to drugs which ultimately harm them?

They have been immured, the taboo on dream, reverie, visions, and sensual receptivity deprives them of access to the subconscious.  I am grateful for my natural access. But when I discuss this with Huxley, he is rather irritable: “You’re fortunate enough to have a natural access to your subconscious life, but other people need drugs and should have them.”

This does not satisfy me because I feel that if I have a natural access others could have it too. How did I reach this? Difficult to retrace one’s steps. Can you say I had a propensity for dreaming, a faculty for abstracting myself from the daily world in order to travel to other places? What I cannot trace the origin of seemed natural tendencies which I allowed to develop, and which I found psychoanalysis encouraged and trained. The technique was accessible to those willing to accept psychoanalysis as a means of connecting with the subconscious.  I soon recognized its value. My faith in it is unshaken. But then there is also the appetite for what nourishes such a rich underground life: learning color from the painters, movement form the dancers, music from musicians. They train your senses, they sensitize the senses. It was the banishment of art which brought on a culture devoid of sensual perception, of the participation in the senses, so that experience did not cause the “highs,” the exaltations, the ecstasies they caused in me.  The puritans killed the senses. English culture killed emotion. And now it was necessary to dynamite the concrete lid, to “blow the mind” as the LSD followers call it. The source of all wonder, aliveness, and joy was feeling and dreaming, and being able to fulfill one’s dreams.

Even the art of reading, lost to America, was a constant nourishing source which revealed countries I wanted to see, people I wanted to know, experiences I want to have.  How cruelly the weight of ordinary life, la condition humaine, weighed upon America, with everything forcing you to live in the prosaic, the shabby, the practical, the quotidian, the down-to-earth, the mediocrity of political life, the monstrosities of history via the media, because they believed this was contact with life, and it was the very thing which destroyed the contact with life.

So the drugs, instead of bringing fertile images which in turn can be shared with the world  (as the great painters, great poets, great musicians shared their abundance with the infertile ones, enriched undernourished lives), have instead become a solitary vice, a passive dreaming which alienates the dreamer from the whole world, isolates him, ultimately destroys him.  It is like masturbation.  The one who wrestles with his images from experience, from his smokey dreams, to create, is able then to build what he has seen and hungered for. It does not vanish with the effects of the chemical. The knowledge gained without the drugs, as, for example, my feeling for color learned from watching the painters when I was posing for them, is a permanent acquisition. It became part of my being, it ws applicable to my travels, to my image of people. It was or became a new faculty, part of my sensory perception, available, but the effort I made to learn was also the strengthening of the ability to create with a sense of color, to create houses, clothes, visions of cities, enjoyment of color not only as a passing, ephemeral, vanishing dream, but as reality. And that is the conflict. The drug effect does not strengthen the desire to turn the dream, the vision, into reality.  It is passive.

I have to go on in my own way, which is a disciplined, arduous, organic way of integrating the dream with creativity in life, a quest for the development of the senses, the vision, the imagination as dynamic elements with which to create a new world, a new kind of human being. Seeking wholeness not by dreaming alone, by a passive dreaming that drugs give, but by an active, dynamic dreaming that is connected with life, interrelated, makes a harmony in which the pleasures of color, texture, vision are a creation in reality, which we can enjoy with the awakened senses.  What can be more wonderful than the carrying out of our fantasies, the courage to enact them, embody them, live them out instead of depending on the dissolving, dissipating, vanishing quality of the drug dreams.

I will not be just a tourist in the world of images, just watching images passing by which I cannot live in, make love to, possess as permanent sources of joy and ecstasy.