Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Aldous Huxley on intuition and training

with 3 comments

Aldous Huxley

Non-mystics have denied the validity of the mystical experience, describing it as merely subjective and illusory. But it should be remembered that to those who have never actually had it, any direct intuition must seem subjective and illusory…Of the significant and pleasurable experiences of life only the simplest are open indiscriminately to all. The rest cannot be had except by those who have undergone a suitable training. One must be trained even to enjoy the pleasures of alcohol and tobacco; first whiskies seem revolting, first pipes turn even the strongest of boyish stomachs. Similarly first Shakespeare sonnets seem meaningless; first Bach fugues, a bore; first differential equations, sheer torture. But training changes the nature of our spiritual experiences. In due course, contact with an obscurely beautiful poem, an elaborate piece of counterpoint or of mathematical reasoning, causes us to feel direct intuitions of beauty and significance…Knowledge is always a function of being. What we perceive and understand depends upon what we are; and what we are depends partly on circumstances, partly, and more profoundly, on the nature of the efforts we have made to realize our ideal and the nature of the ideal we have tried to realize…This training is one which he will certainly find extremely tedious; for it involves, at first, the leading of a life of constant awareness and unremitting moral effort; second, steady practice in the technique of meditation, which is probably about as difficult as the technique of violin playing. But, however tedious, the training can be undertaken by any one who wishes to do so.

Aldous Huxley

Written by nevalalee

January 18, 2014 at 9:00 am

Posted in Quote of the Day

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3 Responses

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  1. patience is undervalued


    January 18, 2014 at 10:08 am

  2. That is truly beautiful. On the other hand, it’s probably not the *easiest* way to make that point, but rather more obscure than either Phyllis Tickle’s or Tschaikovsky’s versions we discussed over at another writing weblog some time ago:


    from the Introductions to The Divine Hours, a set of short Episcopalian Daily Offices edited by Phyllis Tickle. Don’t expect prayer to feel powerful every time, Mrs. Tickle reassures the readers. Some days the appointed prayers won’t make sense. Some days praying in words won’t make sense. Some days the idea of God won’t make sense.

    Do it anyway, because the idea of Daily Office is that the power is cumulative, both as more people do it and as one person does it more times.

    and (another person’s)

    One of the most kick-in-the-pants quotes I’ve ever read regarding creativity and discipline comes from Tchaikovsky: “I am at my desk at 9 o’clock every morning, and my muse has learned to be prompt.”


    January 18, 2014 at 12:15 pm

  3. @bwcarey: Agreed!

    @Jinnyah: Glad you liked it! I think Huxley’s analogies—to playing an instrument, to learning mathematics, to appreciating art and music—are especially apt: it takes training and development as well as persistence.


    January 20, 2014 at 8:05 pm

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