It seems fitting that the two most famous attempts at an Eastern style ‘conscious exit’ in the West over the last half century have been conducted by two of the world’s most celebrated psychedelic luminaries – Aldous Huxley and Timothy Leary. As much modern research suggests, the use of psychedelics may well open up ways in which all of us, not just the terminally ill, can come to terms with the fear of death – in some cases overcoming it altogether.
On 22nd November 1963, the same day that JFK was assassinated in Dallas and British literary giant CS Lewis died of kidney failure in England, Aldous Huxley asked his wife Laura to administer him with 100 micrograms of intramuscular LSD on his deathbed. (This confluence of notable deaths on the same day became the subject of Peter Kreeft’s novel Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F Kennedy, CS Lewis and Aldous Huxley – an imagined conversation revolving around their respective attitudes towards Christianity.)
Laura’s account of Huxley’s passing, following a second 100 microgram dose a few hours later, is immortalized in her letter to his brother Julian a few days later and subsequently published as part of O Nobly Born, a chapter from her own autobiography This Timeless Moment.
She refers to them reading through the whole of Leary, Alpert and Metzner’s The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, intended to guide the psychedelic practitioner through the Bardo realms envisaged by Tibetan Buddhism. Holding her dying husband’s hand and movingly guiding him towards the Light, Laura’s account of a serene and peaceful passing on was corroborated by the doctors present, who ‘said they had never seen a person in similar physical condition going off so completely without pain and without struggle.’
Although Huxley’s deathbed request for LSD has become common knowledge, there seems to have been little debate around the efficacy of his ‘conscious exit’ and what we might learn from it. As we move towards a more mature understanding about psychedelic medicines in general, perhaps we can also integrate these tools within our cultural approach to death and thus allow those that wish, to follow in Huxley’s footsteps and die in a humane and peaceful fashion, slipping slowly into the infinite light from which perhaps we came?