Connections: Huxley, Stravinsky, Krishnamurti &Wood by Joan Koerper

“Human beings are multiple amphibians, living simultaneously in half a dozen radically dissimilar universes—the molecular and the ethical, the physiological and the symbolic, the world of incommunicably subjective experience and the public worlds of language and culture, of social organization and the sciences.” Aldous Huxley from the Foreword in You Are Not The Target, by Laura Archera Huxley

My paperback copy of Aldous Huxley’s classic Brave New World almost disintegrated in my hand when I was packing last October to move to Wrightwood. I’d had it since early high school. I carefully placed my hardback copy of Island, a softback of The Art of Seeing, along with my also falling-apart-at-the-seams copy of Laura Huxley’s 1976 edition of You Are Not The Target, into a carefully packed, plastic box of classics by George Orwell, Edward Bellamy, Ernest Callenbach, Hermann Hesse, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, a lost feminist utopian novel, and Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, among others. I had no clue at the time that I would be living less than a mile from a house Huxley once owned.

When I learned Huxley was Wrightwood’s most famous one-time literary resident I engaged in online research and hoofed it to the Wrightwood Historical Museum to see what info could be gleaned in person. There is a display case dedicated to Huxley at the museum, and also a bit of filed material on him.

In my first round of research on Huxley after moving, I found a photo on in a blog posted by Graham_Ranch on 12.7.2007. It was an image of Aldous and Maria Huxley, Mr. and Mrs. Igor Stravinsky, J. Krishnamurti and Radha Rajagopal (Sloss) at a picnic in Wrightwood in 1949. I looked up Radha and identified her as the daughter of Rosalind and D. Rajagopal who lived with Krishnamurti for a number of years, located the photo at other places online, then put the photo and the information in my mental “revisit later” file while I continued to unpack.

In early July, coinciding with the scheduled talk at the Wrightwood Museum about Huxley, I was asked to write up a short biography for the museum’s newsletter, a distasteful task at best. I was copying the sentence, “Joan (MJ) Koerper is passionate about exploring our souls as artists: the intersection of art, music, creativity, writing, and human emotion in the everyday sacred of our lives” when my mind flashed on the photo of the Huxleys, the Stravinskys, Krishnamurti and Radha. I returned to explore it.

I began meandering: about my relationship with these people and their works, their relationships with each other, and how they influenced each other…how their lives, ideas and arts intersected.

Huxley, as you know, and was previously noted in another of my blog entries, is considered one of the most important literary and philosophical voices of the 20th Century writing in English. Huxley’s classic, and other works of his, were required reading in both my high school and undergraduate classes at Michigan State University, as well as simply pertinent works to read and re-read over the years.

Growing up in the home of a musician, the works of the Russian-American composer, Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), oft considered the most versatile and greatest composer of twentieth century, was well known to me. I met him once during my early years. Whether I liked his music or not, I gave one of his books to my father as a birthday present one year. I just let it go during my “great giveaway” prior to moving to Wrightwood. Somewhere in my memory I knew, but was recently reminded, that in the 1950’s there was even talk of Huxley, Stravinsky and Martha Graham turning the Tibetan Book of the Dead into a ballet with a Greek chorus.

  1. (Jiddu) Krishnamurti (1895-1986) was a world-renowned spiritual teacher and philosopher. In the winter of 1991, tricycle magazine reviewed the book Lives in the Shadow with J. Krishnamurti written by Radha Rajagopal Sloss. Radha was in the photo taken in 1949. The introduction to that piece noted that “… by the time he [Krishnamurti] died in Ojai, California, in 1986 at the age of 91, he had helped-perhaps more than anyone in this century-to introduce Eastern teachings on the nature of mind to the West.”

Krishnamurti’s works, and in particular the book Education & the Significance of Life, were required reading, and the centerpoint of much discussion, in my doctoral program at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Krishnamurti believed it is necessary to face experience and disturbance as it comes to keep “intelligence highly awakened; and intelligence highly awakened is intuition, which is the only true guide in life” (1953:11). He further posed that if we are being educated to simply get ahead, obtain a better job or more power, “then our lives will be shallow and empty…Conventional education makes independent thinking extremely difficult. Conformity leads to mediocrity. To be different from the group or to resist environment is not easy and is often risky….” (1953:9).

He spoke of two kinds of revolt: violent, which is reactionary against an existing order and without understanding. The second is the deep psychological revolt of intelligence.

Perhaps, most importantly, Krishnamurti spoke of integration: “We may be highly educated, but if we are without deep integration of thought and feeling, our lives are incomplete, contradictory and torn with many fears; and as long as education does not cultivate an integrated outlook on life, it has very little significance” (1953: 11).

When I was working on my doctoral thesis, a work of creative nonfiction exploring pottery and writing as expressions of our souls as artists, I had the opportunity to learn about the pottery of Beatrice Wood (1893-1998). I visited her studio in Ojai, CA, in 2001, where Wood continued to work until the age of 104. I was totally enamored with her studio, her determination, the ceramics she produced and collected, and most of all the immersion in nature with which she surrounded herself. Her pottery wheel sat in front of a large window looking out over the valley. How could anyone fail to call forth songs from their soul to be transformed into clay in such an environment?

While Wood originally lived across the street from Krishnamurti when she moved to Ojai, in 1974 she was invited to move her home to the grounds of the Happy Valley Foundation in the upper Ojai Valley. In her autobiography, I Shock Myself, Wood relates that Dr. Annie Besant, Krishnamurti, Aldous Huxley, Dr. Guido Ferrando and Rosalind Rajagopal founded the Happy Valley Foundation in 1927. The Happy Valley School, where Wood also taught ceramics for many years, was a project of the Foundation. She speaks of Huxley’s frequent visits to Ojai to have long talks with Krishnamurti about education, thus she was able to see the Huxley’s often. Huxley also served on the Board of the Happy Valley Foundation for fifteen years. Her home, studio, work, library and massive collection of folk and Eastern art were gifted to the Foundation upon her death. So there I was, back in 2001, in Beatrice Wood’s home, studio, and walking the grounds where she, Krishnamurti, Huxley, Anais Nin, Alan Watts, no doubt Stravinsky, and so many others gathered to socialize, exchange ideas, challenge, and nurture each other as friends do.

In 2001 I also had the outstanding good fortune to meet world-renowned woodworker, or furniture craftsman, as the Smithsonian refers to, Sam Maloof (1916-2009), when he hosted an event on his property to honor the potters of Mata Ortiz. A night under the full moon I will never forget. A story in itself, for another time. When Sam Maloof took us on a tour of his home, I recognized a number of Wood’s pieces about the premisses. He knew her, of course. We discussed Beatrice’s unique style and unconventional life among many other topics.

And so the linkages continued. I needed to take it further. It’s the detective in me. The researcher. The scholar. I wanted to observe the resulting affects of these relationships without having to get bogged down with all the details. I wanted to grasp the larger picture.

I re-visited some of Huxley’s stories and essays, picked up a new addition to my library, The Divine Within: Selected Writings on Enlightenment (Jacqueline Hazard Bridgeman, ed.), put my nose to the pages of Krishnamurti’s writing, re-read Beatrice Wood’s autobiography and played some of Stravinsky’s compositions I have in my music library. I was able to perceive, with much more clarity, how these great minds influenced each other, and subsequently influenced me. Each expressed similar ideas using different mediums.

I was spurred onto this recent voyage of the integration and expression of ideas, philosophies and talents by one photograph of a musician, author, and philosopher…people with whom I’ve been familiar with since my youth.

Truth be told, for me, all forms of life are creative, and all life is art. One of the many uncoverings I learned by studying linguistics, for instance, is that in Tewa, Navaho, and most, if not all, indigenous languages, there is no separate word for art. Tewa potter and poet Nora Naranjo-Morse relates that in Tewa there is, “the concept for an artful life, filled with inspiration and fueled by labor and thoughtful approach.” Educator Kenneth R. Beittel, in Zen and the Art of Pottery (1989) writes, “From earliest times, art and life have been one.” Conceptual artist Damien Hirst and naturalist and writer Terry Tempest Williams both write that every society and each person designates what is art. “Art’s about life and it really can’t be about anything else.”

These quotes are only a smidgen of those I’ve gathered confirming what every child, indeed every animal, knows instinctively.

Yet in the Western world, the social construct of dualism is the foundation of our philosophical and psychological worldview. It teaches us to separate all aspects of our lives…indeed to separate us from our lives, our minds, our souls, our artful life. It is indeed a challenge when one embraces the whole while living in a society based on dualism. Hence, speaking in Western terms, I look at how the intersection of these perceived disparate parts of our lives form a much larger worldview. I like to explore how they unite us…how they come together to make us whole. Because when the focus is really on the art that is our lives, however it is expressed in the everyday sacred, it inspires us to be more fully creative beings.

My research offered me a glimpse into how the creative lives of Huxley, Krishnamurti, Stravinsky, Wood, and others, including Alan Watts, intersected: how they came together to nurture, inspire, enjoy and support each other. They carried forth the art of their lives into different mediums and, in turn, produced opulent, radical, lasting, artistic, literary, and philosophical gifts for the world. They were revolutionaries, in the intellectual sense of which Krishnamurti spoke. They impacted each other, and generations to come, including me, as they engaged each other and practiced the arts of their lives. For me, this dialog and communion of minds became yet another example of how important it is for us to have our own commitment to depth, breadth, vision, imagination, integrity, and integration, as well as a wide range of interests, friends, and colleagues who express their art in different mediums. And how critical it is to relate with people who care enough to honestly share, listen, dialog, mentor, honor, and nurture each other. Finally, this voyage into connections became an opportunity to express my deep gratitude for all who have cared enough to share their art of being, expressing, transforming and living with me.