You Are Not the Target: Laura Huxley on Course-Correcting the Paths of Love and Not-Love
By Maria Popova
“Construction and destruction alike satisfy the will to power,” Bertrand Russell wrote in 1926, “but construction is more difficult as a rule, and therefore gives more satisfaction to the person who can achieve it.” And yet, again and again, we slide down the easier path of destruction, among and within ourselves, in our political and our personal lives.
The Italian-American writer, musician, filmmaker, and psychiatrist Laura Archera Huxley (November 2, 1911–December 13, 2007) frames these two parallel potentialities as the paths of love and not-love. In her 1963 book You Are Not the Target: A Practical Manual on How to Cope with a World of Bewildering Change and Uncertainty (public library), Huxley offers actionable course-correction toward the path of love, the wellspring of our constructive and creative potential, through a series of “recipes” — psychological practices with embodied elements of physical action — that address everything from processing pain to discerning one’s purpose to transmuting stress into creative energy. Drawing on her work as a psychological counselor, Huxley sets out to “quicken people toward realizing their creative potentialities in their own way in spite of all authorities, dogmas, tranquilizers, credit cards, and pace-of-mind-by-mail,” animated by the conviction that the most essential aspect of our creative potential is “to make good use of ourselves and what we are here and now, at each successive moment.”
Her husband, Aldous Huxley, writes in the foreword to the book:
These recipes work. I have tried some of them on myself and found them remarkably effective.
In her opening chapter, Huxley frames the central premise of her approach:
At one time or another the more fortunate among us make three startling discoveries.
Discovery number one: Each one of us has, in varying degree, the power to make others feel better or worse.
Discovery number two: Making others feel better is much more fun than making them feel worse.
Discovery number three: Making others feel better generally makes us feel better.
More than half a century after Tolstoy wrote to Gandhi that “love is the only way to rescue humanity from all ills,” Huxley considers the ethic of love at the heart of some of our humankind’s most influential philosophical, moral, and political movements:
Total love has been recommended for centuries as the total panacea: obviously true, obviously unattainable. Theoretically we all know that total love is the solution to all our problems, but in practice most of us behave most of the time as if this truth has never been discovered.
Whenever love is outweighed by not-love the organism is in trouble. Not-love may be brought about by the wrong inflection in a voice today, or by a nutritional shortage which began years ago. It may be the result of a sexual relationship with a companion whose chemistry does not blend with ours, or with one whose chemical affinity is harmonious with ours but whose mental and emotional being is inharmonious.
Not-love may be due to a loss in the stock market, to the non-arrival of an expected letter, to weariness and fatigue at the end of yet another day of dreary routine. Not-love may be the beaming smile with which a salesman must meet an important client, or a hostess an unwanted guest. It may stem from a serious loss or from some obscure endocrine reaction to climatic or atmospheric conditions. It may be due to too much of something or too little of something. Not-love may be the result of fanatical belief or secret doubt about the deity, church, party, ideology that we have chosen or have somehow been manipulated into choosing. Not-love may spring from a sound or a color, from a form or a smell. It may be a painful ingrown toe-nail or the release of the atomic bomb.
In all its manifestations and however it is produced, not-love tends to beget not-love. The energy of love is needed to reconvert not-love into love.
Writing just a few years after Harry Harlow’s controversial studies of baby rhesus monkeys demonstrated the atrocious psychophysiological effects of love-deprivation and after Martin Luther King, Jr. asserted that “along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate,” Huxley adds:
Disguised in a thousand forms, hidden under an infinite variety of masks, love starvation is even more rampant than food starvation. It invades all classes and all peoples. It occurs in all climates, on every social and economic level. It seems to occur in all forms of life.
In a family, love starvation begets love starvation in one generation after another until a rebel in that family breaks the malevolent chain. If you find yourself in such a family, BE THAT REBEL!
Complement this particular portion of You Are Not the Target, throughout the rest of which Huxley offers a set of psychological and physiological tools designed to “help a world desperately needing love and desperately afflicted with the infectious disease of not-love,” with Albert Camus on what it really means to be a rebel, the humanistic philosopher and psychologist Erich Fromm on what is keeping us from mastering the art of loving, and the great Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hahn on how to love, then revisit Aldous Huxley on how to get out of your own way.
Published June 26, 2017